I go to a Christian worship service every Sunday at my local church (and have done so since I was born!). The last thing I want to be a part of is a group of people just trying to impress each other. No. I need Jesus (and his people) to be REAL. I'm not interested in a bunch of feel-good sentiment or self-conscious people pleasing. Life is hard, and people are hurting and broken. That said, we all fall into the trap and the fear of people-pleasing, even at (especially at?) church. I believe that Jesus offers the real solution to all of that. This post is intended for parents of young children who find worship attendance a frustration, but I hope that anyone interested will get a glimpse into why I do this whole "religion" thing. I considered breaking it into chunks, but this post is long and, I feel, best taken as a whole.
I have lots more to learn!
As a kid, I learned from my parents the importance of Sunday worship. Skipping was not an option. Now that I'm the mom, my husband and I are trying to teach the same thing. But, Sunday mornings can definitely be rough! Of course, just getting a family ready to get out the door is difficult, but that's not what I'll write about here. (My friend Anna over at Reachout Adventures wrote an excellent post on Sunday morning management, and you should definitely check it out!) I want to talk about actually being there... with kids... and a baby... and exhaustion.
Why does worship have to happen right at nap time? Not only is this baby a natural disaster, but I'm missing my chance to take a nap too! So much for resting on the Sabbath. Why am I even here!? It's not like I'm hearing any of the sermon. I'm too busy trying to keep my crying baby from ruining it for everyone else! Of course, I gotta get this baby under control quickly; the kids are going to be done with Children's Church any minute, and they have no idea I'm up here in the nursing room. I hate having to come up here, but I guess it's better than flashing my breast at everyone whenever this baby decides to scream instead of eat. Time to drag my children through the Communion line. I wonder if I should even bother. My heart is DEFINITELY not in the right place. It might not be so bad if Brendan wasn't busy serving Communion. Or if I wasn't tired from baking and getting treats here this morning. Next week I have nursery duty. Uggh. Like I don't spend enough of my life watching kids! Bad attitude, Jessica. At least now I have something fresh in my mind for confession- never a shortage for that.
I could go on and on, right? There are a hundred things that are discouraging and frustrating about attending worship, and I remember many seasons of having weeks, even months, where every Sunday meant an internal monologue like the one here. Still, though, we went. I'll admit: for the first couple of babies, it was a stoic "this is what we do" attitude that got us there along with, I'm sure, some fear of judgment and people-pleasing. However, there was also an attraction to being with God in the unique way provided by corporate worship. I have a lot more grace for myself now than I did when we had our first couple of boys (4 kids, chronic illness, God's love will do that to you!). I regret being so hard on myself about the Sabbath difficulties, but I don't regret honoring the Sabbath as best as I could. Engaging God's best wishes for me by keeping the Sabbath has provided evidence of his faithfulness to me, rest from people-pleasing and expectations, and a view of the true rest I need.
First, let’s look at God’s reasons for corporate worship. We know that God establishes the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments. People may argue the specifics of what is and is not permitted on the day, but we can all agree that God called us to “Keep the Sabbath holy.” Worship was a way of life for the Israelites, and directions were given to them regarding special days of corporate worship. God expected the people to come together to his established dwelling place, the Tabernacle, to honor him together, confess their sins together, and be assured of pardon and God’s faithfulness to his covenant with them. When Jesus was on Earth, he regularly went to the temple to listen and to teach in spite of the fact that he also was forced to cleanse it and frequently indicted its leaders. The writers of the Epistles speak as though regular meetings for worship are happening, and Paul refers to the first day of the week. (Here is an excellent article on the Biblical theology of corporate worship.)
There is much to receive at your church’s Sunday Service. By engaging the elements of worship, we remind ourselves of the relationship we have with our God. You may be busy shushing noisy kids, but the call reminds you to continually turn to the Lord to offer him your worship and receive his grace. Singing songs of praise, or even just hearing them, fills your heart with truth. The confession is a reminder of our need for repentance, and even a quickly spat “help me! I’m sinful, but I can’t think of exactly how except that I’m crabby RIGHT NOW,” can be heard and honored and forgiven by our gracious God who “gently leads those who are with young.” Maybe you don’t hear the sermon, but you at least know the text that was used and could come back to it later in the week or listen to the sermon later. So far these are technically things that could be done at home, but what about the Lord’s Supper? Jesus clearly called all of his followers to meet together to remember him in this special way. The Holy Spirit ministers to us in that meal, and I crave the weekly reminder that Jesus has filled and covered me with his body and blood. And then, finally, there is the body of Christ there together in the form of the people you join at church. Psalm 16:3: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.”
Psalm 73 describes the necessity of corporate worship perfectly. In the midst of depression and discouragement at the state of the world and the heart, he goes to see God in his sanctuary and comes away saying: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the LORD GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” The writer didn’t go spend a day frolicking in the fields or sleeping but “went into the sanctuary of God” to be renewed and reminded of Truth.
I could never say that I always find all the rest I need at church on Sunday mornings. A lot of the time, it wears me out. It wouldn’t take a huge leap to conclude that killing ourselves to get to church only to spend the whole time kid-wrangling and being stressed is a great way to NOT rest on the Sabbath. But I don’t go to church to get physical rest or even, necessarily, to just be spiritually fed, I go to show myself with my actions and priorities that God is holy and wholly worthy of my praise. It can be a sacrifice to show up to worship: a sacrifice of my energy and time. But, the object of my allegiance deserves that from me and more. I used to fear that not going would cause God to be angry with me, but I see it a little differently now. I see that he has invited me to prioritize him and see what he offers to me- his means of grace delivered to his Church body. When I have a moment of clarity on Saturday nights or Sundays, I remind myself that the “steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (Psalm 103:17-18) And one of those commandments is to keep the Sabbath holy. I make the effort on Sundays with the belief that God will give me rest and that the Word, sacraments, and prayers on Sunday will complete the work the Holy Spirit intends to do in my heart.
Coming to worship tired and bedraggled but hungry to be with him is often the best way to come. Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.“ Showing up to look good, show off my well-behaved children (Ha, ha, ha!), and meet all the needs I may encounter is a sure-fire way to come away empty and bitter. Sometimes I walk out more tired than I walked in and even confused or frustrated over the service, but these are reasons to say, “Lord, I need your grace. Show me your mercy and blessings as I feebly try to do your will.”
During my time of chronic illness, I learned (and am still learning) that I needed to be OK with coming to church for God and not for people. I had to say to people, “I’m really too tired to have a conversation,” or “I’m not feeling well but just wanted to be here to worship.” Admitting weakness like that is hard, and it would be humiliating except that I go to a church with like-minded friends. The last thing they want from me is falsehood, just like that's the last thing I want from them. God showed me so much love on those Sundays. He blessed me through the elements of worship and through the grace people offered to me. Pretending to be perfect and fine all the time is false, exhausting, and robs me and others from opportunities to truly connect. I would much rather be part of a community of Jesus-needers than people-pleasers, so what a blessing is offered by parenting young children! When I catch myself dreading Sunday worship, I think, “Jesus tells me his yoke is easy and his burden is light, so why do I feel this way? Is it his expectation that is exhausting me, or am I burdened by wrong demands from myself or others?” Usually, some sin is uncovered in asking these questions, and I have the chance to repent. Other times, I recognize unnecessary guilt and throw it off! Or, I realize that I’m just really tired, and I tell Jesus and go to church.
I will say this: showing up for worship no matter what could, at times, be a sign that we are trying to earn God’s approval in a legalistic sense. If you can’t be sure that God loves you, even when you fail to meet his requirements, then you are not preaching the true gospel to yourself. The same right attitude that can allow you to show up to church looking like a mess, not really wanting to be there, but going with faith that God will bless the desire to try can be the attitude that allows you to admit that going could be dangerous or unhealthy for you or your family. Don’t go with your sick children, or self, and endanger everyone else just because “you have to,” or, more likely, “don’t want to let the church down by not being there to do my jobs.” There is grace from God and his people when you really can’t or shouldn’t show up. That said, challenge all the things that stand between you and Sunday worship. Most of them are just the convincing hook the Devil and our own sinful hearts need to rob us of the opportunity to be strengthened by living water and can be laid before the Lord. He knows our needs and weaknesses and offers strength and wisdom to those who ask for it (even regarding baby’s nap schedule).
The Sundays that leave me more tired at their end than their beginning and the ones when I go to church with the wrong intent and fail my family by dragging them on a people-pleasing mission have motivated deep longing for my ultimate Sabbath rest with Jesus. Someday it will not be exhausting! Someday we will be in the new kingdom:
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:3-4
Why does worship have to happen right at nap time? Not only is this baby a natural disaster but I'm missing my chance to take a nap too! Lord, I’m tired. Fill me up. I know I’m here to honor you even though coming to worship is hard these days. I'm not hearing any of the sermon; will you bring Scripture I need to my heart? I'm too busy trying to keep my crying baby from ruining it for everyone else. Lord! Help me not too fear the judgment of others while I care for this baby. Time to drag my children through the Communion line. Jesus! Thank you for this dinner in remembrance of you. Remind me. Teach and calm these children. My heart is DEFINITELY not in the right place, but I’m coming to you for grace to fix it. It might not be so bad if Brendan wasn't busy serving Communion. Or if I wasn't tired from baking and getting treats here this morning. Next week I have nursery duty. There are so many reasons to be tired. Help me to ask for help instead of complaining. Lord, I await your ultimate Sabbath rest; come quickly!