What You Should Know About My Empty Seat in Church

Navigating the reopening of church buildings is difficult for many people. This is especially true for me. I’m a pastor’s wife and the mom of three children who have a serious health condition and are at risk for complications from coronavirus.

Before the pandemic forced us to shelter in place, I enjoyed arriving to church early and watching my young daughters twirl to music in the empty lobby before it filled with congregants. I served alongside dear friends in our church food pantry and greeted my brothers and sisters in Christ with hugs and handshakes on Sunday mornings. 

I miss seeing my church family, especially as the doors reopen. But the choice to stay home is the best way I know to love both my church and my family right now. 

Staying Home Is the Best Way to Love My Church

Even though I don’t think the pastor’s wife has to fulfill a particular role in the congregation, I’m aware that many eyes look to me to set an example for serving and loving the church. In ordinary times, this means I regularly show up and pitch in. I do this to support my husband, Scott, and because I value my church.

The choice to stay home is the best way I know to love both my church and my family right now.

But the best way I know to love my church is to release my husband as joyfully as possible to serve its people. Although I’m not sitting in my usual row, I haven’t stopped caring. I’m still supporting Scott so he can serve at the building and minister to our church family.

Over the past few months, this has meant sending him off with a kiss every Sunday morning to open the building and help run a livestream service while I stay home with our five children to worship in our living room without him. In coming weeks, it will most likely mean the same. 

When I stay home, I also encourage others who need to stay away. My example affirms they’re making a valid choice.

Staying Home Is the Best Way to Love My Family

In 2013, three of our children were diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that can cause lung and liver disease. Our children’s medical history—including elevated liver enzymes, asthma, and repeated pneumonia—suggests that they may be at increased risk for complications from the virus. 

Due to the newness of this virus and lack of sufficient research data, we can only speculate about its long-term effects on children with underlying conditions.

I’m grateful to be aware of my children’s condition, but this knowledge adds a burden of responsibility. Like other Christian parents of medically fragile children, I recognize that I can’t stave off every illness, but I’m committed to doing what I can to steward and protect their health.

There’s no playbook for this. No one can flip to the page that says, “Now it’s OK for your family to return to church.” The best thing my husband and I know to do is pray and apply biblical love and wisdom. We’ve concluded that it seems wise to keep our children home a little longer. If they stay home, someone needs to stay home with them. Since my husband will be at church, I won’t be. 

These days, many families are making difficult decisions about church attendance. Here’s what I want the people in our congregations to know.

1. Don’t Make Assumptions

When I’m not in my usual seat as our church begins regathering, I’m pretty sure that my church family will be slow to make assumptions about me or my circumstances, motives, or sin issues. But isn’t it easy to do? When we’re quick to jump to conclusions, the Lord reminds us that only he “looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). 

I’m proof that missing a couple of weeks at church doesn’t mean someone has left the church, doesn’t trust God, or is being ruled by fear. Any of these situations could be true, but none should be assumed. 

2. Pray and Reach Out

Choosing to stay home might be easy in one sense because I believe it’s the loving thing to do for now; but, in another sense, it isn’t easy at all. I’d like to see my friends and worship together again in person. The longer I’m home, the lonelier and more isolated I feel. I don’t want pity, but I would appreciate prayer. I imagine there are many people staying home who feel the same way. 

I’m proof that missing a couple of weeks at church doesn’t mean someone has left the church, doesn’t trust God, or is being ruled by fear.

Consider texting a missing church member: “How are you? I understand you might not feel comfortable returning to church, but I want you to know I miss you.” Or offer an invitation: “Would you be open to getting together sometime? Maybe we could meet at a park.” These simple words affirm that you believe and hope the best of others (1 Cor. 13:7) and, perhaps most importantly, haven’t forgotten them. 

3. Avoid Labels

I’m sensitive to labels identifying those who attend in-person services as “strong” and those who stay home as “weak.” Going into the church building doesn’t necessarily equal greater faith; staying home might require great self-control and self-denial. More importantly, I have an obligation not to please myself but my “neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Rom. 15:1). 

Going into the church building doesn’t necessarily equal greater faith; staying home might require great self-control and self-denial.

We each bring our unique set of circumstances to this unprecedented trial, and what may be advisable for one person or family might not be for another. Instead of allowing the enemy to divide, this is a time to remember the gospel that unites us as believers in Jesus and to extend grace to, understanding of, and patience with the people who aren’t there on Sunday. 

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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