I don’t know if you’re supposed to admit this out loud, but I have had a hard time going to church recently.
Has anyone else ever felt this way?
Lately I’ve been showing up because deep down I know I should—I know it’s worth the two hours that would have otherwise been spent lazing away on the couch in my pajamas. But the hard part is that along with this hint of obligation, I also find myself coming to God without the excitement, gratitude, and love I want to feel when I interact with Him.
This last Sunday was particularly rough. Carl and I were cuddled up on the couch, wanting to do nothing more than watch football until bedtime. Without much enthusiasm, and much later than we should have, we finally talked ourselves off the couch and forced ourselves into clothes that weren’t a thousand sizes too big, and sporting a faded emblem from our high school football team.
We got to church just after the service began, and found seats in a sea of enthusiastic worshipers.
Everyone around me looked happy, deep in their bones happy, like worship was seeping out of their pores.
They were experiencing something with God in that moment, something special and intimate—something I haven’t felt in a while.
Toward the end of worship, the bandleader prompted the congregation to praise God for all He’s done, and I have to admit, I did not want to. I didn’t feel grateful, or worshipful, or any of the other things I wanted to feel in that moment. I felt like I’d been here and done this before. I felt cynical, vaguely cranky, and was still longing for my soft spot on the couch.
I think if we’re honest, we’ve all found ourselves here before. When we first become Christians, everything is new. I cried at church for the entire first year I was a Christian…every time. I was just so overwhelmed by the love and worship in those sanctuaries, so blown away by this God I was learning about. But sometimes, after we’ve been at this whole “Jesus thing” for a while, the moments that used to feel miraculous become more ordinary. We start to feel a bit jaded, harder to impress, disengaged. And this is a terrible feeling, especially when it seems like you’re the only one.
I considered the next two hours thoughtfully. I could either be in a bad mood for the rest of church, or I could do something about it.
So I decided to give praise and thanksgiving a try. I started small, and randomly.
“God, thank you for Carl. Thank you for the coffee I drank this morning. Thank you for the lunch we’re going to eat after church.”
My list grew longer and more profound, and I began thanking Him for the deeper things He’s done throughout my life that I forget about sometimes—the things we lose track of if we don’t stop, pause, and look back.
It was like flipping through a scrapbook with Him, or going back through old Facebook albums.
In my mind, I flipped to who I used to be—how insecure I was—how I felt like a stranger in my own skin, and how much He’s changed me since then.
I went through my storehouse of favorite memories, like old buddies getting together and telling the same stories they’ve told for 30 years.
But then I started remembering more recent events. I thought about what God has done in the last 6 months. How close He was to us when we lost our jobs—how I felt like He was physically there, holding me up when my knees had given out with sadness.
I thought about our wedding, about Carl, and about how I never would have met him if it weren’t for God. I thought about the move to Nashville, and how perfectly He lined up everything for us, from our jobs, to our apartment, to our budding community.
And as I flipped through those memories, I felt something stirring in my chest, something I haven’t felt in awhile: Gratitude.
The more I remembered, the more thankful I became, and the more thankful I became, the more I could relate to what the people around me were feeling. I felt like worshiping, not just on the surface, but deep, down in my bones, just like I used to. And before I knew it my bad mood had casually slipped out the back door, cynicism in tow.
I may be wrong, but I think gratitude might be the key to this whole thing.
I’m usually zipping through life so fast, I barely find time to toss a “thank you” out the window like gum onto the highway, before I’m onto the next thing.
But when I slow down enough to notice, when I expect to see God’s goodness and faithfulness, when I expect Him to answer prayers, and remember all the times He’s shown up before, worship flows a lot more easily.
Our relationship with God is just that, a relationship. And just like in any other relationship, there are seasons we feel so in love we could just sing about it, and seasons we feel like we’d rather just sit on the couch and watch football.
Thankfully, our mood and how close we feel to God doesn’t actually impact how close He is to us. God promises us He’ll never leave us, and so no matter how cranky we are at church, He’s not going anywhere.
But our gratitude does change things—not God’s relationship to us, but our experience of God. Because when we take the time to notice and remember how good He is, it’s impossible not to praise Him.
I found a quote recently by Marianne Williamson that sums it up perfectly:
“Joy (and worship) is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”