Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Faith is Strong, But I'm Struggling With Worship

I realized Sunday, in the midst of what turned out to be one of the best weekends in ages, that one of the hardest places for me to be lately is church.

It's not so much that I'm mad at God, although I am and He's letting me work through that, but that to worship freely I need to let down the barriers that help hold me together the other six days of the week.

Don't get me wrong, I've not dodged church as a result. In fact, my church family -- especially my Sunday school "siblings" and a few close church friends -- have been people I can turn to when I have an earthly need. Although I struggled with going to church that first Sunday afterwards knowing that the sincere hugs and condolences would be hard, I've gone every week.

Sunday school class goes fine. I probably don't share as much of what I'm going through on a day to day basis as I once did -- if anyone is familiar with the pain of loving Ethan, it's them -- but I can still contribute to the lesson. Being with a group that supported me for so long is good, even if we don't talk about it.

It's the worship, the music and song that gets me. Sometimes it's the sermon as well, where I just can't wrap my mind around how all this earthly pain ever stacks up to anything good.

When it comes to the music, it's probably the same root cause that has me switching from listening to KLOVE on my radio in the car, to playing CDs. At first I blamed it on the few commercials (especially those for Teen Challenge, an addiction treatment program that Ethan refused to attend), but I've realized it's because I cannot control what they are playing or even skip a song that strikes too many chords in my heart.

At the same time, I'm finding it easier to deal with in the car because it doesn't matter if I cry as long as I can still see the road. I've come to terms with the lyrics of a lot of songs that cause me pain and reached the point that I can generally sing along even if I simultaneously cry. If I find I cannot handle it, I can push the skip button or stop singing, which allows some of my defenses to come back up.

In fact, the first week that I started getting out, I spent most of my time in the car crying, no matter what my destination. While I was eager to get out, I found those alone times with Christian music, which frankly is all I've listened to in years other than my old stuff, were tough. Even if I had the girls in the back, I would cry between point A and point B, then put myself together enough to go on.

I've found that same problem carries over into the worship part of church service. I'm not sure if that means that playing the music in the car is a worship, which at times it does feel like, or not, but it does leave me struggling to get through the start of our church service Sunday mornings.

I cannot hit the skip button if the song the choir or congregation is singing causes me pain. I cannot change the station. I cannot turn it off.

When the pastor encourages us to celebrate our Lord in our worship, I stand there with my jaw locked trying not to cry, or perhaps losing the battle and just hoping I don't break down completely. Depending on the structure of the service, it may be all I can do to get through to the end having exhausted my emotional reserves early in the process. Although I do listen to the sermon, sometimes the lesson has a hard time taking root.

Because to be quite honest right now, I'm struggling with my relationship with God. It's hard to be close to someone you're angry at and I don't understand why any of this had to happen. Reminding myself that I'm not supposed to and that the world is an evil place where bad things happen only gets me so far.

Through some terrible paradox, while I'm angry at God, I have to depend utterly on my faith in Him to be able to make it on a day to day basis. I have to have faith that there is a reason for pain -- mine and Ethan's and all the other pain that I've become much more intimate with in the last five weeks -- or else I would sink into utter despair.

That this life is just a short part of our existence and the things that happen here are passing is hard to accept when mortality is all I know. Even accepting that, the need for pain and suffering and what impact it can have on our souls still baffles me. The Biblical lessons about how we endure trials here converting to treasures in heaven just don't satisfy my need to understand what's happening now.

I don't think church can help me deal with these things so I guess church may just be tough for a while.

I know these are issues God and I have to work out on our own in long, mostly one-sided conversations with me doing the talking. My answers some in brief flashes of insight, visions that might be dismissed as daydreams, the words of people I don't really know that without this pain I would never have touched, the ability to make someone else feel less alone during the hardest times of our lives.

My answers come in faith and hope in things I have not seen and won't see at church, but that I nonetheless believe in and which keep me going seven days a week.

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