2 Timothy 1:5
I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.
On one Sunday morning when I was a little kid, I guess I informed my Mom that I didn’t want to go to church.
Now, understand, I came from a Roman Catholic family–the kind that did go to church regularly when regularly meant weekly. I was indoctrinated into the beliefs and practices of faith from a very young age. You didn’t miss Mass unless absolutely necessary. In fact, there were other scheduled times for Mass at the church of my upbringing just in case you couldn’t make it at your usual time. There were no excuses for not parking yourself in a pew once every 7 days.
So when I said to my Mom that I didn’t want to go to church one bright, Sunday morning, she replied, “Ok. But just think about how that makes God feel.”
Wow. Way to turn on the guilt, Mom.
As it turns out, I went.
Truthfully, even though I am no longer a Roman Catholic, I have a lot of fond memories of growing up in the church. I remember crawling around as a toddler under chairs while grown ups had their Bible study or prayer meeting. I remember one week when I had brought a ton of loose change to put in the offering, and when the guy came round to my pew and I dumped all that change into that offering sack on a pole, I don’t know if it was dismay or gratitude on his face.
I also remember Catechism classes. I remember receiving my first Communion and going through my Confirmation. I remember getting a Good News New Testament with slightly more sophisticated than stick figure illustrations. I had it for years, but looking back I also remember that no one from my church helped me read and understand it. I’ll come back to my church upbringing more in future posts, yet suffice it to say the absence of solid biblical instruction would turn out to be a reason for my eventually leaving the Catholic tradition behind. Put another way, I learned much more about Catholicism than I did Christianity.
Anyone who knows me, of course, knows that I did not leave faith behind when I left Catholicism. Not only am I still a practicing, committed Christian, I am a full time Baptist pastor and have been for the better part of 20 years!
People who are raised going to church can sometimes have a complicated relationship with faith. Where does their parents’ faith end and theirs begin? Do they think they’re going to heaven because they’re sitting in the same pew as their mother and grandmother? What should kids think when only one parent attends? I know plenty of people who were raised to go to church but no longer go. Some people are truly C & E Christians–those who attend on Christmas Eve and Easter morning. I suspect, however, that even that demographic is nearly gone from our culture.
I know of so many families where involvement with church and faith has skipped one or two generations, where, strangely, grandparents and great grandparents bring their grand-children and great grand-children to church. No matter how faithful a parent has been, you can’t guarantee the faith of your children.
That’s why I have always loved the above verse from 2 Timothy. It’s such a parenthetical comment for Paul to make, incidental to his teaching on doctrine and practice, a simple biographical note made in passing. Yet it speaks volumes for how God was at work in Timothy’s family, specifically his mother and grandmother. I have this image of these two women of faith obediently and lovingly reading to Timothy from Scripture, teaching him to pray, sharing with him their trust in the Lord Jesus.
I feel a bit like Timothy. Not altogether, mind you, but enough to be thankful for what I have been given from my very earliest years.
Let me speak for a moment to those who perhaps were raised in church but have long since abandoned church and Christianity. Maybe something about your church upbringing left you hurt or cold. Perhaps life has gotten so much more complicated and you feel like you can’t go back. It’s been too long. You feel too guilty. Made too many mistakes. Church isn’t relevant. You can believe in Jesus or God (and decide what that really means) all on your own.
As much as my mother’s response to my declaration about not going to church wasn’t the most pastorally sound one, I did go that Sunday. I sat in that pew, heard and learned prayers, listened to hymns, and watched as my mother went forward to receive Communion. And I can say this: eventually faith clicked, really clicked. A handed-down faith became my own. Faith came to live in me as it did in young Timothy. Since those days all those years ago my faith journey has had some less than stellar moments, low points, and times when I wasn’t sure what I believed. But I am still here. And I still am a Christian–more so than I have ever been.
In asking me to think how not going to church would make God feel I believe my Mom showed a kind of wisdom. How? Well, because God does care about my life and whether or not I know him, love him, and trust him. It grieves God when we make choices that creates greater distance between ourselves and him.
My suggestion to you if you are one of those who have given up on church is this: go back. Sit in that chair or pew. Listen. Let the prayers, the music, and the preaching pour over you. Let your heart be quiet. Ask God to speak to you. It may take time, but God will respond to you if you seek him.
He did that for me, and I trust he can do it for you.