What is the first thing that springs to mind when you think about church? Do you think about worship? Serving the community? Listening and engaging with the message? Catching up with friends? Something else?
If you go to church, or if you used to go to church, how was the service? Were you warmly welcomed as you entered the front door? Do you remember their name? Do they remember yours? Did you arrive super early just to make sure you weren’t late and you were the first one there? Or did you arrive just after the service started so you didn’t have to stand around looking awkward and just picked the first seat you could find before you started to panic?
How was the worship? Did you engage wholeheartedly, or was something holding you back? Were your eyes fixed on the screen because you didn’t know the words, or were you looking around wondering why everyone else seems to be encountering Jesus and you’re there feeling like an emotional wreck? Were you singing in tune? Did anyone notice?
How was the message? Did something resonate deep inside? Were you convicted? Did you respond at the end when they invited you up the front for prayer or were you frozen in your seat and your mind racing at a million miles an hour, wondering why you’re about to sink back into your shell just like the other fifty-thousand times? Did anyone else see that or was it just me?
How did you go after the service? Did you stick around? Did you talk about your week? Did they talk about theirs, or are you still sitting in the same seat trying to collect your thoughts? Were you able to muster a conversation or was everyone busy in their groups or personal conversations and you felt like the outsider again? How long did you wait? Did anyone see you there? Are you looking for the exit or just looking for a friend?
As I was reflecting, Spotify shuffled to Only Questions by Max Richter – how fitting…
Here is what church looked like today –
Leaves home 40 minutes before the service starts, because who wants to be late and stuck in traffic – oh wait it’s Sunday… too late I already started driving. Arrives 15 minutes before the service starts – makes mental note that traffic doesn’t really exist on a Sunday night.
Has a quick look from the distance to see if anyone you recognize has arrived – nope the doors aren’t open yet – they must be in rehearsal or praying before the service. Goes for a 10 minute walk down the street and back – better to look like you’re achieving something than standing around looking awkward right? Realises that the walk only took 5 minutes and now you’re standing there looking awkward…
Oh look someone is walking down the driveway to church – I’ll follow them, at least this way it doesn’t look like I’m all by myself. Enters the front door and sees someone I barely know – says hello and engages in light conversation about one’s week – did I say the same thing as I said last week about the previous week?
Person is thinking about joining pre-service prayer – walks into the auditorium with them and starts to freak out inside about pre-service prayer – I guess I won’t be joining – I’ll just stand over here… does anyone notice I’m standing over here by myself? Don’t I just wish I was able to engage like they are?
Oh look, my brother is on band tonight – engages in light conversation before service begins. Oh wait the service is about to start and he must join the worship team. Back to standing here by myself… Starts light conversation with someone else, but oh wait the service is starting – they find a seat. I find another seat.
Engages in worship – really tries to mean what is being sung – being distracted by a million other thoughts, that’s not the beat I remember for that song – why does it matter, that’s the drummer’s heart-felt expression. Can I name any of the notes or chords that are being played, what is the key signature – I don’t know, music theory is still new to me. Looks around a few times to see if someone I know will turn up – they don’t. Sees people deeply in worship, wishes that was me.
Listens intently to the message. One of the pastors is sharing part of their testimony and tying it into how God has restored many broken things in their life and on their generational line and that he can also restore our brokenness and cares about every single detail of our lives. Oh how I desperately want some restoration and deliverance from some really painful things in my life…
Pastor opens up the floor for prayer – here we go again, will I respond, open up and be vulnerable, or am I too scared? Do I know anyone well enough to share? Do I want to share with someone I know well? What will they say? Will they see me differently? Will they judge me? How would they react if they knew? The more I want to respond, the deeper I sink into my chair… Isn’t this the same thing that happened the other fifty-thousand times I wanted to respond and have someone pray for me?
Oh look the service is over – did anyone else see that tear? I’m still sitting here – hello? I wonder if I have the energy to muster a conversation with my brother? He starts the conversation – thank goodness… conversation doesn’t go very far… maybe next time? The cat is being naughty? You have to go and buy groceries for the week? Have fun!
Walks out into foyer – panic! Everyone is in their groups having their conversations… and I barely know them… social anxiety… panic… oh look a cookie! Walks back into auditorium with one’s newly found cookie – less people here… phew! But what next?
Who will be my conversation buddy? I have some strength left but not much… oh look two people I recognize – walks closer, wonders if they are having a deep conversation or not… walks too close and realizes you can’t really be part of that conversation… this is awkward… one person says hello, says hello back… they continue their conversation… that was awkward…
Brother starts to pack up instrument with his wife… I thought they already left… walks over and musters generic conversation… oh look an escape plan – excellent! Walks out of church with brother and his wife – thinks that people will see that as normal enough.
Should have probably stayed and tried to get to know some of the people better, but I feel so overwhelmed, socially and emotionally drained.
Brother and wife need to leave to buy groceries – says goodbye and starts walking to one’s car. Starts to feel like an emotional wreck because I didn’t really engage with anyone or try to get to know them better and build connections and relationships and all those things that I really want to be able to do. Regrets not responding to the call for prayer just like last time. Weeps bitterly inside.
Stops at fast food outlet on the way home and purchases something way too big – instantly regrets it.
Sound all too familiar?
God made us unique – we wouldn’t want to all be extroverts or social butterflies would we? Or would we? Having variety is good, but how do we cope as introverts in places where you are surrounded by people? All the extroverts seem to fit in alright but where do we fit?
How do you build connections and find the right people to have deep and meaningful conversations with? How do you become vulnerable with the right people and share the hardest struggles of life? How do you walk out the front for prayer when you desperately know you need it, but you feel as though your ankle is tied to a prisoner ball?
You know that God can do all things, and you know that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength – but you still struggle with the same stuff year after year. You know that you need to confess your sins with each other and be healed. You know who the Son sets free is free indeed – but do you honestly believe it for yourself?
You know that you need to be accountable and vulnerable with the right people, but you can barely find the strength to say hello and talk about more than your week, their week and the weather.
You know that God’s power is made perfect in weakness, but why am I still stuck here, surrounded by weakness.
On a positive note – even while I struggle to engage, connect and respond – God still pours out his presence and lets me know that he is there, he knows all that is happening, he understands completely and that he loves me and cares about all that is going on.
In all honesty church isn’t that bad. This is my 6th week here – the community is lovely, the message is engaging, the music is flowy, the people are nice too…but I’m an introvert.