September 19, 2020

Splendid Isolation

Don’t want to wake up with no one beside me
Don’t want to take up with nobody new
Don’t want nobody coming by without calling first
Don’t want nothing to do with you

Splendid Isolation
I don’t need no one
Splendid Isolation

Warren Zevon, Splendid Isolation, from the album Transverse City

I have shared before that I am suffering through a bout of depression. Kind of like a lingering cold, it’s there in the background just enough to drag me down but not enough to knock me out. Most days, that is. Yes, I am taking the meds prescribed by my doc, who is a good man and says that he believes this is just temporary. I make it through my work days just fine; interacting with customers and coworkers seems to energize me. But when it comes to Sundays, I want to hide. I have found it very difficult to drag myself to church these last few months. And that bothers me.

I know we are very critical of what we term the “evangelical circus” here on this site. I know we have many readers who feel the same, and have given up on church all together because of the narcissistic nature of today’s Western Christianity. Yet I still feel church is a vital part of a disciple’s life. It is not to be discarded just because many churches are no more than religious social clubs. If we are to believe church—a regular, consistant gathering of believers in Jesus—was God’s idea, then why would we think it unimportant to him whether we are committed to one?

So on many Sunday mornings when my illness is acute and I would rather pull the covers over my head and hide, I remind myself of the reasons church is vital in the life of a follower of Jesus. On those days when I’m feeling fine emotionally, but don’t want to attend services because I know we’ll sing happy-clappy songs from the latest Time/Life praise and worship CD or because we have a guest speaker who will be hawking his books rather than preaching from The Book, I remind myself why church is important to its Founder. I want to share some of those reasons why I see church as still serving a central role in the Christian’s life.

A spleen can’t live on its own   Paul talks of the church being a body. Some are hands, others are feet. Some are “less seemly members.” That would be me. No one ever says, “Your baby has the cutest spleen.” Or, “There goes a girl with the hottest pancreas I’ve ever seen.” I’m like a spleen or pancreas. I’m not the part of the body people want to see. Yet no matter what body part you most resemble, you can’t live on your own. The strongest, firmest hand in the world—one with manicured nails, even—will wither and die if cut off at the wrist. The smartest brain known to mankind can’t see or hear or eat or listen to Reds’ games on the radio on its own.

The same applies for you and me. We need each other. Like it or not, we are part of a Christian body. If we aren’t, we will die.

If you’d rather use an agricultural example, Jesus said that he is the vine, we are the branch. Vines don’t have just one branch. They have many. And branches don’t get to choose what other branches they are connected to. One fact is clear: if the branch doesn’t like hanging out with other branches, it can only be by itself by separating from the vine. And then you will quickly have a dried-up, dead branch that is only good for the fire.

Man does not live by bread alone   “But,” you say, “I prefer to spend my Sunday mornings reading the Bible and some good devotional books.” And the Sunday paper? Ok, I won’t meddle. And of course there’s nothing wrong with reading your Bible. I love to read Scripture. I also read My Utmost For His Highest and Streams In The Desert most every day (the online versions). And that doesn’t include my library of other theological and inspirational books I have to draw from. These are all fine resources to have available and to use. But if I only practice my faith in front of a mirror with a book—even The Book—in my hand, what kind of faith is that? Yes, I know I need to live my faith outside of church as well, but what a great place to practice. There is meat to eat in church that is not available anywhere else.

We need to be vulnerable   Ok, now I am meddling. I’m the first one in line for life in a bubble, where no one can get to me and touch me where I hurt. I have no problem praying for others, but to ask for prayer for my depression? But then people will know I have problems!

We spend so much time, energy and money keeping others from seeing that we have problems, don’t we? When I went forward recently and asked two elders in my church to pray for me because I am battling depression, one looked aghast. “How can that be?” he asked. “You are someone I always want to hang out with because you’re always so much fun.” Just shows how great an actor I can be. Oh yeah—that Greek word for “actor.” Hippo-something-or-other, isn’t it? But I will only give up play-acting when I practice being real with others in my church. It ain’t easy, but it is necessary.

When the Pillar of Fire moves I don’t want to be left in the desert  God led the children of Israel through the desert as a Pillar of Fire by night, and a Cloud of Glory by day. When the cloud lifted and began to move, the Israelites were to strike camp and move quickly. If I am not in the camp, but out hiding in a cave, when will I know the Cloud is moving? How can I follow the Lord by myself?

