If It Were Me | October 2016

By Elizabeth Oates

Have questions?

Dear Elizabeth,

My fiancé and I are getting married in the spring, and we agree on almost everything: the wedding plans, the neighborhood we want to live in after we’re married, how many children we want (two, if you’re wondering). The only thing we can’t agree on is where to go to church. I grew up traditional Southern Baptist, and he grew up attending a Lutheran church. There are many differences between these two denominations, including their doctrines and styles of worship. Neither one of us wants to leave the church tradition we know and love. What should we do?

— S.K.

Dear S.K.,

My husband and I have mentored engaged couples for the past nine years, and your issue is not unusual. Church is more than a building. It is a very personal issue involving one’s spiritual health, beliefs, knowledge, family tradition, community and much more.

However, like every area of marriage — as you will soon discover — finding a church that suits both your fiancé’s and your own spiritual and emotional needs will require compromise. I encourage you both to make a list of your top three priorities regarding church. Here are some things to think about:

  • Doctrinal statement. Do you agree with the Biblical foundations the church teaches?
  • Worship. What style of music do you like? Traditional? Contemporary? Do you prefer a more liturgical service?
  • Missions. Are you interested in local or overseas missions? Do you care about specific areas?
  • Pastor’s style of preaching. Talk about what style of preaching you’re used to and what you are looking for.
  • Community. Are there other couples in your same stage of life? Are there couples older than you who can mentor you? Do you have things in common with the people who attend?
  • Children’s programming. This may not seem important right now, but it will matter before you know it. And if the church’s children’s program is lacking, it will be difficult to leave a church where you’ve already invested so much time and energy.

Once you have ranked your top three priorities, talk about why those three things are so important to you.

Next you each need to make a list of three churches you would like to visit and then show that list to each other. Hopefully, some of those churches will overlap, but it’s OK if they don’t.

When you visit, look at the church through the lens of your top three priorities. Does the church meet, exceed or overlook your desires? What about your fiancé’s needs and wants? It’s a good idea to visit a church for a month to get an accurate picture of how it operates. Talk about your likes, dislikes, feelings and expectations each week. After a month or so, move on to the next church. You might even find you don’t need to visit all the churches on your list.

It is a slow process, but finding a church is one of the most important decisions you will make in your married life. Your church becomes your family, so choose wisely.


Dear Elizabeth,

I keep reaching out to friends, but they turn me down because they say they are too busy and don’t have any time for themselves. Then I see them post pics on social media, hanging out with other friends. It really hurts my feelings because apparently they have time for other people, just not for me. What should I do?

— Lonely in Lorena

Dear Lonely in Lorena,

I am so sorry you feel lonely and maybe even a little rejected. I can’t speak to why your friends are treating you in this way. You have two choices:

1. Ask your friends to coffee (one on one) and explain your feelings as you just did to me. Let them know you value their friendship, you are feeling lonely in this stage of life and you just want to spend more time with them. Gently and graciously ask for an explanation as to why they seem to find time for other friendships, then accept whatever answer they give you.

2. Continue ignoring the situation and playing the charade that everything is fine. It’s your choice.

Growing up, I moved around quite a bit. I attended three elementary schools, two middle schools, and three high schools, so I understand what it feels like to try to make friends, only to be pushed away. Each time we moved, I grieved deeply for the friends and opportunities I left behind. Yet in hindsight I see the work God was doing in my life. He cultivated in me certain gifts that I would not otherwise have:

  • Compassion for the lonely and hurting
  • Desire to root for the underdog
  • The ability to spot a new person in a crowd from across the room

While you might be feeling lonely and left out, I guarantee there is another woman in your community feeling the exact same way. You just need to find her.

Lysa TerKeurst’s newly released book, “Uninvited,” talks about “the gift of being lonely.” She writes, “This will develop in you a deeper sense of compassion for your fellow travelers.”

Maybe this season is not about you at all but about God calling you out of your comfort zone and asking you to find others in your community who are feeling just as lonely as you and others who need friends even more than you do. I encourage you to pause for a moment and think about the women in your neighborhood, in your kids’ school, in your workplace or in your church who might also feel alone, overlooked, outcast, ignored or out of place. Invite them to coffee. Get to know them. Chances are they feel as downtrodden as you.

TerKeurst goes on to talk about how her season of loneliness, like mine, turned into a blessing. “You better believe when I walk into a conference now, I look for someone sitting alone and make sure she knows she is noticed,” TerKeurst writes. “When I ease the loneliness ache in others, it is beautifully eased in me.”

That is my prayer for you, that this season of loneliness would be a gift. And that as you seek to make others feel less lonely, you would also experience less loneliness yourself.

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