Closing in on a year as “just a family in the pews” I have learned a ton about myself, my walk with Jesus, and what it’s like to be on the other end of church life. Having spent my entire adult life on the church leadership end of things I would often say, “I don’t remember what its like to just go to church.” This last year has been an amazing vantage point.
When we first came to Harbor we knew right away that we wanted to be a part of it. We went to a service on Sunday and shared coffee with the pastor and his wife later that week. They told us their story and their vision for Harbor… Kristen and I were sold and let them know right away we were committed to staying on board.
As the months went by we felt like we were getting sucked in and were powerless against it. What I mean by that is that churches have a tendency to get their tentacles on you and slowly wrap their eight arms around you so that you find yourself fully enveloped by its grasp until you wake up drowning in holy activity. One moment you are helping in the nursery and then you wake up to realize that you are serving at the church 7 days per week and 3 times on Sunday.
Since I was new in my job and had just come out of serving at a church, I was determined that Kristen and I would stay out of the vortex. It may sound weird but people in our lives were firmly encouraging us… in order to reconnect with Jesus you need to do less church work and work more on your relationships outside of church. While I felt like it was a counter-intuitive approach to spiritual growth, I trust the people God has put in my life to tell me the truth… to tell me the truth!
And yet we started getting sucked in. A weakness I am working on is that I have no ability to say no to something I have the ability/skills/talent to do. Someone from the church would pitch me an idea and my “no thank you” must have come out like a “yes, no problem.” Next thing I knew I was sucked in. It turned out the people in my life were right… and the breath of fresh air I was enjoying so much was quickly snuffed out and replaced with bitterness, anger, and temporary depression. We were right back where we started. In fact, we were probably worse off then ever.
Flash-forward to January and early February. I was fully freaking out about our involvement with the church on Sunday mornings. In fact, for some reason I was literally freaking out at church. I would be fine right up until we left. Then we’d pile in the car and I could feel my blood pressure getting higher. I’d get to church and be ready to explode. A little dizzy, on edge, and feeling the strong desire to flee. All my mind would be saying is, “Leave me alone. I just want to be left alone.” And the more people were nice to me the more intense the feeling. It was really one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. Mr. “I’ve got it all under control” was completely not in control. I’d tell Kristen, “I think I’m losing my mind.” I was being completely honest. I was really scared that I was actually losing my mind.
Each time someone at church asked Kristen or I to do something it got worse. I kept saying to myself, “The kids hate coming to church, I hate coming to church, and I can tell Kristen is upset that we’re all upset.” While the calm rational side of me knew that we needed to worship on Sunday mornings the irrational, emotionally-charged side of me started to think that the best way to make these symptoms go away was simply to stop going to church altogether.
[Enter wise council from stage left] Perhaps the solution wasn’t either of those choices? “Stay and be miserable or leave and do nothing are both crappy solutions.” That is when it hit me. What I really needed to do was meet with the leadership and push back.
Gracious. That’s all I can say about my meeting with the staff. My experience with church leadership and AS church leadership has always been to tie someone’s involvement with church stuff to their spiritual growth. When people met with me to bail on things I always took it personally. I would always be polite and thank them for their service… but they’d leave and I would be annoyed. To look across a table and say… “I can’t explain the why, but I know that I need to say no-to-all for a while to find freedom and connect with Jesus” was so freeing. And to have those words embraced was incredible. While I’m certain the two men I met with were discouraged by the outcome of that meeting as they drove away… I was amazed at their maturity. They gained 10,000 points with our family simply by agreeing that our family needed to do nothing. (Not less, nothing.)
So here we are three months later. Other than our uber-active community group my family is a regular family who fills the pew on Sunday morning, hosts a few friends on Monday nights… and that is it. I don’t know how long we will practice this new displine of “no-to-all” but I have to tell you that it is working. The more we push back from being super-involved the better things get for our family. More family time, more family growth, less busyness, less tension… these are all good things.
I don’t know how long this needs to last. My feeling is that I need to guard our family like this until the desire to serve comes back. It hasn’t happened yet. And for once in our lives we aren’t in a rush to make something happen. But for now, we are embracing this new period of our lives. We are embracing a lifestyle of a new normality. It’s a renessaince of the soul that I am enjoying. Maybe a little too much?