Stepping inside a church building alone is difficult for most people. Walking in as a 'married-single' challenges every ounce of courage one can muster. Sunday after Sunday this is a recurring struggle for those of us who love Jesus and love a spouse who is not a believer.
There were seasons in my married life, when attending church alone, left me with a deep aching in my heart which would often precipitate an intense conflict with my spouse. Still today, as my husband and I recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, I earnestly desire that he would join me on a Sunday morning. I remain prayerful.
Over the years I've wrestled with the varying aspects of attending church as a married-single. I've discovered it is possible to navigate through the challenges.
First, we must grapple with the societal norms of coupledom. Ahem, that's not a small challenge! Our western society is significantly "couple" focused. Gathering up the nerve to participate in anything within a group takes a ton of courage and prayer. At least it did for me and I'm usually a courageous person. But after remaining a floundering believer at home for too many years, there came a day when my need for connection and community outweighed my fears. I stepped timidly across the threshold of my local church.
Once conquering the "alone" fear, we are thrust into the next hurdle, disappointment, which incurs when a married couple shuffles into the row in front of you at church. And to top it off, envy takes a jab at your heart when you notice that they are holding hands. Ugh! True that. Anyone???
My friends, I want to assure you that if you are currently in this season of walking unequally yoked and attending church alone, it becomes easier.
Think about this. For most of us, we recognize that God has been amazingly faithful even through our periods of doubt or in my case, spiritual rebellion. God never left me, nor did He forsake me. EVER. Even when I ran away from Him into the prodigal badlands. As I slowly returned to my heavenly Father, I recognized His faithfulness and unfailing love. This relentless truth became my strength. I made the decision to be faithful and return to church. And I'm so glad I did.
It was within my church community, the pastor's message, women's Bible study, friendships, and prayers by people who loved me and God, that my healing began. I share more about this in my book, Winning Him Without Words. We need to remember that God made us for community. At the core of all we are, we are designed for community, membership, authentic living, and to be known and to know others in truth.
When we embrace this Kingdom value, attending church becomes vital. It is our weekly re-charge which we desperately need. And when children became part of the family, they needed church too. The foundational training in their early lives will equip them with integrity and faith in their adult years and even into the next generation.
Here are some lessons I've learned through sitting alone in church: I'm not the only one. My spiritual mismatch allowed me to see many others who don't fit in. My heart is drawn to those who are alone, even those who feel alone but ARE sitting with a spouse. And my friends, churches are filled with people who pretend their marriage is perfect. It's simply not true. Every marriage, including your pastor's, will struggle. Their struggles are merely different than your own.
I've attended church alone for nearly 25 years. It's been arduous, and it's been glorious. Churches are challenging as they are filled with broken and needy people who are just like me and you. Attending church requires us to wear forgiveness like a cloak and to cry out for God to fill us with love, every single day, equipping us to love others well.
At the end of the day, church is a hint of our future. One day THE CHURCH, will gather in the great assembly, with pure love in our hearts. We will be one people, one voice, in worship. I promise we can't imagine the depth of love we will experience. I can't wait. So, focus on Jesus and love the broken and messy at church. And allow others who truly care about your life, to love on you. Be authentic and allow them to serve you.
Allow yourself to set aside your loneliness and pain and truly look around you. Church is your training ground along with the Word that will empower you to speak love and truth into some other misfit who is sitting in the sanctuary. And that my friends, is exactly what delights the heart of God.
Ultimately, we will discover we are all misfits and misfits are God's favorites!
Lynn Donovan is an award-winning author, teacher, and ministry director. She has written several books, magazine articles, and has been a guest at Focus on The Family, Family Life Today and the 700 Club. Her delight is leading people to hear God's voice and to thrive in faith.