Every time I read the book of Nehemiah, I get excited to come across the verse that tells us about Shallum, who worked to repair the wall with his daughters. (Nehemiah 3:12) That’s the kind of daughter I am. It is a joy for me to work beside my father on whatever needs to be done. This week, however, the book of Nehemiah came to mind because I was contemplating a different kind of wall building.
Last Sunday, I ditched church. By ditched, I mean that I was well and able to go, but chose not to. There was going to be a single service, rather than two, followed by a picnic. Now, the idea of a mid-August picnic will never seem appealing to me. But if I had an expectation of enjoying fellowship, I could be persuaded. By the time the reminder postcard landed in my mailbox, I had already made up my mind. The postcard promised fun, and games for families, children, and students. I really do try not to let these things feel like a punch in the gut; I know it isn’t personal. I suppose it would be less difficult if I had happily made up my mind to not have a family. Add to that fifteen years of other hurts, and the emotions become difficult to navigate. Different people and different circumstances at different churches have built up scar tissue in my heart. So now I am wondering if I’m the problem. I always feel like I am on the outside looking in, but what if I am on the inside and I am the one building a wall around myself?
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
1 Peter 3:8
After the postcard came in the mail, I found myself reflecting on my experience at a very similar event a few years ago. I was going through a list of adjectives that described how I felt at that event. What stood out in my memory was feeling awkward, invisible, out-of-place, and uncomfortable. I know that strictly speaking, it doesn’t make sense to use both invisible and out-of-place, but the truth is that I know I’m not invisible. So, when my presence isn’t being acknowledged, it makes me feel that I don’t belong. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know people at church and have some casual friendships there. I have my life group, and the people there are welcoming and nice. They encourage me and pray for me, and I pray for them. At the previous picnic event, people I knew said hello and greeted me. But I didn’t have a group to ‘hang out’ with while everyone else was congregating with their peer groups and friends. Looking back, it was a little bit like high school. I left early because it wasn’t worth the heat stroke.
I am still trying to get to the bottom of this problem to determine the real source. On the one hand, the only time in my life I have ever felt like I fit in was during my four years at the Coast Guard Academy. That environment is one in which bonds are sure to be forged. When it comes to church, I really don’t know for sure if the problem is me or my singleness, or both. Is it because I didn’t grow up here or go to college here that I don’t have close friends, or is it because I don’t have a family and don’t have anything in common with my peers? Or have all the hurts of the past decade built up to the point that I am not doing my part to establish relationships? A couple of times, I have tried to create a group for single women, and no one responded. I have reached out to women for mentoring and been shot down, only to find them subsequently begin to mentor others. Is it a coincidence that they chose to mentor women who were married? I have written about this before, and I probably sound like a broken record.
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you- that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
I am always so jealous of testimonies I hear at church from people who have established strong friendships of encouragement and accountability. More than one woman has spoken of developing relationships through the MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) group. Church groups are based on life stages that I have never been in. And because I’ve passed them by, even if I am someday by the grace of God a newlywed or a mother, these groups won’t be for me because I will be so much older. I will never be a ‘young married’ or a ‘young mother.’
Some people would advise me to find a new church, but I’ve been around long enough to know that I am not going to find anything different by “shopping around.” And during the services, I know that I am right where I am supposed to be. I am learning and growing, even though I am also becoming more and more of a homebody. I realize that I am making less of an effort as time goes on. Case in point, last Sunday I stayed home and worked on moving preparations. I am sure that this Sunday, they will show pictures of all of the happy families and groups of friends enjoying fellowship and fun. I will try to convince myself that I am not missing anything. If at some point I am actually convinced, then I will know that my wall is finished.