Since Hans left us, attending church is still often difficult for me even though more than twenty months have passed since the crash. But, right from the start, I purposed in my heart that I would not let the enemy of my soul enjoy one iota of victory by getting me to stay at home when God’s people meet.
Hans left us on a Monday evening. Our family was there at church two nights later for Wednesday prayer meeting. We were there the following Sunday for morning worship. Our daughter was our church pianist at the time and played for us that morning as usual. I know I could not have sat at the piano on that first Sunday morning without our Hans. But she did it, dry-eyed, and I was so proud of her. As for me, it took all I had, by God’s grace, just to get through the singing. Sometimes it still does.
The words to the hymns have additional meaning for me now. Hymns about grief and pain and sorrow are extremely challenging and I do not like singing them. I try to keep my tears under control because once they start falling, it is hard to stop. I am, however, greatly encouraged by the livelier hymns that proclaim the blessed hope of our returning Savior and our bright and fair eternity with Him. That is what I prefer to sing about.
But, I don’t always cry because of sorrow or because I miss Hans. Often, I cry because, when we are singing the great hymns of the faith, particularly the songs about Heaven, I am overwhelmed by the magnificence of what God has accomplished by sending His Son to die for us, and by the blessings He has in store for us in our eternal home. The glory of Heaven seems just a whisper away. And Hans is there!
Hans, who was not even remotely musically gifted, was our song leader for a time (he referred to himself as The Number Caller-Outer) and I still look up at the pulpit and imagine him standing there in his gray suit, calling out the numbers and trying not to look nervous. During the sermon, he would sit right in front of me where now there is an empty pew; I see the scratch marks he made in the wood when he was a boy. His crayon box from Sunday school, with his named misspelled, is still on the shelf near the sound equipment. In the fellowship room, the foosball table is quiet. Yes, sometimes it is hard to go to church.
The small fellowship where we worship is the only church we have ever attended as believers. All our children were brought up there. Over twenty-three years of memories comfort us and sometimes cause us pain. But it is home, where we are strengthened through the prayers of our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and built up through the teaching of the Word. We are thankful the Lord gives us grace to love each other despite our flaws. Together we worship our Heavenly Father in times of rejoicing and in times of trial.
So, I want to encourage the sorrowing, the grieving, the hurting believer, to do the hard thing. Go to church. Plunk down a fresh box of Kleenex next to you on the pew and claim your spot in the congregation of the redeemed. It is good for you and it is good for the others in attendance. Don’t let the enemy cheat you out of this blessing.
Yes, it might be messy. It will probably be painful. I know how easy it is to stay home. It saves some of what precious little energy you have. It saves you the embarrassment of crying in front of people. It saves you from uncomfortable social situations, from questions, from insensitive comments, from the pain of your child not being there, from no one saying his name, from being misunderstood.
But staying home robs you and others of some things. It robs you of an opportunity to be a testimony of God’s goodness. It robs others of the chance to see how a Christian handles a severe trial. Your very presence says to a skeptical world that God is good and worth the hard work of being in public when your heart is demolished. Your presence demonstrates to the powers of darkness that we worship God because of Who He is, not because of what He gives us or what He spares us from. I believe a hurting, sorrowing Christian who has resolved to sit in the pew and worship no matter what, can be a beacon of hope to others who are, or who soon will be, in a season of trial.
God’s church has always had sufferers in her midst. There is no shame in this. In fact, suffering can be a ministry; those who have suffered tremendous losses before me have ministered to me in ways they will not know until we meet in Heaven. Their walk with the Lord during affliction shows me that, in the Lord, I can do this. How could I see this if the suffering saints stayed at home to spare themselves the discomfort of appearing in public?
There is little benefit to withdrawing from fellowship when we are hurting. But, there is great value in doggedly going to church regardless of the severity of our pain. Unbelievers, new believers, and the angels themselves need to see us worship God during the tough times, not as a testimony of our “strength”, but as a testimony of God’s goodness and majesty.
So, ask the Lord for grace and strength to honor Him by worshipping in the assembly of His people, even when it hurts. Worship that means something, costs something. Be a good soldier. Do the hard thing and go to church.