A Churchgoer’s New Year Resolutions

I am committed to going to church and being active in my LDS faith. I hold callings, take my children to Primary, and do my visiting teaching. I hold a current temple recommend. However, lately, I haven’t always felt inspired or filled or strengthened by my church attendance. In fact, I admit that sometimes church has felt draining and exhausting instead of replenishing (and this is in spite of having a fantastic and kind bishop, the ideal visiting teaching partner, and a chapel right across the street from my house). So here are some resolutions for the coming year that I think will make my church experiences something to look forward to, because I believe I have more agency in my church experience than I’ve recently been admitting to myself. 

  1. I am going to care about my studies. I’ve been phoning it in lately. If I come to church on time and all my kids have clean faces, I feel like I’ve done more than my part. Except—I haven’t. I have all week to read the Sunday School scriptures and Relief Society lesson, and I know I get more out of church (and feel more comfortable voicing alternative perspectives) if I’ve mulled over the lesson content in advance (and our #BCCSundaySchool2018 posts will be a great starting place). It’s hypocritical of me to assign reading quizzes to my university students but then show up to church on Sundays assuming I’ll be able to participate without having prepared. For me, Sunday preparation will include more than just required manual readings, too—the more I take agency in synthesizing materials that I find to be lovely, praiseworthy, of good report, and pertinent into my weekly study, the more my preparation will be meaningful to me as an individual.
  2. I am going to be a charitable reader/listener. Charitable reading/listening means interpreting a person’s statement in its most rational, strongest way. British philosopher Simon Blackburn says charitable readers “maximize the truth or rationality in the subject’s sayings,” rather than doing what I have been doing which is doubling-down on comments or statements that strike me as offensive or unsubstantiated and wallowing in my own self-righteousness. In other words, when someone in Relief Society says that “women are valued for our charity and selflessness,” I will optimize my agreement with that person by acknowledging that charity and selflessness are positive qualities that we should all strive to obtain rather than muttering under my breath frustrations about gender stereotypes or why the speaker didn’t include valuing men for these same qualities.
  3. I am going to speak up. Sometimes I feel all alone at church, especially when my husband is doing assistant ward clerk duties elsewhere. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one uncomfortable with where a discussion is heading, the only one uncomfortable with church history, the only feminist, the only one with heady, existential questions about the lesson plan material. Except, as it turns out, I am not so unique or one-of-a-kind, and it’s sort of ridiculous that I would selfishly consider myself as the diamond in the rough among an otherwise perfectly homogenous crowd. And all it takes is someone else to speak up and offer (generously and diplomatically) a contrary perspective that opens the door for other ward members to chime in, too. I can be that ice-breaker, and I can do it with empathy and kindness for the teacher-volunteer assigned to lead said discussion.
  4. Which leads me to the most important resolution: I am going to practice love, which is the whole point of it allI firmly believe that my church attendance has more to do with expressing and receiving love within my community than it has to do with anything else. I believe that communion and partaking the sacrament is wholly involved with promising to love and receive love in turn. Thomas Merton wrote to Dorothy Day,

    “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.”

    Thomas Merton writes of love again in Seeds of Contemplation (1940):

    “To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that Love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.”

    Lately I’ve approached church with defensiveness, even prickliness. I’m not saying I’ve been justified or unjustified on this—I’m just saying: it’s been there. I have understood why dear friends have parted ways from our church. However, that is not my current story or path, and as I am still choosing activity in the church, I am determined that love is the language that will broaden our borders, expand our tents, and invite a spirit of openness and wonder and authenticity into our congregations. In fact, I’m pretty sure my congregation already has this love and has attempted to share it with me, but it has been myself who has been showing up unprepared and closed off. I can never expect my church to be a welcoming and inviting place to persons of all backgrounds, cultures, sexual orientations, genders, ethnicities, and political parties if I can’t first be welcoming and appreciative and understanding myself to said congregation.

What resolutions do the rest of you have for Sabbath-day appreciation in 2018, whether churchgoers or not?

Comments

  1. Mark Brown says:

    I am committed to use my attendance at meetings as the springboard to greater service. I want to notice who isn’t there and find out if they are sick or lonely. I resolve to sit on the back row and try to see people who need a smile or some encouragement.

