I am the only member of my family who goes to church. And when I started going to church in high school, I kinda went all in… Sunday services, Friday night youth group, Wednesday night Bible study at a friend’s house. And then I chose a Christian college and volunteered with my youth group at home during the summer. I often wonder what my family thinks of this, how much they understand or think they understand, what they think changed and why. When Chad and I got married, we washed each other’s feet and I have no idea if the symbolism of that was meaningful to my family. When we committed to helping our church plant a satellite campus, I don’t know if they understood why we would choose Sunday morning services over family brunches and events. When that church disbanded, I don’t know if they realized how much my heart broke. Within my family, faith is a road I have walked alone.
In many ways, I have felt that if my family didn’t understand my faith, then they couldn’t understand me. So I have felt a certain distance from them. I have held my tongue in family discussions, knowing my perspective comes from a different context. I have made decisions I don’t think they would understand. I have kept parts of myself from them. I have built a life around something they have not. I have envied families that go to church together, sisters who serve in ministry together.
And then my sister asked me if Chad and I would visit a church with her.
Yes. Of course. Without hesitation.
We’re in the middle of our own church search right now so going to a new service has become routine. She chose an evangelical church in her town that is part of the vast Vineyard church planting movement. It is not the kind of church we are looking for right now, but rather the kind we are leaving. So it felt at once uncomfortable and familiar.
We’ve been to around a dozen different churches in the last several months, some where we felt welcomed and some where we felt less so. Regardless of the welcome, we can usually settle in for the service, sit back, and let it all unfold before us without a lot of anxiety. But this visit, after being welcomed and settling into seats in the sanctuary, the anxiety didn’t leave me. I realized it was because I was sharing something with my sister that I had been keeping from her and the rest of my family for the past decade and a half.
Because of the very non-Christian friends I had when I became a Christian, I am especially sensitive to what people think of church and the Bible and faith. Standing next to my sister as people raised their hands in worship and prayed for Jesus to “prepare our hearts,” I felt exposed and wary and nervous. I’m not really a singer, so a lot times I don’t sing along to the worship music or hymns. I just listen. And this Sunday, I found myself listening as I imagined my sister was listening. Hearing the words as someone who didn’t know the “language of Christians” and doesn’t have a significant relationship with Jesus like those around her. I stood with my heart pounding through three songs, feeling naked in front my sister who must be suddenly realizing who I really am. But then some lyrics broke through all the noise in my head.
‘Cause I need you Jesus, to come to my rescue. Where else can I go? There’s no other name by which I am saved. Capture me with grace. I will follow You.
And I closed my eyes and I sang along and I let God take care of this. Does church look like a bunch of crazy people, eyes closed, faces raised toward the Heavens, bodies swaying to the music? Am I one of them? Do I want to be? I think probably, yes, yes, and yes. We do look crazy, I am one of them, and I want to be– not for the crazy hand-raising, eye-closing, body-swaying parts of it, but for the real, Love Your Neighbor, Live in Community, Follow Jesus parts of it.
I think many of my Christian friends would say this is some sort of victory, my sister asking to go to church. It’s answered prayer. It’s because of my influence. It’s another heart surrendering. But this is not a victory; this is my sister. She’s not just a soul to be won, whatever that means anyway. She’s my sister and this is about so much more than another person attending a church on Sunday. This is about what she’s seeking. This is about the conversations she has to have with her Catholic husband about their kids and their family. This is about how this will change my relationship with her. This is about all of us finding community, in church and in our family. This is about the moment she realizes that going to church isn’t about Sunday mornings, but a lifetime’s journey of faith. This is about how I will stand beside her as she questions and seeks and decides whether to stay or go.
So when she asked, I didn’t hesitate to say, yes, we’ll go to church with you, and then think to myself, am I ready for this? Is she? And then I thought, it doesn’t matter if we’re ready. Because faith is one long I’ll-take-the-next-step-even-if-I-can’t-see-where-to-put-my-foot. And if I know one thing about all this, it’s that it’s so much easier when you have someone holding you hand as your foot finds solid ground.