This last Sunday I didn't go to church. I had been on the verge of getting sick, hadn't been sleeping well, and was absolutely exhausted. In spite of that, I had considered attending. After all, I live right next door and I really should go to church, right? But I decided that I needed to stay home. Not only to prevent myself from getting sick, but because a few months ago I noticed a bigger problem that I wanted to address.
When I was in the midst of American Evangelical Culture, there seemed to be few quicker ways to peak someone's concern for your spiritual well being than to let them know that you hadn't attended church or that you didn't have a "home church." Often such concern was justified by pointing to Hebrews 10:25 which reads "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more so as you see the Day approaching." Looking back, it strikes me as odd that in a place such as CCC where people were going to daily chapel, taking required Bible classes, meeting in small groups or hall Bible studies, etc. that the simple act of missing one Sunday service was seen as a sign that you were giving up on "meeting together." But I digress.
I've mentioned before that from time to time I notice habits or assumptions that I still hang onto from all my years in that culture. Earlier this year, I had noticed another. My family was visiting and we had been working hard with their help to finish some painting and other work that would help us get settled into our house. We had stayed up late into the night one Saturday in order to finish a room. Because of that, I overslept Sunday morning. I woke up 20 minutes before that last Sunday morning service. That isn't anything notable in and of itself, but my reaction to it was.
I got upset. I asked everyone else why they hadn't woken me up. "You were exhausted. We thought you needed to sleep." I was quickly letting my emotions get the best of me. I nearly burst into tears as I said "I wanted to go to church." That's when it hit me. This wasn't about me wanting to go to church. It was about me feeling guilty if I didn't.
I spend at least one afternoon a week at the church helping out. I volunteer in a number of capacities and participate in multiple programs there. Between the Bible study resources at my house, the vast options available on the internet, and the number of like minded friends I have who would always be up for some spiritual conversation and prayer, I wasn't lacking in ways to engage with God. I simply hadn't ever fully shaken the guilt that was driven into me during my time as an Evangelical that should I miss a church service for less than acceptable reasons, God was disappointed with me. I don't believe that anymore. But my subconscious hadn't shaken it's automatic response that if I missed church, my faith might be faltering.
I vowed to battle those automatic thoughts and not let them take over like that again. So when I recognized that same battle brewing in my mind this past Sunday, I decided to stay home. I enjoyed a quiet morning of rest, contemplation, and prayer. Afterwards, I knew I had made the right choice. I will never be able to fully embrace the freedom of true faith if I allow myself to be motivated primarily by guilt.