For most of my adult life, I have been a member of small churches. During the last five years, we ended up making an unprecedented shift to both a different denomination than the one we’d been part of for twenty-five years, and to a church much larger than any we had attended before. It didn’t start out large as it was a church plant, but it rapidly grew to several hundred and went on up from there. It’s now at about 700. To me that is huge.
I didn’t expect to be a member of a church that big, of course. Starting from a small group one doesn’t know what to expect. It just kind of took off.
Now that I’ve experienced both, there are some differences I’ve noted.
In a small church, there are always financial challenges, of course. If the pastor says he will eat beans if he has to, you know two things. One he’s an amazing man, but two, you have a financial problem.
If there are personality conflicts that cause big problems, they are front and center in a small church.
It is hard to find people to fill all the roles that need to be filled. There are only so many adults who can be elected deacon or elder.
One of the main difficulties with a small church body is it can be quite problematic to get the needed momentum to pass the boundary of awkward into do-able. People who want to just blend in are not going to be comfortable attending a church where they stand out. Many people who are looking for a church may have expectations about size, programming, dynamics and so forth.
The good point of a large church are that there are lots of people.
There are people to volunteer in the nursery, there are people coming in who are interested in serving, although, honestly, in big churches as well there can be problems with motivating people to serve. Big churches can have financial problems, too, but I think it is less likely, barring some disaster in leadership, which thankfully I have not experienced.
Big churches are more likely to have vibrant children’s and youth programs, as those can more easily be funded and fueled, and there are more kids there to keep the momentum going.
But I’ll tell you what I miss.
I miss being in a body small enough that I know everyone. That takes a small body, as in 50-100 strong.
In that setting, there are few enough people that over enough fellowship dinners, service days, and nursery work, you get to know people well. It creates an intimacy that is often missing in the general culture.
A small church united in a common cause is a force to be reckoned with. When someone has a problem, it is noted, and people draw in around the sufferer to help.
Over time, devotion of that sort creates a very strong bond. Family would not be too strong of a word.
That’s what I miss.
Lately, I’ve found myself asking a question about relationships in my day-to-day reaching out to people and inviting them into my life and into my home. I like to cook, and having people join our family for dinner has always been something I enjoy. I like to spend time getting to know people. I like making them feel welcome, that they are important to me, that they are included in our mutual community, whatever that context is. And this context is what I’m used to.
Despite having been hospitable in this particular way for over twenty-five years, recently it seems that dinner invitations are not as well received as they used to be.
So, I’m asking myself, what’s different? I find myself wondering if there are new social rules about how to initiate further contact with acquaintances and friends. If there are new rules, I’m afraid that I don’t know them.
Perhaps there is another way that relationships are supposed to be nurtured in 2016? Maybe people I know from work or church or kids’ activities are not comfortable being invited to someone’s home? Am I supposed to meet the other mom at a Starbuck’s first, before I invite the whole family to dinner?
I don’t know and I would like to. The last thing I want to do is be overbearing when my intent is simply to invite.
How is relationship building supposed to happen now? Let me hear from you.
People use this phrase to explain how peak an experience is. You’ve most likely heard it in association with some sort of dream vacation. I know I did. When my husband of five years used it of our trip to Alaska, a place, let’s confess, I hoped to return to at least a couple more times, I was a bit displeased.
On the other hand, he probably meant it was a fantastic trip, filled with memorable sights, beautiful scenery, and far from home. That for sure was true.
What I hoped wasn’t was the literal meaning–that it would not ever happen again.
So far, it hasn’t for a lot of reasons that would be understandable to most adults: children, work, money, you know how it goes. You can’t take a trip like that every other year; it’s just not practical.
But here’s the thing.
When you get together with friends, you enjoy it; it makes a nice break in the usual routine. You laugh, have fun, eat something, drink something, talk. When you leave, you say, “We’ll do this again,” or in some cases where it’s the final dinner before a friend moves out of state, you say, “Take care of yourself. I’ll miss you. Let me know when you’re back in town.”
You are working on the assumption that–all things being equal–you will see those people again, enjoy a beer again, laugh and carry on again.
But you won’t have that particular gathering again. No matter how many times you see the same group of friends or family, it won’t be the same gathering. It’s unique and discrete by virtue of time and loss.
It’s once in a lifetime.
I’ve been working through my latest lab results, and how I’m feeling, and re-reading a book about autoimmune disease and health that I read before…and I feel myself going back into research mode.
