Now it is Sunday.
The day given over to rest in the presence of God.
We’ve been doing Sundays the new way for so long that it doesn’t seem like the new way any more. Still, some mornings I find myself thinking back on the old way, the way Sunday used to go for us. Those memories are taking on the lovely haze of the good ole days.
That’s not true every day, though.
There are times that I look back on the old way of our Sundays when a feeling of despair clouded our mornings. There are times when reading a favorite author’s call to ‘be the church’ that I feel the sting of failure. There are times when I look back on our days in ministry and feel a weight tied to my heart.
I can run a roll-call of people we considered friends and attach a hurtful action to each of them. Worse are the times that I recount the failures of church leaders that we shared in ministry with. The feeling of abandonment and betrayal is as fresh as when it first happened, even though more than ten years has gone by in some cases.
I’ve been reading 7 Principles for a Successful Marriage, a great read, by the way. One of the points that Gottman makes is that individuals can re-write their relationship by focusing on bad memories. Meaning that when your relationship with your spouse is healthy you will look back on hard times not with bitterness and resentment but with understanding. Basically, you will remember more good than bad.
I think my marriage to the church became an unhappy one.
It began in a romantic way, as love often does. I could see none of the warts. When the wounds came I was unprepared. I had no idea that there was an ugly side to church. My husband became a church employee soon after we became church members so we didn’t have a lot of time to assimilate before pain was inflicted.
His salary was low but we didn’t care because we were fulfilling our purpose. After a year he was told he wouldn’t be getting a raise because I could work, but because I chose to stay home with our children his salary did not increase. That happened more than once, in more than one church. That is an ugly side of church.
I could fill a book with the ugly side of church. Maybe two.
I do not want those memories in my heart any longer. Sometimes I think that telling everyone how much it hurt will get rid of the shame that is there, too. I don’t know.
There was much good, also. I cannot forget that. So much. Enough to fill four books.
The generosity of those we shared life with was amazing.
Early in our ministry (and marriage) when money was tight $500 appeared in our mailbox. That money was a miracle. We were a able to do a car repair AND buy Christmas gifts.
In another city in another church a grill showed up on our front porch one Sunday a few years later. At another a new friend bought all four of our children brand new winter coats. I could go on and on.
Stepping away from church is giving me time to heal my relationship with it, to put back some good memories. It’s doing the same for my kids. I think it’s doing the same for Lee, but he still misses it so much.
Church hurt is not comfortable for me to talk about. I don’t want anyone to feel responsible but not all of my hurt was internally generated. I think we can do better.
I didn’t realize how much I needed time away from the place we fell in love with Jesus at. Stepping back has allowed me to see it all, though. The good, the bad, and the ugly. My part, their part, and our part.
Yesterday was Saturday, a day that I often feel is capable of anything.
Now it is Sunday.
The day I used to give away grudgingly, reluctantly, and with a little bit of resentment.
The day starts quiet. I read some. Lee sleeps some or finds a church to worship at alone. I find my way to my book of prayers, to my bible, to my worship play list on Spotify. There is no hurry up and get there, no have-to’s or shoulds forcing us to swallow faster than we’d like. No expectations hanging over our heads.
Sunday belongs to us, which means we are free to give it to God, because every good and perfect is from above, anyway.
Am I giving what has already been given or am I choosing to share?
I am sometimes tempted to think that the new way is too slow, is not filled with enough stuff. I can begin filling in shoulds and have-to’s but that is not the rhythm God has for us. Sunday is for resting in His presence and reveling in His companionship.
Taking my morning walk I watch people as they go to their cars, dress shoes clip-clopping on the sidewalk. They don’t look at me and I wonder if they’re judging me for not going to church.
I think I used to do that.
Internally I would shake my head and wonder at how others got along without the church.
When we first left the ministry I worried that Sunday would feel like Saturday in our new life. That it would lose its specialness.
There were some Sundays that did feel that way. Some Sunday mornings found me binge watching Gilmore Girls and feeding everyone peanut butter an jellies. I am learning even that can be an offering.
I choose to make Sunday important. A special lunch, private prayer, and just generally being more aware of God’s active role in my life, and in the life of my family, are a few things that set Sunday apart from the other days of the week. It’s all up to me. Nothing is mandatory. Unless I begin forcing things.
Wherever you choose to spend your sabbath the only thing that’s important is that you’re choosing to share it; that you’re not putting shoulds and have-to’s on the sacrament of worship, and that you recognize it for the gift it is.
When the hurt got too big my instinct was to pull away from church. It’s counterintuitive but it’s my church community that has been the catalyst for healing for me.
I find solace in house church these days, but I still love churches in buildings, too. Church is where I learned hymns and the story of Passover – how can I not love that place? Sitting in a small group, outside in lawn chairs, singing songs to my Creator has helped to close up some old wounds.
Jesus came for relationship, so of course it is relationship that rescues us from hurt.
What I’m trying to say with all of these words is this: Sundays don’t have to hurt. If they do talk to your pastor, talk to friends, figure it out but don’t keep letting the hurt stack up. You can talk to me, too.
Happy Sunday, friends.