I played hooky from church this morning. I felt a little guilty about it at first – after all, one of my goals for 2018 is to make a more serious effort at finding a true community in this city – and showing up on Sunday mornings is part of that. Skipping church tomorrow, I rationalized to myself last night, is not a good idea. You’ve already missed a Sunday because of the flu. You shouldn’t skip. But truthfully – I was exhausted yesterday. It had been a good week, but a really full one, and if I’ve learned nothing else over the past few years, it’s that when my body and soul are crying out for rest, I need to pay attention. So I stopped arguing with myself, and tuned in. I’m not sure that I actually prayed about it. But that still small voice I’ve come to trust said quietly, “You do not have to go.” And the guilt went away.
So I slept in until 9:00am this morning. I made a cup of coffee, and watched Little Women. I warmed up some leftovers for lunch, and read a few more chapters in a novel (I’m reading All The Light We Cannot See – which I highly recommend, by the way). And then, as the rain had stopped, I headed out for a change of scene. There is a charming little pastry shop called Der Pioneer up the street from my house that I’ve walked past a dozen times, but I’d never been in before today.
Like many small restaurants in Brooklyn, the space is surprisingly long but narrow – a wooden counter along the front window wraps around the corner along one wall, with barstool seating, to expand capacity beyond that which is offered by tables of various shapes and sizes. The menu is eclectic. You can order anything from a hot dog to lemon ricotta pancakes. I took up residence at the counter by the wall, and finished the third chapter of Brian McLaren’s The Great Spiritual Migration, enjoying a cup of over-priced coffee, a delicious pain au chocolat, and the excellent mix of ’80s pop music in the background. (Seriously, I do not even remember the last time I heard the Spin Doctors’ Two Princes playing in public, and it made me really happy.)
It’s been a very different kind of Sunday than the hundreds of Sundays I once considered “normal.” Up until a couple of years ago, I had either been a volunteer or on staff at various churches almost all of my life. I’ve gotten up early, stayed up late, given so much time and money – and there have definitely been times and seasons when that kind of service was good and right and fun and barely even felt like a sacrifice.
But there were also times it wasn’t like that at all.
I found myself thinking about it this afternoon, as I got ready to leave the house – knowing that I wanted to write something about today, but wondering what there was to say about it other than, “ahhhh…. this is nice.”
And I think what I want to say is this: there is such a marked difference between slowly meandering my way through a much-needed day of rest and the Sunday morning patterns I once took for granted. There’s truth to the fact that “serving” at church is a great way to meet people and to feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. There’s also truth to the fact that making a sacrifice of time or money can be a positive and healthy thing – both for you and for the people your sacrifice impacts. But – as with all things – taken to its extremes, that way of life can be extremely detrimental. It can cause burnout and exhaustion. If I never hear another metaphor about “bleeding for my faith” again, I will be the happiest of campers – because honestly, while some of us may literally do that at some point, those stories are more rare than sermon illustrations and bad Christian films might have us believe, and truthfully – the thing about bleeding is that if at some point the bleeding isn’t stopped, you will die. It’s a realistic piece of the metaphor that is sometimes left out in a call-to-action when the nursery is short-staffed again.
There is a balance between self-care and self-sacrifice that we don’t always pay attention to. One of the “teachers of the law” once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was.
‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’ – Mark 12:29-31 (NIVUK)
We talk a lot about what it means to love God and to love our neighbours, but we don’t talk a lot about what it means to love ourselves. (Rob Bell has a great podcast on this, by the way.)
Love for self can be easily misconstrued as “being selfish” – but selfishness is self-love taken to an unhealthy extreme. A healthy love for self looks more like paying attention to what you truly need – whether it’s more sleep, a day off, or some protein – and making sure you get it, so that you are healthy enough to help (read: love) others. I remember going to see a Christian counselor years and years ago; she told me I needed to stop dwelling on my problems and spend more time looking for ways to help others with their problems. It was terrible advice. She wasn’t wrong in that helping someone else is a great way to show love to others (that whole loving your neighbor thing) – but what I needed in that moment was someone to listen and give me good counsel on how to get to an emotionally healthy place so I would actually have something to give (that’s the “as yourself” bit).
I’m not “anti-serving”; I’m auditioning for our worship team next week, and I do volunteer to run slides sometimes on Sundays. (Might as well put all that ProPresenter experience to work somewhere). I understand that the very structure of Sunday morning church services requires people to pull them off. But I am a big proponent of balance – and of teaching it. Otherwise, it’s way too easy to ask too much of people, and to inadvertently begin to prioritizing programmes over people.
I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve organized events, and volunteered for them. “Serving” can be an amazing experience. But the events we plan and the programmes we run are never as important as the people we’re serving with. My dearest friends – who are the community I am still a part of, even though it’s from a distance – are the people whose kids I babysat on short notice, the people who showed up with groceries when I was sick, the people I’ve laughed with and cried with over coffees and dinners and late night phone calls. Sure, we served together – and church programmes were often a vehicle by which we met and in which we spent time together – but the programmes weren’t the point. We were.
So, no – I didn’t go to church today. Instead, I did other things that were good for my soul. There will be other services this year. I will probably go to most of them (I think). And I will even serve – sometimes.
But really, if everything is spiritual, then the glass of wine and the home-cooked meal I’m looking forward to this evening are going to be just as much of a gift as getting back onstage someday will be.
Simple Felicity is, at its heart, a blog based on the unshakeable belief that happiness really isn't all that complicated. Sometimes finding it can be - but happiness itself is pretty simple, and it's often found in the simplest of things: good food, good books, and good company. So those are the things I write about, along with a few other things that really matter to me, including faith and feminism.
A bit about me: My name is Happy. I have an amazing talent for misplacing my keys, a deep appreciation for whomever looked at the coffee bean and thought, "Hey, I wonder what would happen if I roasted this?", and road trips to Michigan are pretty much my favorite.
Contact me anytime at simplefelicity7 (at) gmail (dot) com! I'd love to hear from you.
"Never say you know the final word about any human heart." -Henry James #preach
well... yes. yes, he is. twitter.com/TVietor08/stat…
The statements made and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my current and former employers.
Also, I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Please be advised that links in posts published December 2017 and after may be affiliate links.