I really don’t know that I have a choice in the sense that while I’m back on the thyroid medication I prefer, finally, after a full year of dealing with different medications in an effort to chase away premature ventricular contractions, I don’t feel as well as I was hoping and expecting to. The PVCs were horrible when they started last April, keeping me up all night many nights. So I had to go off thyroid medication altogether for a while, which caused me to gain some weight. I had to get my iron levels up high enough to ward off the PVCs, and the process plain took longer than I wanted.
So, here I am, supposedly back where I was two years ago. Only I’m not.
I have a few other issues I didn’t have then and the mediation doesn’t seem to be doing what it was then.
So what do I do?
Back to the drawing board. Is there a different medication I could take? How can I help my digestion? Should I change my diet? Drop the fish oil? Change the type of magnesium? Change the B complex? Would a sleep study be beneficial? Something else to support the adrenals?
There are quite a few questions, but the main one is this.
How much effort am I supposed to put into trying for better health?
Would it be better to stop spending valuable time reading and researching and live my life as it is?
I get drawn into the complexities, and sometimes I find myself thinking about nothing else throughout the day but my recurring questions about the health strategies I’ve been reading about. Then I ask myself, what kind of life is that?
Maybe I should just give it up, accept how I am doing for how I am doing, and make the best of it.
But those of you who know me well know I am not the kind of person who gives up when faced with an obstacle. Hermione-like, I turn to the library of information in an effort to find a solution.
I just don’t want to spend most of my life–trying to fix my life.
Have you read about George Müller? He’s the one who ran an orphanage but never solicited funds or food or clothes from the public. He just kept running it and praying for provision. His prayers were answered to the point that when there was no food in the building and they prayed for their need, the baker’s wagon broke down in front of the orphanage and he came to do the door and offered all the bread in the wagon for the children as he had to get rid of it in order to get the wagon towed and fixed.
I’ve often wondered what it was like to be the person on the other end of the prayers Muller was praying.
I think I just found out.
Some people we know went to another country a few years ago as missionaries. We don’t contribute, but we do get their prayer newsletter.
They have small children so haven’t had to deal with education in the past, but now their oldest is ready for some school, so they had ordered homeschooling curriculum. Unfortunately it got stuck in customs somehow due to not being labeled correctly, and they would have to fill out a lot of paperwork to straighten out the mess, plus pay many fees.
They were already over a month behind their planned start time for school and to make matters worse, the order also contained a friend’s materials as well.
They didn’t ask for help, just prayer, but I was almost attacked by a desire to help. I’m a homeschooler and I can’t imagine having to wait that long for materials. So I offered to pay for the fees to get the boxes of books out of customs.
She didn’t know what the total amount of fees would be yet, but I did not want to wait until they did know, because I didn’t want them to have to wait for a reimbursement, so I told her I’d just go ahead and make the donation.
I asked God to give me an amount that would cover it all. And a certain figure appeared in my head, I sent it off, and yesterday I found out it covered it all with a bit to spare.
I could say that I just felt sorry for them because as a homeschooler and a parent, I could imagine the situation they were in. And I did, because they’d had a really rotten week when they shared this particular situation.
But this time I think it went further.
It’s pretty wild being on the responding end of a prayer.
When thinking about the situation a person on the autism spectrum faces when walking in the doors of a church building, you could say it is up to that person to change himself and make things happen.
You could say there is not a disability here that we need to accommodate. If we can’t see the disability it does not exist.
You could say if he is a child, the person’s parents should explain in advance to other people that their child needs certain special treatment.
You could say the person with the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who didn’t make friends and ended up leaving a church should have made more of an effort to involve herself in group conversations and to introduce herself to others.
You could even say the church is not here to cater to different special interest groups; rather, the church’s goal is to share the gospel with as many people as possible.
These are some of the trains of thought which confound those wanting to make the rough places plain for those individuals who do not fit the template of “church” that has been laid out by popular Christian culture in the United States.
I’ll take a look at each one.
I think that demanding that the person who is new to the church and on the autism spectrum bridge most of the gap toward other people is almost as illogical as stating that people who use wheelchairs should get out of their chairs and drag them along, in order to get into a building that doesn’t have a clear, smooth ramp.
