Over the past couple of years as I have faced my illness and disability, mostly alone except for family and a couple good friends, I have questioned many things about the Church in general..the Bride of Christ. We all know the Church is actually made up of believers from all over the world. It emcompasses all denominations--whereever believers are, there is the Church. But the church is made up of weak humans. We are not God. We are not strong apart from Him. So, what about when the Church fails? Of course the Lord never fails. He is always there and will always be there. But what about when the people we need are just not there? What then?
As I have gone through this seige of health problems over the past two years plus, I have wondered where my church friends were. It hurt me that none of them were there. I was told by people who ran into them outside the church that they were praying for me. I was also told by some of my friends who do not go to this particular church that when they ran into my church friends, some of them thought I had started going to some other church. Of course, that wasn't the case at all. I was just too sick to go to church.
The past several months as I have been feeling better, I was starting to want to go back to church again. But did I want to go to my own church where I had felt so let down and so abandoned? I didn't know what to do. I went back once a few months ago just to see how it would be to go back. I haven't been back there since. Well, this past month I have gotten to see a church that so far has captured my attention in a big way. When my son-in-law died just over a month ago, knowing my daughter's church had already been contacted, as would his mother's church be contacted, I contacted my church for prayer. Both of my children and my grandchildren have attended my church over the years so the people who know me well there, knew them as well. Maybe I was expecting a little too much, but I don't think so. We never heard from any of the pastors. She heard from one staff member who she had been talking to recently about interest in a program and sharing it with her own church. We heard from only a very tiny few people who I considered my friends there. And of the many friends I thought I had there, only 7 showed up at the viewing/funeral. In addition, the many many cards my daughter received only held a handful from my church and those were more connected with the farming community than the church. A "collection" was taken up for my daughter from one of my church's small groups I consider myself a part of. It was a very very small amount which amazed me because the group is not a small group. In fact, I am not sure it was a collection at all but rather a gift given from the group's account set aside for that purpose.
So, okay, you might be thinking that this isn't such a big deal. My daughter wasn't going to church there anymore. I hadn't been there in a long time since I had gotten sick. But to me, it was the proverbial needle that broke the camel's back. After having gone through the two periods of homelessness and losing jobs, health, and possessions, and having my church friends turn their backs on me at those points too, when they turned their backs on me during this time of being sick, I was really hurt. I had times during that period when I thought I might not live through the night. No one called me or checked up on me other than one person who did it as her "job" as elder, and one other who was good in coming to visit occassionally. But like I said, I thought I had a lot of good close friends there. Where were they? Why were they so plentiful when things were going well with me, but went into hiding when I was in trouble? Was it because they just didn't know what to say or what to do? I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, for awhile. What about the pastors? Wasn't it part of their job to follow up on sick members of the congregation? In the two years I have been sick, I never got one phone call or visit from any of the pastoral staff. Oh, I take that back. One did come to visit me and pray with me before my heart catherterization back in Feb of 07. But that was it. Did they know I was so sick? Yes. I was on the weekly prayer list for months. I was gradually cutting back on my activities and groups and service at the church as I kept getting sicker. I was in several small groups and they all had me on their individual group prayer lists. Yes, they knew I was sick. This spring I was out with Son's girlfriend going to garage sales. I stayed in the car. One of the pastors and his wife showed up at the same sale and I stopped them as they walked past my car and I said hello to them. They said hello and kept on walking. Is that how pastors are supposed to respond when they encounter a faithful church member who has been very sick and unable to attend? By that time I could have been going more often, but I felt so uncomfortable and unloved there that I just couldn't bring myself to go back. Yet, I still needed to know if I should try to go back in spite of how I felt, or find another church.
Then my son-in-law died. And I saw an outpouring of love and support that I have never seen or experienced in my entire life (and I am not young) as all the friends turned out to be there for my daughter and grandson. I saw a tremendous outpouring of love and support from the church my daughter had found. It is a much smaller church but they had a much larger store of love and caring than my larger church seemed to have. My church is larger, but the members almost all know each other and are close. My daughter's church turned out with meals for 2 weeks, and all kinds of other supportive measures, including phone calls, cards, services. The pastor not only showed up at the viewing and performed the funeral service, he actually stayed at the funeral home the entire time of the viewing and afterwards until we all left. He made sure he was there for my daughter and any one else in the group of family and friends who might need him. Yet, none of my pastoral staff bothered to even offer a sympathy card, let alone a phone call or visit. There is something wrong with this picture isn't there? The other church involved...also offered help and support. Their pastor had to be out of town for a conference but offered to cancel. Son-in-law's mom told him to go ahead to the conference. But he was there in support before and after the conference for her and her family. Now, another church, another small church, has done something tremendous that amazes me. They took a collection and came up with a huge amount of money put into gift cards for my daughter and grandson. Strangers did this. Strangers sent money in cards....by cash, by check, but money...and lots of it. The thought keeps coming to me not to speak up yet because I might be putting my foot in my mouth. But it's been over a month, so I really do not expect to hear anything else from my church that I haven't heard already.
Three weeks ago, I started going to church where my daughter goes. Aside from the fact that the layout of the building is much more accessible for me, I want to be in a church where the people behave the way we have been taught by Jesus to behave. I want to be part of a church that shows the love of Jesus Christ and doesn't just talk about it. You can talk about it as much as you want to, but it is action that shows where you really stand.
Just a few weeks before this tragic accident occurred, I came across Ezekiel 34 in the Old Testament. If you get a chance, read it for yourself. I think this speaks of what is happening in the Church in this present time period and it isn't just my church, for I am still a member of that church. This is happening all over America. We have become fat and oppulent, selfish, and spoiled. Some of us Christians have forgotten what we are to be doing. Some of us have received so many blessings from the Lord that we have forgotten what it was like without those blessings, so we forget to share.
Really, is it any wonder why so many people do not want to go to church? We need to make a change. A real change. A lasting change. Is it too late for the Church in America? I hope not. There are still the real followers of Jesus Christ out there just doing what He has taught them to do. Thank God for them.
There has also been one other question in my heart and mind through all of these events of the last two years....is it me? Am I the problem? I go to bed each night asking God to help me see the answer. For if it is me, I want to change that part of me that would cause an entire church to turn it's back on me when I need them the most, when I am so sick I think I might not make it through each night. Was it me? Were these people I considered my best friends, never really my friends? If not, why? Why the entire group? One or two maybe. Maybe even three or more. But all of them? So many different groups I participated in with people I got really close to. So many things I did to serve my God there. This was all a big change for me because I am typically very shy and in my previous church I did nothing to step out of my comfort zone. In this church I was constantly being challenged to do that and I did many times over. So was it me? Was I the reason they were not there when I needed them? Or when my daughter needed them? She was baptized there! Just a few years ago. And she was forgotten. Only the farmers cared because they lost one of their own. God bless the farmers! What a wonderful support network they are!
So, that is my current leg in this journey of faith. Oh how God has shown me His Grace and Mercy during this time of grief and struggle. Oh how He has shown me His mighty blessings in how He has provided for my daughter in her greatest time of need. Oh how He has been there for me in the most unexpected ways and from the most unexpected places. God truly is Good all the time! But we as His Church sure need a lot of work sometimes.