It started fairly innocently. My church was going into crusade mode for the month of July and not being a fan of crusades I decided to take the time to rest.
It would be a time to recharge my batteries and do lots of Bible study.
It would be a time to dig into God’s word and be refueled. During the five weeks of crusade I went to church twice – both times because of a promise made to a friend.
At the end of the fifth week I found myself going into a panic. I kept wishing that my church would have an extra week of crusade so that I would have more time at home.
Unfortunately for me, that never happened. The week following the end of the crusade I spent in increasing panic. I got to a point where I couldn’t sleep because I was panicking because I had to go back to church. I would feel pressured, my heart would pound, my chest tightened as though I were having an asthma attack. And I’m not an asthmatic.
Eventually it was Sabbath. I woke up that morning knowing I was not going to church because I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t want to go to church. I got my son ready and sent him off with his grandmother. I spent that day trying to figure out why I was feeling the way that I was.
I read other people’s stories as they wrote about their experiences as they felt overwhelmed and burnt out. Now there had been a point when I said to myself that I was not going to church until I felt like it because it didn’t make sense for me to go if I had the wrong heart. Doing that could only hurt me. But it didn’t feel like the right decision.
If it was the right decision why was I so traumatized? Why was I feeling so anxious about it? If it was the right decision, why didn’t I feel any peace in my soul?
Well, another Sabbath approached and again I felt myself going into a panic. Unable to take it anymore I finally spoke to a Christian friend at work and she said that she recently gone through a similar phase. She believed it was an attack of the enemy and that in spite of how I was feeling I should still go. Her reasons were sound and I felt a temporary peace in myself. I thanked her for kind words which she attributed to the Holy Spirit.
For at least a day, I felt resolved. I said okay, I’m going to go to church. I’m going to be fine. I started making plans for my Sabbath School class. But Friday evening I found myself worried about the next day. Sabbath morning I woke up, had worship and everything was fine, except – I started feeling panicky because you know, I’m gonna have to go.
Again I didn’t want to go. I eventually decided to go in spite of my feeling. I don’t know what prompted that decision. I would love to tell you that a peace came over me and I felt calm, but that’s not the truth. Reluctantly, I started getting dressed. I actually made the decision to go to church at 9:15 am – the time that services typically began.
My mother called to ask if I was going to church to which I reluctantly said yes. She picked us up and brought me and my son to church. As we drove into the churchyard I said to myself, “Here we go” because my chest was tight and I was feeling a little panicky. I got out of the car and I didn’t know where to go or what to do.
My heart was overwhelmed. My chest was tight. I felt as though I was going to pass out. I knew then that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go in. I had to go back. I retreated to the car, sat in the front seat and blurted out, “I don’t wanna go.” She said, “What happened?” I said, “I don’t know. I don’t wanna go. I don’t wanna go. I don’t wanna be here.” She said “You’re being attacked by the enemy; just sit and be calm.”
We sat and we listened as the radio personality told the story of an expensive bottle of lotion that she had received but did not use because she was waiting for the “right moment”. When she finally decided to use the lotion it had expired and had to be thrown away – the whole thing wasted because it was not used when it should have been. She likened it to our talents which some of us keep hidden waiting for the “right time”. We need to use our talents for God.
Eventually we got out of the car and went and sat in one of the pews. I have to admit I was still struggling. I was still asking God to help me. I asked him to open my heart, to empty me of self so that I could feel Him, so that I could worship Him in spirit and in truth. And I sat there but most of the program at that point was not getting through; not even the praise and worship session which was usually one of my favorite parts of the service.
During the process of changing seats (we usually sit in the first row for the main service) I was passing a church sister who stopped me because she said I didn’t look like myself. I explained to her that I didn’t want to be here. She took me around the back and she sat and talked to me. She was very straightforward. She said,
“Look, you have to do what’s right for you. It’s not a matter of being selfish - it’s a matter of you taking care of yourself. It makes no sense for you to hold a position in the church and your soul is not well because then you’re busy saving others but you are lost.”
She also told me that she had experienced the same thing I was going through. She had been through a period when she had not felt like “doing church”. Her husband also had times when he did not want to go to church either. This couple is stalwart in ministry at my church. I found it difficult to believe. Yet in less than an hour two other women who were heavily involved in ministry said the same thing.
Why isn’t this spoken of? Why has this become our dirty, little secret?
That’s why I’m telling my story. I don’t know what you’re going through right now. I don’t know why you feel like you can’t go to church. But I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. I’m also going to share with you 3 questions that might point you in the right direction:
Are you resenting the people you are supposed to be serving?
Do you feel as though your relationship with Jesus is in danger?
Do you long for the end of the serving period so that you can relinquish your post?
If your answer to any of the above is yes, you may be experiencing burnout. The best thing to do is walk away from some of your responsibilities. Walking away from a position in the church does not mean walking away from the church and it doesn’t mean walking away from God.
The belief that we’re saved by works? It’s a lie. We are saved by faith in Jesus. When we believe in him we are already saved we don’t need to justify our salvation with good works. Now I’m not telling you that we shouldn’t serve in our churches or that we shouldn’t be active in ministry – definitely not!
We are saved to serve but when we start thinking we need to serve in order to be saved? That’s a sign that we need to rethink our priorities. Ultimately we are called to have a relationship with God. That should be our priority and where our heart should lie.
Don’t feel like going to church? Go anyway. You may be surprised at the support you receive from the family of believers. Remind yourself how blessed you are if you live in a country that allows freedom of worship. Thank God for the privilege of coming into his courts.