When I first returned to church after leaving my faith in college, my attendance was spotty. Most weeks, I was weary by Sunday. The remnants of my life apart from Christ still held me with a firm grasp, and at the end of a week of waging war, I was exhausted. I doubted the authenticity of my faith; I felt ashamed of the many ways I’d failed in the week prior. Some weeks, the shame hovered so thick I never made it to the car, much less to worship. I stayed home, lonely and desperate, battling my doubts and insecurities in the dark.
But then the most incredible thing happened: people noticed when I wasn’t there. As I became enveloped into a beautiful, gospel-formed community, I was welcomed into their families. They listened and patiently walked through my struggles with me. And they made sure I got to church.
Over the months that followed, this church family was God’s sustaining grace for my fledgling faith. Where my life apart from Christ left me feeling lonely and ashamed, life inside the church began to feel like home, and its people became my family. They cared for me in my persistent struggles, holding me accountable to my new life in Christ while reminding me of his endless love and mercy, even when I failed.
I’ve thought often about these early days of my faith since this pandemic has settled us all in our homes. I think of many who spend every day fighting to be faithful while feeling like they’re in a losing battle. I think of those whose fragile faith is propped up by the members of their local church, who now find themselves with drooping hands and weak knees, wondering how they’ll make it through another day, much less another week (Heb 12:12).
A Way of Escape
Recalling her early days of faith, Rosaria Butterfield says, for many, the Lord’s Day is wrought with temptation. But the communal life of the church can be the means God uses to provide a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13). She writes, “While community does not inoculate us against sin, godly community is a sweet balm of safety. It gives us a place and a season where we are safe with ourselves and safe with others.”
But, sheltered in place, many of us feel divorced from the support structures we depended on week after week. This isolation has left us in the midst of a lonely struggle against sin, anxiety, or despair. If this is where you find yourself, I invite you to join me in remembering these four truths:
1. You have a merciful Father.
When our faith falters or our struggles with sin persist, we’re tempted to believe that God is disappointed in us. But we don’t have a Father who towers over us, spitting words of condemnation. No, we have a Father who shows compassion on his children. He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Ps 103:14). He is not surprised by our weakness and frailty, but rather bears with us in love. He bends low, hearing our pleas for mercy (Ps 116:1). When our flesh and our heart fail, God is the strength of our heart and our portion forever (Ps 73:26). He has provided for our ultimate need, securing forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the death of his very own Son. How then will he not also graciously give us everything we need? (Rom 8:32)
2. You have a faithful mediator.
The Lord Jesus came to earth wrapped in human flesh. True God and true man, he was intimately acquainted with the pain of loneliness. He knew how it felt to be abandoned, and he knew the reality of human weakness. He faced every temptation, but he did so without sin (Heb 4:15). Because of this, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). Our faithful mediator goes before us. He stands at the right hand of God, interceding for us (Rom 8:34). And because of his life, death, and resurrection in our place, there is no condemnation left for us (Rom 8:1, 33–34). We approach God on the basis of Christ and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
3. You’re never really alone.
Social psychologists use the term “embeddedness” to describe the network of relationships we carry within us. Though we’re alone, Esther Sternberg writes, these relationships are mapped inside our minds: “a map that will lead to those who can be called on for nurture and support in time of need.”
The opposite—loneliness—is a feeling with which we are all freshly aware. When we turn off the recorded church service on Sundays, the eerie silence reminds us all the more that we’re physically separated from our church family.
But we’re never really alone. We must draw on the embeddedness that is ours as members of the family of God. God’s Spirit dwells in us, reminding us we’re his adopted children (Rom 8:16). No amount of physical separation can sever our membership in this family. In Christ, we have a network of relationships. When we gather for worship, even in the solitude of our living rooms, we join with the church global and eternal.
4. You still have a way of escape.
These spiritual truths can feel distant and unhelpful in the flesh-and-blood struggles we face every day. This is why God has given us actual flesh-and-blood people to fight the battle alongside us. In the church, God has provided “a way of escape,” and that has not changed.
Though we may be physically separated for now, we can reach out to members of our church family and be honest about our struggles. We can cry out to God in prayer and ask others to do so on our behalf. We can cling to the truth of God’s Word and ask others to remind us when we forget.
But the truth is, especially in those early days, I wasn’t great at asking for help. I wasn’t well-practiced in asking for prayer, and certainly not in remembering the gospel. I needed the loving intuition of my church family to pursue me, to ask me hard questions, to pray for me, and sometimes, to come pound on my door when I didn’t want to get out of bed for church.
Though some of these options may not be available to us now, as members of the church, we must reach out to our brothers and sisters who are struggling. We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak (Rom 15:1). Even if it’s having someone join your family meal via Zoom. As Butterfield Writes, “Know that these small things that you may take for granted have been the Lord’s appointed way of escape for a brother or sister.”
Hope in the Faithfulness of God
When Paul assures the Corinthians that no temptation is so great they can’t fight it, he appeals not to their strength but to God’s faithfulness (1 Cor 10:13). To my brothers and sisters who feel alone, weak, and weary, may you find hope not in yourself, but in our faithful God. He has placed you in a family; and despite the reality of our current circumstances, the truth is this: in Christ, you will never be alone again.