I have often gone to church, on Sundays or holy days or holidays, even though I didn’t “feel like it.” I did it again today, although the reason was very different.
When I was young I went to church if I didn’t “feel like it” because I was raised Roman Catholic. You went to church when you were “supposed” to go – that is, when the Church said you had to. Not that I usually minded. I was one of those odd kids who liked going to church. Still, when all is said and done, it was based on the thought that it was a sin not to go on those days the Church said you should. I knew I didn’t want to haul around the guilt of intentionally not going to church if I wasn’t “prevented by just cause.” You know, sicker than a dog.
Through high school and college, in the late 60’s and early 70’s, I went to church because I really wanted to. I was finally able to be involved more in the Mass – helping to plan the Masses at my college and, later, reading the lessons at the Episcopal church I attended (after I had been received into the Episcopal Church). I loved being Episcopalian – being a female did not exclude me from participating in the liturgy in an active way. That was something I had always yearned to do.
After college and marriage, I became very active in the church we belonged to. At various times, I was a lay reader, on the vestry, president of the women’s group, Sunday School teacher, etc, etc . . . We had a new priest and, although he and I never saw eye to eye on most things, we got along. After a while, though, I wondered if he wasn’t a priest in the wrong religion. Everything had to be his way or the highway. After 10 years, it started to take a toll.
I started to feel like I was going to church and participating in activities because I “had to.” I went to church because I should, not because I wanted to. When I went to church, I prayed to see God revealed in the Sacrament and not the priest who was causing so much anger and pain in me. I always knew God was there with me, in or out of church, but I was really growing weary of trying to be a good Christian, handle all this in the “right way” and stay in the church that was like my family.
After 20 years, an incident occurred that caused me to finally make that decision to leave and go to a different parish. I was on the Vestry at the time, and during a meeting, when I had disagreed with something the priest had decided, he asked an older man to remove me from the meeting – physically!! Of course, the man would not do it. But I was so angry, I couldn’t think or speak. I removed myself from the meeting and never returned to that church.
The very next Sunday, I began attending the parish I now belong to. The atmosphere was so different, I wanted to go to church again. And wonderful things began happening in my personal life, too. It was as if leaving that other parish had freed up all the good in my life. Shortly afterward, I started dating my present husband, whom I’ve often described here as an angel God sent into my life.
My husband starting coming to church because he knew how important it was to me, to have that sacramental contact. I started missing church occasionally, even when I wanted to go, because I knew he liked to be able to do things on Sundays sometimes. Life is certainly built of compromises, and I felt if God had put this wonderful man in my life, He would be okay if I did something else on Sunday mornings occasionally.
Since I started attending the parish I’m now a member of, we have had 2 priests retire and 2 interim priests. We have recently hired our third full time priest. The first priest, who had been there when I arrived, had done some wonderful things to “grow” the parish and retired when the time was right. We had a good interim priest after him, though the preaching wasn’t very exciting. When we hired the second priest, our hopes were high. But as time passed through the ten years before he retired, the parish was obviously going downhill. Members were leaving. I didn’t notice it at first. I was apparently so traumatized by my treatment at the prior parish, that I had not let my heart and mind be involved in the new parish, even after over 10 years. I had been content to go to church, be bored by the sermons, read the lessons occasionally and let other people pay attention to what was going on. I was going to church because I wanted to – sort of. I was also starting to look for reasons not to go, I belatedly realized. I was definitely feeling like I “didn’t feel like it.”
I suppose I should clarify what I mean when I say I “didn’t feel like it.” There are really many things encompassed in that statement. Sometimes “I don’t feel like it” means I’m really tired and would prefer to sleep. Sometimes it means I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to push myself. There are times it means I’m in too much pain due to my fibromyalgia to be able to focus on the service. At times, it means there’s something else I’d really prefer to do. It can even mean I’m feeling rather anti-social and don’t want to see even people I really like and care about.
Today, things were different. My body was dragging due to the fibromyalgia but my heart and soul wanted to be there. Since we hired the new priest, going to church has become the joy it used to be. I don’t want to miss even one sermon if I can help it. I like the spirituality that’s coming back to the parish. So today, even though I “didn’t feel like it,” I couldn’t stand the thought of not going more.
There’s something to be said for doing something even if you “don’t feel like it.” More often than not, it pays off in ways you never even expected.
So even if you don’t “feel like it,” go to church. Visit God and see what he has in mind for you. You might be very surprised.