There are an infinite amount of canes you can buy. You can look like a dapper gentleman with a black one and a hook handle, sedate and dignified. There are canes that are gold and covered in glitter with fun, poppy colors that scream out, “Yeah this is a cane, and yeah I’m still having fun!” I started using a cane in my late 30s due to some balance loss that I sustained during a relapse from multiple sclerosis. That is super young to be using a cane, but I didn’t mind. Finally, people could see a little of what I was going through internally as I dealt with a disease that is largely invisible. But what I realized after getting a cane was that many people don’t use canes when they should. I watched people walk slowly and unsteadily on uneven sidewalks by themselves and I wanted to shout out, “This cane makes it better! Don’t be scared!” Maybe they think a cane would make them look weak, or old, or just draws unwanted attention. It makes sense, but why try to hide that you need help? Why try to run away from the strength that a more stable object could provide? This is exactly how I feel about church.
I was involved in a youth ministry for 20 years, and I gave every ounce of myself to it. Anyone who has been involved in youth ministry understands that students don’t have much ability to give back to the people who run it. High school students are still learning how to care for others, so though I was heavily invested for so many years, I never realized I wasn’t getting what I really needed in these relationships. I loved giving myself away and thought I was strong enough to not need a church while doing it. I didn’t think I had time to devote myself to a church and to a ministry—and I mean “church” as in a traditional Christian body of believers of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and belief systems. That’s what the church is supposed to be: a bunch of different people trying to figure out just who Jesus is, and supporting each other as they do it. I think that it is very common for people in their early 20s to not value a traditional church environment, and I don’t mean a traditional church, but an environment that has a variety of ages and such. I remember thinking, I have friends and we talk about God, and that’s enough. And I agree, it could be enough—for a while. But when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I realized I was that unsteady person walking around without a metaphorical cane. Lucky for me, I had joined and invested in a church a few years prior, because I needed an army of support during this time.
My church and my small group rallied around me; they became the cane I didn’t know I needed. When I was hospitalized, they did my landscaping, mowed my lawn, took care of my children, and made me meals. They asked me what I needed, they prayed for me, they patiently encouraged me as I asked big spiritual questions that come with enduring disease. The funny thing is, most of these people had very little in common with me. We were so different in so many ways, the only thing that brought us together was the love of God. Not only was that enough, it was what made our friendships so special and deep. Investing in them helped me realize how important a church body really is.
I have been a part of many church bodies. Mega churches, house churches, or smaller churches: it is not the size of the body that matters; it is the sum of their parts. This is what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians when he talked about the different parts of the church body. The church in Corinth was composed of people from all different belief backgrounds, races, and socioeconomic classes. The church was the only place where these people could have ever interacted with each other, because in that culture, relationships like these were impossible any other way. These differences didn’t weaken the church body, they strengthened them.
Paul said this:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”1 Corinthians 12:12-26
I thought I could do it all, and I didn’t need the ear—or the foot—to exist. I amputated what I didn’t think was necessary, until I realized it was all very necessary. Just like the church in Corinth, I would never have met these people in my normal life. The church brought us together. I have older church friends who pray for me when I am dealing with depression. I have younger church friends who laugh with my daughter. I get to babysit for young families and encourage couples younger than me as they navigate marriage. I get to be challenged by people who are bolder than I am, and those who are gentle hold my hand during worship. I need all of those people, and they need me. Worshiping together as one body is the way God intended us to live, accepting everyone in, because everyone has a place with him.
Investing in church is like using a cane. It is admitting that we have needs deeper than we’d like to admit, and showing others what is happening internally. It means you value the support of others, and you want to be part of that support system for those who need you. Being part of the church has changed my life. I thought I had it all together, but this group has matured me and cheered me on in a way I didn’t know was possible, it has been my stability when I was walking on unlevel ground. But you have to find the cane/church that fits you. Maybe you want the sparkly one like I did; my church body is full of art and music as well as intelligence and service. Or maybe the more traditional, dapper cane fits you better. Either way, you will not experience the completeness of the body of God until you find your role—or your part—in it. Don’t shy away from the aid of the body of God, it is a gift. You need them, and they certainly need you.
Here’s where you need to get brave. It takes courage to invest in others, and to allow others to invest in you. Take small steps by asking someone you respect where they attend church and try it out. Or, if you already attend a church, dive into a small group, Bible study, or simply ask someone to get a coffee with you. Whatever you choose, be honest and let those people know you. Allowing people to come close to you feels like a risk, but the reward of fellowship is great. You need the ear, the eye, and the baby finger. Don’t stop until you find them.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Ness Cannon is a writer, speaker, teacher, wife, mother, small business owner, designer, pug mom, perpetual student, and the author of I Am Not In Charge, published by Hosanna Revival. Her greatest hope is to remind you that you aren’t alone. God has saved a seat for you at his table and you absolutely belong.