When I was in college, I attended a Catholic church alone. I had not grown up in the Catholic faith but my Orthodox faith was similar. In my mostly-Southern-Baptist-hearted college town, there was no Orthodox church around though. Thankfully, a small Catholic offered aligned beliefs on the sacraments--a huge part of the Orthodox way.
I recall the sweetness of experiencing new songs, new liturgies, whole pews strewn with singles, and dotted about with a couple or family of a professor here and there.
Growing up, church had always been a family affair. But, as a student growing wings in a college town, in a college church, single in the pew was whole and expected.
It wasn't long 'til my roommates, friends and soon-to-be husband swept me into their tradition of church (a protestant one). And beginning in 1997, I pressed in next to my pew partner without another thought of church alone.
I wasn't careful. I allowed comfort and dependency to shape my perspective. In so many things. Including my place at church being fully perfected with a husband beside me and four young children tucked into Sunday school classes down past the fellowship hall. Fourteen years of family rhythm was hard to release in the valley, but my sweet tradition of attending church was not to be let go (see my first thoughts as I sat in church alone back then).
I have been sitting single at church for six years now. It's nice having my teen boys towering beside me. It's sweet holding my little girl's hand and watching her sing the familiar songs with a little bounce in her stance. And, I know the people around me, the families, the singles, and the pastors. I've even gotten hubs to come on occasion, and he's also befriended the people at church based purely on common interests beyond the sanctuary.
Actually, I am on staff at my church. With husband's encouragement, even. (Respect and mutual understanding grew from the valley.) Before the pandemic, I spent ten hours a week in the church office, in meetings with pastors, in leader brainstorming, in stuff of flourishing ministry life. Six years from broken, and I've grown roots in a church without him.
Sounds redemptive after my last posts, right?
I am in such a better place now than before. As I cast off that husband-centered Christianity, I discovered old beliefs that needed to die like the fig tree. My growing started with my roots in church. While my own respect and understanding for my husband grew, I sought out believers who were detached from the unnecessary stumbling blocks my husband used to discount faith. They were not foundational to faith at all. Prescribing certainty to most man-made doctrine is at the crux of breaking, really. And, for my husband to find peace with the exposure his children would find at church, the place needed to be free of the stumbling blocks (stuff for a later post). I found truth free of those blocks in my current church.
But, every Sunday comes a sliver of the broken place. Because every Sunday we leave Daddy home is a reminder of the grief. There have been moments where I've cried out in my head, "THIS IS NOT WORTH IT" while my kids are grumbling and goofing off in the pew, or my little girl huffs, "Why doesn't Daddy go to church with us?" There are times when I've walked through the door after church, and the venom of six years ago is so bitter on my tongue when I see him sitting in his pajamas ignoring the chance to find God again, that I stir up an argument and Sunday becomes Doomsday. Sundays are the best days some weeks, and the worst days more often than I should admit.
Sundays are hard. But, perhaps, they shouldn't be easy. They were easy in the comfort of a guy next to me, the shared passion promising answers all week long. There wasn't a ton of wrestling with the hard stuff because we had gotten really good at thinking there was no hard stuff. Belief was taken for granted and treated like an expectation. When that expectation didn't hold up, that's when God invited me in to the valley alone and back into a pew alone. But through it all, I was never really alone. Just like my days at church in college, I am sitting in church and relishing it for the sake of my faith, and I am learning.
Have you found new rhythms in your faith walk after a valley? Or, do you sit alone in the pew? It is not easy, friend. I'd say, it is brave. Courageously owning your faith regardless of why or how you got there. Take heart, you are not alone. I would love to hear from you and learn about your journey. Leave a comment or send me a note here.