Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Sabbath

This is my second Sabbath-themed blog post.  I wrote the first over four years ago.

Recently, the LDS (aka "Mormon") Church has been strongly emphasizing Sabbath Day Observance.  I am actually quite in favor of this, especially since it's preferable to a lot of the other things the LDS Church tends to strongly emphasize (cough--traditionalfamilies--cough).  Over the past few weeks, I've thought a lot about what how I am spending my Sundays and what I can do to make them a little more special and sacred.  I don't go shopping or participate in "worldly" activities on Sundays; I often spend the afternoons/evenings with my boyfriend as we cook dinner together; I even try to watch less TV (my exceptions/foils include "The Great British Baking Show" or a really good SVU marathon).  There has been one small hitch in my aspirations to become more Sabbath-appropriate, however.

I kind of hate church.*

I don't think I always hated church.  I mean, I was never the type of person who would be like "Sunday is my favorite day ever because I get to go to church and feel the spirit and stuff!" (mostly because I've never been the type of person who...felt the spirit and stuff), but over the past few years, church has been difficult.  I don't know why, exactly.  Maybe it's because I don't fit in in my ward and it's hard to not fit in when you're in close proximity to a bunch of people who fit in really well (and the crippling social anxiety doesn't help much, I'm sure).  Maybe it's because the building is always too cold and I'm always starving by the end, and physical discomfort often fuels my rage toward most things.  Maybe it's a bunch of boring reasons that nobody wants to read.

I don't want to stop going to church (I've never actually skipped church and have rarely been tempted to do so).  The problem comes from staying at church.  I can usually make it through the Sacrament before the desire to escape overwhelms me.  Having a boyfriend to sit with in Sunday School has been really helpful, but after that, I am racing toward the bus stop to head home and feeling instant relief once I return to my apartment.  But with that relief comes the gnawing feeling that something must be fundamentally wrong with my spiritual self that I can't feel any peace during a communal worship service.

I fully understand that this peace probably comes from having the proper mindset during church or making efforts to have a positive experience.  (I'm sure this post will yield many comments like, "you get out of it what you put into it" and similar aphorisms).  But that advice only goes so far when the thing that is supposed to make you feel wonderful on the Sabbath puts you in the foulest mood of the whole week.

How can a positive church experience come from turning off my phone during church when sometimes, a text from my best friend in Baltimore is the only thing that makes me smile during Sacrament meeting?

How can it come from attending all of my church meetings when I feel more peace alone in my apartment cleaning my kitchen** on an early Sunday afternoon than I've ever felt in Relief Society?

And is going to church the best and only way I can feel close to God on the Sabbath?  Are more individual forms of worship preferable to hours of negative emotion in a congregation?

I'm writing this post for two-ish reasons.  The first is because I needed to write it down because if it's written down, it's real and tangible and I can understand it better than if I'm just thinking about it on the bus ride home from church.  The second is so other people can read it--people who can give me advice on what has helped them and people who feel like weirdos because they also hate church (of course, these groups are not mutually exclusive).

With that, I say happy Sabbath.

*Please note that when I say "church" I don't mean "The (LDS) Church."  I mean the building with the steeple where I go every Sunday with a bunch of other people.  This seems like a statement that was too important for a footnote, but I couldn't figure out where else to put it in the real text.
**Wiping the grease, gunk, and nonstick cooking spray droplets off of my stove often eclipses the Sacrament in necessity and frequency in my apartment.  Sometimes I have to do it two or three times in one day, and that kind of makes me feel like a traveling General Authority.


  1. I also hate church. I don't have any solutions for you but just wanted you to know I'm totally with you. I'm not even sure why I do but I think some of the reasons you mentioned ring true. Social anxiety is a real thing. Making smalltalk during the dreaded Munch and Mingle is one of the absolute worst experiences of my week. After 3 hours of being social, freezing, and starving, i have nothing left in me to try to figure out if I'm following social rules or desperately think of things to comment on to people around me (weather... umm... How hungry i am... That's all I got) so I don't just stand there in silence by myself like an idiot in a room full of people.

  2. Hi, I know we don't know each other well at all, but I have always enjoyed and appreciated your perspectives because there is a facet of my personality that strongly relates, but I think this is the first time I have commented. I just wanted to say that I agree that your difficulties with church are social, not spiritual. I definitely think it is harder to feel the Spirit when we feel uncomfortable or awkward, that's why missionaries work so hard to help their investigators feel comfortable and welcome their first time at church. I consistently have difficulty every time I move into a new ward (still working on mine, and it's been 10 months). It usually gets better once I find someone who needs a friend/friendly face even more than I do, or some other kind of service/role/purpose. Once I feel needed, I feel connected, and I get much more out of my church experience. It helps that I pretty much always step outside between meetings for a moment alone, some fresh air, and a snack. A good snack. I hope something in there is helpful for you, but if all else fails, imagine that you are literally agoraphobic, and congratulate yourself for making it out of your house at all.

