After holding off as long as I could, I recently became a soccer mom. Our oldest kids, now 7 and 5, had done a little soccer skills program on weekday mornings, but I knew that once we jumped into Saturday morning sports commitments, we were in for life. Or, at least for the next two decades.
Still, every time I drove past the soccer fields near our house on a Saturday morning (especially on a beautiful spring day), something about the crowds drew me. Parents chatting on the sidelines, trading in work clothes for joggers and hoodies, toddlers watching older siblings from their strollers. The communal nature of it, the cozy ritual, appealed to me, introvert that I am!
Turns out, we’re now three weeks in, and standing on the sidelines with my coffee, catching up with other parents while our kids chase the ball around is better than it looks from the road. I love it.
Why? I think it’s the sense that I am part of something bigger, that our family is taking part in a time-honored weekend family ritual. Our kids are learning skills on the field, and we are deepening our community connections with others in the process. We aren’t outsiders looking in anymore. We are in the game.
On a recent Sunday morning, I was reflecting on a similar idea during another time-honored family weekend ritual — attending church. “I was glad when they said unto me let us go into the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1, NKJV) Being in a room with other believers worshiping Jesus often brings me to tears. Especially because in my home church, the one I’ve been in for close to three decades, I know so many of the stories in that room. I know the pain and the joy that people are bringing with them into worship, and it moves me deeply.
Even when I haven’t known these personal stories, there is also something incredibly moving about being with other followers of Jesus in other countries, worshiping the same God in a language I don’t know. There’s a lot of great theological language to describe this experience, and I don’t have it. But I do have stories.
Like attending church in post-Soviet western Ukraine in high school, singing along to a tune I knew, but fumbling through the Ukrainian lyrics with fellow believers. I’ve been thinking about those brothers and sisters in Jesus every day for the last few months, moved again as I see them posting videos of their worship services, even when threatened by the atrocities of war.
Like sitting on a concrete block in a concrete building full of thousands of Haitians, months after an earthquake devastated the entire capital of Port-au-Prince, lifting our hands in praise to our great King. Later that day, aftershocks would rock the same church, sending the few of us remaining in the building outside, a haunting reminder of what had happened, what could happen still.
Like sitting on a simple dirt floor church in rural Rwanda, watching women dance and sing for hours because they remembered how good God had been to them. During testimony time, one woman shared how she had prayed and prayed and thought God had forgotten her because her cow wouldn’t give birth and she needed milk for her family. She cried out to God the night before, and that morning, before church, her cow gave birth. “Now, brothers and sisters, I’m bringing milk as an offering to the house of the Lord.” And then she put a jug of milk on the altar.
Part of the great joy of walking with Jesus is not just knowing Him for yourself, but sharing that joy in community with others. This takes place in our local churches, like little tributaries leading to a mighty river of the global Church. When we gather in worship (especially after a season of long isolation) watching each other turn to Jesus and gazing on Him together is absolutely beautiful. It’s sometimes tempting to get your spiritual nourishment from many thousands of great online sources, and there’s nothing wrong with using them as a supplement to your regular spiritual rhythms. But I think of the verses from Hebrews:
“Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”Hebrews 10:23-25 (CSB)
We are meant “to gather together,” and in so doing, encourage one another, if only by our presence in the room. If a personal relationship with Jesus is a quiet daily walk, I think we are also meant to have a once-a-week parade with others who’ve been walking quietly Monday through Saturday. If you’re missing that part, you’re missing out on one of the greatest and most beautiful gifts of following Jesus.
So on Sunday mornings, if you see me looking around the room, sometimes I’m thinking about the stories I know, and how the saints are showing up in the house of God, in spite of incredible pain. I think about other believers in war-torn Ukraine, in shattered and unstable Haiti, in Rwanda, in Honduras and China, in Los Angeles and Albany and St Louis and Seattle and Durham, all glorifying the same God, telling about His goodness, leaning on His faithfulness, trusting in His justice. And then I turn my heart upwards and do the same.