    Also, thank you for those statements by Merton.

  2. For me, it will be the courage to attend this year. I am scared to death for the road ahead.

    Ditto on the Merton.

  3. “In fact, I admit that sometimes church has felt draining and exhausting instead of replenishing (and this is in spite of having a fantastic and kind bishop, …)”

    Thus the utility of Zen Buddhism in LDS services: instead of doubling-down personally to address institutional and cultural problems you had no part in creating and can’t possibly repair, find growth & peace in the discipline of acceptance. Since you’re Mormon you’re already syncretic. Zazen in sacrament so no matter how awful it is the sitting will be productive. Amen

  4. This lifted a burden I was feeling. Thank you.

  5. I love and agree with what you’ve said about charitable reading. With our new curriculum being all general conference talks all the time there’s a lot of opportunity here.

  6. About three years ago my New Years resolution was to be late for class (Even though I detest being late for anything). I decided this was a way for me to pick who to sit by and engage in conversations. I loved it. I want to be more outgoing but it’s just not natural for me. This worked really well most of the time and I got to know several people really well.

    I wish there were some way for us to find our kindred spirits in church. I would really like to meet your equivalent(s) in my ward but it’s not easy to know who would appreciate my unique perspective. Maybe BCC can create a code word? :)

    Best of luck with your resolutions; they sound great. And I’m very jealous you live so close to church. 15 minutes drive for me.

  7. I like this all, beginning to end. I would adopt the same resolutions, even though my place and my path is somewhat different. In addition, I would simply be there. Sit and be. Not judge, not reject, not accept, not argue, not profess, but just be. That’s where and how I feel called to participate for now.

  8. OregonMum says:

    I really liked this. Thanks for sharing it. It reminds me of my favorite talk from President Oscarson in the last conference about going with an attitude of “what can I give” versus “what will this give me.”

    “Occasionally our children would ask us the question, “Why do I have to go to Mutual? I just don’t get very much out of it.”
    If I was having a good parenting moment, I would reply, “What makes you think you go to Mutual because of what you get out of it?”
    My young friends, I can guarantee that there will always be someone at every Church meeting you attend who is lonely, who is going through challenges and needs a friend, or who feels like he or she doesn’t belong. You have something important to contribute to every meeting or activity, and the Lord desires for you to look around at your peers and then minister as He would.
    Elder D. Todd Christofferson has taught, “A major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the ‘strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.’” He goes on to say, “This religion is not concerned only with self; rather, we are all called to serve. We are the eyes, hands, head, feet, and other members of the body of Christ.”
    It is true that we attend our weekly Church meetings to participate in ordinances, learn doctrine, and be inspired, but another very important reason for attending is that, as a ward family and as disciples of the Savior Jesus Christ, we watch out for one another, encourage one another, and find ways to serve and strengthen each other. We are not just receivers and takers of what is offered at church; we are needed to be givers and suppliers. Young women and young men, next time you are at Mutual, instead of picking up your phone to see what your friends are doing, stop, look around, and ask yourself, “Who needs me today?” You may be the key to reaching out and touching the life of a peer or to giving encouragement to a friend who is quietly struggling.”

  9. Beautiful thoughts. It sounds like in sum your goal is to focus on giving instead of getting. This is something I’d like to implement as well, and I thank you for giving me an extra push.

  10. Thanks for these comments, all. P, I particularly appreciate your suggestions about practicing zazen. Your comment has given me the vocabulary to better research and learn the kind of meditation I would like to incorporate into my spirituality and church participation. Thank you so much for that.

  11. It’s not just that you’re a good writer, it’s that you’re a good person as well. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to copy your resolutions.

  12. I’m going to print out these resolutions to refer to in church when I next want to spontaneously combust.

  13. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your focus on love–I see my own struggles, hopes, and intentions in your words. Today at church I was reminded of something I’ve learned and forgotten a number of times: Loving=success. Total success. I don’t have to accomplish anything else at church except to love whoever I’m with, wherever I’m at…and to accept whatever degree\form of love I’m offered.

