When Church Doesn't Look Like an Option
It was easy at first. I remember the first time we went to church as a family -- our eleven-day-old newborn resting in a sling against my chest, sound asleep through most of the service after being quietly fed with mama's milk. There was so much bliss and peace. We were eager to show Tessa off, eager to bring her into this place of warmth and worship.
It remained like this for a little while, but then things started to change. Keeping her calm and happy with milk became more difficult as she squirmed and fussed at the breast. She no longer fell asleep during worship, but rather wanted to coo -- or yell -- along. I found myself taking more and more trips out to the hallway, where her and I paced and swayed until I felt confident that she was again at peace. Sometimes I was wrong and would head right back out the door upon returning to my seat. There were many Sundays when I spent more time in the nursery than sitting next to my husband. It was frustrating and lonely. Instead of looking forward to church, I began to dread it, unsure of what would be in store.
When Tessa turned six months old, we began leaving her in the nursery. I would hear her screams shortly after dropping her off, and even though I told myself that this separation anxiety is normal, I never did get used to it. With paranoia, I'd constantly check my phone to see if the nursery workers would ask for me or I'd wait for her number to show up on the screen. Without fail, it always did. I began staying in the nursery with her, again leaving my husband Grant to worship and attend service alone. So much for going to church as a family.
That's when we stopped going to church.
It was only meant to be a short break, but one week turned into two weeks, and next thing I knew it had been over a month, then almost two. We loved church and the community that came with it, but we loved the comfort of staying home more. No hassle. No fussing. No pressure or embarrassment. No tears (and I do mean mine).
This is when God did some work on my heart. Because despite the relief I felt from being able to stay home on Sundays, I was also feeling weighed down by guilt and shame. I felt like a failure, especially those first few weeks, as I pictured God looking down and judging us for not being a part of his Body. Every time Sunday came and went, I prayed earnestly that he might have grace for us even still.
And oh, how he did.
During that period of time, I was gently and lovingly reminded again and again that the Lord's love for me is not based on my performance or whether I perfect the role of being the good Christian wife and mom. I began to see from a different perspective, one more long-term and eternity-focused, in which I realized that this short season of being away from our church community would not stifle the work he's doing in our family or eliminate us from the race.
The most amazing thing that happened as a result of stepping away from church is that as I learned how to walk in this freedom and grace that Christ offers, I began yearning to return to church -- only this time it wasn't to prove my love for him, but rather to respond to HIS love for ME. The more I embraced his freedom, the more I wanted to worship, dance, and rejoice in it with my brothers and sisters in Christ and find genuine connection within his Body once again.
That's when we went back to church.
The drive there that first Sunday was nerve-wracking. I wondered what people might think or say to us, and a part of me wanted to tell Grant to turn the car around and take us back to the comfort of our home. But God knew there was an even greater comfort waiting for us.
As we walked through the doors, we were immediately greeted and embraced. Our return was celebrated. While we waited for the service to begin, multiple women approached me and offered to hold the baby so Grant and I could focus on our time of worship together. We were reassured by our friends who knew of why we left that we were regarded as family and there was no reason for shame or embarrassment. Tears sprang to my eyes and my heart was moved as I saw the beauty of the Church once again -- a group of people coming together to be filled by the Lord and love on one another out of the overflow.
My husband held Tessa during worship and I watched her blissfully drift off to sleep in his arms as we swayed and sang side-by-side. Seeing them like this and thinking about us three as a family made me want to sing even louder, lift my hands even higher, and rejoice in all that the Lord has done. He brought us together; would it not be fitting to praise him together, too?
The rest of the service went smoothly that day, but that's not what really matters. Even if it had turned out to be a disaster and all of my worst fears had come true, returning would still have been worth it. Just to taste the goodness of the Lord through this time of fellowship and worship.
For so long, I had been telling myself that I had to do everything perfectly and on my own. I didn't fully see the value of church because I never let my guard down long enough for people to pursue and encourage me. But when Grant and I made our struggles known and recommitted to being present at church, we were giving people the opportunity to lift us up in ways we didn't even realize we needed.
And this is why I want to encourage you today. Mama, if you're struggling with your little one at church or taking a break from it as we did, I understand and I know the Lord does, too.
But is it possible that even without having the picture-perfect Sunday you're imagining, you can still experience the beauty of intertwining two of his greatest designs -- motherhood and community? Things don't have to go smoothly (in fact, they probably rarely will) for you to be able to worship and be a part of his Body as the mom he created you to be.
I want to remind you as the Lord has reminded me that he is so patient and gracious with us as we navigate these early days of motherhood. Whether you're skipping out on Sunday mornings or going regularly and barely surviving, he's by your side and eagerly desiring for you to know his love and to be his love -- starting with the family he's given you and expanding to the families around you. What better time to lean into his design for community and friendship than when we're knee-deep in parenting and needing some refreshment? You never know what you may be able to offer to others in this season, as well. After all, we're all in need of some soul care.
"...let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25).