People choose to go to church every Sunday for all sorts of reasons. For some, they feel worn down by the messages of the world, and going to church provides them with much needed spiritual feeding. For others, they feel like their home and work lives are filled with people who try and test them, and church is somewhere they have friends. It is social, and a place where they can hang out with like-minded people. Still others go merely because it is their duty, and they are determined to be obedient in all things. And others go just because they think they might be able to help someone else, because there doesn’t seem to be anything more to learn there for them personally. I’ll be honest, ’cause you know I love being honest, I have for the last long while fallen squarely into this last camp.
There is nothing completely wrong with any of these reasons. The Lord would have us go to church for any reason we choose. We are all sinners, and church is where we belong. Sometimes, though, I don’t feel like I belong. I don’t always feel spiritually fed. I don’t have many friends at church. I’m a rather headstrong daughter of God and would rather do things with purpose and meaning than out of duty. How am I going to convince myself that I belong at church? How am I going to find a meaningful purpose in my attendance?
Elder Renlund told a story in conference:
Our dear friend Thoba shared how she learned this lesson from her mother, Julia. Julia and Thoba were among the early black converts in South Africa. After the apartheid regime ended, black and white members of the Church were permitted to attend church together. For many, the equality of interaction between the races was new and challenging. One time, as Julia and Thoba attended church, they felt they were treated less than kindly by some white members. As they left, Thoba complained bitterly to her mother. Julia listened calmly until Thoba had vented her frustration. Then Julia said, “Oh, Thoba, the Church is like a big hospital, and we are all sick in our own way. We come to church to be helped.”
Again, in all honesty, most of the time I don’t feel like church is really helping me. It’s not just my pride, though I’m sure my pride has something to do with it since it has something to do with pretty much everything I experience. No, it’s not just my pride, it’s also a feeling that there just has to be more to church than hearing the word, making friends, service, and doing my duty. This morning I was reading a book by Sadhguru, an Indian Yogi, called Don’t Polish Your Ignorance… It Might Shine. Great book, and lots of insightful tidbits to ponder. His explanation of the purpose of an ashram (a place of religious retreat, or church where people can live) stood out to me:
People have a need for a home… It does not matter what it is, but you need something that you can consider yours… This may make you comfortable; it may fulfill one aspect of your life, but this is not spiritual. You would be wasting the spiritual dimension of living in a certain space like an ashram – a sacred space.
Why I call an ashram a sacred space is because it is created as a device where things that would take a lot of time to happen elsewhere can happen very fast… If you are looking for an escape, an ashram is not the place to go. If you see it as a possibility, then yes, it is a beautiful place to go to. One should not be seeking a more secure home in an ashram…
In an ashram you do not decide what you are going to eat for today’s dinner. That itself shatters you. It is unbearable, is it not? There is so much variety in your life that making a decision has become a problem. Just a simple thing like what to eat today or what to wear today, it if is not their decision anymore, it can be shattering for people.
So if you are looking at an ashram as a possibility for transformation or if you are looking at it as a possibility to live in as an absolutely homeless person by choice, and not because you are destitute, than an ashram is a good place to go. But if you are looking for an alternative home, then an ashram is not a good place to go.
We are all attached to things which ease our minds and make us feel better. And it is easy to seek for things to appease our need for comfort and security. But there is a place designed for people to go to stretch themselves if they desire to have that experience. You can go to church to find things you can’t find elsewhere, like friendship and gospel classes, but you can also go to church to find a place where your natural man is unable to find comfort and your spirituality is developed quickly. President Harold B. Lee taught that one of the functions of the Church is “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comforted” (The Message, New Era, January 1971).
You don’t get to make all the decisions at church. You don’t get to decide who you will hear from, who you will associate with, or what will be asked of you. You don’t get to decide if your comment in Sunday School will be well-received or quickly dismissed. You don’t get to decide if your ideas will be embraced or set aside. You don’t get to decide if someone will want to talk to you when you don’t want to talk, or if no one will talk to you when you do. For some, like me, this is very uncomfortable. Even shattering at times. I may never feel like I am completely relaxed at church, but there can be a great blessing in that as well. Maybe I’ll always feel a little exposed and vulnerable. And maybe that is exactly the point.
I began to see what church might hold for me. I can choose to stop expecting a new home, a place where I am made comfortable by having friends, being spiritually fed, or appeasing my sense of duty – if I had one. Instead, I can choose to recognize that I don’t know what I need to learn. In this way, I am cognitively homeless. I have no goals. No pre-determined destination. No expectations. I can go to church as a choice to be somewhere where the refining fires are hotter. And “things that would take a lot of time to happen elsewhere can happen very fast.” That sounds exciting, actually.
They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17)
He shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 25:13)
We’re all sick. We’re all sinners. And the great Physician has a way for all of us to get what we need. Church is one of those “devices”. It is very much a hospital as Julia described it. Christ comes with “healing in his wings” to provide a way for all of us to qualify for our divine right of joint-heirship of all Father has. But perhaps we even have unrealistic expectations when we go to church to be healed.
Healing is a different process from cure. healing involves a spiritual and emotional reweaving of our life story to incorporate, not merely revoke, our injuries. It involves growth and personal change, maturation into a new state of deeper trust in God despite, not in the absence of, suffering. It includes acceptance of our lost innocence, while reaching toward greater wisdom. Healing does not mean going back to Eden but going forward through the wounding world of mortality to a wholeness that transcends rather than excludes evil. (Ulrich, The Temple Experience: Passage to Healing and Holiness)
So the next time you’re sitting in Sacrament meeting or Sunday School and feel acutely as if you are suffering, just remember that maybe, for you, that is exactly the point. Will you continue to suffer and murmur about your unmet expectations, or will you choose to walk directly into the fire and be healed? I don’t know what I’m going to discover, and what a great adventure that is!
The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. (Mark 2:27)