Paul writes... even though I believe in the importance of a regular physical gathering of the Christian community I still struggle with it.
Like my aching shins and knees after a run I have some problems that only come out in me when I do church. My running aches and grumbles reflect the symptoms of my condition rather than the condition itself (my basic unfitness). I wonder if if it is the same with my church pains?
So what are my symptoms/diagnosis and suggested cure when it comes to my struggles with church? I've set out 5 below that affect me. I've tried to write what my symptoms are, what i diagnose from that and possible treatment and side effects of still involving myself in church.
Symptom 1: I'd rather do something else on a sunday than going to church My time is precious and valuable and church just doesn't really fit into my life easily on a regular basis.
Diagnosis: I find church inconvenient as I have to fit my life around it rather than it nicely falling into a time/place of my own choosing
Treatment:Practice going to church and welcome the inconvenience as a reminder that my life is not just about me doing what I want when I want.
Possible side effects: I have a growing awareness of how often in life I hate it when I'm inconvenienced - traffic queues, slow people with dragging suitcases on wheels, my kids losing the TV remote. I have yet to be tempted to deliberately join the longest check out queue to practice patience but I am swearing a bit less at my fellow motorists.
Symptom 2: Church is full of annoying people who deliberately wind me up! I like to hang out with people like me and I like to chose those people for myself after a careful screening process.
Diagnosis:I like being independent and self sufficient. I don't like to get involved with people who I otherwise would never ever want to be with (the drips, the drags, the dull, the demonstrably unstable etc) who annoy me.
Treatment: To quote "God" [aka Morgan Freeman in Evan Almighty] "“When someone prays for patience, do you think He gives them patience? Or does he give them moments to practice patience? When someone prays for courage, do you think God gives them courage? Or does he give them a moment to be courageous?” Maybe all those annoying people are moments to practice love, patience, grace as well as swearing?
Possible side effects: I have a growing self awareness that maybe I am just as annoying and offensive to others as they are to me. Sometime I can be charitable enough to admit that maybe their efforts to wind me up are meant to be their way of practicing love and patience with me.
Symptom 3: Church is too much like hard work
It's not that I'm lazy but church seems to require so much effort and I'm already tired/busy/committed in the rest of my life. Trying to fit into a church environment is a struggle, do I just turn up when I can and spectate or is there value in the discomfort of getting involved?
Diagnosis:What do I organise my life around? What is most helpful in shaping, growing and keeping my faith?
Treatment:Decide what to organise my life around, is it what fits in with me and everything else I do or do I take the plunge and decide that church with all of its problems still has benefits? Take a challenge to practice committing myself for a period of time, get involved, give, participate rather than spectate. Evaluate.
Side effects: My involvement/participation has increased my sense of purpose and helped my understanding of other people. I have had to face issues within me as well as my issues with others. I am learning to serve and not just expect to be served. I am also learning that what I do shows tht values I have and not what I say I value.
Symptom 4: Church is an irrelevant in 21st century for me to have my faith in Jesus I don't need a church to help me maintain that faith given the level of resources available and accessible to support me as a christian in 21st century. What is most important therefore is follow Jesus in my life in the mission/call he has given me within my job, friends, family, interests etc.
Diagnosis:My faith has telescoped down to involving me, Jesus and selected others. I am following a consumeristic faith where the Church will still be there if I get into trouble and I can still contribute via purchasing/accessing/creating resources.
Treatment:There are good reasons I dress my choices up in, it allows me to maintain a faith and can also allow me to do what else I am passionate about in my life. I can well find intergrating with a local church difficult as my choice can be limited and the people in it not on my wavelength. Challenge my consumeristic nature by choosing to deliberately get involved and create/give into a community or create that community if it does not exist?
Side effects:I am decreasing my pseudo-holy sounding reasoning - and facing up to doing what I do cos its what I want to do no matter how holy i dress it up to sound. I've found that increased participatation has led to more listening rather than spectating and complaining.
Symptom 5: church brings out the worst in people (me): religion, rules rejections Church makes me feel like an outsider or it makes other people feel like outsiders and I don't want to be part of that. It brings out all the ugly side of religion as people beat up on each other.
Diagnosis I have been hurt by church before and I am afraid, I don't want to get hurt again. I also don't want anyone to challenge me and what I do even if it is with the best of intentions or most loving of motives. I want to do what I want and I am happy.
Treatment:If I have been hurt before can I ease my way back in, can I forgive, can I not project my past onto my future? Can I escape and break free of my fears?
Am I open to people caring about me enough to challenge me? What is it that offends me about challenge? Am I so used to having what I want that for something to be closed to me offends me?
Side effects:A growing realisation of not only when i have been hurt but also that I have been hurtful myself. Honestly involving myself with others in a relationship has its beautiful moments and its painful/hurtful ones too. Both have helped me grow/change me for the best.
Do you recognise any of these pains yourself or do you have ones of your own? What are your own diagnosises, treatments and side effects you've discovered?