catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 21 :: 2011.11.25 — 2011.12.08


The imperfect body

A few years ago, I was so frustrated with church that I gave up altogether for a few months. I was the single mother of a two-year-old child who refused to leave my side (let alone go in a church nursery!) and I was deeply exhausted, struggling with physical illness and stressful life circumstances.  All I wanted to do on Sunday at church was rest in the presence of God.  But every Sunday became a fight — a fight to get my exhausted self and unruly daughter out the door on time, a fight to tear her clinging arms from my side and deposit her in the church nursery, a fight to suppress the feelings of guilt that this was hardly a Sabbath for either of us. 

One week, in a series on love and marriage, the pastor preached a sermon on the joys of singleness and what a gift it can be.  I broke down in tears and left feeling absolutely hopeless.  Where was the joy in being a single mother?  No one at church seemed to talk about that.  No one seemed to understand the challenges that single parents face, and not just myself.  A good friend of mine who is also a single mother got incredibly burned out at church after being asked to serve in the Sunday School program every other week, which she did for four years.  Eventually, on the off-weeks when she wasn’t serving, she often stayed home, too exhausted and spiritually empty to make the trek.  It seemed to both of us that we would be serving our children better by staying at home and using that Sunday morning as a time to give our kids our undivided attention. To us, Sunday felt like one more day of daycare for our kids and work for us. That just didn’t seem right!  But how could we grow spiritually without participating in the body of Christ? 

I grew bitter.  I thought that the church should know better.  Didn’t the New Testament talk all the time about taking care of the widows and orphans?  I felt different, and alone, and those feelings were only heightened when I walked into church every Sunday.  It began to feel unbearable.  I thought to myself, I would rather actually be alone, than be surrounded by people and yet still feel alone.  So I quit.

Eventually, the Lord led me to a new church, one where I received great personal healing — emotional, spiritual, and physical.  Some of the teaching unnerved me and I didn’t agree with all of their practices.  But it was a time of incredible spiritual renewal for me, and I craved sitting in the service every week to hear what the Lord would teach me through the preaching, which was so inspired by the Holy Spirit.  I learned and grew so much, and I remain incredibly grateful to the pastor and the prayer team at that church.  But it didn’t take long for the same old problems to surface. It was okay to be late at this church — God bless my loving and laid back pastor and the people there who really understood kids! 

But my daughter still wouldn’t go in the Sunday School and it was a fight every week.  Once, she had a panic attack at the thought of being left there alone, and I was so frustrated I broke down crying in the hallway close to the door.  I was so angry and upset that I was ready to leave and never come back.  Another mother stopped by and gave me a tissue and some words of encouragement, but she also told me I’d just have to stay with my daughter until she felt more secure.  It seemed impossible when I was still so weak myself and needed a break.  I was starving spiritually after having undergone a major life crisis, and I felt like there just wasn’t enough of me to go around.  The problems continued. I struggled to get to weekly Bible studies in the evenings because I didn’t have enough money to hire a babysitter, and my 300 square foot basement apartment was too small to invite anyone in — not to mention that I was living in suburbia where everyone else in my church lived in homes ten times the size of my apartment.  I felt different, frustrated and alone.  My health was so bad that I began to have trouble walking.  I brought all of this to my Bible study group, people I had prayed and walked with for nine months at that point, and asked for help — real, solid, practical help.  They prayed for me, and then never spoke about it again.

This time, I grew angry.  There were people in my congregation who went to Disney Land twice a year, and I couldn’t afford to hire a babysitter to come to Bible study.  Didn’t the Bible talk about how the early church shared everything in common and gave to anyone who was in need?  Weren’t there supposed to be no economic or social class divisions in the body of Christ?  Wasn’t Jesus Christ our peace who had come to make us one? 

After a year and a half, I couldn’t handle the fight with my daughter over Sunday School and left to go to my parents’ church where the classes were smaller and the format of the teaching was more understandable to her.  It was still a fight, but after the first few weeks, she was going in no problem.  And my parents were there to help out when I needed it. Finally, a rest.

Some people in my church didn’t agree with my decision, dear friends of mine who thought I hadn’t done enough to make it work, and thought I was taking a consumerist approach to church.  Was it true?  I searched my heart and didn’t think so, but it still bothers me at times, and it hurts to think they didn’t understand my struggle.

When we moved into a new area far away, I started going to a church that understood more about social and economic issues.  Some of the teaching is pretty different from what I’m used to, and I don’t agree with everything there either.  But I’ve been humbled to realize how much God taught me through my previous church, how he took my broken self and began his work to make me whole.  And how he used broken people to do that. 

The body of Christ was created by Jesus to do his work, but it is made up of human beings.  For some reason unknown to me, God chooses to allow us to be his hands and feet.  We muck it up all the time.  We compromise with the world, whether on moral issues or economic ones.  We judge each other and fail to build one another up.  We reject other believers on the basis of theological differences.  We believe the right things, but live them out in the wrong ways.  The church I’m going to now has a strong emphasis on peace and a practical living out of the teachings of Jesus.  I bet they don’t always get their theology “right,” at least not according to my solid Calvinist upbringing!  But I realize that it’s so easy to make an idol out of the church, to expect the church to deliver perfect teaching, perfect community, perfect love, and even salvation.  I think I may be guilty of looking to the body of Christ to save me, rather than putting my ultimate trust in Jesus.  And maybe they did fail me; as the Bible says, faith without works is dead.  But it also says that love covers over a multitude of sins, and all of us have fallen short of the glory of God.  If the church gets something right, it’s because of the power and grace of God, and he can use any church or person that he pleases to accomplish his good and perfect will.  I don’t want to stand in judgment anymore, don’t want to be angry or bitter.  I choose to go to church because for better or worse, it is full of people who are the body of Christ, imperfect though we may be.  Besides, as a good friend once told me, if you ever find the perfect church then leave, because you’ll be the one to muck it up.

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