This is where the meal is served   The table of the Lord is in a church. It’s not coffee and a hot glazed at Krispy Kreme. It’s not a skinny latte and a scone at Starbucks. It is bread and wine served by and shared with those you call your church family. You eat it with the weird, the wounded, the wild. You drink it with those you pray for, and those who pray for you. You partake of it humbly alongside your fellow sinners whom God calls saints. It is the meal that sustains, that heals, that reminds us we are now alive for the first time, forever. And it is found in the house of God called the church.

I’m not going to be healed by this Sunday. When my alarm goes off, I’ll still want to shut it off and hide from the world. And I’ll struggle to pull on shorts, a shirt, and flip-flops and drive six and a half miles to my place of worship. But I hope to do so. Not out of a sense of duty, but out of a desire for life.

Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Comments

  1. StJohn117 says

    I struggled (and still struggle) with this on a weekly basis. Part of this is because I’m an introvert and spend 40 hours or more talking to people. Some of this is because of the circus that church has become. And still some of this is, because I don’t have a lot of patience for long windedness anymore, crooning love songs to Jesus (which feels weird to me) and shaking hands for thirty seconds of conversation with people that I may never see again.

    But go I must. For the reasons you’ve stated and more. Christ saw fit to use the apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church. We are not meant to shoulder this burden alone. For whatever reason, this is how God designed it and in truth, I don’t get it.

    But it’s not always meant for me to understand. Sometimes, I just need to do it. *sigh*

    If it’s any comfort to you, know that you’re not alone in this.

    • It’s a great comfort, St. John. You have said it very well. I’ll be thinking of you this Sunday when I’m talking with a stranger for thirty seconds waiting for the announcements to begin …

  2. I go to church, because its where people are, who need the same kind of needs, whether its spiritual, physical,mental, or material as I do. We dont attend church for attendance sakes but for each others sakes.

  3. I don’t go to church for the same reason I don’t go to marriage; it is not a place and it is not a separate condition. It is my life. I am married all day, every day. There is no time or place in which I’m more married than in other times or places.

    I believe everything you wrote here; I just don’t know why we have such a focus on time and place. Look at Jesus and His disciples. Very few meetings. They lived real life together. I have that kind of life with the church. We eat, play, pray, travel, and work together. Sometimes we meet too.

    • Agreed, Ed. And I am “in church” all week, as my friends there check in with me frequently, and I with them. I’m in a home group that meets weekly. Baseball games also seem to be a big part of “church” for me and a few others. Still, a dog and a Diet Coke are not the Eucharist!

  4. Wow, I can really relate to stjohn117’s post. My church is REALLY not designed to welcome an introvert. Once the pastor starts ‘working the crowd’ with the corny anecdotes, hee haw humour, rhetorical flourishes, I wish I’d just stayed home and read the bible aloud for two hours. I’m starting to realize how much my love of isolation will determine the outcome of my entire life on earth–scary! My relationships with good women have broken down just because I found having someone constantly around to be exhausting. I get energized from being left alone in the way that other people get a boost from having people around. I’m a mess!

    • Peace From The Fringes says

      I need to believe that you are NOT a “mess” because I see these same characteristics in my teenage son. In truth, I’ve seen them since he was very small. It is simply the way he is wired and no amount of coaching, bullying or encouragement can change it one whit. I pray for fulfillment in his physical and spiritual life in whatever form they may take. I also pray that I can respect what he is without wishing him to be something other. So difficult but so very important.

      • Well, it sounds like you are on the right track with your approach. I encourage you big time.

        • Peace From The Fringes says

          Well, except for the days when my “approach” includes nagging, whining and snippy self-absorption. 🙂 When are the Good Parents going to show up and tell us how to get it right?? Some days I wish church still felt like a place of answers instead of a mantra of platitudes and social constructs. In any case, thanks for the words of encouragement. Think I’ll go have another latte and try to focus more on the rest of God’s children and less on myself.

          • ‘When are the Good Parents going to show up and tell us how to get it right??’ (smiley face) God save us from the experts! What if YOU are as good as it gets? I mean, as someone without kids I tell you parents are world’s biggest heroes, remember what jfk said about going to the moon, ‘We choose to do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard…’ The harder things have the bigger rewards, long term… it’s worth it…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            You mean the Parenting Experts (TM) who never married or had kids of their own?

