Where The Answer Isn’t

Dear Pastor:

I realized something this week that is going to change everything.  In fact, I’m a little sheepish that I hadn’t realized it before.

I am not going to find the answer to my problem at church.

Now please don’t misunderstand this.  I’m not saying that there are no answers at church.  I’m not intimating that someone is not doing his or her job well.  In fact, there will probably come a time in the future when I will find the answer to a problem at church.

But not this one.

It hit me last Sunday as I drove home, disappointed once again that there had been no personal revelation from on high that would change everything and take away the ache in my heart, that the problem was me.

For the past, I don’t know, seven or eight years, I have gone to church each Sunday with varying levels of expectation that maybe THIS would be the week that I’d get The Answer.  And I have driven home with varying levels of disappointment.

But last Sunday, I stopped and looked at the situation and realized that I was looking for something that wasn’t going to be found.  It probably is not going to be found ANYWHERE, but somehow I had this idea that church was different and that some Wise Pastor Person was going to walk up to me and say that One Thing that would make the pain go away, or that would change the circumstance, or that would help me understand why I am going through this.

I was acting like church is a magical place where people only speak Words From God.  I mean, I know better.  I know that church made up of human people just like me who are all hurting to various degrees and who are just doing their best to get it right, and often missing the mark.  I know that while sometimes people DO have a flash of Spirit-led insight and go out of their way to pray for you or deliver an encouraging word, that’s not generally the norm.  And since I actually have had a few of those prayers and words since I started struggling with this problem, I also know that even that doesn’t make everything better.

So why I continued to show up each week looking for the Hidden Message Just For Me in the middle of a sermon is actually the bigger mystery here.

It makes me wonder how many other people are sitting in the congregation week after week feeling the same way.  I know I’m not alone in my struggles.  I know there are other people stuck in a situation they can’t change.  I know there are other people who hesitate to share their struggles for fear that others will judge them.  Or worse, that someone will laugh off their struggle as insignificant because it doesn’t involve one of the more spectacular issues with which people tend to show up at church.

There are many of us, I suppose, who have been going to church long enough that we feel we should already HAVE all the answers.  That might even be confused because we toed the line and did all the things our Sunday School and Youth leaders told us to do in order to be righteous and successful, and yet we find ourselves in a painful situation and can’t escape it without breaking one of those rules.

And so we sit, week after week, pleading with you with our eyes, “Notice me!  See my pain!  Read the lines on my face and understand what my problem is, because I don’t fully understand it myself.  Walk up to me after the sermon and tell me what to do.  Tell my spouse what to do.  Tell my children what to do.”

Meanwhile all those carefully crafted words from your sermon, those ideas and concepts you studied and prayed over, those gems of wisdom that might actually, if put into practice, turn the tide somewhere down the road, all of that falls of deaf ears.  It’s not you.  It’s not that your sermons aren’t fabulous.  It’s that the pain is roaring in our hearts so loudly, we can only make out some of the words.  We are drowning and we can’t recognize the line you’re throwing us for the life-preserver it could be.

On top of that, much of what you are saying describes a reality we are not experiencing.  It describes a lifestyle we cannot reach because of the problem. It dangles a tantalizing view of what could have been, or what should have been, and only highlights the fact that that is not how life works for us.

It doesn’t matter which specific problem it is that we’re having, because the issues are many and varied.  What matters is that we have prayed, we have read the Scripture, we have sought counsel, we have prayed some more, we have checked our attitudes, we have confessed our sin, and we continue to pray, but the situation with which we struggle has not changed.  Maybe it depends on someone else changing their attitude.  Maybe it’s just the result of living in a fallen world and requires a miracle.  Whatever the issue is, we drag it to church each week, hoping we can leave it there, and end up having to drag it home.

So forgive us, Pastor, if we glaze over sometimes during your sermons.  We are not tuning you out from boredom.  We are simply fighting the tide of an inner pain that saps our hope.  We are trying not to burst into tears.  We are exhaling and counting slow, deep breaths, trying to stop ourselves from standing up and screaming, “Did you just hear what Pastor said?? Why aren’t you doing it?” at the person sitting next to us.

And if we gather our belongings with an unseemly alacrity, it’s not that we don’t like the church.  It’s that we just can’t muster up the necessary smile should one of the saints breeze up to us and ask us how our week has been. Because if we told them the truth, they wouldn’t know what to say.  Their desire for small talk would come face to face with a harsh reality they don’t want to believe exists within the realm of Christian Culture.  Their brows would furrow and if they didn’t retreat behind a pat and judgmental Scripture quotation, they would mentally class us with the Needy and Uninitiated and offer a milk-toast prayer that would inflict more pain than it healed.

I will continue to come to church.  There are many good reasons to continue attending.  There are many ways in which I can serve others and many needs that actually will be met there.

But I will stop expecting that my life will get back on track or my heart will stop breaking or that I will be able to breathe freely by the end of the sermon.  I will stop looking at church as a one-stop makeover salon and simply show up to worship my God there.

And I think this just might work out better for both of us.

Update: Here’s his reply!

5 thoughts on “Where The Answer Isn’t

Add yours

  1. You’re right, change has to always start with our own hearts. I think we often see church as a refuge, and it could be as it’s where we have communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but actually scripture points to Christ being our refuge, other people would only ever disappoint us, being just as sinful as ourselves. I pray you will find His presence in small and quiet ways wherever you are, whether at church or home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I think that’s just it! When we look to people for the things we’re supposed to look to the Lord for, we always run into trouble. And then we risk missing the very things we are supposed to gain from being in relationships with others in the Body of Christ.

      Liked by 1 person

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