Get Me to the Church on Time — Or, Not

There is this pervasive, and perverse, belief in Christian communities that one of the hallmarks of a true believer is the tendency to get up early– really early, say 5 a.m. or 4:30.

Some people enjoy sunrise, and others celebrate sunset. Spirit of the Canyon by Steve Henderson, available as an original and a signed limited edition print.

Otherwise, you’re a sluggard, the Proverbs one.

This verse (Proverbs 6:9 if you promise not to slap someone with it) is enough to quash those mutinous insurrectionists who mildly observe that weekly church services start a little early, especially for families with kids who need to get up, rouse the offspring, feed the nestlings, dress everyone to the nines, stuff them in the vehicle and arrive, on time, and in a state of worshipful adoration.

After all, if you got up at 5, you’d have hours enough and more for a leisurely breakfast and “quiet time,” which, incidentally, sounds like something we impose on pre-schoolers.

Years ago, when the progeny was young and we did the Sunday morning rush, I commented to an older woman on how stressful this was.

“I never had a problem with it,” she stared me down. “I just prepared everything the night before and got up early. God is important to me.”

I got the message: her God is not important to me. True, actually. I’m looking for the real one.

As the years went by, we became accustomed to being the appostates who always arrived late, didn’t stay for Sunday School, and never participated in communal evening groups, simply because we were determined to not only observe, but to enjoy, the Sabbath day of rest. And yes, I know we’re not Jewish and we observed the day on Sunday not Saturday, but the day’s made for us and not us for the day, and what mattered to us was the “rest” part.

Ironically, once you’re past the age of 6, it takes work to relax. Dandelions by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art

Interestingly, as you read through the Old Testament and what it says about the Sabbath, “worship service” and everything associated with it does not come into factor. Rather, the emphasis was on God’s gift to a people who  worked, and worked hard, six days a week, with the Sabbath being a welcome, and literal, day of rest.

You didn’t cook. You didn’t milk the animals, plow the fields, answer e-mail messages from the office or get a few hours in on the project that should take three weeks to complete but was allotted eight days. You also did not feel obliged to spend your morning preparing your household to a state of perfection and rushing out the door in time to catch the first two songs preceding the morning announcements (which are a verbal repetition of the information printed in the bulletin you were handed as you whooshed through the portals).

Judaism101 describes the Sabbath as “a day of great joy eagerly awaited throughout the week, a time when we can set aside all of our weekday concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits.”

This is hardly how we felt, coming home after the weekly rush; coming down from an artificial environment of happy faces masking tired, discouraged people; sensing that, somehow, we just weren’t “Christian” enough. We certainly slept in past 4:30 a.m. on a regular, chronic basis.

Whatever joy we were supposed to have found in the event it took so much time and stress to prepare for, we never did.

We now spend our days of rest focusing on deeper, higher things. Bold Innocence by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Eventually, we freed ourselves from the tyranny, one by one releasing the ropes mooring us to the dock, setting out on an unexpected and unsought for journey as independent Christians who no longer attend church — not because we’re dissident provacateurs, but because we’re patient people who gave, and gave in, and compromised to the demands of the institution to the point that, like Popeye, we stood all we could and we couldn’t stoods no more.

And now, on the Sabbath, we rest, set aside our weekday concerns, and devote ourselves to the pursuit of higher things.

Finally, it is a day of joy.

The images in this blog are paintings by Steve Henderson, the Norwegian Artist. Steve sells his work in both original and signed limited edition print form, both on the website, and on The Norwegian Artist,  a newly opened Etsy store.

Because Steve believes in getting real art in the homes of real people, he and his manager wife, Carolyn (Middle Aged Plague) set up customized, interest-free payment plans for interested buyers. If you see something that you like, but don’t know how to go about paying for it, Contact Steve and Carolyn and they will work with you.




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15 Responses to “Get Me to the Church on Time — Or, Not”

  1. mplstim says:

    well, isn’t this special?
    I’m sure the Lord can learn a lot from your insight about how the world should revolve around you-you-you .
    And how perverse is that horrible old institution the church that’s always telling you how to live your lives.
    How dare the Lord;how double-dare His church!!!
    When it’s so clear, it’s YOU who is in charge of telling everyone how to live…..
    And now you are free to worship when, where and how, as you see fit….just hope you don’t fall into the pool while doing your oblations to your god…..

  2. mplstim says:

    so, how’s your love and acceptance of your former church member/fellows going??

    It’s sort of, well, disingenuous, to preach love and acceptance when you practice the opposite:
    do you really think you, you, you, suddenly are the ones who discovered the true way to worship Christ, leaving all these loser church people aside???

    are you that smug?

    You know, one possible alternative, is to be…. humble.
    Consider that what it seems to you must not be quite the deal; since everyone else on the church sees it differently;.
    and just be …. what? Obedient.??? would that kill you:???
    forsaking not the assembling of yourselves together..????

    or do you have a better plan???

