What To Do When Church is Painful
Church is hard for me. It isn’t that my faith is hard, but actually attending a church service is difficult. I just can’t do church anymore. After my son died, I tried to go, I really did. I went a few weekends and I was miserable.
The first time I attended was about a month after Adam passed. We usually sit at the second pew from the front (yes, I’m a keener) and things were going okay at first. I was welcomed by friends and given hugs and prayers. I felt welcomed and loved. The problem came when the second song started. A song by Crowder called “Come as You Are” was playing and I felt a sense of foreboding roll over me. To explain, when I am singing in church, I don’t just mouth the words, I meditate on them. I let the words sink in and speak to me.
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal
It is based on Revelation 21:4 that talks about God wiping every tear from our eyes and that there will be no more death or mourning, crying or pain.
I couldn’t get the words out. They stuck in my throat and tears began to pour. Not nice tidy tears rolling down my face, but sobbing, snotty, shoulder heaving tears. I had to sit down and try to compose myself. My husband sat beside me, putting his arm around me and praying. A friend who was sitting behind me leaned forward and put her hand on my shoulder. I felt surrounded by love, but all I wanted to do was get out of there. I did manage to stay for that service, but many weeks went by before I tried to attend again.
By the time I tried church again, I wasn’t quite as raw, but I was asking God some pretty big questions. About why, when I had prayed for my son’s salvation, he had not answered. About how he could have let this happen when I prayed protection over him. I couldn’t sit in church when I was angry at God. How could I praise him when I wasn’t sure I thought he was all that great, after all?
Over the next months and years, I went periodically. It was more to make my husband happy. I felt as though what had once given me solace and comfort was now a place of pain.
As time went on, I worked through some of my spiritual roadblocks. But one thing that remained was how empty I now found church. It seemed so shallow. It was no longer a place I went as a refuge or a place to find answers.
My church had put me on a list so I received a mailout every so often over the next year. It was a small pamphlet for each “stage” of grieving. I read it and threw it in the garbage. The pat, explanations didn’t help, they only made me angry. How could the church pretend they knew what I was going through? How could they provide such glib responses to such deep and impactful questions? I knew they couldn’t possibly have the answers, no one can. But I was so upset that they pretended to know.
Pray and draw closer to God? How was that going to help me when I had to smell the gunpowder in my house for days? When I had to take care of the paperwork to cancel cell phones and pay off his bills? When I had to try and offer comfort to his hurting baby sister?
So, what did I do? What can you do when you just can’t face church?
First, know that I don’t have all the answers; I don’t believe that anyone has words of wisdom that will bring comfort to any grieving parent. But I can share what I found helpful in the hopes that you are able to take something from it that will help you.
No Church Does Not Equal No Faith
If you are like me, you were told that in order to be a good Christian, you must attend church regularly. I heard that, believed that and acted accordingly. I received comfort, company and compassion by attending church. There was no reason to question this belief.
But if you do a small amount of research, you will soon discover that there is no actual scriptures that talk about a requirement to go to a church building every week. Yes, there is scripture that says Christians should meet regularly. What it does not say is that we must meet at an assembly held in a physical building.
Once I realized that spending time with Christian friends and talking about my struggles was just as much “church” as sitting in a pew, I relaxed a bit. Don’t put pressure on yourself because man has made up this arbitrary requirement.
If Church Isn’t a Building, What Is It?
Biblically, church is the name or description for a group of Christians that meet to worship. Nowhere does it say that is a building or even that it must be with people in Christian Ministry. This might seem shocking, but a group of friends getting together can be church. A family of believers can be a church.
Let God Tell You When It’s Time for Church
Allow yourself time. Don’t let anyone tell you it has been too long since you attended church. If attending is too painful, give yourself a break. Continue to worship and pray in whatever way that seems the most authentic to you. For me, it is being alone with my worship music and singing along. If a song hits too close to home, I can cry, pray and reach out without feeling the need to hide or “conform.”
Continue to listen for God’s voice to know when it is time to return. You may discover he is leading you to another church building, denomination or even group of Christian friends.
Other Ideas Instead of Traditional Church
Maybe you just don’t feel right not going to church. Maybe you really want to, even though you find it painful and upsetting. If that is the case, maybe try going for the part you get the most out of and then leaving. Maybe worship music is how you best worship, then go in as the music begins and then slip out afterwards. If what you really need is to hear the message then come for that only.
Another option is to try online church services. This is where I am right now. With Covid hitting, many more churches have started having services you can access online. I find it very helpful and comforting to watch the service my parents and daughter are watching. Living in three separate towns, we all “attend” church together. When I don’t watch, I usually get a message from my mother saying she didn’t see my name pop-up as attending on the Facebook broadcast.
Whatever method you find works for you is okay; it is no reflection on your or your faith. Continue to pray and reach out and allow yourself to be healed.