It is a Sunday. I am meant to have gone to church. But each time I venture there I find myself fleeing to safer places. There is something terribly daunting about the prospect of walking through yet another set of doors as I attempt to find the place where community will be accessible to me. I made a great effort again today, walking through the halls of yet another big structure with steeple, coffee corner and narthex. The information wall was my retreat for a short while, a place I could linger with something to do, as I pulled leaflets from the racks to learn of the various ministries offered. A few hundred feet away I sense people watching me, wondering perhaps: who is she. I keep my focus. The brochures generally give me a good idea on whether the place is worth a nod or if I should cut my losses early. I suppose that says something of the importance of a church’s marketing strategies, as mundane and secular as that sounds. This one gave me a clear sign with its women’s ministry offerings: MOPS Mother’s of Preschoolers – they meet the second and fourth Friday of every month at 9:30am. Then there is the Mom’s Next Group providing fun and fellowship for mother’s of school aged children: 3rd Thursdays at 7:00pm. Out to lunch bunch, for women of all ages – an opportunity to get together and fellowship at local restaurants. A Stamping Group that while they gather once a month in the evenings, their focus is very likely scrap booking all of the wonderful life events they experience as mothers. The one group that may have been of interest, the knit and crochet group, meets 1st and 3rd Tuesdays at 11:00am; obviously not geared to the working woman., likely seniors. There is a sprinkling of bible study and mission groups and these could work, although they run from September through May – it is now March so this season is about to end. I find myself walking down the hall as I hear the final hymns of traditional service wrapping up as I wait for the contemporary service which is set to start in 25 minutes. I find myself in front of a big cork board wall adorned with announcements and pictures of people having fun at a campground. The Annual Family Camp Retreat is coming up in May. A weekend away from the city to get to know one another better out in nature. As I read further I see that the format for the weekend is geared towards children’s activities. Probably not something I would be able to pursue and if I did, it would be awkward. The next wall down is an opportunity for the church to list the various missionaries assigned around the world that could use prayer. All of them are pictured as couples and couples with children. I find myself walking past the kitchen window where they are preparing the refreshments. I continue past the restrooms. I believe there is an exit door at the end of this hallway, that leads to the parking lot. It would make sense since I believe I saw this door on my way in earlier. I walk purposefully and find myself exiting the building, there is my car. Only a few more steps and I will be safe again within the confines of my familiar vehicle. I will go to a coffee house and read and write, that will be my church today.
Is it any wonder that I feel left behind in this world. And the guilt sets in. church is not about me. Church is about Christ. It is a place to worship God. Read a tweet the other day from a pastor- urging readers to go to church with the mindset to be of service and not as a consumer. I know that church is meant to be a place to focus on Him and his love, grace, mercy and His plan for all of mankind. As a human, I still find myself sliding into a pathetic place of angst. I am here, in this state, as a result of my own poor choices during key years of my adulthood. Still, this fact doesn’t help me to pull myself together. Honestly, even if I wanted to be involved, it seems that all of the options that are made up of spiritual offerings are so family focused that someone like me just doesn’t fit in. I don’t want to be depressed about this, I don’t want to wallow. Truly. But I find myself on these Sundays with no place comfortable to go. And, I have tried too many and feel the same deeply lonely existence in every one of them. In a church, surrounded by people who belong to each other, and me- I sit alone. The other part is the feeling of being so conspicuous; a woman in middle age with no one beside her. To some women she can be seen as a threat, to others a bore. In one church I actually received grim shooting looks of disdain.
This past Christmas, as I was trying to settle in before the Christmas services of yet another new church I was trying out, this one a mega church that draws thousands. I was asked to move three times in order to make room for families that wanted to sit together. That was tremendously awkward. The last move that I made, I didn’t bother to fold up my coat to put it under the seat in front of me because I wanted to be prepared in case I was asked again to shift my place. Then, the sermon began, and it was about being present for God in this moment. It was calling us all out and asking us whether we were there, or if our minds were elsewhere. “Maybe” the pastor suggested “you are in the middle of that argument you had this morning with your spouse over getting out the door on time to avoid yet another late arrival to church and more importantly, preventing the family from getting a good parking spot for that quick escape after the service. Or, maybe you are sitting there overcome by loneliness, feeling completely alone and wondering what all this is about. Wondering if God has abandoned you. God has not abandoned you, he is right here with you. “So why are you lonely?” he asks, “when God is all you need.”. Easy for this pastor to say. And easy for all these people to take in this message, since most of them sit here with their families, or someone that is there… sitting beside them, they have families, children, spouses, community. Of course there are others just like me. Too bad there isn’t a way to meet them, to find them.
Suddenly, I sense my eyes completely filling with liquid and my nose instantly congests. I sit there with my huge winter coat billowing up off my lap, my arms gripping it in a sort of bear hug desperately needing it to not slip off and I sense that tears are quite possibly going to begin trailing down my face and I have no way to avoid this or brush them away without being less than subtle. My nose is now completely filled as well, and I am having trouble breathing through the fluids. And, now, rather than concentrating on the sermon, I am focused entirely on how I am going to get through the remaining twenty or so minutes of this lesson without being a smeared and blithering mess. I want so badly to stand up and make my escape, but I can’t seem to gather the courage. I won’t allow this to happen to me again. There will not be a next time.