When Church is the Hardest Place to Go
Words by Katie Blackburn
“May the glory of your name be the passion of our church; let the righteousness of God be a holy flame that burns….” I sang these words recently during the closing song of our Sunday worship service, and as I did, I could not get out of my mind how beautiful they were, and how much I wanted them to be true of my life. But I was not singing them with my hands raised, surrounded by fellow churchgoers. I was not sitting in the sanctuary, looking up at one of our church’s beautiful, 100-year-old stained glass windows; nor was I holding my husband’s hand as we savored the chance to worship our big God together. Instead, I sang along to these words from inside our church’s sensory room, listening to the service from a computer with my four-year-old son, whose significant special needs keep him from attending Sunday School on his own right now.
It has been almost three years since I sat in a church service together with my husband, hearing the Word of God preached to us at the same time, in the same place. Since our son’s developmental disabilities made it too difficult for a volunteer to safely teach a class of neurotypical children and him, either my husband or I have been one-on-one with our little guy—sometimes in a class of his peers and sometimes in the quiet, low-lit sensory room. More than 150 Sundays later, I cannot tell you the number of times I have woken up to get ready for church, knowing the stress and unpredictability of the hours ahead, and had this very thought run rampant through my heart and mind: This is not worth it.
For much of my life, I understood church from a me-centered perspective: it was, as I saw it, a place to sing songs and hear an inspiring sermon—something that challenged me enough to be a better disciple but not push too hard, lest I leave feeling discredited and promptly begin the search for another church. I would then gather my three children up from their classrooms and head to brunch, not forgetting to leave a generous tip for the waitress as a good gospel witness, because we have all heard that Christians are terrible tippers. That was, after all, what a middle-class American Christian should do on a Sunday; that was how church was supposed to work for us.
Or so I thought.
But it wasn’t working. Church was, by far, the hardest place for my young family to go. And if it was so hard and so stressful, and if I could not even attend the actual service with my husband, would God really expect us to still be there? We could stay comfortably at home in our casual clothes and watch a sermon online; did God really care whether or not we were in attendance when we were leaving each week dripping in anxiety, often embarrassment, and sometimes tears, over the struggle to make it through 90 minutes with a little boy whose world was so confusing?
As it turns out, God cares deeply. It is his Bride and his Body, and one he went great lengths to rescue so that we might gather at all.
Every week, thousands of women wake up on a Sunday and think about church, and they wonder, Is it worth it? Perhaps she is single, walking into a building bustling with couples and families, and just being among them reminds her of what she doesn’t have, tempting her to despair. Maybe she is dressing her children alone, knowing that despite her prayers to the Lord and weekly, humble requests of her husband, he is not coming with them—again. Or perhaps it is her history of sin, her past record of things she is not proud of, and the overwhelming shame keeps her from walking into a place she believes is filled with people who, if they really knew her, would not even want her there.
For so many people, and for so many different reasons, church is the hardest place to go. And so, they don’t. But if there is anything these three hard years have taught me about church, it is simply this: it is worth it. Because God’s plan to bring the good news of the gospel to the world is the local church. Because we need the encouragement of the Body of Christ in our weakness far more than in our strengths. Because simply being seen by others exactly where we are may be the very way God encourages someone else to do the same. And because when he looked at the cross on Calvary, the absolute hardest place for him to go, our Savior went.
This season of my life has redefined this beautiful extension of the Body of Christ, the local church, that I—and my precious son—are a part of. Where I once saw it as a place to serve me, I began to see it as a place to serve God in the company of brothers and sisters doing the same. And where I once believed that in order to serve and worship God I had to show up as my best self, I began to see that serving God in the painful moments, when I don’t even have a “best self” to show up as, was an act of worship in itself, one of crying out for his power to become perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
“Let the glory of your name be the passion of our church….” As I let those beautiful words fall onto my heart, in a room where I would never have chosen to spend my Sundays, I was reminded of just how much all things work together for good in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:28). Even—especially—the things about our lives we may not have chosen. I’ve come to truly understand how much glory God gets not just from people who look like they have it all together, but from people falling apart and showing up anyway.
 “All to Us” by Chris Tomlin. © 2010 sixstepsrecords/Sparrow Records