In 2008, I attended Easter morning worship with my mom and dad at a progressive United Church of Christ congregation. The sermon was engaging. The music was magnificent. Everything about this Easter morning worship was spiritually meaningful.
But I was distracted... and distraught.
Family three rows up. Family six rows up. Family in the second from the front row on the other side of the sanctuary and two rows behind me too. People of approximately my age sitting throughout the church with their spouse and their two or three small children.
Here I was... nearly 35 years old and sitting with my parents on Easter morning sans husband or children. Even though I was with my lovely parents, I had never felt more alone. At no point that morning did I feel anyone made me feel bad about being single or childless. While some people at some congregations may stereotype people in my situation, I absolutely didn't feel as if people were looking down upon me.
But I was looking down upon myself. "What's wrong with me?" was something I would wonder over and over again. Of course, when we are emotionally raw for any reason, it's easy to place blame upon ourselves. Life and love hadn't happened in the way I wanted it to by the age of 35. It was as simple as that.
Nonetheless, my feelings were very real that morning. And they threw me for a loop.
I wondered: How can we truly experience the resurrection if we are so distracted by what we don't have, what we haven't accomplished and in what ways we don't fit with our congregations?
Because of grieving, envy, brokenness and pain of all sorts, some of us aren't ready to exit the tomb on Easter morning. Even when the Easter story reminds us that time in the tomb is short, we feel safer in the shadow-filled capsule where sadness is all we know. We aren't ready to find ways to set aside our spiritual aches and live in the sunlight even though we, like post-crucifixion Jesus, are full of holes.
Easter morning may be a time when we hope that God will lead us to new life, new possibilities and fresh beginnings. But there could be people in our congregations who feel odd or isolated because they can't see life beyond the tomb. Maybe their marriage has dissolved and they are clutching the shame that often comes with divorce. Maybe their partner has died and they are surrounded by a blanket of grief. Maybe depression is a haze from which they can't emerge. Maybe they are estranged from a child, and Easter morning worship is reminding them of a relationship they no longer have. Numerous reasons exist why they may feel alone even when surrounded by people in the sanctuary.
While we can't necessarily fix situations or pull people out of the tomb in which they abide, we enter the tomb to show them love. Bless them with a greeting, with the peace of Christ, if you see them sitting by themselves. Bless them with a request to sit with them as your presence sometimes has the power to help them feel a little less alone. Bless them with an invitation to lunch or coffee, extending the sanctuary beyond the walls of the church.
I may have felt stuck in the tomb longer than I had planned because I couldn't figure out how to move into the sunlight and find peace as a single person family.
Between 2008 and the time I met my boyfriend in 2013, I began to make some peace with this singleness in the sanctuary thanks to the grace of God and the love of neighbors. But it never became 100% easy. Even some of us who are 85% sure that we are fine with not having children get a little emotional when surrounded by what we once wanted.
Maybe I'm still trying to embrace resurrection because distractions of envy and comparisons get in my way. But the sealed tomb in which I found myself has started to crack open. Beams of light have begun to find their way beyond the shadows. And I'll continue to look towards the dawn's light of hope to an Easter a little less blue.
Join the conversation on what it means to be unmarried (single, divorced, separated, co-habitating, widowed) in the progressive Christian church at the Facebook Group Single in the Sanctuary.
Find more articles on being a unmarried progressive Christian at the Single in the Sanctuary feature on my blog.