    • I have a strong suspicion that you and I would not enjoy sitting in the same room together, knitting and drinking tea.

      I am glad that you find joy and satisfaction in your worship situation, and I wish you the best as you interact with the believers and non-believers that God sends into your life and your day.

      As you observe, humility is a great thing. It takes a lifetime, and much reliance upon Christ and His grace, to move towards it.

  3. Laura says:

    To each their own. We all have a spiritual journey that must become personal & have meaning. I applaud you for changing what wasn’t “working for you”….and as a Christian I believe you’ll maintain a relationship with Christ. Maybe you’ll find another worship experience or church. Nevertheless, I will not judge you, as the bible says I shouldn’t. Good luck with your journey!

    • Thank you, Laura.

      Oddly, or maybe no so much, we have experienced major and significant spiritual growth in the years that we have been out of the church loop. After more than 25 years of consistent church attendance and attempting to fit in, the little church that broke the camel’s back was just that — the last straw. We determined that we were happier, and healthier, outside the environment, and while there would be people who would never understand that, that’s okay.

      I write what I write not so much to convince people to follow our path — we’re the only ones who can do that, and only they can walk the path set before them – but to not walk blindly without questioning. When something is wrong, it’s worth speaking up about, and just because the pastor or the elders or the leadership council decree that something is so, this does not necessarily make it so. We must all think these things through, prayerfully and before Christ, for ourselves.

      We are all priests before Christ, each one individually responsible before Him to walk the path He points.

  4. Carolyn,
    I grew up Catholic… If you miss church, it’s a mortal sin and if you die between missing church and confession (to the priest) you’d supposedly go straight to he’ll. I never believed this for a second, so at the age of 10, when hearing the gospel for the first time, I knew it was the truth… That we can never be perfect and that all our works mean nothing to God. That Jesus, who is God did the work to pay for our sins.

    I don’t have any children, but I have to say that I rarely felt any love from others at Christian services. I was a misfit.. When I was younger, older women would hint that I was avoiding God’s will by not having children. Both my husband and I were infertile. We didn’t have money to adopt… And I’m not good with children. No one ever asked me or cared about why we didn’t have children, and except for the few people who became close friends outside of church (they couldn’t conceive either) no one cared about me or even wanted to get to know me beyond seeing me as a warm body who they could fill a job… Usually asking me to work in the nursery… Which is definitely not a good place for me.

    I do go to a very small church in the country. We are all late, it’s filled with old people, and they are still upset with me because I don’t bake goodies and have never joined. As The Lord’s child, I am already a member of his church. I don’t attend often. Last week, I spend Sunday morning on my own reading Scripture and it was an amazing time. I enjoy attending a small Bible study in the community much more than services… Which sometimes feel like a place for controlling People to push their expectations on others.

    Without love, the spirit of God is not in us. I do agree that organization is good in a church, but without genuine love and care, our gatherings are worthless to God no matter how much ‘good’ we think we do by attending. God did us one of his own so we could constantly judge those around us. In fact, we are all in danger of judgement except for God’s grace to forgive us. Our Lord Jesus said that the Pharisees were not of God because they followed rules made by men, and they informed them upon the people while not lifting a finger to help with their burdens.

    A loving Christian would have seen your struggle and asked how she and others might help. God was not important to her as much as her pride was. If God were truly important to her, she would have shown you love and compassion. God is not impressed with perfection. In fact we can never attain it. That’s why he reprimanded Martha for being worried about all the details and said she shouldn’t criticize Mary for sitting atnhis feet … Because Mary was doing the right thing.

    The fact that you were at church, even though late, is what’s important. At the final judgement, you will be forgiven, and I really doubt that God will list not getting up at the break of dawn. After all, he didn’t even condemn his decibels for falling asleep he was facing his arrest and torment.

    It is human nature to form rules, be prideful and then enforce those rules on others, but God’s way is to judge the heart.
    To anyone else who wants to rail in on what I just said, I won’t defend myself, so don’t even bother.

    I understand Carolyn. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thank you, Lori, for sharing your experience so honestly and beautifully. Thank you also for your affirmation of acceptance.

      I, too, was raised Catholic, and when I initially encountered Christ, I couldn’t believe the freedom and joy. Without realizing it, though, I was gradually pulled into a system set up by human beings with rules that were not as clearly laid out as they were in the Catholic Church.

      I like the sound of your small, friendly church — and someday, if we find something open, accepting, and relaxed (not perfect — I recognize that), then we may try it again. For a short time in our church attendance career we did go to a place that was friendly, funky, and warm, but that changed as the leadership did. So I know that places like this exist, but it’s not necessarily permanent, and the best thing is to enjoy what we can, when we can.

      For now, our journey has us on a wild, twisted path that not a lot of people walk on. Fortunately, however, Christ is on it with us, as He is on the path of all of His children.

