With the exception of a few years after I got married, for as long as I can remember, Saturday night was always the night before church. As a kid, I remember hating Saturday nights for they meant that the next day would be filled with activities I didn’t really want to be a part of. Sunday mornings in our home meant early wake up times to go to church. To make matters worse, our church had a Sunday evening service. Sunday evening found me back at the same church, singing hymns and enduring what seemed like a long, boring sermon. By the time my mom finished yakking with every other church lady, it was often 9:00 PM before we would arrive home.
Suffice it to say that I hated Sundays. I was forced to go to a place where I didn’t feel loved nor did I feel accepted. Those feelings were reinforced as I entered the teen years. Youth group was an excruciating experience where everyone else had friends they chatted with while I sat alone at a table wishing I was anywhere but in that room.
For the last ten months or so, every Saturday night brought a certain level of angst. It was about that time, as most regular readers of this blog know, I found myself being swept away into the raging, dark, waters of depression. As I received rebuke from many about the darkness of my Facebook posts, I retreated more and more into a protective isolation. Hence was ushered in the aforementioned angst of Saturday nights. Nearly every Saturday night during this time, my husband would ask me the same question: “Are we going to church tomorrow?”. The first month or so was a battle. There was a time in the last few years that I treasured Sunday mornings at our church. I felt like I had finally found a place that I could be loved and accepted. Like everything else in its wake, though, depression chipped away at that sense of belonging. Instead of believing I was loved, depression told me that I was not welcome there. Depression told me that I had no place in a church where joy was the norm. If there is one thing you must know and understand about depression, it is this–depression may lie, but it does so craftily. I believed–and still do–the lies depression fed me in those lonely, dark, long hours spent alone. Each week that passed it became easier and easier to tell my husband no to his question about church. I was certain that no one missed me anyway. Oh, I knew there were a few who at least noticed I wasn’t there. In the midst of some hurtful Facebook messages, I did receive a couple encouraging ones. Two that quickly come to mind are one from our worship pastor and one from the keyboard player. Still, the longer I stayed away the more convinced I became that I was one of those people who would never fit into church.
Then I got a job at a Christian bookstore. Over the course of the last three months, I have found my coworkers to be like family. On more than one occasion as I stood at the table back in the receiving dock, opening boxes and ticketing merchandise including study Bibles and Christian living books, I thought about the lack of God in my life. Many days I left work with the conclusion that I needed God in my life. But still, when Saturday night would roll around, and that dreaded question was posed to me once again, fear of rejection kept me from saying anything other than a quick no to church. I was certain that if I walked through the doors of church, most would wonder why I would think I was welcomed there after months of shutting people out. It bothered me enough that, on a couple Sundays, my husband and I did make the drive to church but purposely arrived late. We would walk up the stairs, quietly go in the back door, and sit as close to the back as we could. Then, when the worship team would come down to lead the congregation in the last song, we would leave the same way we had come in. I figured by doing that, I was protecting my heart from further assault. This past week, I felt God was telling me to just swallow my pride and face my fear of rejection–I knew God wanted me to go to church not because I might be accepted there, but rather because it was a step of obedience to Him.
I will admit that I was not thrilled about this idea. I felt lousy this morning. I could have come up with a plethora of excuses as to why I just couldn’t do what I felt God wanted me to do. It was a battle of intense fear and emotion. To walk through the doors of church was a terrifying prospect; to walk through the doors while everyone was standing in the foyer chatting with friends was beyond terrifying. But that is what I did.
I wish I could say I left there feeling like I was proven wrong–that I left feeling like I was loved and welcomed. I can’t say that, though. It was exactly as I thought it would be. Of course no one said I wasn’t welcomed or that I wasn’t loved. Maybe no one even thought that. And while feelings are just feelings, I have learned they are real and need to be acknowledged. Still, there is a part of me that knows that God won a victory over Satan this morning. Maybe this is a first step forward that will lead to more.
Time will tell.