Do you ever have those days when you ask yourself, “Why am I going to all this trouble?”
When I was in 8th grade (worst year of my life – true story!), my teacher Ann Andrews asked us to write five things about ourselves on an index card. My fifth thing was ‘I am an eternal optimist.’ It’s still true, but I do have those days when I wonder if I’m just talking to myself around here.
“Around here” is a church, a wonderful place filled with laughter and grace and people walking their talk. I do love this place. My lungs fill a little deeper when I pull into the parking lot.
But every year it gets a little harder. Every year attendance is down just a bit. Every year we have to struggle just a little more to make the budget. Every year I’m sweet-talking just a few more to get people to participate in spiritual formation (Sunday School, classes, and retreats and such).
At least that’s the way it seems some days. I assume that you have “some days” too. Maybe today is one of them. Just in case, I’m answering the question TODAY so I can remind myself when I need to hear this answer.
1. First, some non-reasons. These are completely irrelevant (to me).
Because I don’t want to burn in hell.
Because I want my kids to be “good”.
Because I don’t want my kid to have sex outside of marriage.
Because Christianity is the only answer to the meaning of life.
Because I’m afraid of / superior to other religions and cultures.
Because I fear.
These might be legitimate reasons for some people, but they aren’t mine. I list them here just to deal with the baggage.
2. I stick around church because it grounds me.
Human beings are funny creatures. We are, in the words of the Psalms, “made just a little lower than the angels.” According to evolutionary thinkers, we are the universe becoming self-conscious for perhaps the first time. We are simultaneously selfish, greedy, obsessive, mean, short-term thinkers who can’t get our shit in squares to save our own sorry lives, much less the whole darn planet.
My faith does a great job of keeping me in this middle place: knowing and hoping for the best part of humanity and acknowledging that we are flawed and more than a little dangerous. Yeah, I could have faith without church, but that seems like a lonely answer.
3. I stick around church because it answers my questions and encourages me to ask better, deeper questions.
At its best, Christian faith helps me develop a healthy relationship with my experiences. With a rich history of contemplation and mysticism, Christianity gives me tools with which to grapple with the biggest questions life has to offer. These tools aren’t the only ones out there, but they’re mine: prayer, meditation, centering, lectio divina, acts of mercy and service, spiritual direction and companionship.
4. I stick around church because it makes me a better person.
There’s always a tug between being real and being kind. At least there is for me. Maybe some people are naturally kind, and good for them. Being part of my faith community gives me lots, LOTS of opportunities to practice kindness. I tell my kiddos all the time that the best thing someone can say about you is that you are kind… not smart or beautiful or accomplished or wealthy or popular or athletic. The more that I’m around these wacky church people (I’m talkin’ about you, Southwest Conference!), the more I feel the impulse to kindness. The more I practice kindness, the more I progress along the path to being an actual, real life kind person. Then kindness becomes part of the real me. It’s a slow process; just ask the people who know me!
Church folks are not the only people serving peace and justice in the world, but it’s a good bet that if you scratch the surface of a church, you’ll find people who care… and put their caring into action.
5. I stick around church because it is a human thing to do.
Darn us humans with our existential angst! We just can’t help it. We are always looking for meaning. Sometimes we have a hard time finding meaning and we just make some up. We’re meaning-making, meaning-sharing, narrative-telling critters. We’re hard-wired for connection and community. We long to belong and to become whatever it is we’re meant to be.
On the big scale, we’re still a species in our infancy. We’re still growing and evolving. Church is helping me do my part. It’s a lot of trouble, but I’m sticking around. I hope you are too.
Karen Richter is Director of Spiritual Formation at Shadow Rock UCC. She has worked previously in a variety of educational and nonprofit settings. Her interests include peaceful parenting, theology in pop culture, and adult/adolescent faith formation. She is also active in Shadow Rock’s sanctuary ministry and Whole Life Center. Karen lives in Anthem, Arizona with her husband, children, and tiny dog.
You may contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org