    • “My relationships with good women have broken down just because I found having someone constantly around to be exhausting. ”

      My husband and I are both introverts. We enjoy doing things together but we each need, and get, copious amounts of time alone. Been married for 30 years and haven’t gotten on each other’s nerves too bad yet. A good woman who is also an introvert might be just the ticket, because you won’t have her constantly around – she wouldn’t be able to stand it any better than you.

      • Sounds like you lucked out, I’m happy to hear that. Interesting suggestion, thank you. Sometimes I wonder what percentage of my introversion is just selfishness in disguise–a way to do what I want when I want, without having to compromise. I’m a mess, did I say that already. Thank you again.

        • I, too, have wondered if I am just selfish. I don’t think that’s it because (a) I get really anxious and uptight if I have people in my face too long, and (b) the way I deal with that if it’s unavoidable is that I turn off and tune out. I didn’t realize I was doing that until my daughter told me, and I never want to be that rude, so now I try to be self-aware enough to excuse myself, go in another room, and close the door for a while.

          Being able to do what I want when I want is just a happy side-effect.

        • Peace From The Fringes says

          Personally, I’m confident that the majority of my son’s Splendid Isolation is related to a rollicking case of OCD and its attendant anxiety spikes. His ability to process the world is dependant on his ability to make it fit into recognizable structures and patterns. Limiting exposure to wildly unpredictable humans is key in the formula.

          This brain structure also makes spirituality a challenge. The ability to “let go” and let faith lead the way runs counter to the core of him.

          Don’t know if that might play a part for you as well.

    • StJohn117 says

      You’re not a mess. It’s a different type of brain wiring and there’s nothing wrong with that despite society sometimes frowning on that. Though, yes, that can make relationships more difficult. I’m not married myself, though I’m okay with that at the moment as, like you, my last relationship didn’t exactly work and the one before that didn’t end well. Point being that again, you’re not alone.

    • The blog is now in hibernation, but there was one called The Introverted Church. It was all about the struggles and challenges of being an introvert in church. The authors contention was that the very structure of the modern, evangelical church works against the better than 60% of the population that falls into the category of being introverts.
      That being said, I really appreciate the transparency Jeff has shown. And the reasons for going to church apply to us all.
      Thanks!

  5. Well founded arguments for going to church. Also a bunch of bull patooty if you ask me. STOP! Take off for a year or six months and go periodically as you desire from then on. Experience sabbath. Isn’t that one of the big ten originals. Take Sunday back and find freedom and rest with no compulsion to Do. Read the paper, drink coffee. Smile again. That will be true food for your spirit at this juncture. It is neurotic and anger inducing to live outside of the freedom of Christ. If you were a babe in Christ okay, get some churchin, but your not. Live in that graceful flow exemplified by CM’s post about his patient. My two cents. I could easily be wrong but I’m not. Finally, I go to church regularly and am blessed by it so I have no agenda for stopping church.

    • Chris, I have taken Sundays off, and allowed myself to do so guilt-free. But I know myself, and how easily this could become my lifestyle. And I know I need to stay in the body. I could use the illustration of a broken arm — it may have to be in a cast for a while and thus not be of much use to the rest of the body, but it still stays connected. Does that make any sense?

      • Life is complex but our chats here are,by necessity, less so. I do appreciate that there are multiple ways to view anything we discuss but I have blurted out what is coming from my intuition in this case. It’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Sometimes we need permission from our brothers and sisters to do what our hearts are telling us we need to do at that particular time when it doesn’t seem to jibe with all the empirical data. I hear your heart screaming, “I need a rest. Give me some space here.” I only want what will draw you back into the joy of Life so whatever you deem that to be, do it. I do have a vested interest. I don’t want my Saturday Ramblings to suffer.

    • ChrisS, that’s good advice if someone is struggling with legalism and has problems with their idea of ‘church’ and the Christian life as consisting of rules and regulations and boxes to be ticked. Truly, the Sabbath was made for man.

      But for those of us who have struggles with depression, or are introverts, or agoraphobic, it does really help to have one outside element that we absolutely have to get up and get out of the house and go to; there have been weeks (in my bad times) when I quite literally have not set foot outside my front door.

