H is for Havens and Hymnals


Confession: I haven’t felt like going to church lately.

Blame it on the fact that this is the first time in my life when I haven’t HAD to go to church. As a pastor’s daughter, and then a student at a Christian university, and then a worship leader and church employee, it’s easy to think that I’ve banked enough Sundays in a pew to be able to coast for a good long while. Here in Nashville, if I didn’t show up, no one would notice. No one would fire me. No one is forcing me to go.

Yesterday, I didn’t want to go to church. I spent all day fighting my own justifications, and trying to find a worthy reason not to go. I want to watch my Netflix? I want to go on a long walk? I don’t want to have to talk to anyone? I haven’t Swiffered my floors in awhile? I need to organize my closets? I need to touch up my pedicure? And I’ll read my bible at my kitchen table, I promise! These were my very serious attempts at “good reasons.”

But if there’s anything that I’ve been learning in the past year, it is the importance of showing up. How can we expect God to move in our lives if we don’t show up? If we don’t put ourselves out there? If we don’t take some tiny step of action? The whole “God can’t steer a parked car” idea.

So at 5pm, I went. I showed up – begrudgingly, at first. But I sang the songs, including a hymn that proclaims that “Jesus is a rock in a weary land, a shelter in the time of storm.”

My life has felt stormy lately, as have many of yours. For me, it hasn’t been a hurricane – just the occasional sprinkle of tears and the winds of loneliness, accompanied by the heavy and ever-present haze of self-doubt and insecurity. And my meager efforts at self-protection and security are as flimsy as a plastic umbrella. From Wal-Mart.

But Jesus provides a safe haven, and one of the means he uses is the Church. Say what you want to say about nasty church politics, and the hypocrites within its walls – which, sadly, can be very true realities – but even still, God moves in and through his people when they gather together.

We live in a culture of “What’s in it for me?” and we choose churches based on how they make us FEEL. Is the worship awesome? Do I leave feeling totally joyful? Are there cool people there? Is the service 60 minutes or less, because I’m really busy, you know. Get in, get out – and if you don’t leave feeling completely satisfied, then go some place where you will. I know that I’m guilty of these thoughts.

But I owe everything that I have and everything that I am to Jesus. On my own, I am nothing – he is the one who gives beauty for my ashes, strength for my fear, and peace for my despair. And despite the way that I FEEL, he is worthy of my devotion and worship – which is reason enough to show up at church, even if I don’t have to. He meets me wherever I am. He is a shelter in a time of storm. Amen.

– – – – – – – –

As a kind-of-related aside, I adore hymns. I love hymns the same way that I, like Greta, love “The Sound of Music” soundtrack – songs that I don’t remember ever learning, but have simply always known. Hymns use fantastic words like “betide” and “sustaineth” and “whereby,” and speak the truth in a way that undoes me. In my mind, they are the meatiest form of art that there is.



  1. Deborah Barnett on September 15, 2008 at 9:47 AM

    and “H” is for Honesty… and Humility.

    Thank you for having both.

  2. Cameron Conant on September 15, 2008 at 10:53 AM

    One thing we’ve been talking about at St. B’s is how we’re transitioning from a “community” to a “family.” In a family—at least a healthy one—you’re not loved or accepted based on your attendance at family functions or your performance. But because you’re loved—because you’re a part of this family—people want you around; in fact, need you around. The family isn’t complete unless everyone is there.


  3. Sarah on September 15, 2008 at 12:25 PM

    Call me back! Me and my bangs want to road trip to see you. Ok?

  4. Tad on September 15, 2008 at 1:53 PM

    “Be still my soul. When change and tears are past, all safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.”

    I love how hymns seem to penetrate so deep. Not just into your feelings, making you feel happy, thankful, or sorry for your sins; but deeper into your very heart and soul. In 3 verses, a good hymn can say more than an entire sermon.

    When you come into worship dragging your feet and don’t want to take part, it’s amazing how you are lifted up by everyone else’s worship and carried onn their praise into the presence of God. I’ve found that there is where I find true rest for my weary heart.

    You have such inspiring insights Annie, you’re awesome.

  5. Krissie on September 15, 2008 at 3:25 PM

    …and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned unclean?

    I go to a mega-church, and about once a month, they’ll pull out “My Savior’s Love.” The hymn that I used to yell for (#85!) when my grandfather was the worship leader at our little country church.

    It seems to me the more I have to drag myself to church, the more I need to be there.

  6. Greta on September 15, 2008 at 7:17 PM

    Good one today. There’s truth and artistry in these words. — And they help.

  7. Allie, Dearest on September 15, 2008 at 9:04 PM

    Lately I’ve felt like church is the only safe place I have in a world full of unexpected and often unwanted situations.

    At least for this season of my life, it is my dearest haven, even at the times I don’t know why.

    I liked this letter. H is good.

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