Jill Urbach

Official website of author Jill Urbach

Recently I had a conversation with a woman who is in the midst of a spiritual crisis. As a Christian, she gets spiritually fed by her church community. By in person interaction with other Christians. By singing and worshipping in person with others.

Can you see the problem?

Not Feelin’ It

COVID-19 has changed the way we worship. Pews have been replaced by sofas which, while more comfortable, are lonelier. The expansive view of the church sanctuary has been replaced by a screen. And raising our voices in song with others? Fuggedaboutit.

It’s been ten months since my church has held an in-person service. The feelings of frustration, anger—even despair—are justified. We want to see God in all this. More, we want to feel God. And many of us find that difficult in our limited “bubbles.”

“If only we could worship in person,” we say, as if that would solve, well, not everything, but a lot.

And then I ran across this journal entry from four years ago. October 5, 2016. And it seemed God was trying to tell me something. Again.

Pre-COVID Church

On Sunday I wasn’t “feelin’ it” at church. It was one of those Sundays where my mind doesn’t stay focused; it wandered a lot.

Interestingly, the sermon was about how the service wasn’t about us, it’s about worshiping God. So, even if we’re not “feeling it” the question should be, does God?

So, when I went up to communion I thanked God that my faith means that I believe in Him even when I don’t feel His presence or feel connected. Those feelings are a nice bonus at times, but not essential to my faith. I sat down with my juice and bread and bowed my head. Started a prayer, like I normally do while I wait for everyone else to be served. I started to go toward, “Please…” but then stopped myself.

I decided that, instead of asking for something—again—this time I was just going to be thankful.

So I focused on thanks.

That’s when I really felt God’s presence. A glow entered my mind. At first I really had to focus on the glow to hold onto it; eventually I became more aware of everything that was going on around me while still keeping that glow in the forefront of my mind. I sat there a long time, my eyes closed. Every time I was tempted to open them I decided I didn’t want the feeling of being in God’s presence to leave, so I kept them closed…It was such a feeling of contentment, just resting in Him…

I got to God’s presence by being thankful, not by asking for stuff. When I was truly immersed [in being thankful] I was able to be fully in His presence while still fully aware of all that was going on around me. And I find it interesting that I was able to get so close to God, feel Him right with me, when I hadn’t been emotionally carried away by the service, or, to be honest, even feeling very connected at all lately.

Cleanliness Thankfulness is Next to Godliness

That was four years ago, long before anyone had heard of this coronavirus. I sat in the middle of a church service, surrounded by others, moments away from singing a Communion hymn, yet I still felt disconnected from God.

Perhaps meeting in person again is not the answer.

It just seems like it.

Certainly we miss it. And feeding off other people’s energy is helpful. It’s much easier to feel the Holy Spirit when you’re surrounded by uplifting music and raised voices.

But maybe God’s asking us to do the hard work. The work that we’re only ready to settle into after months and months of biding our time until we can get back to normal.

Hard work like being patient.

Trusting.

And being truly grateful in a year that has sucked in so many ways.

I’m as tired as anyone of the manna that is Zoom, as ready to bitch and moan as the Israelites were. But God has a habit of revealing his biggest blessings when we’re at our lowest.

Maybe that’s when we’re most ready to receive them.

I’ve spent most of 2020 bouncing between treading water until things are normal again, and working to create something—anything—as evidence I “made the most” of this forced slower season. It’s only now, ten months in with any semblance of normal still several months away, that I’ve accepted the need to stop fighting and simply wait. Trust. And focus on all that for which I am thankful.

Granted, it’s harder now. But perhaps that’s the muscle God wants us to strengthen.

I closed that 2016 journal entry with these words:

…faith is much more than just those feelings. Belief and faith go deeper than fleeting emotion and aren’t dependent on that. It was lovely of God to remind me of that.

Thanks, God, for yet another reminder four years later.

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