My life revolves around Sunday. I spend every Monday and Tuesday debriefing and following up with items that came up on the previous Sunday. Then I spend every Wednesday and Thursday preparing for what will be happening the upcoming Sunday. For all of this energy that I pour into the Sunday experience I still wonder if it even matters.
I ask myself again and again, why do I work so hard at Sunday if it never seems to make a difference in people’s faith?
In the few posts I’ve shared, I’ve made it rather clear that despite my professional proclivity, church is an extremely difficult prospect for me. Singing makes me uncomfortable. Sitting passively in a seat is the epitome of boring. My anxiety level ratchets up at the prospect of small talk after the worship service is concluded. I frequently find solace on Sunday morning in having an excuse to be busy. I know, I’m the world’s worst minister and I’m in the top 10 for world’s worst Christians.
The great contradiction of my life is my feeling toward the Sunday experience and my inner desire for the place my beliefs have in my life. When I consider the trajectory of my spiritual journey, the Sunday morning experience has always played an odd role. As an adolescent, I was always at church. So much of my understanding of God and the Bible and the Christian life has been formed by the Sunday experience. But I never actually liked Sunday. The hymns, the sermons, the rote repetition of religious practice. The great miracle of my faith is that these experiences didn’t leave me disillusioned with the entire God concept.
My actual spiritual formation took place outside the walls of my church. I first discovered God through an effort to cope with my insecurity and fear. I began exploring the idea of relationship with God to try and calm my feelings of loneliness. I found God not in the unyielding pews of a church building, but in the dim light of my bedroom as I wrote about my inner struggles, immense self-doubt, and the unanswerable questions I carried like a weight around my neck.
Ultimately, the most profoundly life altering spiritual experiences have come in my efforts to cope with grief, pain, and regret. I have a track record of proving myself incapable of doing what I know to be right. My frequent experience with coming up short and being both confronted with and confounded by the consequences of my own sin have been the most poignant times of spiritual awareness and growth. I’ve hurt people because of my inability to do what is right. I’ve broken trust and damaged relationships because of my struggle to actually love people. I’ve seen in these times that when I muster the courage to take the advice God grants that I can discover a path toward healing. I
The first truth of spiritual formation is that until the concepts of the Christian faith are practiced in our lives, we cannot appreciate grace. Without a deeply personal appreciation of grace, Sunday has no power to transform.
To see a change in the nature of one’s spirituality, there must be a collision of our belief system and the manner in which our lives are lived. In most cases, this will be a painful event. We rarely find that life’s circumstances reveal to us and those we love most just how charming we are. It’s much more likely that life will lay bear that which we are most ashamed of. It is in these moments that faith either flourishes or shrivels up and dies.
All but the most spiritually mature have something that is being forcibly restrained and covered up in the recesses of our private lives. Whether it be anger, addiction, lust, dishonesty, greed, or self-righteousness, or some other paralyzing disposition, we are guilty of duplicity. Going to church once a week won’t change this. You can sing all the songs you want, eat all the stale crackers and cheap grape juice you can stomach, and listen to all the sermons you can find and you still won’t see any change in your spiritual capacity. This change is only ushered in by the raw and reckless pursuit of coming to grips with your inner chaos and brokenness.
No one likes this. It often does not go well in the sense that it leads us through seasons of pain. But to arrive at the place of abundant life requires a stark parting of ways with the life that is replete with fear and regret. As a good friend often reminds me, we are guilty of choosing to live with the chronic pain of our bad decisions rather than facing the acute pain of confronting our demons.
I will continue to go to church on Sunday, but I do not go with the hope that it will save me. I go with the hope that in that I might find the strength the face that within myself I am most afraid of. I will go to church, not to be saved, but to seek the courage to live as though I have a life worth being saved.