Recently I was talking with a friend, when she started to cry. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s just that sometimes I find everything so hard. I don’t have any confidence in myself. I look at other people and no-one else seems to struggle the same way. Silly things – like just going to church – make me really anxious.’
Later the same day, I received this email from someone else.
“I don’t want a life without Jesus, or my friends, but I’m worried I’m not doing it right… I’m scared about going to church. I told my friend and she pulled a face and said ‘scared?! Church isn’t scary! Of course you’ll come.’
Recently the preaches have been fairly overwhelming…I’ve endured The Importance Of Being Brave, and Who Cares That I’m Lonely, albeit by dealing with my feelings in ways I shouldn’t, and crying a fair amount in the safety of my bedroom. Because people say I’m brave, that I ‘do so well’ and I’m ‘strong’, but really most days I only get up because I’m scared of what might happen if I don’t. That’s not brave, and anyway I’m not sure I want to be brave! … I turned up for the Lonely talk, thinking maybe this one would be OK, there might be a magic cure-all scripture or something I’ve missed, that might help. Instead I came away feeling like a gaping wound had been opened up and some ten tonne trucks had careered into it and even afterwards, conversations seemed tainted with painful reminders of How Lonely I Am and How Bad It Feels and then How It Is All My Fault. We were reminded how Jesus went through the ultimate loneliness so we don’t have to, this is good and true and important, but it makes me feel like my own loneliness isn’t valid or important, and anyway what Jesus went through was so long ago, and what I’m experiencing is happening now.
I’m committed to going to church … but I am so so scared. I’m struggling to hold it together now just thinking about it. I don’t know how to be in church when I’m struggling, can I turn to my friend next to me during worship? What if I just suddenly need a hug, not prayer as such?… Also there’ll be new students arriving, I’d love to be part of the student team so I feel I have a duty to be on my best behaviour and welcome them but what if…?
Have I got church all wrong? I look at everyone with their hands raised, singing while I just mouth the words, what’s wrong with me? The song lyrics seem so trite and distanced from what I’m experiencing – I don’t want to have a fire lit in me ‘for the sake of the world’*, I want a big hug and to be told it’s all alright, and for it all to actually be alright. I feel steamrolled over and swept along with the wrong things, like I’ve got caught stuck to a tide of people and I have to run along with them even though I can’t quite keep up.”
I share these thoughts because…
* If church makes you anxious you need to know you’re not alone.
* If church doesn’t make you anxious you need to know that some of your brothers and sisters are really struggling.
* Church really is vital. It can be scary – but it’s a huge blessing too. You don’t have to be a particular kind of person to come – it’s ok to sit quietly at the back or stay silent during prayers or to sit when people are standing and even not to sing. But don’t let your fear keep you away from God’s family – for your own sake and the sake of others who would love to know they’re not alone.
* If you’re in church leadership, are there expectations you’re putting on your flock that are more about personality types than biblical worship? How can we be a safe place for the bruised reeds and smouldering wicks? And is your church a sanctuary for those who are struggling as well as those who are strong?