  5. My iPad auto spell… Of course I meant disciples, not decibels. You can have a laugh, but hopefully catch my meaning.

  6. Carolyn, although the members get there at the last possible minute, I would guess that only anhandful are true believers. Some are there because they are lonely, some to worship the historical building we meet in (and can’t afford to maintain), and some strictly to get others to support their agenda. A few are there to worship.

    I don’t attend regularly, and did not attend church for several years for reasons similar to yours. I do believenthat one can remain close to Christ and grow outside of the ‘institution’. Where ever two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there. My husband and I took up praying together every night about 25 years ago, so I guess that is a church of 2, eh?

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I think we might get along very well. I used to knit a lot before I got back into painting. I miss it.

    Take care, Lori

    • Lori: I agree — I think that you and I would enjoy knitting together very much. Who knows? Maybe some day we will. Life is unpredictable — that’s about the most predictable thing about it!

      I would say that your attenders who are there because they are lonely are the ones doing the strongest seeking — as believers, or as people drawn to Christ and longing to meet him. I commented to Steve the other day, “Do you notice how some of the most content people have an element of sadness about them as well?” It is only through walking through our trials, the ones that drive us to our knees and into Christ’s arms, that we find that contentment. It’s an interesting combination — not black and white, but muted and blended.

      Two or more gathered in His name — that makes it pretty clear that it is possible to encounter God outside of modern traditional interpretation. Yes, He is there with you and your husband, and in the quiet of your surroundings, you can hear His voice without distraction.

      He is Everywhere, waiting for us to stop whatever it is that we’re clanking about doing and listen. There is much comfort in knowing that, regardless of how we behave, He doesn’t leave.

      • Virginia Davidson says:

        I don’t knit much, though I do have a project partway done. I wish I could join you two! Maybe I could bring some glass to foil while y’all play with the yarn. :)

        I’m grateful for the fellowship we can find even by way of electronics. Slough off the nasty, soak up the cheering and helpful. So much glory in His people and His Truth–all kinds of everywhere!…even online. :)

        Thanks for distributing beauty from your corner of the country. I’ll look forward to more!

        • Virginia: I wonder if there will be a little corner of heaven for all of us knitters to get together? I’m thinking that we might need a mighty big corner, and this being heaven and all, we will welcome the crocheters and tatters and weavers and spinners as well!

          I wish you best on your partially completed project, and rejoice with you as you gently work on it. The process is as important as the completed project, I’ve noticed.

          Thank you for joining me here!

  7. Paula says:

    I, like you, quit going to my regular church 5 or 6 years ago due to frustrations with not feeling like I was receiving the word of God.

    I grew up Lutheran, switched to Methodist when I got married, & stayed a devoted member for 20 years while my children grew up, taking part in different areas in the church where I was needed. Throughout these 20 years I never felt fulfilled, like I was hearing the Word and became increasingly frustrated. I also felt the church I was attending was more about the organizations and going through the motions, and yes, an artificial environment.

    I quit attending church for several years. Did I miss it? Not at first. Then one day, feeling I wanted more spirituality, more of the Word, I took a challenge I heard on the internet called “The Bible in 90 days”. Basically you just read the Bible in 90 days. I prayed about this task (if I should really do it) and ordered my special Bible (it is premarked into sections to read every day) and took the challenge on Jan. 1.

    It changed my life. I have always been a Christian, never doubting the word of God, but reading that Bible cover to cover changed how I looked and felt about things. I found myself witnessing at work, crying while I was reading and couldn’t believe how reading the Bible in this particular way changed how I looked at things.

    Slowly I realized I wanted to attend church again. I needed the weekly fulfillment and worshiping with others. I found a new church where I felt it was about the word of God and not so much about the works you do. I did switch back to Lutheran from Methodist, but don’t think this is the only reason for the differences in the church. It seems as if the members truly are there to hear the word of God and in turn WANT to serve Him. Is this church perfect? By no means, no! The members aren’t perfect. But I feel if the word of God is center, member’s hearts will be where they need to be for the most part, and therefore attending that church can be a joyous, fulfilling experience!

    • While I haven’t embarked on a 90-day challenge (Wow!), I have, over the last three years especially, immersed myself in the Bible because I so desperately wanted to figure out who God is, and the best way to do that is to read His word itself, as opposed to assimilating it through the words of others. Like you, I am thunderstruck, each day discovering something new and exciting, the reading building upon itself and working through my mind so that my thoughts are constantly revolving around Him.

      And, like you, I have a growing desire to reconnect with His people on a regular basis, but haven’t yet found the venue. Graciously, He tosses us in the same room with others of His children, some of whom attend church services, many of whom do not, but we are circulating amongst an eclectic group of believers in all walks of life and experiences.

      We take it day by day, sometimes moment by moment, grateful for each step forward.

      I am so happy for you that you found a group of likeminded people and that you are able to connect on a regular basis — and it is exciting to read your excitement of the most important relationship of all — ours with the Creator of the Universe. God’s blessings upon you, Paula.

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