Before I wrote this post, Richard cautioned me, “You need to be careful about what you write.” “I know, sweetheart. If I have a bad experience at a church service, I really consider it my fault, not the fault of the church….”
As we left church, Richard said, “So, what do you feel about that one?” “Oh, it was fine.” I said (obviously not very convincingly). “What do you mean? What was wrong?” “Nothing, it was just – fine.” (Nothing more, nothing less – just fine.)
(Damned with faint praise leads to spiritual mediocrity, which means lukewarm, neither hot nor cold and I feel spat out*. I have always believed that I am responsible for my own spiritual well-being. There is no preacher or music director, no sermon, hymn or prayer that can “make” me be closer to God. But before you argue or stop (or start) praying for me, hear me out. Only I, by the Grace of God through the Power of the Holy Spirit, only I can take those steps to be closer, open my mind to really hear, open my heart to feel the presence of God. You can’t do that for me, it is up to me.)
I’m disappointed with myself and my lackluster feelings. I order half-heartedly and wait for coffee. Richard says, “So, what was wrong? It has to be something, it’s not like you.”
“I really don’t know. Each Sunday I pray and try to approach the service with the hope that I can be in a spirit of worship and not make it all about me.”
(Sip. Sigh.) “The service started so well, there was an atmosphere of fun, the person giving the Children’s Story was young and cool, heck we even all said “We love You” to God in the prayer. I liked the whole history lesson about Communion and liked that we were told “God loves you.” See, there is a whole lot of lovin’ going on.” Excited, yet exasperated, “So, I don’t know what my problem is.”
Our food arrives and Richard isn’t ready to let it go, “Well, I thought the stories in the sermon were told well, didn’t you?” “Oh, honey, it was fine.” (I’m getting a tone which definitely means it wasn’t fine and he gives me a look. Heavy sigh.) “OK, the sermon – there were good stories, they all related, I got the message….”
The waitress comes by to refill our coffee cups. I put my hand over my, the international sign to dismiss the offer and wave her off with a “no, thank you.” Then it strikes me, I motion to my hand over the cup and I say, “That’s sort of how I felt at the end of the service. Like I put my hand over my cup and said ‘no, thank you.’ I was fine during the service, but as we were leaving, I feel like I put my hand over my spiritual cup and said ‘no, thank you.’ Does that make any sense?”
“Maybe. Why do you think you did that?” Richard asks. We’re quite for a few minutes while I think. Then it dawns on me.
“Was there any Scripture in the sermon?” We both try to remember. “No, I can’t remember any.” “Me either.” “Was there any Scripture in the service?” “No.”
(And THAT’s my problem. It’s not fine. I don’t care how wise the person, how praise-filled the music, how fun, friendly or loving the place is; if there is no Scripture then, for me, something is wrong. I just cannot place my faith in the words of someone else. If I have to have a foundation of what is Truth and how my faith journey should proceed, it has to be from the Word of God. I need to hear as part of my spiritual grounding, direction and hope.)
Post note: I was feeling sorry and sad about this experience and shared it with a writing friend on Monday morning. She told me about her first experience at LUMC (before Richard arrived), which wasn’t all that great. She actually went to another church first and it wasn’t until years later she decided to give LUMC another chance. I’m glad that she did or we would have never met and my life would be a little dimmer.
There is a lesson to be learned here too. I refuse to judge any church by one service experience. There is no doubt that the Spirit of God works in many ways, that lives are changed, cups are filled, and through Love and meaning, it will be fine.