It's Sunday and I'm feeling particularly melancholy this afternoon, partially because of rapidly dropping temperatures outside with the possibility of snow this evening and partially because of church this morning.
During the three years of living in Manhattan Kansas, I've not experienced success in finding a church home where I feel I truly belong. My expectations are probably too high and my needs are too overwhelming for any church. I'm trying really really hard not to answer the constant calls of fear and bittterness that are often awakened when I go to church.
Why is that?
I was in a fairly good spirits when I woke up. Then the inner debate began again. Should I go or shouldn't I go? Is Angela singing? That means she'll be there. That means there will be at least one human being who knows me. Should I go or shouldn't I go? Is anyone going to give a hoot if I don't show up? Would anyone actually miss me? No.
This was the first morning that I have attended church without crutches. The pastor's wife was the only one who noticed and seemed so pleased for me. Angela wasn't there. She was a big part of the reason I decided to stay with Westview Church. At least I would know one single soul.
This begs the next question and invites me to start beating on myself yet again. What have I done to establish meaningful church relationships in the past few months? Have I bothered to join any of several groups or classes offered? No. Do I make a concerted effort to reach out and befriend others? Usually not. I do the very thing I used to loathe in someone else. I show up one day a week. I listen to a sermon. I go quietly home and live the way I wanna live the other six days of the week.
I listened to the sermon this morning. It was about relationships. Reconciling family relationships. First the pastor was giddy about the reproductive rate of his congregation. Babies everywhere. Little bundles of pooping, peeing and puking joy. At what point will I ever be able to look at an infant without the overwhelming fear that I'll never get the chance to have one of my own? Pastor talked about the unbreakable bond of love a parent has for a child even the child doesn't follow in the ways taught by the parent. He talked about how God disciplines us just like parents discipline children. At this point I'm desperately wishing pastor will stumble upon something I can relate to. He digressed back to feeling sad at weddings as disillusioned brides and grooms stare starry-eyed at one another and promise forever when half of all marriages end after a couple of years. Really not helping now, pastor. Then he said, "but God's love isn't like that." Then I thought, "well come it FEELS that way most of the time?"
Never am I so accutely aware of not belonging to anyone or anywhere -- illusions though they may be -- as when I am sitting alone in church and observing other couples pawing and slobbering over each other and the back-rubbing, hugging and hand holding. What is this, the senior prom? Can they broadcast any louder that they are "gettin' some"?
Yeah, ok, I'm slipping down the muddy slope of envy and bitterness and paranoia. Maybe it isn't just this particular church. These icky emotions would tornado through me regardless of where I go. Everything is always all MY fault, right???
Or is it? I could also argue that "the church" often misses the mark when it comes to meeting the needs of its members. I think it is on-going struggle for EVERY church to minister to EVERYONE'S needs.
I don't know what the answer is, but I don't enjoy feeling worse AFTER I attend church. Part of my frustration could be the community. It's close-knit, politically VERY conservative and very family oriented. If I had the man of my dreams and two beautiful children and another bun in the oven, this is probably exactly where I would want to be. Safe. Quiet. Small. A place where everyone knows your name because you've known them since third grade. I think most churches in this area cater to the needs of families because that's the primary segment of Manhattan's population. Single 30 -something men and women in Manhattan are minorities.
Just to confirm that I am NOT alone in this discontent, my co-worker and friend, Angela, who is my age and also single, completely and totally agrees. She simply has different ways of coping.
Then my mind traveled back to California, and I thought of the numerous conversations I had with Kim and Jeff Simonds about faith, God, and community. And I felt better.
I surprised myself with how open and forthcoming I was about my life during those two weeks with people I barely knew but who listened and loved me anyway. We stayed with Tammi and Dave Auda for the first week in L.A. Tammi is Jeff's older sister. They are almost 15 years apart. Huge age gap. Yes, she helped raise him. Jeff and I are about the same age. Dave is one of the counseling pastors at Mosiac Church in L.A. Who would have ever guessed that he was able to communicate to me exactly what I needed to hear as I was crying into the cup of coffee he poured for me?
I was blown away in observing how their four beautiful daughters interacted. Sarah, Ruthie, Rebecca, and Deborah, from ages 24 to 16, got along famously. The older two, Sarah and Ruthie, were no longer living in the house, but they stopped by. No bickering, no unexpected emotional outbursts, no "mom, so-and-so is acting like a selfish bitch so make her stop" speeches. They all liked each other. In fact, they all valued each other. In fact, no sister would date a guy whom the others didn't approve of.
Then there was the conversation Deborah, Kim, Jeff and I had at Disneyland during dinner when it was pouring rain. Deborah was absorbed in texting on her cell phone. Uncle Jeff became irritated and invited her to join our conversation. He suspected she was texting one of several boys and having boyfriend problems. He was right. For some reason, I blurted out "You are 16 and this is the time of your life to develop your own skills and talents. Don't waste your precious time and energy with boys who aren't mature enough to give you the respect you deserve." She gave me a funny look, Kim nodded in agreement, and Deborah said, "that's good advice." And then I thought, if only I could make myself believe that at twice her age.
Later that week, her father, Dave, gave ME more good advice on how to deal with my self-hatred. "You would never say mean, unkind things to another person who was struggling, would you? Treat yourself the same way. Say the same thing to yourself as you would to someone else." For some reason, that helped.
Dave is a very jovial, light-hearted guy who always enjoys a good joke and can size you up in an instant. He has degrees in drama, music, and in divinity of course, and I knew he was trying to figure out how to help me during the week he graciously provided his home for me. I got the sense he had a lousy childhood and had spent some of his adult life trying to make ammends for bad choices. I don't know the details and didn't ask, but he said he was able to thrive at Mosiac because God had placed him in a nurturing, creative environment. He was confident that God would somehow use me as a writer some day and prayed for direction for me.
That, to me, is all about faith, God and community. If it takes a plane ride to a different state and relying on the generosity of strangers, that is faith, God and community. Remembering all that makes me feel better on this dreadly cold, windy, snowy day.