I didn’t want to go to church.
I had to get a baby and a toddler across the base to the chapel on my own. Then I had to greet people I hardly knew, plastering a smile over my depression.
Church meant exerting as much energy as I could muster, only to sit in the mothers’ room alone with my kids, which is what I would have been doing at home.
But I went.
As expected, I ended up in the mothers’ room, nursing the baby while preventing the toddler from destroying hymnals.
I wasn’t alone, though. Soon a friend took my toddler to sit with her. Another mother came in with her toddler, then rushed to the bathroom to bring me paper towels when my baby spit up all over me and the pew.
Their generous, unsolicited help told me that in my need to be cared for, I was welcomed not a burden.
Yet I felt disconnected from the service—vacantly singing, standing, sitting, praying. I couldn’t focus during the sermon. Scripture readings felt empty, but my spiritual deadness was stirred when I responded in liturgical prayers.
“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…”
Prayer at home was a struggle. How could God be listening to my desperate cries for relief when my postpartum depression only grew worse?
“…Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name…”
Somehow, prayers others had written were real to me, perhaps because they said what I could not fathom was true. My pain, secret though it was, was known to God. My heart, though troubled, was indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
When I partook of the Lord’s Supper, I found hope to cling to—a hope which depression was trying to drown. I did not like God, but I could not give up on Him.
Two months later, when the depression wasn’t so oppressive, church was still the hardest place to be. But I was discovering that it was the most necessary place for me to be.
I fidgeted through the sermon, my thoughts everywhere but on the preaching. I could never tell you what the sermon’s topic was, much less have an intelligent conversation about it. I craved solitude after only a few minutes of fellowship. But I was there every week, and church was doing something to me.
Singing truths I struggled to believe fed the spark of hope which the Holy Spirit was keeping alive.
Hearing other saints pray and share about God’s faithfulness gave me the courage to keep moving forward. Their hugs reminded me I wasn’t alone.
The laughter of fellowship relieved the tensions of perinatal mood disorders and life with little children.
Holding the Communion elements in my hand each week offered tangible proof of God’s goodness. The cup and the bread reminded me of Christ’s suffering and brokenness, of His truly being cut off from the Father. They told me that despite my circumstances, God’s love for me in Christ was sure. And if He could bring glorious things out of Christ’s suffering, then He could do the same with postpartum depression and PTSD.
Attending the Sunday service kept hope alive.
But participation in corporate worship comes at a cost: the stress of getting kids out of the house and teaching them to sit still, the loss of nap time and the cranky children that follow, the comments well-meant but insensitive to PMADs, and the social exhaustion come Monday.
It’s easy to look at the cost and think what we receive in return isn’t worth it, especially when we can watch church online. But the cost only makes church dearer and more fruitful. Driving to church and dropping my children off for Sunday school forced me to overcome anxiety about car accidents and shootings. Conversing with others and praying for their needs lifted my gaze from my own suffering. Sinning on my way out of the house grew my awareness of what Christ has done for me, leading to deeper worship. The Word and sacraments became precious to me in a way they never would have otherwise.
Suffering Christians and new mothers, especially those with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, cannot afford to forego the corporate gathering of the church.
The command for believers to gather faithfully is for our good (Hebrews 10:25). Your fellow members are to bear your burdens and look out for your interests—encouraging the disheartened, helping the weak, and being patient with everyone (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Your pastors are gifts from the Lord to build up the whole body of Christ—including you—that all the members may grow to maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16). This maturity anchors you so that you are not “tossed by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine,” even the winds of doctrine your own feelings want you to believe (Ephesians 4:14).
The church, in its proper function, roots you to truth, tethering you to Christ so that you become more and more like Him.
Church is a gift, not a burden, to the suffering.
Church, in some seasons, is the most difficult place to be. But it is also the most necessary.