Church battle

Photo: Umesh R. Desai, Unsplash.

No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home. — Isaac Watts 

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase, “Choose your battles.” Any parent will tell you that this is essential advice. There isn’t enough time or emotional energy in a day to fight about everything. 

For instance, in our family we try a bite of everything served at dinner. We do not, however, monitor sugar. If you want two cookies, knock yourself out. 

Hair can be dyed or cut as the spirit moves, but there are no tattoos until you’re 18 or graduate high school. Whichever comes last. 

Also, in our family we go to church. Our kids haven’t ever asked to drop out of church entirely. There are certainly things about church they enjoy. But there are many times they’d rather stay at the sleepover, play the sport or go to work and make some money. 

It is important for us as parents to know why this is a battle we choose to fight. 

Articulating this is also good for me personally. I should understand why I’m orienting my life around a particular thing.

Why do I go to church? The initial answers come quickly: community, support, friends, accountability, opportunities for service, music experiences, the inspiration to become a better person. 

These are good and true, but they aren’t completely distinctive to the church. One can find all these things, though probably not all in the same place, at a book club, Thursday night pickup basketball game or political advocacy group. 

I tried to think of clever reasons why church is unique, but the prime answer is the most obvious. At church we embrace transcendence. We function within the worldview that there is something beyond our known reality. We call this God. 

As our world becomes ever more skeptical — even dismissive — toward spirituality, I return to church again and again to rest in the assumption of a transcendent God who is love.

I specifically go to a Christian church because Christians prioritize God’s love revealed in Jesus, which is sacrifice over self-preservation, service over domination, redemption over vengeance. 

Because we believe in God, at church we pray. This is different from meditation or deep breathing exercises (both very effective and healing). Prayer is about seeking strength and wisdom, peace and blessing from a higher power.  

I can pray anywhere, but church gives me a safe space to pray without apology or explanation. If you pray in the regular world, you’ll make people uncomfortable. They are either offended or embarrassed for you. 

I go to church to confess my sins. We don’t need church to say sorry to people we’ve wronged or “get something off our chest.” But people aren’t always able or ready to forgive us.

At church we confess not to humans but to God, who is justice and forgiveness. How radical it is to say out loud and in front of other people that I am sorry for what I have done and what I have left undone. Where else do we do that? 

Church is an intentionally intergenerational community. I haven’t found any other organization that merges age groups like church. 

My kids encounter adults as authority figures (teacher, coach) on a daily basis, but at church they interact with adults informally — eating together at Wednesday night dinner, unloading a truck of mulch or walking in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march. Most of society separates the very young and very old. It is a blessing for my children to be in the presence of their elders. 

For me, church is my refuge and shelter. I don’t know if my children will feel the same. I do know, from the very core of my being, that God will never leave them. Luckily, there are far better words at church than mine to tell them this. 

In the deepest dark of a sleepless night, my daughter might find herself singing of “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” When overcome by the ugliness of the world, she has the promise that “in the darkest spot on Earth some love is found.” 

Some day, when my little boy feels lost and alone, he might remember that “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” 

They have the stories of Joseph and his brothers, the Red Sea, the prodigal son and Esther standing “in such a time as this.”  

My children are young and have many miles of living yet to cover. If going to church all these years helps them find their way, just a little, it is a battle worth winning.  

Sarah Kehrberg

Sarah Kehrberg lives in the Craggy Mountains of western North Carolina with her husband and three children.

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