This morning I did not go to church.
I did not read my Bible.
I prayed quite a bit, but I didn’t sing any Christian songs.
Not so many years ago, I would have been pretty sure there was a sin in there somewhere. Staying home on a Sunday morning when you didn’t have a fever or something gross and contagious was simply not done when I was a kid, at least not in our family. Granted, my dad didn’t have the option of skipping church for anything less than the most dire circumstances because he was the pastor. But it wasn’t just being the preacher’s kid – most of the kids in my Sunday School were in the same boat. No fever? No vomit? Quitcher bellyachin’ and put your good shoes on, we’re goin’ to church.
It’s not a bad pattern, all things considered. There’s even Biblical precedent for it, when we’re reminded not to “forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.” Or, in modern English, “Don’t skip church, like SOME PEOPLE, you know who you are.”
There are plenty more good patterns where that came from. “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Read your Bible every day!
“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Twice a day is even better!
As a teenager, I was never quite sure just how much Bible-reading and church-going was enough, so I decided to err on the side of caution and did it ALL. Somewhere along the line, though, the myriad well-meaning instructions drowned out the true voice of those Scriptures. There are so many books, so many sermons, so many words about the forms of our faith. There is immense value in those words, and I love reading about how other people have brought rhythm and structure to their days with their disciplines of faith. But it’s easy to get so lost in the form that we forget the eagerness and the delight that are meant to be the driving force behind the daily study. So quickly we fall into going to church because it’s Sunday, instead of going because the Church is going to be there.
When this habit starts being built more of guilt than of joy, I think it’s probably all right to break it now and then. Today was one of those days. I had a major musical performance planned for the afternoon, and I found myself gripped with an unexpected attack of nerves. This was well past queasy-tummy territory and approaching immobilized. I dropped my children off at church, and then I came home. I sat in the sunlight and read a book. I prayed a little. I had a late breakfast. I prayed a little more. I realized that I was useless at the moment, so I set my alarm for 45 minutes and got back in bed and pulled the covers over my head.
Not too surprisingly, God found me under my blankets, and I emerged feeling considerably better about life in general and the upcoming concert in particular. Was that church? No. But was it sin? I still have to say no.
In erring on the side of caution, I have spent over thirty years erring on the side of law. I think it is time to err on the side of grace.