Why so sad today? I didn’t expect this man sitting in front of us to ask that question, to even acknowledge us. When the pastor told the congregation to stand up and greet those around us, to share our names and how long we’ve been attending, I didn’t move, and so, neither did Chad. The tears were running freely down my face at this point, so I didn’t move. We sat there while everyone around us stood, greeting each other.
I just looked straight ahead, not making eye contact. But I could tell that this man in front of us and his family noticed us, noticed me. So after some long moments of slight awkwardness, he bent toward us and introduced himself, first to Chad, and then to me. He looked me in the eye and said, Why so sad today?
Our church– not the one we sat in today, but the small satellite campus started by this church a couple years ago– is gone. In October, we held the last service at the satellite campus, and I grieved. And so we chose to take some time off in November. Then Chad’s job, which is busiest in November and December, gave us another excuse to skip Sunday services at the main church. After that, Chad’s father passed away and we spent several weeks in Connecticut with family, grieving and celebrating the holidays as best we could. But it’s a new year and we’ve run out of reasons not to go. So we went this week. For the first time in over two-and-a-half years, we went to a service at our main church.
I lasted about five minutes before the first tear slid slowly down my cheek. I was fine at first, but then I caught a glimpse of one of the other families that had been at the satellite church with us. It made me sad, thinking how we used to spend our Sunday mornings together, in a small church where we all knew each other and cared for each other and prayed for each other, where we all worked together to be the church. There, attending church meant building relationships. It meant walking into a group of people who knew your struggles. It meant that when you sat down for the service, the person sitting next to you was your friend and you knew their kids and had been to their house. Now, we were islands of families dotting a throng of strangers.
It’s easy for me to blame the church, for closing our satellite campus without our consent. I’m angry. I’m sad. And I’m trying to recover, but it’s hard, and so much of life has been hard lately, that I can’t seem to get over it. Why so sad? Because sometimes life just sucks, and you hope that your church is not going to be the one to let you down, but they did. They let me down. And when I was sitting there, ignoring the pastor’s request that we stand and greet each other, part of me wanted to keep feeling invisible in that crowd. But the other part of me wanted them to see, to know I was sad and that coming to church can’t make everything better. When that nice man gave his best effort at showing love to me in that moment, I fought an internal battle. What I said in response was, it’s a long story, so that I wouldn’t have to explain. What I wanted to say was, I’m sad because I don’t want to be here. Because I had a church family who I loved and who loved me, and now I don’t. Now I have to start over, in a place where I’ve never really felt at home.
I didn’t say those things because it’s awkward to bring someone into your anger and sadness when you don’t know them and when they probably love the thing that you’re railing against. But I wanted to bring him in, this man at church. I want to bring them all in. I want to shine a light on this thing the church did, to tell them all how much I’m hurting. I want to be angry and heartbroken and I want them to know I’m angry and heartbroken. I want them to care. They took my church away, they took my ministry away, and then they left me alone to flounder in a crowd of strangers, assuming I would transition back in like everyone else. It has been a hard reminder that the church is made up of people, broken and struggling and doing the best they can. I expect my church and its leaders to be above hurting people, to be better than that, to be Christ’s love all the time without fail, but it can’t, they can’t. And there are so many good people there, trying to do their best, trying to love. We talk so much about forgiveness and mercy and grace, but I just never expected that I would have to forgive to my church, to show mercy and grace to the pastors and elders.
I am thankful for that man, who reached through the pain to ask me why I was sad. I couldn’t tell him why I was crying, but the gesture was meaningful and compassionate and full of grace. And it surprised me. I wasn’t invisible to him, when it would have been easy for him to pretend that I was. I am thankful for my husband, who held my hand, who looked at me with tears in his own eyes and who cared for me in my pain as we walked out of the church after only twenty minutes.
I’m hanging on so tightly to what we had before. And most of those people that I lived my life with for those years in the satellite church came back to the main church, so I want to come back, despite my anger and sadness. I want to continue living my life with those people because I love them. But this place is not church to me. I don’t feel God here the way others do. I don’t feel God here the way I did at our small satellite location. And I feel like now I have to choose between those relationships and finding a church where I feel at home. And I don’t know what choice to make.