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When Church Hurts: Why I’m Here

By Teresa Bruce

I fled the Relief Society room, hurt by the first prelude notes. Waiting outside the front door wasn’t far enough away. I sidestepped into the hallway, attempting to smile, grateful sunglasses hid my tears. Standing huddled with both hands covering my ears felt embarrassing enough. You can click to learn more and understand where I bought those.

When the piano stopped, I returned to the room for the announcements …

… and left again to avoid the opening hymn. Opposite the back door, on the far side of the small exit foyer, I leaned against the wall, waiting. A chorus of post-prayer amens vouchsafed low volume ahead, so I reentered for the lesson.

As the teacher concluded, I rushed from the room before the pianist and chorister stood. interior wooden church door with vertical window, carpet treatment along walls beneath chair rail, pink tile floor, Relief Society room, Segullah, Teresa TL Bruce

This time, even from the previously tolerable foyer, sisters now sang in front of me and children’s voices wafted from behind. I wanted — needed — to get away though I’d determined to stay through the closing prayer.

I left the building.

Yet as I passed the closest door, I reentered while asking myself “Why am I here?” for the umpteenth time.

I missed the prayer and asked myself again.

It was the first Sunday in seventeen weeks I’d managed all three hours of church. Post-concussion sensitivity kept me wearing sunglasses against the ceiling’s fluorescent glare and earplugs against the sounds of speech and song. dark sunglasses, sparkly trim, pale orange earplugs, purple earplugs, pumpkin-orange background, Teresa TL Bruce, Segullah

Until this week, I’d attempted several partial returns after having the sacrament brought to my home during so many Sundays away. I’d spent the first hour not in the chapel but jumping up and down to lower, raise, or kill the RS room speaker as needed. The softest piano notes forced me to flee this room that served as my sacrament meeting sanctuary; organ strains pressed my head into worse spasms of pain, as did some voices.

I hadn’t exercised this much at church since my kids were little.

I slipped into the chapel foyer for the sacrament prayers, covering earplug-stuffed ears when necessary.

At first, I drove home immediately after partaking of the sacrament. Over several weeks, I stayed a bit longer, retreating to the RS room to listen. Eventually, I endured an entire meeting — minus the music.

This was my first attempt to stay through every hour. As people poured into “my” no longer quiet RS room for Sunday school, seeing everyone again — and meeting folks who’d moved into our ward while I’d been away — felt both wonderful and overwhelming. I slipped out the side door and listened from the kitchen for several minutes.

It would have been easy to leave again and perhaps easier not to return until I’m fully recovered.

Dealing with the physical hurt church attendance currently inflicts reminds me of the spiritual/emotional pain it sometimes evokes: It’s been twenty-three years since Mom’s death; I still can’t handle Mothers’ Day at church. It was years after my husband’s death before I could sit through talks or lessons about marriage. And I’m mindful of friends and family who struggle to reconcile their feelings and circumstances with doctrinal declarations, cultural customs, or both.

But as I helped clean the room after Relief Society, I thought of the scripture references I’d needed to hear that day and overheard comments about strengthened faith and hopeful resolve. I saw women lingering in supportive sisterhood and watched brethren and sisters coordinating upcoming help with Hurricane Michael cleanup in the Florida Panhandle, some with broken, hurt voices as they discussed the devastation they’d already witnessed. And I recalled the humbling, renewing promises of the sacrament prayer.

I remembered why I was here.

What helps you return — and stay — when it hurts to be at church?

About Teresa Bruce

Teresa TL Bruce burrows into stories for work and fun. She’s published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Kids, Florida Writers Association Collections, Florida State Poets Association anthologies, Segullah's Seasons of Change, and Orlando's The Community Paper, and she was a finalist in NYC Midnight’s 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge. Teresa advises “What to Say When Someone Dies” on TealAshes.com. She’s proudest of her three dynamic daughters, super sons-in-law, adorable grandchildren, and spoiled rescue dog.

4 thoughts on “When Church Hurts: Why I’m Here”

  1. So impressed that you continue to try even with all of the difficulties that come with head trauma. I am a bit in opposite camp. My problem is hearing what is going on. I know I need to go and check out hearing aids but I hate the idea of having to be dependent on them not to mention the hassle and expense. I have to say it is pretty frustrating when people refuse to use the mic or don't know how. I mention this because there must be all sort of different variations on what makes going to church difficult physically that I don't even recognize. Many people must be working on many issues that I don't even begin to think about…mostly because I am dealing with my own problems. However, I hope that with time, eventually your struggle will get easier!

    Reply
  2. Sherllyn, thank you. (Well-wished blessings are most welcome!)

    JP, thank you for your kind comment. I too hope you will find resolution for your dilemma. I can only only glimpse a sliver of understanding of the frustration you experience at not being able to hear what's spoken around you.

    I also appreciate the deep insight in what you said about awareness of others' difficulties: "Many people must be working on many issues that I don’t even begin to think about…mostly because I am dealing with my own problems." This may be true for a large percentage of those around us.

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