Monday, September 27, 2004

I love the gospel but hate going to church 

by Unknown
There I said it. I finally admitted it. It has been 6 weeks or so since I've been to church. I'm in a new ward somewhere. So I don't have a calling and dread going to a brand new ward where I don't know anyone. The questions alone: 'And who are you?' "Are you married?" "Where are you from?" "where did you serve a mission?" "And what brought you to New York?"

It's not just going to a new ward, I've always hated going to church. When I was a little kid it was 5 hours of torture (we lived and hour away), of course children find it boring. But I didn't grow out of that, as an adult I also find myself counting the minutes until I can escape the crowded rooms with fluorescent flashing lights, screaming kids, the smiling and shaking hands. My favorite part of church is singing the hymns. I've been an adult now for 10 years, I use the term 'adult' loosely, meaning I was no longer a minor. But whenever I don't have a calling that forces me to be at church I always stop going. I set the alarm every Saturday night but turn it off Sunday morning, promising to go next week.

I never think of myself as an 'inactive' but I've ended up on that list a few times. The first happened in college when the missionaries started coming to visit me. Just to hang out. It took awhile before I figured out they were trying to re-activate me, actually it was the day they took me out for ice cream and paid. I knew it should have happened the other way around. Then last year the branch president paid me a home visit and asked what it would take to get me back to church. I told him I needed a calling, so he gave me one.

When I begin gliding into an inactive phase, my spirituality drops. If I start swearing then I know I've been away too long. And everything in my life feels more difficult during these periods and my mood drops. Without fail, whenever I find myself thinking that everything is going wrong, I remember I haven't been to church in a few weeks or months. So I drag myself back and once my attendance resumes, life gets easier and happier. I've now hit the point where I'm swearing and everything is falling apart. Time to go back to church. Yuck.

I love the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have a strong testimony. I keep most of the commandments. But the most difficult one for me is gathering together oft at meetings. Why is that? That seems very wrong. Is it just me or does going to church stink? I know I need it, but does it have to be so painful? And so early in the morning? I do have agoraphobia and extreme difficulty waking up in the mornings which adds to my abhorrance, but that's not the whole of it. I know I should suck it up, stop complaining and get my rear-end back to church. But does anyone else out there feel the same way I do? Is there something we can do to make church less painful? There must be something I could do to make it better for myself at least, any suggestions?

Jen J

Hi Jen,

It's interesting to hear your thoughts. I see you have generated quite a stir among some members, apostate members, and others. I am a believer in frank conversation. I don't think you posted your thoughts to have backslapping and way-to-goes poured out. So I am going to say it the way I treat myself.

I love what President Kimball said about spirituality. "Whenever I find that God is far away, I realize that I am the one who has moved" (paraphrasing). Whenever I find that I am not feeling the Spirit like I ought to I inventory myself.

-Is there a sin I have committed that has put distance between the Lord and myself?
-Am I faithfully reading the scriptures?
-Am I fervently praying?
This simple self-inventory reveals a lot about what I am doing that might be preventing the Spirit from entering in. I think here it is important to review the following: Church exists for at least three reasons.

1) To renew sacred covenants. The sacrament is the key to having the Spirit in our lives. If you listen to the sacrament prayer, you covenant to do three things (always remember Him, take His name upon you, and keep His commandments); in return Father in Heaven promises that you will always have His Spirit to be with you. This is the reason that we go to church, to renew our covenants. In a very real sense without the sacrament a person cannot have the Spirit in his/her life. In fact Joseph Fielding Smith said: "No member of the Church can fail to make this covenant and renew it week by week, and retain the Spirit of the Lord. The sacrament meeting of the Church is the most important meeting which we have, and is sadly neglected by many members. We go to this service, if we understand the purpose of it, not merely to hear someone speak, important though that may be, but first, and most important, to renew this covenant with our Father in Heaven in the name of Jesus Christ. Those who persist in their absence from this service will eventually lose the Spirit and if they do not repent will eventually find themselves denying the faith" (Church History and Modern Revelation 1:123; see also Doctrines of Salvation 2:338).

2) To be strengthened. I love what Elder Russell M. Nelson said about sacrament meeting talks. While the speaker is delivering his/her address, ask yourself questions about the topic. Have a personal conversation considering what you are doing and what you are not doing to fulfill the expectations being delivered in the address. With this in mind, Church talks are not about hearing something new they are about self-inventory. The congregation ought to ask themselves, how am I doing in these areas? I think people often expect that sacrament meetings will teach them something new. But that is not the point. For example a talk on family home evening: Many people tune out because they have "heard it all before." But they ought to be asking themselves, am I ensuring that my family is holding regular family home evening? How well are our lessons going? Which member of the family most needs to plan and prepare the lesson this Monday? It seems that many of the people posting to your comment have stopped engaging in this type of inventory. They may be going to church for the wrong reason: simply because it is expected of them. Rather, we go to church to discern what changes we need to make so the Spirit can be with us more fully.

3) We strengthen others. King Benjamin's address concerning service is timely for your concern. Mosiah 2:17 suggests that when we are in the service of our fellow beings we are only in the service of our God. And Mosiah 18:8-10 suggests that the very nature of our baptismal covenant is to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. In a very real sense you are not at church for yourself only. You are there for others as well. I like what Heber C. Kimball said, whenever I feel like life is very difficult, I find someone worse off than myself and focus all of my time and efforts on him or her. Soon my life doesn't seem so bad (paraphrasing). There are people all around us at church who are in need. They feel overwhelmed with life and the adversary is constantly beating on them. One way to make your church experience more effective is to focus on them, find someone in need and make their life better because they were near you.

In writing these comments in no way do I suggest that I am perfect at living this way. But I have made a covenant with the Lord. I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am grateful for my moments at church when I can quietly reflect on how my life is going. However, salvation is not found on Sunday only. A group of individuals meet with Alma. They were rejected from their churches because they were poor and those who were prideful would not allow them to attend. They asked Alma what they should do. He responded, "do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week" (Alma 32:11)? Salvation is found six days a week in our personal religious devotions. When these devotions are strong, sacrament meeting and the rest fall into their proper perspective.

My last comment might be least favorable with some of the commentors of this blog. Alma and Amulek taught Zeezrom a powerful truth. Anyone can know the mysteries of God (i.e. the doctrines of God) if they are willing to give heed and diligence to them. Heed means to pay attention to something or someone and diligence means perseverence in application. In other words, those who know the doctrines of the kingdom have gained this knowledge because they pay the price of continued, daily study of the scriptures and words of modern prophets. However, some receive a lesser portion of the word (in sacrament meeting for instance) because they harden their hearts "until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction" (Alma 12:9-11). The more dedicated we are to prayer and scripture study and then obeying the promptings of the Spirit, the more likely we are to understand what is taught in church. However, if we harden our hearts to these spiritual promptings we loose light and truth (D&C 50:24). I hope something I have said will spark the desire for you and anyone else who is reading this comment to turn to the Lord in prayer and scripture study and feast upon the words of Christ.
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