By Shawna Wingert
Many of you have written me and asked what we do about church. I know why you ask. It’s a loaded question. It’s a question with layers and layers of more questions. It’s a question that I am sad to say I still have no real answer to. It’s a question that we have wrestled with – for years.
For my son, the sensory experience of going to church is something similar to torture (I wish I was exaggerating to make a point).
He enters the crowded lobby with wall to wall people, everyone talking at the same time, various smells of babies and coffee and muffins and perfume, getting bumped here and there because it’s not time for the service to start, people still talking and welcoming and trying to hang on to their children as they run for the donuts and other children .
When it is time to start, he has the choice to attend with us where the worship music that everyone else seems to enjoy is overwhelmingly loud and painful, the lighting is weird and makes his eyes hard to focus, and the pastor is talking into a microphone, which blurs the words into a series of loud or louder sounds that he can’t make out. It’s all just noise, painful and overstimulating. But it is better than the Sunday school classroom, with even louder kids, confusing social situations, worse smells, a teacher that keeps asking him to read aloud, answer questions, engage in crafts. He can hear the other kid’s pencils and crayons as they move across the worksheet – the sound of a writing instrument on paper is more searing than the loudest noise all morning. It’s like a drilling noise, in his ear, constant and overwhelming.
No matter what he chooses, when church is over, he is exhausted and anxious. He makes his way back through the crowded lobby and the smells and the people touching him and the kids playing. Then he hears me say, “We should go out to lunch.” Knowing this means more smells, clanging kitchen noises, the constant buzz of conversations at other tables, and the horribly loud music they play in the background. He panics. The meltdown begins.
I wish I knew five years ago. I wish I realized the extent of it even six months ago.
It saddens me to say that for years I forced – literally dragged him out the door on Sunday mornings. I thought I was doing the right thing. I love church. I thought he would too, eventually.
It makes me a little sick to think that I worried more about what other people thought about us missing a Sunday, or his behavior at church on a Sunday, than the pain he was feeling. I was concerned with others, more than his precious heart.
It angers me that when we finally made the decision to divide and conquer, with one of us staying home each Sunday, or worse yet, when we both started staying home on Sunday mornings in an effort to figure out what God would have us do, we were met with judgement and accusation.
And, it delights me that when we took the painful part of learning about Jesus out of the conversation with my son, his heart began soften. He began to not be so fearful and purposefully removed from our conversations about God, and instead relaxed, learning, listening, and even starting to engage.