When One Makes a Plan to Quit Church…

harpers-ferry-october-2008-sitting-at-river

God has a wonderful sense of humor I believe.  I’m quite certain that I make Him laugh out loud on occasion, as I can be funny even without trying. (I’m NEVER funny when I DO try!)  I also imagine that He has rolled His eyes, chuckled with minor annoyance, and wished He could THUMP me on the head at times as well.

This past week I had a couple of serious discussions with my husband about church.  I had a “plan” about when I would no longer be attending church.

I’m getting ahead of myself, however, so let me explain how all this began. I had begun consciously thinking about what I would no longer do once my kids were gone from home.  What started all this (dangerous) thinking was my epiphany of how different fixing supper each night would be after it became “just Terry and I”.  I have a “soon to be 18-year-old” son, who eats like most 18-year-old boys.  He actually eats very healthy… but he eats a LOT.  So while fixing supper one evening, I realized that I would go from baking six chicken breasts to baking just two chicken breasts in only a couple of years!

Well we all know how one “thing”, or one “thought”, can lead to another.  Before I knew it, I realized that I was thinking about how I was going to have to explain to Terry why I wouldn’t go to church with him anymore.  I hated to have that conversation, for I didn’t have a plan to stop going as a result of my losing my faith, anger at God, or a back-slidden spiritual condition.  I felt badly for Terry, because he would have to go alone.  And yet, it never entered my thinking that he shouldn’t be going alone.  It’s as if the decision had already been made.

I really love our church, and our pastor is a phenomenal pastor/teacher.  The couple of things I’ve discussed with him about people with hearing loss were always met with approval and a very genuine desire to help.  Churches are exempt from the Federal law (ADA) mandating that assistance dogs be allowed to accompany their partner with a disability. Chloe has always been welcome at my church. But…

I am invisible at our church.  I come in and a couple of people say “hello”.  I then go to sit down, make Chloe comfortable, sing/sign with the congregation, listen attentively, pray, sit around and wait for my family to finish their “clean-up”tasks, and then we go home.  I’ve actually written and then deleted a couple of paragraphs here explaining the different ministries in our church and why I can’t participate (or how I “tried” and it failed… believe me there were numerous attempts!)  I’ve chosen to not add that in this post because, 1) I don’t want anyone to think I’m being critical. I feel harbor no ill feelings towards any ministry or individual, and 2) the purpose of this post is to explain God’s intervention and how He’s made it clear I cannot deliberate whether or not I should attend church.

So in order to keep this from being “novel length”, let me cut to the chase.  I walked into church Sunday and went to my “spot” in order to sit invisible.  God sent three different people over to me that did more than say “hello”.  They asked how I was doing, what was going on in my life… He even allowed me to offer prayer and encouragement to someone needing to know that someone would honestly “pray without ceasing” for her.

I went from sitting “invisible“, to sitting “surprised”. Chloe kept looking at me funny, so for all I know my mouth was even hung ajar in shock. Yes.  At times God chooses to reach down and “thump” His younguns on the head.

In preparing to write this post, I was reminded that one thing many late-deafened people have in common is the trap of a self-imposed isolation. I’ve been to conventions, conferences, and support group meetings.  I’ve even spoken in workshops, research symposiums, and on Capital Hill. I should know better. Yet… I am just as much in danger of allowing myself to simply “drop out”, as someone new to hearing loss.  Why?

Perhaps it’s because “all of this gets really old”.  Or maybe we wonder if we are making a difference to anyone? My messed up thinking had me convinced that I go to church now because my kids care if I do. I didn’t have to twist my own arm or anything to convince myself that after THEY are gone… no one will notice ME gone.

I say all of this in order to remind all of us, that God can use anyone.  He can use the deaf, the blind, and those with mobility challenges.  He can use the hyperactive, the extremely shy introvert, and those who do not have “traditional” spiritual gifts or talents.  In the meantime, my involvement remains at  simply being able to faithfully pray. It’s very likely something I do better than most. I disconnect my cochlear implant, and instantly eliminate all background noise and distractions.

I think the late-deafened get bogged down in what they “use to be able to do”.  When I could hear I was in the choir, taught 2nd grade boys Sunday School, led two women’s Bible studies, worked in the Deaf Ministry (how ironic!) and acted as a secretary for the Children’s church.  I can’t let what I use to be able to do, keep me from finding joy in what I can do now. If the bulk of what I do happens to be ministries outside the church, it doesn’t mean that I should no longer go.

Don’t allow yourself to believe “church” won’t miss you. In the end, that’s not the point of “church” is it?

