STILL AT CHURCH?
When a spouse initiates divorce proceedings, the number of things that change are stunning. Housing, banking, holiday planning, scheduling, friendships…it’s like a major seismic shift.
One of the arenas of life impacted is often church life.
In some cases, I have known individuals who find they are no longer welcome at their church. Others find that worship at church suddenly feels very awkward, especially if both spouses are still attending the same church. And the awkwardness appears in the strangest ways. The place you have always sat together as a couple now suddenly now feels out of place, like you no longer fit there. Worship had always been a shared experience, but now, walking in the door alone, sitting alone, attending small group alone…it can be a very challenging experience.
I once even had an individual who had been divorced for a year or two share with me just how much they hated Christmas Eve services…because of all the services at the church, that one felt the most family oriented to this individual now sitting all alone. All of this is one of the unexpected and unintended consequences of divorce. There are parallel experiences for those who lose a spouse or other family member through death. The empty space beside you can be paralyzing at times.
What is the solution? Sadly, for far too many divorcing/divorced people, the solution is to stop attending worship altogether. Especially if they are still attending worship in the same sanctuary in which they were married. Memories can be overwhelming. This, too, can be the experience of someone who lost a spouse and then is faced with memories of the funeral and an open casket in the same space. Simply too painful, too overwhelming sometimes, and it can drive a person away.
Sometimes simple shifts can make a huge difference. If attending worship is really bothering you, consider some alternative ideas. If your church has multiple services, try some of the different service times. Most worship attendees tend to sit in the same place week after week. Simply moving to a different location on the other side of the sanctuary can make a big difference. In most churches, if you pay attention, there are almost always individuals who are sitting by themselves. Some of them would be appreciative of the companionship, if you are willing to sit with someone new.
Perhaps your difficulty is when you attend the small group or Sunday School class you have always been part of, and now feel like you no longer fit in. You may feel that way because the class is filled with couples, or it may simply be that the group has too many individuals who knew you as a couple, and it is hard to discern how some of them feel about you now. You may end up considering a different small group, but at the cost of losing the close support network you have enjoyed in that group. On the other hand, it can give you a fresh start, a fresh identity, relationships and support that are all your own.
Some individuals find that none of these ideas are helpful, that any contact at their church just feels too awkward, too depressing. For those individuals, I would encourage you to consider visiting some other churches in your area…you may find a new niche of your own. That search may take time, but don’t give up. In fact, that is the main concept I want to impress upon you: don’t give up. Don’t abandon your church attendance. It is an important priority, and if you start skipping now and then because it feels awkward, now and then becomes often, and eventually it becomes harder to attend, as you fall of the grid. The healthy habit of regular church attendance can quickly become the habit of NOT attending…and that is not a healthy habit to have if you are supposed to be a follower of Christ.
It may take a while for you to find that new niche. It may even take years. Friends may not understand the trauma you feel whenever you attend worship. It is easy to get discouraged. It is easy to think you will never fit in anywhere again.
But don’t believe it. Persevere. Don’t give up.
When those feelings start to overwhelm you, visit with the pastor to share your struggle. Odds are there is someone else in the congregation who has gone through a similar experience, and that person could be a good resource to help you through. With patience, you will one day find that new niche where you once again experience God’s presence in worship. But only if you don’t give up. And if you don’t give up, I promise that one day, you will be glad that you didn’t.