to church or not to church

Every time I sit in a church service, I feel the occasional wave of uneasiness. What is it I’m doing here? Do I wish I were doing it more?

Church and I have a complicated relationship. When I was young, I was the queen of church (or at least an up-and-coming princess). I showed up to everything: Sunday School, choir rehearsal, normal services, and special services. I mentored middle school girls. I directed the children’s performing arts group, writing musicals and coordinating elaborate projects. I helped start an early morning praise service, singing with the band and writing songs.

And then it all stopped being fun. One Sunday morning as we got ready for the praise service, I laughed with a friend about something and the piano player turned to me in surprise. “It’s really nice to hear you laugh,” he said.

From his tone, you’d think I never laughed. I felt affronted in the moment, but his words stuck on me like chewing gum to a shoe. Did I not laugh when I was at church?

I’d taken on too much. I was in the middle of my first year of full-time music teaching, and spending hours working on church performances in addition to the performances at school had me exhausted and cranky. I was playing the role of the church superhero, but the costume didn’t fit any longer.

It was a relief when my first husband and I moved to Massachusetts, where no one knew the kind of passion and time we had put into our old church. We checked out a bunch of churches. We got a little lazy about showing up every week.

And then my husband announced that he was done with church – and God – altogether. I wasn’t done with God, but church was a more confusing question. I attended a Quaker meeting. Then I stopped.

Church no longer felt right. Yoga felt right. The spiritual community at the amazing Stoneridge Children’s Montessori School felt right. Walking on the beach and memorizing Mary Oliver poetry felt right.

Still, a voice inside of me said, It doesn’t matter if church feels right. It’s what a real Christian does. You’re not in the club unless you attend the meetings.

During our year in Kansas, church felt right again. I was a stranger to Wichita, and church was a place where I could quickly shed that identity. I got to know new people. I felt part of a community.

We moved back, my friends surrounded me again, and the need for church disappeared. But my connection to Christianity is more important to me now than ever. I no longer see myself as the happy rebel who stays away from church simply because she’s not feeling it. Perhaps there are other questions at stake besides my feelings.

Now it’s Lent, and I’m attending church. And it feels mostly good. It feels important, yet somehow it also feels unnecessary. It feels like it’ll take more than one blog entry to explore.

Bottom line, the question of church attendance feels like a pull between two beautiful versions of my life. What life do I choose to live?