      In that instance, something like “I have to go to Mass tomorrow” means movement outside of the little huddle of withdrawal that it is too easy to fall into, if the darkness and listlessness get too much. It also helps when the liturgy is set, so that even when it’s bad, treacly ‘hymns’ and jokey rambles disguised as homilies and a bland, uninvolving, ‘get here late and leave early’ ceremony – which it all too often is – the skeleton of the structure remains the same and carries you through. You don’t have to be cheerful or bouncy or anything; you just have to open your ears, llisten to the readings from Scripture, and get down on your knees before the presence of Jesus on the altar. Sometimes merely showing up and sitting in the pew and saying the same old prayers on autopilot is as much as anyone can do!

      • I would venture that actually making meaningful, relational connections with other believers is what depressed, isolated, and introverted really need — not just a religious gathering to attend. Just slipping in the back door, warming a pew, and then slipping back out to your car without making any kind of connection with anyone can leave you feeling more alone and depressed than if you just stayed home. I know from experience that it is very possible to feel utterly alone and isolated in a crowded sanctuary or auditorium.
        What we all really need are true friends in Christ. You can get a room full of fellow congregants at your local movie theater.

        • +1

        • Yes, that is true. But when you are so stuck inside yourself that you open the fridge, see nothing there, and rather than walk down the street to the grocery store (because you just cannot face being outside), you instead dig through the back of the cupboard for that tin of soup that’s been lurking there for months –

          – then having something where you have to get up, wash your face, get dressed and get out the door does, quite literally, take you out of yourself. I’ve sat there counting down the minutes (“Twenty more to go… fifteen… ten,.. another five, and I can leave; come on, you can hang on for another five minutes”) until I could flee back to the safety of the house in the very worst of the agoraphobia/social phobia/panic attacks but the minimum requirement of actually doing something even as minimal as sitting in the pew beside other people has helped.

          Different things work for different people, of course, and no one-size fits all is going to be the answer to the varying degrees between depression and anxiety and social phobia and other afflictions.

          • You’re right.
            And, at least, going to church services and being around other people has the potential of breaking someone out of his or her isolated bubble.

    • Randy Thompson says

      Chris, if I took a “sabbatical” from going to church, reading the Sunday New York Times would very quickly replace reading the Bible.

      We human beings are creatures of habit. I’m reminded of a story someone told me about a sign by a road going through the African bush. The road was a bad one, muddy and bumpy with deep ruts. The sign said: “Pick Your Rut Carefully. You’ll Be in It for the Next 50 Miles.”

      Church can be a rut, but I stay in it. Too many of my other spiritual habits depend on it.

  6. ‘Neurotic bull patooty?’ Thank you, your kindness and understanding really brightened my morning. ‘I could be wrong but I’m not’? You’re blessed all right. I wish I could have written that sentence.

    • Thanks Will! 🙂

      • You are welcome, ChrisS. Trying to communicate, especially over the internet, is difficult, never exact. Wish there was some way to really show you what it’s like to be me, and vice versa.

  7. Jeff, I feel your pain. Having struggled with situational depression in the past, and just being a melancholy person in general, it’s hard to pull back the covers on some Sundays and make it to the Church house…We didn’t this past Sunday! I know, though, how much I love Jesus, and I know you love him the same…And because we love him, we love the church, even with all her warts, inconsistencies, and problems. Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…It’s our natural response to love her, as well.

    A nice Flannery O’Connor quote for you this morning…

    “You don’t serve God by saying: the Church is ineffective, I’ll have none of it. Your pain at its lack of effectiveness is a sign of your nearness to God. We help overcome this lack of effectiveness simply by suffering on account of it. ”

    I always try to think of this quote when the politicians start arriving to stump at the local churches, or when the discussion from the pulpit becomes more centered on cultural phenomena than the Gospel.

    I love your thoughts on the communion table…What a beautiful gathering place for the broken and beaten down to gather and share a meal with their savior. Have you ever read Henri Nouwen’s “With Burning Hearts”? Great thoughts on the Eucharist…

    Praying for you this morning, buddy….

  8. I haven’t missed a Sunday at church in 15 years.

    Points for that? Right.

    I need to be there. Even though there are days when I don’t want to go. Tired. Don’t feel like it.

    I need to hear that Word of forgiveness. I need to receive His body and blood. I need to hear the promises.

    And others there need me, as well.

