Since the early 80’s I’ve tried running for exercise. I love hiking and walking so running seemed a natural progression. I wanted to run because it would up my fitness level in less time than walking and there were races where I could get great t-shirts. But where running was concerned, I never hit my stride.
I’m a heavy walker and so I’m also a heavy runner. Therefore, I doubly felt the impact of every stride. The jolting waves would begin in my feet, travel up my legs, jostle my insides (rearranging internal organs in the process), move up through my shoulders, to my head and abruptly stop. The resulting headaches and other pains were manageable. It was the discombobulation that I found most uncomfortable. After a run I was disoriented and my insides felt like jiggly jello. For those reasons, my attempts at becoming a runner would stop. A year might go by and I’d try again for a month or two with the same results and so I gave up the sport.
A few years ago, my walking partner, Adiel asked me if I’d consider training with her for a 5K fundraiser for a local crisis pregnancy center. Though I still didn’t like running I agreed, just to be a supportive friend. During our training, my insides still felt as though they’d gone twelve rounds with Mohammed Ali, but for Adiel’s sake I continued training and on race day, I finished my first 5K – dead last, but I finished. And somewhere in all that training I stopped feeling the impact of every step. Somewhere along the trail my body adapted to the jolts. I now run semi-regularly and have completed a number of 5K races. I have the T-shirts to prove it!
Quite often, my days feel like those early attempts at running. I feel the impact of the world strike my heart. There’s crime, politics, world affairs, work squabbles. I wield my armor of God and dodge sin’s swipes at my soul. But Satan knows my Achilles heel - my marital status – and routinely wages his attack. A coworker gets flowers from her lover. Another shows pictures of her new grandchild. All these strikes hit me at my weakest spot. And Facebook is downright excruciating with announcements of engagements, births, and romantic vacations. Work and other responsibilities offer some distraction, but by week’s end I’m battered and bruised and in need of some R&R.
The place where I should naturally be able to lay down my armor and be refreshed would be at church but that has not been the case. Let me say that I go to a wonderful church with godly teaching and leadership. The people there love Jesus and love me – in that order (very important). But church is where what I want (and lack), marriage and children are fully on display.
Going to church is like walking a gauntlet. I am always taking glancing blows at my most tender spot. I turn my head and see a couple holding hands during prayer – WHACK. A husband puts his arm around his wife’s shoulder – BAM. A baby cries – WHAM. Pastor says during his sermon “you might want to discuss this sermon as a family at lunch today”– KAPOW.
Sunday after Sunday I either steel myself for the next punch or I take every hit and cry throughout the service. Weary from doing battle all week, it’s usually the latter. Conventional wisdom would ask if I’m that upset and hurt at this church, why not go to another? Or why go to church at all? Good question… with a good answer.
For one thing, there are married people and kids and family life at other churches. There’s no guarantee I wouldn’t have the same problem elsewhere. And I can’t be sure a new congregation would be as patience with my emotionality as my current one. Next, when I joined this church I made a commitment to those people, and they made a commitment to me, as well. No one intentionally hurts me. People are living their normal, God-given lives and I’m just getting jostled in the crowd, the bruises on my soul invisible.
I don’t go to church because it looks pretty, has good music or suits my learning style (yes, that was a swipe at Donald Miller). I go to church, in spite of my pain, to worship God. I go to church, in spite of my pain, because He commanded it. I go because I truly believe He blesses worshipers with some imperceptible change during the service. I go because I believe some day He’s going to do some really big thing and I don’t want to miss it!
All this said, during today’s service J & M still held hands. R put his arm around his wife’s shoulders. Babies cried (and there were more than usual in attendance). During his sermon, Pastor used the words husband, wife, children, and family all within seconds…and the sermon wasn’t even about family! Yet, throughout I never felt a single hit. Not once! I never felt the need to brace myself for an impending blow and I didn’t shed a tear.
Just as I no longer feel the pounding of the pavement when I run, maybe those imperceptible changes from all those worship services have added up and I will no longer feel the attacks on my heart. Granted, it’s only been one week. During a particularly challenging run on Friday, though didn’t feel the jostling of old, my feet really hurt; they’d taken a beating. Future worship services may be similar. I don’t know.
But I do know that I plan on completing the race God has set before me. I may complete it having never been married. Whatever my marital state when I cross the finish line, I will receive the prize. Jesus s will be waiting there for me. And He will be holding a t-shirt that says “Well Done Good & Faithful Servant”.