Photo: We had a major water incident this weekend. Water flooded the 2nd floor bathroom and trickled down into the 1st floor bathroom. My Husband, thank God, knows his way around tools, so he was able to fix it all. My husband is a lot of things, but at least he is my lot of things…
I am going to break a rule that I set for myself, dear reader. I’m going to blog about my faith a little bit. I’m choosing to do this for two reasons: First, because it is Lent, so I’m thinking about my faith anyway and second, because something interesting and odd happened this weekend and I’m actually seeking a little bit of advice. I’m telling you this up front because this is not a faith blog, and I know that some of ya’ll long-time readers are not necessarily affiliated with a particular religion (then again, I know that an equal amount of you are very connected with your faith), so if you aren’t interested in reading on this particular topic, I hope you’ll choose to join me on Wednesday or Friday.
If you are still with me, I hope that you’ll choose to give me a little advice, because I’m feeling a little bit jammed.
I don’t know where to begin… let’s start with the Husband.
My husband grew up in a home tied very closely with the Lutheran church. They aren’t just Lutheran, they are Missouri Synod Lutheran, which is the most conservative of all the various iterations of Lutheranism that you can get down with. My in-laws attend church every single Sunday, they had their boys participate in Sunday school and Confirmation classes, and The Husband and his brother are both quite well schooled on the Christian tenets. The regularity of his church going dropped off during college because of the usual reasons–too much studying, no chance to get home, yada yada… and when we moved to Boston, it really dropped off, especially because there was a lot of ambiguity over it we were going to move back to Maryland. It was better to hold our breath for a return to a church that we both love rather than try to commit to a new place.
During the entirety of our time in Boston, my Mother-in-Law has pestered us about joining a church community, and I can tell that my husband sincerely misses worshiping at a church on Sundays. It isn’t just because his mother tells him to go, it’s because he feels something when he attends. We’ve tried multiple communities and we never found one that stuck for varying reasons. So The Husband’s observation of Lent this year has been to select a church to attend every week in order to find a community that will be right for us as a family.
I was born to parents who were raised in United Methodist homes. Where my in-laws aren’t necessarily active in their church community beyond sending their kids to Sunday school, my grandparents were incredibly active in their church communities: Choir directors or Choir participants (father’s side), Ushers and Deacons (mom’s side), running Bible School and working in the kitchens, making famous pies for the Bake sale… We can talk about the historical and racial reasons why church was more than just a spiritual place for my grandparents, but that is another post for another time. My parents, though, didn’t carry on the legacy after they went off to school. Father stopped attending church as soon as he was old enough to say “no” and mean it, and he has since become agnostic.. I think? Mom, after her first separation from Father, stopped attending her home church because she couldn’t deal with a town-full of eyeballs and gossip on her in the place where she worshiped. She keeps up her faith in different ways, and, like me, she doesn’t often talk about it.
So I was left to fend for myself. When I was in elementary school, I begged my mother to take me to church because one of my classmates told me that I was going to Hell otherwise. Mom thought that was ridiculous and din’t comply. In middle school, during those important years of identity development, I turned to Buddhism and meditation, but didn’t find anything satisfying from it. In high school, after Father came home from China with a wedding ring on his finger (“Father, what’s that on your hand?” “Oh, by the way, I got married,”), I found myself really struggling with my need to figure out my spirituality, my anger with both of my parents, especially my father, my fears of death and beyond, and my hunger for belonging because high school just plain sucked. I turned to my grandmother’s pastor for advice on the whole “honor thy mother and father” gig, and received advice that helped, but didn’t fix.
God was listening to me in my anguish, and I met my husband during the Fall of my senior year of high school and started attending church with him come spring. The Husband’s church has two things going for it that have spoiled us: First, it has an excellent music program. The people who run it and perform for it are real musicians who love music just as much as they love God. This means that every service is accented with beautiful moments of song that really put you in the right mood for prayer. Second, and even more importantly, our home church has a Pastor who is incredibly gifted. He is smart, he is wise, he is funny, he is a scholar and intellectual, and his sermons are for the Christian who is thinking as well as worshiping.
