I grew up never missing church. Being sick was a reason to be absent, but even travel may include a stop at a local congregation and a bulletin from the church of visitation to take home as an excuse note. Sundays were serious business and there were few exceptions. I honored that same standard in raising my children. While we don’t visit other churches on travel excursions, being in the building on Sunday has been a high value mark throughout my life.
Fifteen years ago, I began an empowering journey of reconstructing what I believed about Church organizations, denominational systems and many aspects of serving and leading the Church. But even in the midst of a huge personal and cultural shift, the value that we as a family placed on the corporate worship gathering was high. It was only as our children began competing in sports that we had a discussion of “skipping” church. Just reflecting on this term choice is telling. What I discovered as I unpacked this language was that in my hardwired system, nothing was more important than the tightly held sanctity of the 10am Sunday hour.
It was only because of the fact that our youngest called me on the carpet about this choice that I began to listen. In a heated discussion about the number of times we were going to miss church for swim meets in a three month period, I argued that some meets were “not as important” as others and that we should choose. In a very unfiltered moment, my 13 year-old twirled around on me and shouted, “Do you want me to hate Jesus for taking away swimming?” I knew the correct response. I knew what my parents and many others would have said to me. But in that moment, the Spirit forced my mouth shut (I don’t do these things on my own) and I did not come back on her with frustration or punishment. But her words weighed on my mind. To this day.
The last year has provided opportunities for me to look at this issue from many directions. There is a huge part of my heart that longs for the same kind of joy and excitement that I found going to church as a small child. I loved Sunday mornings. I don’t recall a fight about going to church growing up. Ever. Perhaps I blocked it out, but it was just what we did – it was like breathing. In different seasons, (you know, like college) there was certainly not the same excitement. But easily and quickly, the Sunday morning experience was shaped in my adulthood. As a full-time church worker, Sundays were the fullest of days. It was only as we moved into different seasons of church planting that my schedule and Sunday demands morphed. But it was Ally’s pushback last year that stopped me. Could I really damage her willingness to interact and engage with the Divine with my attempts to get her to church? Can I get oh, hell yeah?
While unpacking her feelings about Sunday worship, I required myself to hear her. This is her story: she knows Spirit. She has clear and regular encounters with her Creator. Unlike what I have always practiced and preached, she does not have these encounters with God in a certain room, with a certain speaker or for certain songs. For her, she knows connection when her head is immersed in water. She understands prayer and intention from the moments that she and God are the only ones behind the blocks as she prepares to race. She has developed a deep since of trust in her body and internal voice as she has navigated success and failure, pain and injury, love and disappointment. More than any sermon or corporate prayer time, my daughter has a deep spiritual connection to her entire rhythm of life. It was only when I quit fighting to put my liquid fueled offspring into a landlocked creation of the Divine encounter that I freed her to find her own path. Just tonight, she came into my room and I read her the previous two paragraphs. I asked her if I captured this correctly. Her smile said it all. “You got it, Mom.”
My kids are impacted. They are also some of my best teachers. My kids have opened my eyes to see the better and more true ways of experiencing God. As with most of my goals in parenting, I feel like my aim in all things Church is to get out of the way and trust that just as God shapes and molds me, God is teaching and opening my kids to the same revelation. More important than me telling them what to do or how to do it, I hope that I can teach them how to reason and listen and trust their Knowing to find answers for themselves.