When hindsight breathes life into the New Year.
By Jenna Pelias
We stopped participating in formal church activity for a couple of years once. No attending services or events. Largely disconnected from people and community. Church failures of the highest degree. We were okay with that. You would think that if we were going to stop being part of church at any point in our lives it would have been when Glenn resigned from ministry to deal with issues in his personal life and rebuilding our marriage. That was in 2009. He did in fact stop going for a time, while I continued to attend solo. But it was in 2012/13 that we peaced out of the church altogether.
Rosalie was a baby. Olivier was an extremely busy toddler. Andreas was being formally assessed for autism as we prepared him to start kindergarten that fall. Mateo was 6-7 and a generally easy kid but the needs of his siblings were sometimes hard on him. Our lives were busy and full and exhausting and rewarding and never dull for a single moment ever. 2012 was actually so intense that I need to look at photos to remember what happened and when. I can’t recall most of that year on my own. #momoftheyear
We wanted to be part of church. We really did. We’d go and I would spend the whole time nursing or comforting Rosalie, being called to the nursery to deal with Olivier’s ridiculous separation anxiety, or being called to the preschool room because Andreas could not tolerate church back then – the response from teachers was often an assumption that he just needed to be disciplined more. Mateo didn’t mind Sunday school but with the entire time there spent running between the other three kids to deal with their various needs, we had all come to dread going to church.
The kids didn’t want to go. We didn’t want to take them. Everyone was miserable every time we left. Andreas cried the whole way home and melted down for the rest of the day every Sunday. I think for me one of the “last straws” was going to check on Andreas and finding him sitting in a chair in a corner because he was upset. He wasn’t misbehaving. He was upset. And the teacher couldn’t handle him so she made him go away. I hadn’t yet learned how to advocate for him or even that I needed to. I didn’t expect people to understand or know what to do, as I wasn’t even there yet myself. Why were we doing this to ourselves and our kids? We didn’t even know. So we stopped.
And it was the best thing we ever did for our family.
We started spending our Sundays taking in church services online in our living room. The pressure was off of our kids and we were able to rethink what a healthy spiritual life looks like. We weren’t sure we knew. Glenn had my blessing to do music anytime but I wasn’t dragging my kids along for the ride just to play the part of the smiling, supportive family. There are a lot of ways to support a spouse involved in ministry whether they are paid or volunteer, and for us the best way to support him was to stay home. So that he could focus on being part of the team without worrying about how I was handling the gong show that was our kids and Sunday School. I’m told there were people who had a problem with what they perceived as a “lack of support” for Glenn on my part, but not a one of them ever talked to me about where I was at or how things were going, so to hell with them all was my over-it attitude.
It wasn’t just the kids though. Glenn and I needed time to ourselves. We were still healing and working things out. Church for me had become such a burden. It felt like the walls were closing in on me every time we walked in the door. I needed that time away and to be able to just lay it all down. It was life giving. It probably saved my busted up faith.
A little bit of time passed and we were all ready to try again. We knew that being part of a faith community is important to both of us and something we want for our kids. So in 2014 we joined up with some friends who’d planted a church. Glenn jumped into doing worship with them. I focused all of my energy on getting my kids to go to Sunday School, and stay in their class. It helped that they were together. It helped that Andreas had a couple of years of school under his belt and was comfortable in a classroom. It helped that Olivier had grown out of his separation anxiety. It helped that Mateo and the pastor’s son are best friends. My little firecracker Rosalie wasn’t having one bit of Sunday School and it took a good year or more to get her to stay in that room but I was patient. The whole church was patient with my noisy girl, God bless them every one. She wasn’t used to it and that was fine. We did our best.
We spent 2 years in that church. It was like a hospital where we didn’t have to have it perfectly together and our kids didn’t have to be perfectly behaved and we just had to show up and be part of it. Leaving this past spring wasn’t easy but we had to be obedient to the Lord’s leading so we stepped out. Why? We weren’t 100% sure. It wasn’t for us to know I guess. Glenn still goes back to lead worship for them sometimes and Mateo is still best friends with the pastor’s son, who I am secretly hoping Rosalie grows up and marries one day. So I guess it’s possible to “leave” a church and still be part of it because that’s what we did and it’s weird but it’s fine, somehow.
This year was a year of devotion – to our family. I didn’t see it that way. Hard decisions don’t look or feel like devotion sometimes. When I look back though, everything that has happened and changed since 2009 has been a journey of devotion. Devotion to our marriage and family, in a way that honors God. We have failed so many times in so many ways. But we keep learning from those failures and we keep starting over, every day.
We made a commitment last New Year’s to having a daily time of devotions with our kids. I picked up a devotional book and we read one almost every night before bed. It was so simple. A resolution that actually stuck! When we settled on a church to attend this fall, the decision was based entirely on what our kids need right now for their spiritual formation. Glenn still does music for friends at different churches but our kids need something solid and consistent so we found that for them. I have never had such peace about my kids and church. Everything about our faith lives this year has centered around pouring health and life into our kids. Even when it has involved laying down our own passions and areas of ministry involvement or church preferences.
It has changed them. It has changed us. The way we think about church, ministry, and family life has been totally altered. At the start of this year I wrote down that I felt God was calling us to make hard decisions for our family, that other people wouldn’t understand. That has been more true than I could explain here.
I wonder sometimes, what the future holds. This year and even the last few years, they’ve felt foundational. What we’re laying the foundation for? I don’t know but I do know that this time of being devoted has been purposeful. Devotion is more than reading a passage from a book. Devotion is discipline. It is prioritizing. It is making hard choices that other people don’t always understand. It is not always knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, but doing it anyway.
Most of all, devotion is worth it. People in this world are devoted to a lot of crazy things. Family is our crazy thing, as it turns out. Nothing else we do or become is worth it if our family isn’t healthy or the kids are getting our leftovers in terms of time and attention. Some years that has meant loving the Lord alone in our living room and other years it has meant showing up and serving just so that we could learn how to function in church again and this year it has meant hard choices and putting the faith of our kids first no matter the cost to us personally.
I don’t care anymore whether people understand or not. The people who do the most judging are usually doing it from afar, making assumptions without ever having a face to face conversation with us. We’ve been through hell over here and spoken about it publicly. It’s not a secret. Answering hard questions doesn’t actually phase us. We aren’t the most eloquent or polished but we are honest. We don’t have time to worry about whether other people understand or not anymore, because we are too busy living well with and for our kids, and that has been freedom.
I am one of those people who prays for a word for each new year. I’ve been doing it since forever, since before it was a ‘thing’ that I was aware of. Some years it has been an actual word. Some years it’s been a picture or metaphor. This year, my word for 2017 is everything I see in hindsight. My word for the new comes from the old. My word is devotion.
Devotion to old things and new ones. Devotion to my people. Devotion to the God who made me, saved me, and gives me grace every morning. I don’t often tell people what my word/picture/focus is from year to year. I’m not sure why I’m sharing it this year. Except that I wonder if there are others who also need to look back at how far they’ve come in order to see hope and life and freedom in whatever is coming next.
It’s a few days early, but Happy New Year. We’ve come a long way. I am willing to bet that you have too.
copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved