Sometimes its hard to want to go to church each Sunday. There have been times in my life where I looked forward to going to church each week. I had work to do there and friends to see. Other times, it takes all the force of will I have to throw on a skirt and drag myself to the pew. When my ward meetings don't start until 2 pm, it makes it even more difficult. It is hard to get started doing anything before the meetings, knowing they will be interrupted, and by the time I get home, the day is over.
Every Sunday, for more than ten years, I have experienced what I call my "Sunday headache." A tension headache sets in during my church meetings nearly every week. I think its some combination of a change in schedule and a letdown of stress from the previous week. Or maybe anticipation of stress from the coming week. I know sleeping in affects it, and dehydration. But even if I take precautions, I know at some point during my church meetings, I will get a headache. I frequently joke that I am allergic to church. So...why do I keep going?
There are a lot of reasons that people go to a church. Any church, not just mine. Some people go because of tradition. Others for friendship. Maybe you like the music, the ritual, the sermons, the lessons. Maybe its a habit. Perhaps some people just want to be seen going there, the status of being a church-goer. Possibly to assuage some guilt. Some of us are trying to learn to be better, or searching for purpose and meaning. Communing with God.
I've always held the belief that if people really understood the gospel and lived it, we wouldn't need to go to church. We would be living the principles without the constant reminders and we could study scriptures and receive revelation individually. I think recent changes in how we do church support my position. Church should support us in our personal journeys and not the other way around. But there are some distinct benefits to having a congregation and attending frequently.
I think the first, and probably most frequently mentioned, reason to show up is to renew covenants by taking the Sacrament. The last conference had several talks about the importance of covenants and living a covenant life. I definitely don't have a complete understanding, but taking time each week to contemplate what those promises mean in my life is useful. A recent relief society lesson I had discussed this topic, and I learned much about the connection between making covenants and accessing the priesthood power of God in my life. If making this effort each week gives me access to the ministering of angels, to having the Spirit of God guiding me in my life, and to draw me closer to my spiritual family, its probably worth the fifteen minutes of my life each week that it takes. Even when the men in my ward can't seem to get this COVID process down.
It is also a time to really focus on what I did well during the week and what I can improve on for next week. Repentance is a constant process of examining my own life and figuring out what to do better. That fifteen minute process of passing bread and water in nearly complete silence (no kids at my meetings) is a great chance to engage in personal reflection and figure out what I need to do spiritually.
12 And they did not walk any more after the aperformances and bordinances of the claw of Moses; but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in dfasting and prayer, and in meeting together oft both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord.
When I show up to church, I am hoping to learn something about Jesus, or about how to nurture my relationship with him. In fact, sometimes I get frustrated when the topics seem to be about anything and everything except Jesus. I'll admit, sometimes during the meeting, I text a friend and joke about how long it will be until the speaker mentions Jesus. Unfortunately, there have been a few times where the only mention was in the sign-off. Those times are frustrating for me, but I admit the possibility that maybe that talk was for the benefit of someone else. Its annoying, but everything is not about me.
Occasionally, though, there will be a talk or a lesson that really hits me in my soul. I learn something new to implement in my life or to heal my soul. Sometimes a speaker will share an experience that makes me feel less alone, or a tool they use to improve their study. Lately, I've noticed that I am starting to look forward to relief society lessons. I have been learning some deeper doctrine and considering points of view I hadn't previously considered during those lessons, and I am appreciating it. It makes those days worth the trip and even worth enduring the Sunday Headache.
One of the things that is both nice and occasionally irritating about my church is that the speakers and teachers are untrained. Sometimes that means that the person speaking is very nervous or very unprepared and the lesson may not be as engaging or insightful as I might want. Other times, it means someone who would otherwise never have spoken up shares knowledge we never would have received without giving them that assignment. Its a trade-off, but its worth it for the gems we get.
One of the things I'm struggling with is loneliness. I have some really great close friends, but I do miss having a slightly bigger social circle. I think the pandemic has really emphasized how isolated I am, and I'm trying to figure out how to change that. Church is one outlet that has the potential to fill that community role. Having that sense of a larger family or tribe is baked into our human souls, and I'm still trying to navigate that aspect in my current ward. I think that's one of the things I'm currently struggling to find, and one of the reasons why I've felt so isolated and lonely over the past few years. But when you find it, I know from past experience it makes a huge difference. There are certainly other ways and other places to find community, but a ward family is one of those options.
9 Yea, and are awilling to mourn with those that bmourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as cwitnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the dfirst resurrection, that ye may have eternal life
Growth and Service
A few years ago, I was out to dinner with some family and we were discussing something about church. My dad was telling a story about finding connection with the members of his ward being difficult at that particular time. Another person, not a member of our church, asked why he didn't just pick a new ward. We were explaining how our church assigns wards by geography, rather than just picking the one you liked. She asked a question about why we would do it that way. Isn't the purpose of going to church having that feeling of community I talked about above?
At the time, I kind of agreed with that position. But as I thought more about it, I realized there is more to that arrangement than just finding community. We are also trying to learn to be like Jesus Christ. Serving in a ward and in a calling are opportunities to develop that character. I think it is easy to serve and love people who are like you and who you easily get along with. That doesn't strain us and doesn't force us to grow.
Serving the people who are difficult for us to understand is how we develop charity.
When I was serving as a relief society president in my young single adult ward, I was extremely worried at first about serving some of the ladies in my ward because I didn't really get along with them. I had friends in that ward who were easy to love and I was excited to serve with them. There were others who I found difficult to talk to, or just a little strange, or even just very different from me. Amazingly, with some work, I learned about Christ's love for each one of us. During the time I held that calling, I never struggled to love those people. It was so easy to see the good qualities in everyone around me; to see what they could bring to our congregation. I learned so much.
Now that those relief society powers are gone, I definitely struggle with this. It is so easy for me to see people as weird or difficult or annoying. I have to work hard and make a conscious effort to look for the good in people. Turns out this charity thing is hard.
But serving in a ward where we don't self-select, we are exposed to people who are different from us, who stretch us and help us grow and gain experience. Serving together with those people helps me develop the character of Christ within myself.
I know there are plenty of reasons people choose to go to church each week, and plenty of reasons other people choose not to. Whatever your reasons are, they are just as valid as mine.
My purpose is not to persuade anyone, but simply to examine my own reasons for continuing, even when its hard and I'd rather stay in bed.
Now I need to throw on my skirt, drink some water, pack my headache pills and head off. Happy Sunday everyone!