The church is a wonderful thing. Messy sometimes, yes. Comprised of broken people, yes. Politically confounding, yes. Globally fragmented, certainly. But the older I get, the more deeply I realize that I don’t want to live a life outside the body of Christ. As a transient adult (I’ve lived in six different cities since my mid-twenties), finding a new church every time I’ve moved has felt like a gargantuan undertaking. But I always press on because I know what a difference it makes in my life, having a church home.
It took us two years to find a church in Memphis, and even now I avoid discussions of membership and church doctrine because–well, I’m just not ready. Anyway, the people are what really matters to me. My church is overflowing with opportunities for community and fellowship, opportunities to study God’s Word together and to simply share life. And meals. The Baptists are really good at sitting down together over food.
Last winter my husband spent four months working overseas, in Kenya. With family seven hundred or more miles away, I was lonely, but the church drew us close, quickly becoming my support system. We went to church and church-related activities several times a week. Sunday school. Church. Sunday night “life group” with a gaggle of other families, Wednesday night church supper and midweek service. Wherever and whenever we showed up, people embraced me, fed and snuggled my kids, offered me the opportunity to take a breath. I needed that much involvement–I needed church three times a week.
But now my husband is home, and the school year is beginning. I still work full-time. I also manage this blog, which I count as service. My five-year-old is in kindergarten this year. She has dance and theatre classes she loves. I have a monthly moms’ book club and a knitting group–both things I’ve been longing for, things that feed my soul in other ways.
At the same time, the new fall midweek services are kicking off at church. It’s time to sign up for new life groups. I had to sit down and reevaluate, talk things over with my husband, pray for guidance. How much could we do? How much should we do?
I’m committed to living as slowly as possible, to not driving my family like a team of race horses, to not getting swept up by the drumbeat of modern culture. I’m committed to being out of the house no more than one evening a week for my own activities. I’m committed to keeping my daughter’s activities to no more than one hour each per week, and ensuring we are home for dinner on those days. I’m also committed to keeping one foot in the world, to not making church my only place of community.
So we’re dialing back our involvement. We’re committing to Sunday school and church, and that’s it. We may attend on the occasional Wednesday night, but we’re not going to make it part of our weekly routine–at least, not now.
One of the wonderful things about most churches today is that there are so many opportunities for community. There are groups and weekly events for families and young marrieds and singles, college students and grade schoolers and retired folks. There are Mom’s Days Out and morning Bible studies for stay-at-home mamas. Many people I know engage in everything that fits their demographic within the church, and that’s ok.
But here’s what I want to say to you churchgoers today: everyone’s situation is different. We all have to find our own rhythms, our own balance. We have to sort out what’s best for us, not do what everyone else is doing or everything we can do just because it’s available. We need to make room for rest and rejuvenation–God commanded it. If church becomes too much, we can burn out. Church should revive and restore us, draw out our gifts, and fuel our relationships with both the Lord and other people. If we’re so busy running to and from activities that we’re becoming depleted, it becomes just like any other source of modern busyness.
If you’re like me, it may be time to step back and ask yourself, “How much is the right amount? What level of involvement will bless us and allow us to bless others without leaving us lacking in other areas, like family time and rest?” Annual or seasonal re-evaluation is a good thing, a wise thing, a mindful thing. If you ask him, God will lead you to the right place of balance. And church will continue to be the place of blessing he intends it to be.
Harmony Harkema has loved the written word for as long as she can remember. A former English teacher turned editor, she has spent the past seven years in the publishing industry. A novelist and blogger in the fringe hours of her working mom life, Harmony also has a heart for leading and coaching aspiring writers. Harmony lives in Memphis with her car-loving husband and two small daughters. She blogs at harmonyharkema.com.
Photograph © Anthony Delanoix, used with permission