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

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6 thoughts on “When One Makes a Plan to Quit Church…

  1. Denise,
    Thank you so much for your honesty and transparency. You would be greatly missed by myself and our church. Your smile brings me joy and encouragement, and our church would not be the same without Chloe barking in praise (I know it was only once). I know we have a long way to go to be “welcoming” to those with hearing loss, but we need someone to keep us informed and sensitive to their needs and concerns. The church is for everyone.

    God bless,
    Drew

  2. Very interesting reading! Thank you for writing in such a way that I was able to get a glimpse of your soul. I am so Thankful that God ministered to you in your pain and lonliness and brought you three conversational angels. I am glad the LORD brought me to your blog so I could glean from your heart. I trust GOD will do in me what HE desires so that I can be a conversational angel to those in our congregation who may be feeling invisable. Thanks for sharing.
    Bonnie in FL

  3. Feeling invisible is a hallmark of American life, across nearly every demographic. I think that isolated lonliness has so permeated our very sense of selves that it’s nearly impossible for nearly anyone to believe we would be missed.

    When I first fell ill, depsite all the ministries I was involved in, the first call I got 3 months after not being in church but once or twice was someone asking me to join another ministry.

    A few people knew I really wasn’t well, but they didn’t call and no one else even asked about me. That was the most hurtful time of my enitre life, and I grew up in an abusive home.

    “Those people” were supposed to “know better”, I was so certain!!! LOL–how many times was I supposed to know better? Illness taught me to cut other people some slack if I wanted some.

    I’m beyond thrilled that God tapped you on the shoulder and said He would miss you! It’s okay not to “know better” all the time–we learn our lessons in layers rather than all at once I believe.

  4. Oh Denise,

    My grandpa quit going to church after my grandma died, because of his hearing loss. On the one hand, I couldn’t blame him. He loved the Lord, read his Bible… he didn’t “fall away”.

    But that man was a tower of strength, wisdom, and maturity. Now, as an adult looking back, I wish we had encouraged him more to keep coming. I think the church lost something very dear when he quit coming.

    My heart goes out to you in your moments of feeling isolated, but you’ve answered your own objections better than I ever could! And, I do believe, the church would miss you… the body would definitely LACK you :0)

    Julie
    Julie

  5. I always wonder as my hearing gets worse that going to church when you can hear but not understand is worth it.If I can not hear the prayers am I praying. Music is a blur of voices but i understand the Organ which is a blessing.. I can remember the liturgy but new music forget trying to learn it which is a shame because i sang in choir in college and in church.
    Hearing aids would help but when i used them I got migraines and i was hearing things that were so sharp(rustling papers) that were terrible.
    Does church occur when you have a heariing loss?
    Are you praying when you can’t understand the prayer?
    So many questions but who can answer them

    1. Hello!

      To say I completely understand your feelings and echo your questions in my mind and heart is an understatement. I have so often felt ALONE in a sea of people at church simply because I was not receiving the same worship experience due to hearing loss. I had to remind myself time and time again that worship was towards He Who is worshiped – God. I knew that not only did God understand my lonely heart and the feeble attempts at corporate worship, He also understands loss. For He sacrificed so much…

      I tell myself that if I participate as “best I’m able”, that God knows and understands. Better yet, I am blessed because of my attempts. Others do not understand. Those closest to us try to understand and assist, but unless you live it you cannot completely connect to the idea that hearing loss gets in the way of experiencing worship. Instead, I allow myself to believe and hold on to the fact that I’m still worshiping… just in a new way.

      Many congregations are not aware that assistance for people with hearing loss can be a minimal cost. Williams Sound for example, have a kit that churches can use that provides ‘sound’ to people with hearing loss even if they do not have hearing aids. Simple “additions” such as using a projector and screen to put words of the songs up where all can see, and the main points of the sermon are very helpful. Check out this link: http://www.williamssound.com/productdetail.aspx?product_id=99 The cost is prohibitive for individuals, but as the system will help 4-6 people (depending on how many ear bud sets you buy), it can be a real blessing for people with hearing loss. Unobtrusive, discrete, and it works well (I’ve used it before). Williams Sound has other wonderful products as do other companies. Maybe check and see what is out there?

      Finally, I hope you will continue TRYING. I believe the frustration is worth it. I have Sundays where honestly I want to come home and have a good cry. Other Sundays when I know I have done my level best to contribute I feel on cloud 9. I suppose my greatest comfort is knowing that someday I will worship without hearing loss in Heaven.

      Blessings to you and yours!
      Denise

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