“I can’t go back to church,” she confessed as we stood in my driveway. She had just dropped off her daughter for a sleepover. Before heading back to her car, we paused for an impromptu check-in. I could tell she was wrestling with something. She was in a different place.
In fact, since COVID-19 had broken our rhythms and disrupted our normal comings and goings, we all were in a different place. During the time we weren’t gathering each Sunday morning to worship collectively, we didn’t see, hear, or touch each other on a regular basis. With the absence of our weekly ritual, we were distant and disoriented in all kinds of ways. While we were away from each other, we missed the progression of each other’s lives. Children kept growing. Life seasons changed. People died. Dreams were born. But we missed it.
As we began to slowly reappear in each other’s lives, the growth, changes, and shifts that occurred were undeniable. However, we weren’t quite sure how to talk about it. It reminds me of when grandparents don’t see their grandchildren for a long time. The grandparents try to pick up where they left off from the last time they were with their grandchildren, but the grandchildren have outgrown that place. The kids have developed and are different, so naturally, they aren’t wanting or able to relate in the same ways they used to. So, it takes a while to fill in the gaping hole of time.
My friend and I were trying to recalibrate — to bring each other up to speed so that we could move forward together from the present. We awkwardly tried to feel each other out. I sensed that she didn’t know if she could be completely transparent. She didn’t know how I’d feel about the ways she’d evolved in our time away from each other. She thought that I would judge her for choosing not to go back to church. As I listened to her nervously explain, anticipating a negative reaction from me, I could tell that she felt alone in her experience. She shared why she couldn’t go back to normal — to the way things were with church. But she also felt insecure about having such a strong conviction without possessing a clear vision for the new way forward. I asked her if she felt in limbo, in between places. She was relieved to hear words that resonated with her soul and experience.
I then shared this with her:
In 2016, I stood in someone else’s driveway listening as a couple shared with me that they couldn’t go back to their church. As they professed their convictions, I grieved their experience. Spirit whispered to me that more people will be stirred to move on from their local churches. As I gasped in horror, Spirit encouraged me not to be afraid and assured me that though this felt painful, goodness would prevail. I certainly didn’t and still don’t understand, but I chose to trust Spirit more than I trust my feelings.
When my friend awkwardly poured out her convictions and anxiety onto my driveway, I wasn’t shocked. This kind of impromptu confession had become a familiar experience. I had not only listened in driveways, but also on sidewalks after events, at the end of business meetings, off in the corner during a social gathering – places no one plans to spew their pent-up emotional or spiritual conundrums.
Each time, I listened intensely. And when they paused, signaling me to evaluate their dilemma about church, or a lack thereof, I shared what Spirit whispered to me years ago and how I can see goodness in uncertainty – the limbo, the in-between, the not going back to normal while not being completely sure about what’s next.
The good news is that in the absence of certainty, God is fully present and magnified. God is in this in-between place, in our questions, our searching, our courageous movement and shifting. God is with us in the driveway as we grasp for assurance, direction, and protection. And it’s good!
With the sharing of this revelation came an audible exhale. Each time, I witnessed relief replace anxiety and celebration overtake isolation. I realized that although some of us have been motivated to leave our local church, or not go back to normal, we also need to be in each other’s presence to stir life within one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 encourages us to not neglect meeting together:
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
I grew up reading this passage solely in regard to attending church on Sunday mornings. Experiencing people ‘not going back to church’ has expanded my understanding and application. In the absence of our Sunday gathering rituals – by necessity or by choice — we still need to intentionally come together and hold space for one another, to connect, process, and confess. Whether we meet in a church building on Sundays or a coffee shop on Wednesdays, we need time together to be vulnerable and to be validated. We need close proximity to snuff out isolation.
A few of us decided to organize a monthly gathering to simply be able to see, motivate, and encourage one another. We call it Potluck. We choose someone’s home to meet in, take a dish, spend time together, check in, and catch up. We bring ourselves in from the driveways, corners, sidewalks, and distance to a sense of belonging. Gathering brings definition to the in-between place and reminds us not to be afraid. Meeting together helps reconcile the limbo and calls it good!
Feeling uncertain about the way forward is okay. But remember, being in limbo does not mean you have to be alone.