    You want to know if the Holy Spirit is at work in your church? Look around. See all those people? The Spirit is at work. Calling, gathering, sanctifying, and keeping us in faith.

    • It’s all about the Divine Service. If going to church is our duty and service to God, we’re gonna skimp on it like we do every other responsibility that drains us. But, if Jesus is actually, truly there, every time, giving to us the gifts we most disparately need of forgiveness, life, and salvation, serving us through the benefits of his own death and resurrection, then if I don’t run not walk to the door on Sunday morning, either my life is too easy or I’m living in denial. American culture seeks to balance ease and denial in order to keep us comfortably oblivious to our own emptiness and brokenness.

      But if all you’re getting on Sunday morning is CCM covers, a hybrid of stand-up comedy and a motivational speech, and at best the occasional self serve grape juice and cracker, then staying home is not enough. That just is not a church. You need to go find one.

  9. “On those days when I’m feeling fine emotionally, but don’t want to attend services because I know we’ll sing happy-clappy songs from the latest Time/Life praise and worship CD or because we have a guest speaker who will be hawking his books rather than preaching from The Book, I remind myself why church is important to its Founder.”

    “this Sunday…I’ll struggle to pull on shorts, a shirt, and flip-flops and drive six and a half miles to my place of worship.”

    “a dog and a Diet Coke are not the Eucharist”

    Pardon me for some disconnected thoughts here, but these things you said bother me a great deal. I do not know your particular situation, Jeff, but it sounds as though the place you have been attending has very little connection with “the church” and “its Founder.” Happy-clappy songs, book hawking, shorts and flip-flops sound much more compatible with the dog and the Diet coke than the Eucharist. Remember that the Vine and the Body are not confined to a place six miles from your house. Maybe you should look around for a place with less of a ball park atmosphere and more like the house of God. And dress like you’re serious about having an audience with the King. Even in Tulsa.

    I’m truly not trying to be judgmental. I’m just a 71-year-old with a big mouth.

    Two years ago I left a place I had been attending for 30 years and it was the best thing I’ve done in a long time.

  10. Since we resigned our membership, we are struggling. The betrayal, pain and loss we feel is in itself depressing. But, I knew something was really wrong when I wouldn’t take a new believer from the jail to my church out of fear their new found joy would get squashed (to tell you all the why’s would be too long for a comment).

    We’ve tried other churches-so far, not much difference. We are considering to eventually move away from evangelical to a more traditional setting. We’ve traveled to Holden Village (an amazing Lutheran retreat center) for a few years and came away uplifted, and I’ve attended a Catholic retreat at a monastery once -that was good. We’ll see…

    To some degree, we get what we need with being part of the body in our home group, serving in the community, daily scripture reading and prayer, and, yes, reading blogs such as imonk. That’s the best I can do right now. Being vulnerable equates to being abused and it’s hard to move past that. I pray this is temporary. But, I have to say I admire your honesty and fortitude. It’s encouraging. This post will be the topic of our conversation over dinner tonight. Thank you.

  11. Jeff, it sounds like you’ve found much genuine fellowship among the members of your church. But the worship of the church is not your cross to bear. It’s not being unreasonable to demand that the corporate expression of fearing and trusting God speaks to you where you are at right now. I don’t want to sound insensitive or like an ecclesial snob, but I just don’t think it’s right when the church service exacerbates our suffering. Religion must be more than a horse pill vitamin if it’s worth being a part of. I pray that your church continues to give you not just a meal, but a feast.

  12. This is such a good post! Far too many “Christians” today are secluding themselves in their homes. This is even more rampant due to social media, people are secluding themselves to the computer screen with very little personal interaction.

    I know I have been there many times, but we must do what we can to change the system – the #1 purpose of church is relationship, worship and preaching is far down on the list in my opinion.

    Redeem the church – redeem Christianity!!!

  13. I can sympathize with you, Jeff, and the others who have shared similar struggles with depression. I could have written your post on the weariness of the ‘evangelical circus.’ I have either stayed home or visited an Anglican church occasionally. I still saw no way out of this funk, but I shared your reasons for not throwing in the towel. Soldiering on is about the best I could do most days.