  3. Hi, friend! So, I'm absolutely not here to tell you that you shouldn't go to church...but, maybe it wouldn't be too terrible if you took a break? Like, just for a little while? It sounds like going to church (and the accompanying cycle of dread and relief) isn't actually doing much for you besides making you miserable right now. I think it might be helpful if you could take a step back, figure out what the issue is for you, and jump back in when you're ready. But also maybe the specific church you're going to just isn't the right place for you. I do agree that every new situation comes with an adjustment period, but I get the impression that you've been trying to "adjust" for a few years now. I think it might be worthwhile for you to take some time to figure out what does work for you, instead of trying to force yourself to be okay with a situation that's making you unhappy. I understand the value of the sense of ritual and community structure that going to a church provides, but, you know, you can connect with God and the universe and yourself at any time and in any place. So, if having Solo Church in your bedroom on Sunday mornings, or going to a park to read something meaningful, or having a smaller meeting with friends (or anything else you can think of!) would make you feel better, I personally think those would be fine and valid options. Honestly, I don't think there are any wrong answers here; I think religion and spirituality tend to be very personal, so what's best for your friends/family may not necessarily be what's best for you. You'll figure it out! Anyway, clearly this is just my opinion, which you can pay attention to or ignore as you see fit :-).

  4. Hi Alex,
    I have thought about your post for weeks now. Should I respond or should I not? I have thought of many things to share with you most of which aren’t correlated. So this might seem random, but here goes.
    While I have felt comfortable spiritually and physically at church, I have never felt 100% comfortable socially at church. Whether in singles or family wards, it always seemed that everyone else had something in common or knew each other or had similar backgrounds. Many times I felt like no one would talk to me unless I started the conversation. Church could be a lonely place. In fact, this didn’t end with marriage. I often would comment to my wife that I felt alone at church if she wasn’t with me. Now my extroverted wife tells me that church isn’t a great place for just socialization anyway. She finds that she doesn’t really speak that much at church with the people in the ward with whom she socializes outside of church meetings. While it does happen, she doesn’t expect great social bonds to be formed during or between classes. So my expectations needed to be lowered. She has also helped me to realize that everyone has their own unique story and most likely also feels misunderstood. We don’t know everyone’s struggles. In fact, I have learned in my recent calling that the only thing anyone really has in common in a ward is that everyone has challenges hidden from others.
    With each new ward I have attended, I have started to give more people (the ward) the benefit of the doubt. It wasn’t always about others making me feel comfortable and fulfilled. It became about me helping others. The place I felt most comfortable was a ward where it was blatantly obvious that none of us belonged. I couldn’t make false assumptions that everyone was similar except for me. It was the inner-city ward of Brussels 2nd. There were at least 15 languages spoken, 30 different countries represented, rich, poor, new convert, lifelong members, people wearing African dress, people dressed in rags, coiffed and disheveled. What could one make of this ward but to get along and love each other? One of my most spiritual experiences was realizing that this is what Heaven will be like. Heaven will not be a bunch of like-minded, similar looking people. Our individual stories will be cherished and appreciated. Our only common trait will be loving Christ and wanting to be with him. As God’s children, we are connected whether we are comfortable or not. I think we go to church to practice being with a people who love Christ despite our differences and imperfections. This may be my own belief, but I don’t think we can go to Heaven without helping others along the way. Heaven will require us to be with others. Church meetings provide a way for us to be reminded that we aren’t alone in this journey nor can we be. I have learned that there is power in meeting with others who share my same beliefs. There is power in studying the gospel together. Each week I see or hear of tender mercies that come from comments, lessons, talks and conversations which inspire others. Members will mention to me that they are so glad they attended a particular meeting that day because an answer to a prayer came. I am grateful each week to have a place where this happens.
    I have come to appreciate the efforts it takes orchestrating 3 hours of church each week in the goal of helping the individual church attendee. Countless hours are spent on talks, lessons, coordination, and leadership all done on a volunteer basis. We do this because we believe our ward community has a purpose of helping us feel closer to the Savior as we prepare to live with him and each other someday. This won’t always feel comfortable or be convenient but it will always be worthwhile.
    Bishop Hawk