Part 1: A Mom’s Story About Finding Church Family
One of the more uncomfortable experiences I’ve had in life was when I started to attend church as a young mom. I thought that to increase my chances of being accepted and I had to ensure that I “did my part”. However, I often felt discouraged instead, wondering why I felt so alone in a crowded room on Sunday mornings with a very strong feeling of emptiness and longing for fellowship. If every member makes up the Body of Christ and I had nowhere to fit in or belong; then maybe I was like a defective part of an assembly line. Maybe I wasn’t good enough.
My church often invites us to “come as we are”, which at first sounded like an obligatory welcome with hidden expectations. Through some powerful sermons, I learnt that my church was indeed sincere. I clearly have struggled with trust issues in thinking there are always hidden motives, that perhaps just as I am, wasn’t and isn’t enough. I mean, what could I possibly offer to this “church family”? I was a mess. I have been through a lot in my life, but those two to three years around the time we started attending church, were by far the hardest years of our lives. From almost losing our son multiple times during pregnancy, to having over a hundred medical appointments, three surgeons, two major surgeries, and a few medical emergencies (and two doctor cited miracles!) in our little guy’s first two years of life, these struggles brought us to our knees. During that time my husband had an emergency surgery, my daughter was diagnosed with conductive hearing loss (which brought multiple challenges on different levels for her), and I had a skin cancer scare. I developed severe post partum depression, which my optimistic enthusiastic self had an incredibly tough time accepting and dealing with. I was a big hot mess. So what did I do? I kept trying; boy did I try.
So in a desperate attempt to feel a sense of belonging, connectedness, assurance that we weren’t alone in this crazy season of life, I threw myself into church groups. I must have looked like “the crazy mom”, that hyper vigilant mom who had two active babies. Believing that I just needed a little more persistence and positive thinking, I actually stuck it out for longer than I had the energy to, though I sometimes attended the groups without actually saying more than one word the entire time. I remember one time before mom’s group, in the middle of a parking lot. My two year old threw herself down in a temper tantrum and my baby was screaming in sync from the stroller. I explained to the other ladies that we were just going to head back home. I had to put my two year old over my shoulders in the middle of the parking lot as she refused to get off the cement in her temper tantrum and attempted to also push the stroller to my vehicle. Well don’t you know it, the frugal mom I am got a fantastic deal on a little stroller, and as you sometimes get what you pay for, the wheels locked up. So I started gently rocking the stroller to unlock the wheels only to do it again two minutes later. I very calmly got the kids in the car seats then called my poor husband. And cried. And cried. I think I actually cried for about half an hour in the vehicle before driving home while the kids happily ate the snack I had packed for them.
My poor husband had no clue how to help me as a young mom with young kids who had health issues or as a husband whose wife had postpartum depression and huge anxiety in general from such a crazy season of life. He encouraged me to try the church group one last time. So I did. Spray park, summer time, two young children, and one mom. Yup. The hypervigilant mom I am had done what I thought was the impossible - I lost my child, she was there one second, I turned to help my youngest get his towel, turned around and she was gone. Longest five minutes of my life. I think the only words I was able to say to the other moms were not until an hour after I arrived when I asked them if they could help me find my toddler and within minutes someone found her hiding in a locker in the girls washroom. Thank goodness. For the first time I couldn’t help crying in public, completely broke down in a death grip hug with my found child and explained that I could no longer attend the group. I apologized profusely as I felt so guilty of not being in a position or season of life to feel adequate to have the time, energy and possibility of meeting others or building on relationships. After that I felt frustrated and angry that I would have to go through this season of life feeling alone.
To be completely honest, I felt uninvited. I felt a sense of not being good enough, a feeling that had deep old roots. I felt defeated in my attempts to connect amidst a season where I didn’t have the ability. I resentfully accepted the notion that the village I desperately longed for was empty. I felt utterly alone in one of the hardest times of my life. This caused me to question my own worth, spiritual journey, church and my purpose. My quest for inner peace and connectedness could not be found in seeking it from other people. It was a very deep inward struggle that I would have to trench through on my own before I would be able to see the world as it really was and not what the distorted reality I had based around my perception and experiences. I began to pray and search for peace and joy, a feeling that hadn’t been felt in a long time and to survive this season of postpartum depression. A quote from Lysa TerKeurst stuck with me, “Jesus doesn’t participate in the rat race. He’s into the slower rhythms of life, like abiding, delighting and dwelling - all words that require us to trust Him with our place and our pace”. Lysa encouraged her readers to “live from the abundant place that you are loved, and you won’t find yourself begging others for scraps of love” and urged “the more fully we invite God in, the less we will feel uninvited by others”. She argued that no matter how different our struggles are, that negative and distorted thought patterns and perceptions “have no place in a heart as beautiful as yours”.
That was the focus of my journey: to find connectedness and belonging in the only thing that could provide it to me. As Psalm 107:9 says, “for he satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness”. Beth Moore hit the nail on the head when she wrote “in certain stages of life, we need to be reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of God”. Beth goes on to explain “as we spend time with God, dialoguing with Him in prayer and reading his word, we begin to change. And the way we view ourselves also begins to change. The reason this makes sense is that our self-concepts were formed originally within a relationship as we dialogued with a loved and trusted authority figure. And they will be transformed the same way….yes, there is a true hope for Christian women to have a satisfying self-concept, a secure identify, and genuine fulfillment”.
For a long time, my amazing husband who refused to give up on striving for connectedness to our church family, encouraged me to join groups with him so we could do this together. There was an encouraging member of the church who just wouldn’t give up on us and kept reaching out along our journey. We attended some of the events we were invited to and although it strengthened my relationship with God, I knew it wasn’t my season to give, to lead or to bless; it was my season to walk alone with my God in a long journey of inner healing . We joined groups and although my husband tried his best, I still wasn’t connecting. I had either been changed by my postpartum, beaten up by it or perhaps had become more introverted. More than likely because I was beaten up from the tough season of life we were in. Perhaps I was burned out from trying so hard and wasn’t prepared to handle another failure in attempts to find my belonging in the body of Christ. Maybe I felt guilty and selfish for pulling the kids through different attempts so that I could feel connected to a village. Since that time, my son has recovered from his surgeries and my daughter's hearing has been restored. I realize now, looking back with fresh eyes, that it wasn't my failure but God's provision
Church family, church as a family, is a concept I have prayed for years to understand its definition, and feel its meaning. For me, it is a sense of inner peace, fellowship, connectedness and a closer relationship with God - my identity in Christ: things I have gained valuable insights into but still eagerly strive for.
“Church family” could have many different meanings, expectations, and prerequisites depending on what your perception or experiences have been. Your family of origin, culture, your relationship with your father and how you perceive God as your father etc. Every past experience can have a significant impact on how you perceive a present or future situation. In this technological day in age where a sermon could be quickly downloaded from a podcast, one may ask the question why physically going to church is so important, perhaps it develops a healthy environment and routine for children, perhaps it’s to get connected, but it’s easier said than done for some including myself. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus”; we all have different experiences, hurts and journeys set before us that require different paces. There have been times in my life where it has been level ground and easy to increase my speed; other times it has been uphill and the pace has been slow and painful.
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