    Finally, after months (perhaps years) of fighting this monster, I got tested for a battery of things and found I was deficient in several vitamins and a thyroid hormone. I had always been health conscious and taken vitamins (obviously to no avail), but made the switch to an ancestral/paleo diet as a last resort before medication. It has helped tremendously! I still struggle with church issues, but taking the social withdrawal from the depression out of the equation has made a huge difference.

    I hope you find a better place. I know there are always spiritual components to our outlook which God can use to grow us in those desert places. I do hate the tendency for depression to be wholly spiritualized, though. It can, and often is, much more than just that. We have bodies connected to our spirits which need to be nurtured and cared for. I pray you make it out of this dark place soon. Thanks for sharing your struggles. It makes those of us who have shared them feel less alone.

    • Thanks, Carrie. I actually like my church—they’ve put up with me for going on 14 years now. Still, it’s hard to go at times for the reasons mentioned above.

  14. sarahmorgan says

    I notice the phrase above the comment box says “Speak Your Mind”, so I will do so here.

    I’ve been a Christian my whole life, and have served in music ministries in many different churches in different parts of the world. However, since moving to my new, small, isolated town years ago, I’ve experienced nothing but problems from the local churches. Slander from digruntled gossips, pastors insulted that I’m more educated than they are (and me being a woman, too), insecure people who are afraid of and intimidated by me, narcissistic and egotistic ministry leaders who take the personal destruction route when I don’t nourish their demand for narcissistic supply, ministry team members who claim I offended them but instead of telling this to me they go straight to the pastors to complain about how “mean” I am, clueless people who think they can “fix” me (make me more like them) by assuming the role of accountability partner (without my input), dysfunctional pastors in a toxic church making me the scapegoat to project all their problems on and making me feel like I’ll never measure up to anyone (even God), other pastors telling me I need to “just get over” the spiritual abuse from the other church, congregation members who blithely smile at you while they lie to your face, no one listening to me or taking me seriously when I explain my chronic medical condition and how it affects what I can and cannot do, being accused of “performing” instead of “worshiping” due to having a higher skill/experience level than everyone else, etc (I could go on, but I won’t, sigh). Because of some of the work I did as a musician in those churches and in local music-related parachurch ministries, I’m not unknown in this small town, and I can’t go in a church now without being singled out with an “Uh, do we know you?” or eventually hearing that some of the slander started by the first church is still following me around, making people leery of having me there for long, much less treating me like a potential friend and sister in Christ.

    I’ve given up. I haven’t gone to church for a little over 2 years. I do not miss the stress and the pain and the constant feeling like God hates me and is punishing me by having so many of His supposed people beat me down. I’ve met much nicer, kinder, more honest, and more authentic people in the world outside the local Christian bubble. I no longer have any desire to support any church-related activity in this town. Everything church-related seems so hypocritical and totally disconnected from Christ.

    Do I miss “church”? Yes. Every Sunday I’m depressed as I mull over my (lack of) options. I can’t help but think of the past times in my life when I was deep into church involvement, where felt I was doing God’s work, leading the ministries I was placed in, using my talents/skills/experience as a musician in His service for His people.

    Do I miss “Christian fellowship”? Sort of. But the folks in this town are not overwhelmingly social, and not attending church makes me a pariah to the local Christians — you’re off their weekly radar so they don’t remember you any more, and if you contact them, they’re too busy with church stuff to meet with you. And after experiencing the unkindness and unpleasantness of local churchgoers, I don’t want any kind of “fellowship” with them. I just don’t.

    Do I know what to do? Not really. I haven’t lost my faith, though I got close. I cling to certain verses of Scripture (for example, Lamentations 3:19-24). I don’t know what the future holds for me, churchwise. I remain stuck in a post-evangelical wilderness.

  15. I dunno, I can relate to most all of this. For many years, most every day, my doggies and I have taken a walk around this family-owned, nine-hole golf course that has been closed for two years and for sale for four. It’s a beautiful piece of land and I never get tired of it.

    This summer I have taken to stopping off at #9 tee which is up high and overlooks everything else. It has the biggest and oldest and wisest white birch trees you will ever see, and in better economic times golfers would often sit there for fifteen or twenty mintutes before finishing their round if no one was behind them pushing. After I hauled in all the benches, I took one back out to #9 tee just for me.

    We have taken to having church there this summer, my doggies and me, and the trees, and the grass and the weeds and the bugs and the birds and the critters and the sky and the clouds and the sun and whoever in the unseen world might stop by.

