Yesterday marked my 30th Sunday not in church….I could be wrong, but as far as I can remember, the most consecutive Sundays I missed in my “previous life” was 2.
One January afternoon, I remember asking Ivan to see if he could check me out of my rehab hospital to make it to church that Sunday. Obviously, I was too foggy to process that I could barely transfer from my bed to my wheelchair, much less make it in and out of a car and through a service at a church that was 45 min away. He said no. (Also, I’m pretty sure the hospital would have said no for him in case he was wavering.) But anyway, that marked the beginning of this 6 month journey of figuring out how to worship God consistently on my own, apart from the communal gatherings I’d known my whole life. Thankfully, even though church is an essential part of growth and accountability and encouragement, God lives in hearts, not in church buildings. And, being sovereign and omnipotent, He knows that there are varieties of reasons why someone may not be able to attend church regularly – and provides for those needs too!
For me, the initial barrier seemed mostly physical, but after I learned how to navigate with my wheelchair – and eventually walk – we realized just how much neurological/brain healing must take place in order for me to handle all the sights, sounds, and interpersonal stimuli that come with attending church. So what have I been up to spiritually, then?
Well, Step 1 was to learn to listen through a sermon or podcast-type thing at home. It took me a while to be able to focus enough to make it through an entire one, but I did! And I can now say I’m pretty hooked on Alistair Begg’s 25 min. Sunday evening podcasts. Step 1.5 was getting reacclimatized to listening to music – including praise music. It’s true that I’m probably biased from my violin background, but it’s amazing how just one song can totally reset your attitude and uplift your outlook on the day. And then there’s Step 2: praying. Pretty important, right? I was surprised at first to notice that my mind got lost rapidly whenever I tried praying on my own. I could make it through a short “Thank you for the food” or “please help this appointment to go well”, but that was about it. Enter: the Psalms! Thousands of years ago, God provided a whole book of prayers written down for us to meditate on and worship through. Well, verse by verse, they reminded me of things to say “thank you” for – or request – and they also ended up being great templates to follow as I tried to exercise my “prayer muscle” and make it through longer prayers on my own. The great news is that not only did this “prayer therapy” work, but it also ended up being such an uplifting and inspiring exercise that I plan to keep up with it indefinitely now. Step 3 would be actually attending a service! While the estimated timeframe for achieving Step 3 is still pending, every Sunday is one Sunday closer! in the meantime I’m thankful for the hope of God’s nearness that He constantly offers…even when it calls for unorthodox approaches.