I sense that my choice to stop going to church is wrapped in my own negative stories about many aspects of church. Where did these stories come from? Why did they only recently congeal into a mass that blocks my way into a new/old relationship with church? Why is my confidence in these stories so high?
I wrote down all my reasons for not going to church and asked for my wife’s critique. As usual, she went right to heart of the matter. “Why are you being so precious about church? Why do you have all these unrealistic expectations?” [Ouch] “Why do you think you are a special case, not like the rest of us, struggling with the good and bad of church?” [Another ouch] “Why don’t you find a church that you like and just start going? Invest yourself in it?” [I don’t have an answer for that one.]
In a way, my wife raised the fundamental issue of self-delusion and self-forgetfulness. When I took Moral Theology in university, my professor made a statement at the beginning that has stayed with me. “Human beings have an almost infinite capacity for self-delusion.” That is why one must never make serious moral decisions based solely on one’s own views or stories about a situation. Listening to my wife is one part of the ‘medicine’ I need to take, to find my way forward in the situation in which I find myself. I need to have conversations with Christians I trust, to learn how to soften the grip of my negative stories about church, and ‘forget’ them and myself.
Is this process of self-forgetfulness a repudiation of my own judgement, a surrender to the rationale of others? No and yes. To the extent that I have the final choice about what to do, no. To the extent that I value and take on board the opinions and stories of others, yes. Even if Jesus were here in the flesh, he wouldn’t tell me what to do. He advises me, through my conversations with others, but ultimately the pain and glory of being human is that I get to decide what to do about church.
Lord, save me from myself as I make this choice, from what T.S Eliot pointed at: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Don’t let me weaken and return to church because it will make me comfortable, or please others, including especially you Oh Lord. And don’t let me stay in self-delusion too long. Amen