What I’m not missing probably says more than what I am. The conditions brought about by the response to the pandemic may be a better gauge of personality than any assessment that has been created for that purpose. One assessment I took, over twenty years ago, declared me to be a “clear introvert.” All these years later, there is a new test. After more than two months, church has reopened, and I have no desire to go back. I hope this speaks more about my personality than my church.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about how the pandemic wasn’t affecting me very much because I was still going to work and I was already such a home-body. Home was already my favorite place to eat and exercise. When I wrote that, I actually felt church was the one thing I was missing. But maybe I wanted things to be back to normal more than I really missed going to church. And now, home has become my favorite place to go to church. After a couple of months of enjoying sermons and services from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy recliner, I can’t think of anything that I am missing. I am sure this is a bad thing because I know what I am supposed to be missing. I should be feeling a loss of community and fellowship, but I’m not feeling it. I perceive this is because those things are not a significant part of Sunday mornings at church, for me.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Pre-pandemic Sunday mornings at church usually came and went with little social interaction. Sometimes I encounter someone from my life group and talk a bit. It’s always nice to see a friendly face, exchange a greeting, and find out how someone is doing. Other times, I specifically want to talk to someone after the service, and I will seek that person out. For some reason, I always find this awkward because the person I want to talk to is usually talking with someone else. I don’t want to interrupt and I end up feeling like an interloper. I am not sure whether feeling awkward is just a social problem that I have, or if I just don’t feel like I belong. I think the best answer is that I haven’t developed the kind of close relationships that put a person at ease. It is probably my own fault; to some extent, my personality doesn’t want to fit in. This is a trait that appears to varying degrees in some of my family members.
When I think over the almost two decades since I moved to this area, I can point to a few good friendships I have developed with people that I met at church. This helps me to know that I am not completely closed off or incapable of forming relationships. Yet, at church, I feel like an outsider. This is not about any one church, as I have attended a few during this time period. As I thought through these issues of friendship, fellowship, and going to church, I came to a deeper realization: I am less lonely and more content during this period of not attending church. Church is filled with reminders of the life that God did not chose for me. Church reminds me of the friendships I tried to make and the limbs I climbed onto only to have them break. Church is full of other peoples’ families and friendships. It leads me to compare my life to others, though I know it is wrong thinking. I am suddenly looking at my contentment over the past few months differently. I can’t help but conclude that going to church makes me lonely.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
I’m not sure what the next step is after this realization because I am not going to write off church for the rest of my life. I know that there is value in going to church. I know there is a difference between watching a service on my TV and participating in one, in person. The clearest distinction is that I am not as attentive to the sermon when I watch it in my living room rather than in a pew. At the same time, I have done away with a large number of distractions by not having people around me. Still, I feel certain that God wants me to attend and participate in church.
As a believer, I don’t think my current enjoyment of not going to church is healthy. All my life, I have counted on my habit of going to church to get me through times of depression and discouragement. I have always believed it was better for my mental and spiritual to health to attend church regularly. I am sure that it has encouraged me and helped me to grow. I am almost always glad to have gone. So, I am sure, once things get closer to normal and I don’t need to RSVP or wear a mask, I will make my way back to church on Sundays according to the long established routine of my life. But perhaps this respite has in some way been good for me. Maybe the added layer of peace and contentment will carry over into the next season.