Sometimes people assume that because a person with an ASD which can include diagnoses like Asperger’s syndrome, high functioning autism and so on, does not appear to be different or to have a disability, that he does not in fact have a disability. If you see someone with no physical differences, who is able to walk around, and is seen talking to his family, people can assume that whatever problem this person is supposed to have is no major problem at all. Other times, when parents of a person with autism explain to those in leadership what things are hard for their child and where he will need a little extra guidance or help, or, when they explain what is not working for their child about the way things are at church, sometimes people can’t seem to understand that there is a problem. It’s as if because it appears that all is normal, they think there will be no problematic situations later. Or maybe it’s because they are people who are already truly committed to reach out to others, so they feel like they are truly doing that. Maybe, this is why they can’t see that there is a problem sometimes–because they believe they’ve already met the need.
If someone comes in who is a child or teen, it may be thought that somehow the parents will convey exactly what other people are supposed to do, and nothing need happen until then. There are a couple of reasons why this is not a good assumption. First, in a new setting, it can be unclear to the parents that it is either appropriate or acceptable for them to make special requests of other people in a group setting. It’s awkward. If a parent is just making his or her own way in a new church, it can be difficult for her to know if it is all right to ask for specifics. Parents don’t want to be demanding, as that probably isn’t going to help them make friends either.
Also, the parents may not know that their child needs an entrée into youth group or conversations with other people in the body; they may assume welcoming overtures will be made to their child by adults and other children. Or, they may know that he could use help, but they may not be sure how to help provide that extra assistance in a way that will be both effective and workable. In any social environment, nobody wants to feel like a special project, or like somebody is being paid to be her friend. You can’t manipulate genuine friendship, and people with ASDs do not want you to. That’s fake. People want to be wanted, because.
While it is always true that more effort could be made by any individual to reach any desired goal, the question becomes, how much is enough? For people on the spectrum, and honestly for any person who has trouble getting to know new people or trusting them, there’s a chasm between where he is now and the desired community on the other side. He’s not being difficult; he’s not being selfish. Relationship building is painful work for him. Sure, there are times when she’s not making much of an effort. There are always times when individuals don’t make enough of an effort. But, in general, a person with an ASD is probably doing her best to interact with others. To say that if she had just pushed herself harder she could have been welcomed is obviously wrong.
And I would agree that the church’s goal is to share the good news with as many people as possible. That includes the people who are already in the church building, not just the ones on other continents. I’m not saying those who have never heard are not important. They are priceless and valued by God. But so is each person you see as you come and go on a Sunday. If the church cannot love those who are sitting in its figurative lap, how is that church living out the gospel? Would you want to come every week to a place where others assume that you should be working at full steam on your areas of weakness, or would you like to come to a place where on a foundation of love first, you can grow stronger?
To know Christ is to know his love for us. His love for us bridges the gap and draws us in. So we bear with others’ weaknesses, knowing that they too are bearing with ours. We reach out to each other because.
The love of Christ compels us.
Saying goodbye to your high school graduate is difficult for anyone. I found that out three years ago.
But I wonder if it may be more difficult to release a child into adulthood when you homeschool.
There is no way to take a scientific angle on this, because who can compare the grief and joy different mothers feel? It doesn’t matter how your child was educated: home, public, private, Montessori, special ed, traditional school, un-schooling, child-led-learning, Catholic, alternative. You’re going to miss him terribly. It cannot be avoided.
At the same time, the transition, it seems, must be different when the child has been educated at home.
For one thing, you’ve spent so much time with him.
For another, the process of fledging probably takes place earlier and over a longer period of time if you’re not the primary educator. I don’t know this, of course, since I never had a child in a school. I would think that earlier opportunities for the bond to be stretched, and stretched more often, would be common with public school. If he were getting on a bus every day, it would have been different.
As it was, there were piano lessons and co-op, where he both learned and taught. Later on in high school there were entomology camp, a summer college class, and volunteering. But none of these took him away from his siblings and his parents for 8 or more hours a day.
So, we had years of time together. We watched Monty Python together, listened to classical music on the way to piano. We sat around in the living room talking. We went camping for two weeks at a time in a pop-up camper, after the early local experiments with tent camping generated some great stories that I wouldn’t want to actually repeat.
And the same is now true with the younger siblings. We have a lot of time together. Sure, it is full and it goes by quickly. There are activities, therapies and appointments. But it’s being spent more or less together, which is something you don’t get to experience if the kids are going to school somewhere else.
So it follows that when your bird flies the nest for college or work or the Peace Corps, you’re going to feel it. The gap. The missing piece of your life.
Your friend and companion.