    You might not recognize it as church. There are prayers and blessings for all, and usually I read a chapter from the Good News of the Kingdom of God. On occasion I have told that story in my own words while being grateful that trees don’t really notice if your mind is working a bit slow while listening for the next word.

    So far no two-legged critters have shown up, other than the birds of course, and ordinarily I ask my neighbors to walk in their own yards as I walk in mine, but this daily church time is different and I would figure anyone showing up was following the Spirit.

    So if any of you take the notion, you are more than welcome. No set time but we’ve been trying to beat the heat most of the summer. Bring a coloring book if you want, but if my dogs get bored they investigate the nearest smells and if they hit it big, find something to roll in. You can join them if you get tired of the proceedings. We’re pretty tolerant if you don’t cause a huge disturbance on purpose and we won’t pop an aneurism if you bring up depression or worse. Yeah, there is worse, not a lot.

  16. I want you to know that I understand. I spent my twenties learning positive self-talk, in my thirties I learned to consume fish regularly, in my 40s I added flaxseed oil and learned about inner healing. At times to all those things I have been led to order demonic entities out of my life. It is much improved though I suspect I may always be prone to depression in some situations.

    If you were where I could look you in the eyes, I would ask how I can pray for you. I guess that is appropriate even here as well. What do you want God to do for you?

    One observation which you can ignore if it does not help is that some form of grief support group might be appropriate. You have mentioned many losses in your life. Those call for a grieving process. But my MFT friend would say, depression is part of the process, but you should not get stuck there.

  17. All good points.

    However, my wife and I have been frustrated, disappointed and hurt too many times by the ‘circus’. When both of our boys have moved out and on to college in five years, we’re taking a break from church. My sincere prayer is that the break will be temporary, that I’ll feel the need and desire to worship with a body of believers again. But if that doesn’t happen, I won’t look back and I won’t feel guilty.

    The fundamentalist, Southern Baptist variety of our particular circus has all of the elements mentioned here, but with an extra helping of a weekly “don’t” list disguised as a sermon (we’ve just dropped the “dos” altogether). There’s typically a special warning of the clear and present danger of alcohol and “queers” as well. Ugh.

    Many may wonder why we don’t just move on. Move to a different church. It’s not always that easy. In this very rural corner of a southern state, our current church is the least offensive option we have. That is, short of attending mass at the county’s only Catholic church (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Plus, I’ve ended up as a Sunday school teacher, youth leader, deacon and substitute preacher. So just walking away at this point would be very difficult.

    Jeff: I’ve been a regular reader of iMonk for many years now. He never knew this, but Michael was almost solely responsible for rescuing me from a crisis of faith about five years ago. His words. His writings. Oh, how sweet it was to learn I wasn’t alone! Michael and his recommendations of Capon and Taylor’s “The Myth of Certainty” brought me back from the brink so to speak. I’ve worked through much of that now, although I suppose I’ll always (periodically) struggle with my doubts. Try bringing this up in a Southern Baptist discipleship class! Not.

    And now your words on depression. I’ve suspected I’m dealing with depression for years. The feelings you described on Sundays, I experience almost daily. So many times, I just want to run away and hide from the world, even my family. Or just pull the covers over my head. To my family and most of the people I come in contact with at work, church and the community, I’m just a smiling, quiet, unassuming guy. I’m such a phony. Anxiety, fear, doubt, worry, depression. They threaten to swallow me whole. My faith is weak. My daydreams are of the relief that medicines might bring, but I tell no one, not even my wife. I have a wonderful, loving, Christian wife who would surely want to know and help, but I don’t have the courage to confess this to her. Or anyone else. I pray I’ll have your honesty, humility and courage one day.

    Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the ministry of this blog.

    • Tusk, it is admirable that you are so plugged in when you aren’t getting much positive feedback. I want to remind you of what you probably already know: you may suggest some changes, talk about do’s instead of don’ts, and love, and grace, and you may never see any difference. But anyone who hears you may keep your words in the back of their mind and then they may bear fruit at some point after you have moved on. I have been affected by things I have heard long afterward, when it was finally time to connect the dots. So I hear you about taking a break when your kids are grown, and you probably should, but your time isn’t wasted as you wait.

