I returned to in-person worship inside my church building two weeks ago, for the first time in a year.
When the world as we knew it came to an abrupt stop, I imagined a return to worship filled with jubilant singing, clapping, and shouts of praise, punctuated by a buoyant, contagious energy. The room would be packed to the doors with old and new faces, all expressing relief at the return to normalcy and conclusion of a nightmare.
Instead, I returned to a socially-distanced seating arrangement with mostly empty chairs, faces covered with masks, awkward interactions (Do I hug? Am I standing too close?) and an eerie feeling of familiarity mixed with the bizarre.
Still, I worshiped. Tears ran down my cheeks as the sound of my own voice blended with the voices of others, singing to and about the God we love. Simple. Authentic. And somehow exquisite. The beauty and comfort found in a family and fellowship of believers.
I quickly recognized some division in my heart, though. Some of the words I sang didn’t ring completely true. I desperately wanted to sing of my faith and belief in a good God, of His faithfulness and provision, of His redemption and healing. But right beside me sat a friend, crying over the recent loss of his life partner to COVID, and my mind flooded with the countless others — known and unknown — who have struggled under the weight of this virus, as well as a terrible winter storm, loss of jobs and incomes, relationships broken by unusual strain, more typical life tragedies and deaths, and on and on.
I felt like a hypocrite. I do believe in a good God, but after months of profound suffering taking a front-row seat in our homes and communities, I’m left dealing with a great deal of hurt, sadness, and even anger. I want to cry out: Jesus, just come back already!
So, I chose to pray. I didn’t wait for quiet, privacy, or a “better time.” While the people around me sang, I closed my eyes and silently lifted up some guttural mix of confession and desperate plea:
“God, I’m so upset. I’m even upset with You. I’m so tired. I cannot understand everything You are allowing to happen in this world. But I know you love us. I know I love you. I know you are a good Father. Help me with my unbelief.”
The two weeks following that worship service have been filled with reminders of God’s presence and His love. I see hearts He has put in my path at every turn. I breathe in my favorite aromas of springtime. I feel the gentle breeze and the sunshine warming my skin. He hasn’t come rushing in like a hurricane, but instead like a reassuring whisper in my ear: I’m still here. And I love you.
God doesn’t force Himself on us. He extends an invitation, and waits for us to come to Him. I pray we receive that invitation, and if you are like me and have struggled lately to relax fully in His presence, I encourage you to pray and return to worship anyway. He is faithful and merciful to help us along the way.
God, help us in our areas of unbelief. Amen.