And I’ve come to an understanding that my walk with God has to be an intellectual exercise first and an expression of faith after. I love God because he has given me the capacity to think and understand, and more importantly, he has given me the will to question, challenge, and analyze. Thus, a Pastor’s sermon must pass through the gateway of my brain before they even have a chance of touching my heart or soul.
But here is the problem, dear reader. My husband has other needs. The message means something, but for him, the music means more. My husband worships music, understands it on a level that few do, and won’t go to a church that has subpar music. Give him a mediocre pastor any day, as long as that music director knows what he’s doing.
So here is the conflict and the false choice that my husband gave me this weekend:
The husband has narrowed our selections down to two churches. One has a pastor who is out of this world smart and connected and interesting. The Husband was blown away by his sermon and was also impressed with the down-to-earth community of the Lutheran church in town. The problem? They choose to mix contemporary worship songs into their services along with the hymns, something neither of us really likes that much. We’re conservative like that–let’s break out the hymnal and get down with the old-school hymns, please. The contemporary stuff is just not us.
Option Two? A beautiful ancient Episcopal church in the neighboring town, popular and packed with a crowd a little above our usual league (The Husband said that he felt grossly under-dressed). The music program was out of this world. The Husband has never been so impressed. The pastor? “Good, but nothing special.”
So I say to him yesterday, “Well, what does your gut tell you?”
“Well, I think we should go to the Lutheran church. I want to choose a church that makes you happy.”
I don’t like this line of argument. It puts a lot of pressure on me. I don’t feel like I need church to walk with my God and live by his tenets. I know that He loves me and I think that I live in a way that pleases Him.
So I say to him: “But baby, if you love the music, that’s really important. You should choose to attend a place that really makes you want to be there.”
And then he dropped this bomb, which has echoed in my head all day today: “Well, I don’t want to pick a place that has only an okay pastor, and then you go and make an impression on the people who we meet, but then you only attend maybe four or five times before you are frustrated, and then I’m left to go and have people ask ‘oh, where is your wife?’ That’s an uncomfortable situation for me.”
And so he adds: “I mean, I don’t need you to go to church. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. But it seems like you want this, so…”
For me, this feels like a coercive false choice.
Yes, I’ve expressed a desire to join a church community. First, it’s important to me that the boys are introduced to Christianity and are taught the Christian faith. I just don’t want them to spend a lot of time wondering about their souls like I did. I also think that an extra community for them to utilize as a resource is just generally helpful for their upbringing. It is also true that I’ve been longing to join any community and to make new connections and relationships. Talking to a 3-year-old all day sucks sometimes.
But then again, I don’t need to be in church every Sunday like I know my husband does. I get that my husband needs this break in his week, this time to reflect and sing and connect and love. I think that he feels like this should be a family activity, done as a unit, and that it makes him proud to have the four of us there worshiping together for everyone to see.
But I hate that he is holding me responsible for his spiritual satisfaction. If I choose to go to the church with the great pastor, I get something amazing but we’re both stuck with music we’d rather not listen to and I’ll always know that the Husband would rather be at the other church, listening to the good music. If we go to the church with the great music but the mediocre pastor, I’ll really resent the entire practice of getting up on Sundays and going to a place that doesn’t feed my soul the way I want it to be fed.
So what do I do? Is there an elegant solution? I understand that marriage is full of compromises, and we’ve both done our share. Should I just be of the mindset that it’s only 2 hours of my life every week? I can do this much for this man who I love? What kind of message will it send if only Daddy goes to church and mommy doesn’t? Eventually, one of the boys is going to say “Well, Mommy doesn’t have to go…” and I’ll have no leverage to compel them…
I’m very annoyed and conflicted. If anyone has any advice out there, I’d love to read it.