I hadn’t been back in years. I just got to a point where I said to myself, “Yeah, it’s time.” I’d had experiences there as a kid, though they weren’t necessarily very good ones. But everyone knows it’s supposed to be a good thing. So many people make it a central part of their lives. They go there not only for themselves, but also to experience communion with others. They leave feeling so much better, not just in the moment, but throughout their week. Some people even go several times a week. For them, it’s a real spiritual experience.
So I showed up one day, and I talked to a kind person who showed me around. He was an expert, I could tell. He really knew his stuff. I asked lots of questions, and he did his best to answer them. But I could tell that there's an aspect of this that isn’t one-size-fits-all. It was going to take commitment on my part. And when I came back the next time, I knew this guy was busy and I couldn’t expect his personalized attention every time.
So I tried to explore on my own. It felt a little aimless, but I did try it, and I felt a little better when I left. I knew that a lot of people develop their own specific practice they they can do at home as well, and that it truly helps them become better. But I didn’t know how to begin to do that.
And after the first couple times, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I tried to go every week, but that happened less and less often. When I did go, it felt more like a slog; I had to rearrange my priorities to fit it into my schedule. To be brutally honest, I would rather have spent that time reading the paper at home or playing on my phone at Starbucks.
Sometimes I brought my daughter, who is eleven. They have childcare for the little kids, who have fun enough. But my daughter was too big for the childcare, and it was clear that they didn’t really want her in the big room with the rest of us. So she just sat in a corner and read and waited for me. It wasn’t especially scintillating for her.
And I felt guilty because I didn’t already know what to do or how to do it. I mean, I had signed my name and pledged money for the privilege of being there. I guess they use the money to pay the people and keep up the things of this place that people find so helpful to them personally. But I wasn’t coming as often as I’d originally intended. So I started to feel like I wasn’t getting anything for my money.
I could have paid more for the privilege of having that nice man help me one-on-one. But I didn’t feel flush for cash or flush for commitment. It wasn't what I expected. I had images of being excited to be there, and coming out glowing and radiant, ready to tackle the big bad world.
But if I'm being honest, I can admit that I went into it half-hearted, and maybe that's why I didn’t stick there. I left. I really meant to keep going to the gym, but I just drifted away.
How is going to church like going to the gym? How is it different? What were the missed opportunities in this story? How could it have been different in a church? How do people's expectations about money play a part in the comparison? Most of all, how do we, the church, greet the people who show up cold, who don’t know the ropes, who have cultural expectations that don’t match our reality, and who are feeling adrift but well intentioned?