  18. I think it’s time you became a confessional Lutheran Jeff, then most of your problems will go away. Take a leaf from Steve Martin’s book -:)

    Yeah maybe I’m teasing. As you struggle with your church’s expression, finding a church that doesn’t do that will be a good move with long term benefits I would think. I agree with Miguel that a church that ‘does church’ badly can exacerbate our suffering. We have enough crap to deal with throughout the week, the last think we need is to go to church to get further frustrated. It’s supposed to be our oasis from the daily grind where we find solace and encouragement.

    However given the condition you so humbly confessed, I’m not sure that changing churches at this time will necessarily help. If you made good connections there, you need them now more than ever. Starting from scratch and having to get to know people all over again will be an extra burden on your shoulders. God ministers to our needs through the body often. Being around fellow Christians who genuinely care for you is a gift in itself.

    I know you kinda preaching to yourself with this post but it’s a step in the right direction that you both confessed your struggle and you’re reminding yourself and others of why church is such an important part of Christian life.

    One of my best friends was suffering from depression and I didn’t even know. I had to find out from his wife as we don’t live in the same city any more. To make matters worse he isolated himself and stopped going to church altogether for similar reasons others express in the comments often. So I think what you’re doing is healthy even though painful.

    • John, I’m not really wanting to change churches. I’m fine with mine. They know me and put up with me — more than anyone should have to do! It is evangelical, yes, but so far has not put up the big top and brought in any dancing elephants. If they do, I’ve got a couple of Lutheran churches on my list!

      • I don’t go to a Lutheran church either though I probably should, and I’m sure I can find a few annoying things there too! No perfect ecclesia anywhere 🙁

        Sounds like you’re in good hands then. And having an elder that wants to hang out with you is not surprising. I wanna do the same and I haven’t even met you 🙂 I’d rather hang out with someone like you any day than someone who is perpetually “victorious” or a proficient ismologist (“ismologist” – one who is devoted to the study of –isms. It’s not in the dictionary yet but give it enough time)

  19. Jeff, I’m sorry that you’re dealing with depression. It is an awful thing to go day after day through a technicolor world and only see black and white – or at least that’s how depression feels to me. Not debilitating, since I can still get up and pretty well take care of quotidian matters, but it makes it hard to enjoy life a lot of the time. I’ll be praying for you.

    I’ve been calling myself “the spleen of the Body of Christ” for years and years! I’m one of those overlooked, introverted souls for whom Adam MacHugh wrote his book (which I’m rereading for the third time, and recommend) who serves unnoticed in behind-the-scenes ministries.

    I’ve been in an evangelical church for 17 years but was raised in a liturgical one. As I’m getting older the quiet, contemplative atmosphere of my old church traditions are appealing to me again. Does anyone else find that the things that attracted you to evangelicalism in your youth now rather annoy you? Or am I becoming just like my curmudgeony ol’ Scottish grandfather the older I get?

    • I was a part of evangelical/charismatic fellowships on and off for 20 plus years. But 14 months ago, I became Catholic. I had a long distance love affair with Catholicism for years, and have been an avid practitioner of contemplative prayer and even by my email name and my blog name show that I very much consider myself a ‘lay’ earthy monk. Although I still attend house church every now and then, there is something about the Silence and the awesomeness of Mass. And I often find myself walking the grounds of the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia. So, I do get it. Although you still may be getting curmudgeony in your life. 😉

      • Niles, what was it that first drew you to the Catholic Church? How did the transition from evangelicalism to Catholicism go for you? How did your family and friends receive the news that you were converting?

        I’m actually a confirmed Anglican, so I can relate to your feelings about silence in the Mass and contemplative prayer. When I first came to my evangelical church I liked the energy of it, but now I’ve grown quite weary of the celebrity pastor worship. The noise and hype have become a stumbling block for me. I know I can serve God in any church, and I love my current church family, but I feel like my returning to a quieter, more litergical church would help me grow in Christ more fully and serve God more wholeheartedly.

  20. Jeff, I have struggled with severe depression on and off for well over 20 years, and some of the hardest times of depression have been the well-intentioned but misunderstood words of fellow Christians. My prayers are with you and I am honored and fed by your gentle honesty and courageous transparency! Bless you!

  21. Bless you, Jeff. I still pray for you, you know…

  22. Fantastic stuff, these are the article types that pave the way for budding bloggers. A great starter kit for times of writers block too.Nice resource Kim!