    I was looking forward to attending the first council-like meeting during the third hour today, but received a last-minute text asking if I would sub in Nursery. I accepted without deliberation because I knew it made no sense that someone else should “miss out” on the meeting instead of me, but I did feel a twinge of disappointment. I ended up having a more satisfactory church experience than any I have had in some time, and I determined it was because the purpose of simply loving people was easier to recognize and achieve in that setting. It’s fairly easy for me to open and extend my heart to babies and children, and to feel entirely successful after focusing my energy on loving them during the time provided. It is not always so easy, however, for me to focus on love in adult settings. Had I gone to the council meeting, I likely would have spent it in my default cycle, which roughly includes the following stages:

    1. Hoping for (and probably subconsciously expecting) an authentic\interesting\passionate\meaningful discussion.
    2. Feeling pained and discouraged by certain interpretations of individuals or the collective church.
    3. Painstakingly crafting a comment to help me feel like I’m communicating something from my heart while avoiding bruising another’s.
    4. Feeling lonely and despondent.
    5. Feeling guilty for my self-absorption and rededicating myself to listening better to the feelings of others and gleaning from the lesson.
    6. Getting distracted from my goals of listening and gleaning by fresh pain and discouragement, and repeating the cycle–though without the hope.

    As I reflect on my cycle and wish I could improve it, it seems clear that the first stage is the most crucial to adapt: If I increase my hope and eliminate my expectation, I might be able to stay connected to my goal of loving more consistently. And when I am connected, I’ll perceive my participation as purposeful.

    I told my spouse I should start approaching every meeting like Nursery…to see my purpose as simply loving people as well as possible. When I said it out loud, we both laughed, because I seemed to be stating the obvious. This year, I hope to forget this obvious lesson less often.
    In addition to trying to become “as a little child,” I need to start seeing other people as children–vulnerable, well-intentioned, and infinitely valuable. All I have to do is love them.

  14. Great post. My main resolution for church participation is to approach all church callings, activities, etc. with an attitude of generosity and love; to try harder to take advantage of them as opportunities to bless somebody’s life in some small way. Basically the same as your #2 and #4.

  15. Beautiful. Thank you. I’m a church-goer. I’m committed to becoming a better scriptorian. And to continue to speak up about equality and love. And to occasionally take a Sabbath off – without attending services – to worship at home alone or with my spouse or in nature. God bless us. Every one.

  16. jaye vb ellis says:

    I’ve got some New Year’s resolutions:

    I’m an LDS convert born and raised and now returned to Hyde Park University of Chicago neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. I have met so many strong, courageous young LDS Missionaries including the ones who baptized me.

    My neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods are very “interesting” – it’s very much like the Book of Mormon with Nephites and Lamanites . Last year Chicago had 3500 plus shootings and 676 murders. Lots of the Lamanitesare rather ungodly and violent. Lots of University of Chicago students, faculty and alumni are like unbelieving, arrogant Nephites.

    Barack Obama was my neighbor and Illinois State representative.

    This week at fast and testament time I spoke about my life here and I spoke about the experiences of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and the early LDS Mormons that were threatened with extermination in Missouri.

    I noted that Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and wagon train pioneers were young men and women in the prime of their life, who were willing to fight.

    I noted that President Monson was 90 years old. And I ask the LDS Mormon congregation to please contact the LDS office of the Presidency and request that they elect/appoint a man between the ages of 7 and 85 who was strong enough to fight the terrible corruptions we have in Chicago and in our nation.

    Some people came up to me afterwards to thank me for my views. Others acted rather sheepishly like scared sheep.

    I was informed that succession to the LDS Presidency – the LDS Prophet was done by seniority – next in line. That the next LDS President waiting to be sustained was 93 years old….

    OK, so we live in rough terrible times and our LDS church is run by extremely old men who have no clue and will do nothing about the terrible violence and corruptions afflicting my city of Chicago or our nation or….

    Jerusalem!

    Christians are being marginalized and basically made extinct in Jerusalem and the holy land.

    So what do LDS folks here suggest they/we do.

    jaye ellis
    Left Behind in Chicago.
    jayevbellis@protonmail.com