The question was an earnest one from my daughter, as opposed to the “WHY DO WE HAVE TO GO TO CHURCH?” battle we sometimes have. I wanted to answer her question with equal honesty but the truth was, I didn’t have an answer. I was dragging myself out the door that day and the idea of “liking” felt pretty foreign.
“Ummmm…I don’t always like going to church,” I said slowly.
“Then why go?” She countered.
Well that was quite logical wasn’t it? I thought about all the things I do that I don’t want to. Like exercise. Or cleaning. Or volunteering. Or writing. It hit me that most of my life appears to be made up of things that I don’t necessarily like to do. Perhaps I should simply give all of them up and live for the moment. You know, YOLO and whatever else the kids tweet these days.
She looked expectantly at me as I framed my answer, “Well, church is good for me. I feel better afterwards.”
“Do you really feel better?” This question came from my husband. “Or does it just alleviate feelings of guilt? Maybe you would also feel better if you stopped expecting yourself to go.”
Well, that’s a worthwhile question, too, isn’t it? (I swear, I would not have any deep spiritual thoughts without my family to prod me along.) Could I achieve the same level of satisfaction by not going to church as I did from going to church? Was it really just about perceived expectation leading to perceived guilt leading to perceived satisfaction? It’s always a possibility but I didn’t think so. There have been long periods in my life when I didn’t go to church. Most of my childhood and teenage years. Long stints in college. Years in sleep-deprived young motherhood. I didn’t feel particularly guilty during those times and yet something always called me back. Something deeper than guilt but also much harder to explain.
I was still pondering this discussion, still trying to put my finger on the reason for attending church, when this devotion came to me via email. In the wise words of Br. Robert L’Esperance:
“ There is a value of actually going through the motions of something – whether you have your heart and soul in it is actually immaterial to the practice… There is actually a value in ritual. There is actually a value in doing something – that’s immaterial whether you can rationalize it, whether you can understand it, whether you can put your heart and soul in it – there’s actually a value to just going through the motions, through the steps.” He goes on to offer this heart-stopping advice. “it’s in the doing that we are transformed and we are shaped and we are renewed”
It’s in the doing.
We are so self-conscious of our time. We are so aware that it is fleeting, that it is limited, that we have to make every single minute count, that we must achieve something, that we shouldn’t waste time, kill it or let it slip away. We are so conscious of this that we forget that some things aren’t fun but they are good. Some things are worth spending time on not because we can measure their immediate value but because we feel their effects in the days, months and years to come.
So I’ll continue plugging away, hoping that the rituals and words of church will shape me into the person I want to become. I will also invite/coerce/drag my daughter to come with me so that she, too, might be shaped more fully into the person I see in her future.
Now, if anyone knows how to explain all this to a 7 year old, I’m open to advice.