I have started going to church.
Having never grown up in a church, I've never fully grasped comprehension of the importance of Christian fellowship. It hardly seemed a prerequisite for having a relationship with God.
However,the desire to attend church regularly has been nagging me over the years. It first began when The Boy was just a baby. I worried that I was robbing him by not having him involved in a church. In the end, I always came back to the idea that I would be a complete hypocrite to sit in church every Sunday, going through the motions, when my faith was so shaky.
I never really had much doubt as to God's existence. I truly believe we are born with that innate knowledge, although I admit, I often wondered if perhaps He really was just a creation of a people desperate to believe in something, anything. There were also plenty of times it seemed much easier to ignore His existence, but I never could manage to fool myself to such an extent that I could exclaim "There is no God" without a strangling fear of invoking His wrath. No, my struggles were always simply a matter of my faith in His love for us, my faith in His wisdom and of course, my faith in my own worthiness.
I have also always been troubled by the notion of Jesus Christ as the one true path to God, the solitary savior of all mankind from his sins. I had studied other religions during my search and it struck me as cruel that entire nations of people would be forever banished from God because they chose a different path to take them there. I am afraid that even now, long years after I accepted Christ as my personal Savior, I still have a great deal of difficulty in accepting that God would ultimately reject so many others.
But I digress.
In the years since my husband's passing, I have felt a heightened sense of urgency to begin attending church. I tried to ensure that God was not a stranger in our home and made certain The Boy knew Him, yet I have been haunted with the idea that we were both missing out on something terribly important by not going to church.
We have visited a number of churches over the years, each leaving me disappointed and often even angry. Sitting in a sanctuary surrounded by people who are supposed to be there to worship the Lord but instead view church as just another social clique makes my skin crawl! I often wondered if it wasn't simply the weight of my own guilt, my own sense of inadequacy and unworthiness that made me so uncomfortable in so many churches. But no, the ladies, turned around in the pews, gossiping with their neighbor just before the service began, the men winking at me as their wives bowed their heads to pray, the people looking down their noses at others who did not quite fit in - these were the things that kept us from returning to many of the churches we visited.
And then of course there were the fire and brimstone preachers. The ones who tried desperately to convince you of your eternal damnation should you miss a single service, the ones who sought to put "the fear of God" into their congregations, terrifying the congregation with endless stories of God's wrath against the wicked and His certain abandonment of your soul should you stray from his teachings. We didn't often return to these churches either as I have always firmly it should be love, not fear, that brought a person to God and I was determined that my child not be taught otherwise.
After a while it seemed as though I had abandoned the idea of church altogether.
Then last month, on the anniversary of his death, I visited the mother of a friend who died last year. Never having really known her that well and having a lot of preconceived notions of who she was, I was surprised at the comfortable nature of our conversation. I was even more surprised that, when the subject turned to God, faith and an invitation to attend her church, I found not a trace of judgment in her eyes nor voice.
The Boy and I sat in the back pew during the worship service that Sunday. My husband, who did grow up in a church, had made it clear he had no wish to go. I knew a number of the people there and many of the ones I didn't know made a point to introduce themselves. I have never felt so welcomed in a church. My friend's mother gave me a copy of the booklet they're following in Sunday School before I left.
The next Sunday I bounced out of bed, despite my utter despise for waking up in the mornings, eager to get dressed and head to the service. The following Sunday The Boy and I attended Sunday School, surprised when my husband announced before we left that he would meet us there for the service. This past Sunday was our second week of Sunday School and fourth service. My husband met us for this week's service as well. The Boy has become involved with the youth program, enjoying their weekly Bible study and I am hoping to talk my husband into taking him to his weekly Boy Scout meetings so I can begin attending their weekly women's Bible study.
I find myself reading ahead in the Sunday School lesson and picking up my Bible to read various scriptures throughout the week. Somehow my life seems more full now but I can't quite put my finger on what it is that now fills it. God was already there. I suppose there's a lot to be said for fellowship after all.
We will not be going to church this Sunday because The Boy and I will be out of town spending the weekend with my great grandmother, who is the only person who ever took me to church as a child. At 94, her health no longer allows her to attend church. Her failing eyesight caused her to replace her cherished, soft leather bound Bible years ago with a new, large print version. The words on the front of her old Bible are worn almost completely away after so many years of use and the back cover is nearly completely separated from the rest of the book, but I carry that Bible with me to church every Sunday, complete with her perfect attendance ribbon and a few church directory photo proofs of her and my great grandfather. I also carry my newer Bible, that is just now really seeing any use, as I'm afraid to use hers too much. I simply like having it with me. No one at church has yet to look at me strangely for carrying them both each Sunday. This Sunday I will have them both at her house, along with my Sunday School lesson and perhaps a bit of fellowship with The Boy and I can somehow repay the gift of faith she gave me so long ago.