Brinley was ten weeks old when I first attended Gateway Church. Ten weeks old is very young for many moms to feel comfortable checking their babies into child care at church, but I felt great peace dropping Brinley off with the same sweet ladies each weekend. I also am not a mom who can soak up even half of a sermon with my baby right at my side. I had peace with going alone and peace with my leaving my first baby in this church child care. And my spirit knew there was a deep well God wanted to share with me during my season of attending church alone.
I would check in Brinley and attend a class called Prayer Tools. Afterwards I would peek on Brinley and then go find a seat in the sanctuary and wait about thirty minutes before service began. Before this time in my life I would have never gone to a large gathering alone–especially to church, as the young, single girl with a baby. But I knew deep down there was something there for me, something vital drawing me to attend.
One of the greatest discoveries throughout this season was learning to worship with abandon. In previous years at church, I was so distracted with others and so consumed by comparison. I couldn’t raise my hands because I was certain others would know I’d never raised them before, or I wouldn’t raise them the right way like other people were doing. My eyes would wander to the outfit of the girl in front of me and I would think I just didn’t have cute enough clothes on that day. Sometimes I wouldn’t even sing the song, because I was embarrassed and sure I was the only person in the room who didn’t know the words and had to look at the screen.
I was so consumed with comparing what my worship should have looked like with everyone else’s. I would spend entire worship sessions tangled in insecurities of my mind, so I completely missed communing with the heart of my Father.
There’s a quote that goes something like, “comparison is the thief of joy,” and I couldn’t agree more. When we base every one of our actions on other people’s reactions we exclude the only One whose opinion matters in the first place. We become like puppets on strings, allowing ourselves to be manipulated by people who may or may not even know we exist. And when we allow anyone other than our loving Father to speak to us about our identity, we will surely be filled with anything but genuine joy.
I have never felt this to be so accurate as when I learned to worship, attending those services alone, feeling vulnerable. Maybe it was my second or third time to go and during worship I heard God tell me to close my eyes. It felt uncomfortable, because I couldn’t pretend to know the song and discretely dart my eyes at the screens for the lyrics if my eyes were closed. I closed them, though. I don’t remember the song being sung in that moment, but I remember The Lord speaking to me about worship being between Him and me, and no one else mattered. With my eyes closed there were no distractions, no comparisons to make. It was just my magnificent Creator and me, and I began to lift my hands. I stretched them as high as I could, until I felt like I could almost hug Him, he was so near; and my vulnerable heart leapt with complete abandon to worship Him freely.
After that day I began regularly closing my eyes during worship. It helped me shut out all else and tune in to Him. And I have had some of the biggest and most life changing moments, with my eyes tightly closed, arms outstretched, and maybe singing incorrect words during times of worship musical worship.
As Rita Springer put into perfect words during a recent teaching I heard, “my job during worship is to make everyone else jealous of the relationship I have with my Savior.” What a great way to express how it should look! It doesn’t matter if it looks quite like the girl’s down the row, or whether I have to look at the screens to learn the words. It matters if my heart has met with the Father’s and whether or not I enter into His presence to worship with my whole heart and exit changed by our exchange.
This past Saturday evening at church I stood to worship. I had a lot on my mind and felt a little empty due to some news I’d received the day before, and Kyle was meeting with a family at the beginning of the service, so he wasn’t standing next to me yet. I began to clap and sing along with the first song, but distraction crept in as I noticed I was sitting in the middle section where the rows are longest, and I was clearly the only person on my row. All the rows around me were full, but not mine. I began comparing my worshipping alone on this long, empty row to other’s comfortably surrounded by people. Already a little depleted, I felt the last drop of joy start to drain away as I cracked the door for comparison stepped between God and me. I closed my eyes. A familiar whisper reminded me of something vital.
Remember it’s just you and Me.
His whisper took me back to that season of going to church alone, and all that I’d learned and grown through. You see, even in our very weakest moments, when we have no strength and comparison to someone else’s life or way of doing things steals our joy, if we just remember His is the voice that matters most, His joy becomes our strength.
Tears began to stream down my face as I had an entire row to myself to outstretch my arms to the heavens and sing praises to my Father. In my moment of emptiness, coupled with the threat of comparison clouding my ears to hear His whisper, His joy infused my soul and strengthened me to worship without any strings attached. I am sure I was a sight to behold–crying with my shaky smile, and my arms reaching toward each side of the vacant row; and I don’t really mind if I was. Because in all moments, whether I’m alone or with my friends or family, at church or at home I want people to see that worshipping God doesn’t always look a certain way. Sometimes the exchange is messy, awkward, or a little out of the ordinary. But it is always beautiful. And no matter the emptiness we feel, if we command our hearts to worship, it is always rewarding.
The great thing is, there is no set time to worship with this same attitude of abandon. At all moments of the day I can come to him with little or much and offer all that I have, never leaving empty hearted. When longing thoughts to have someone else’s life, clothes, personality, or whatever it is stealing your joy, close your eyes and listen for His whisper. Ask Him to help you sever the strings of comparison and remind you of who you are and how He made you. He did so intentionally and purposefully, and there is great credit due for the beautiful plans He has created for your life.
Let’s worship Him with all we have, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)!
by Jacqueline Fox