The Real Reason We Skip
The same topic came up the other day in two separate conversations and it was so important, I thought I would take the time in the middle of my “blogging sabbatical” to commit this one to writing, right away.
It’s summertime, and naturally things get relaxed in many aspects of life, including church participation. The “summer slump” is very real, but cannot be explained away by people being gone on vacation. If that were the case, we’d have to believe that a sizable number of our parishioners take three month vacations!
Don’t get me wrong–there’s nothing wrong with relaxation. After all, it was even a part of the creation of the world, as God Himself rested on the Seventh Day! But during the lazy days of summer when we are perhaps more likely to skip church, shorten or even skip our prayers, neglect the fasts and other efforts of our Christian spirituality, let’s understand the true cause. We can tell ourselves all the rationalizations we can come up with: “it’s OK to miss once in a while,” or “it’s was too nice a day to stay off the course,” or “I just need a little down time.” And as much as any of these may seem like the reason we skip, none of them are. And no, the reason is not laziness either, as obvious as that might seem. So what’s the real reason? This takes a bit of a set-up, so stick with me on this one.
We Orthodox pride ourselves on our worship more than anything else. We build beautiful structures as the setting for worship, adorn those churches with beautiful icons, and sing beautiful words set to beautiful music. We talk about our worship in the loftiest of terms: we call it heavenly worship, here on earth. We say that we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” alongside the angels in Heaven. We look at the icons and say that we stand not just before the paint and wood, but before the Holy Ones they represent. We say we worship God and even receive Him into ourselves in His Body and Blood. So we say lots of incredible things about our worship. Then please tell me: if we really believe those things, how could we possibly want to be anywhere else? If we really meant those things, how silly would it sound to say things like:
“I can’t really spend time receiving Christ today. I have a morning tee time.”
“I went to church last Sunday, so instead of singing with the Angels in Heaven this morning, I think I’ll stay home, have a cup of coffee and read the paper.”
“Yes, to stand before my icons to pray is a taste of Heaven, but I think I’ll just sleep in a bit instead.”
I doubt any of us could bring ourselves to utter those words, because they sound so ludicrous. They sound ludicrous because they are. So whether during the lazy days of summer or at any time, let’s realize the one and only reason we could or would ever miss out on any of the blessings of our Orthodox Christian life: we don’t really get it. We really don’t get the sheer magnitude of the gifts God offers to us in our prayer and worship. It’s like someone trying to give us a two pound solid gold bar and we think it’s just another brick. And we since are aren’t even close to correctly valuing these opportunities, we easily trade them in for things of the same relative low value. Despite what we might have assumed, we don’t skip church or prayers of any of our spiritual efforts because we’re lazy or because we tell ourselves it’s no big deal. We skip because we don’t know a Big Deal when we see one.
The love of God, as exhibited in the life and words of Jesus Christ and revealed to us through the Holy Spirit, is the biggest Big Deal there ever was. Ever. And our Orthodox Christian worship and spirituality is THE way that God has ordained for us to encounter this Big Deal. Every service, every prayer is nothing short of an encounter with God. But here’s our Catch 22: attending services, praying and fasting is the way we comprehend how big a deal it really is, but because we don’t recognize the big deal, we skip out on church services and prayers, all the while telling ourselves all manner of trite and inaccurate things as the reasons why we skip.
There’s only one way out of this vicious cycle: showing up. If skipping out is the problem, showing up is the solution. And getting ourselves to show up when we don’t necessarily see the value is a pretty big step to take. You might even call it a “giant leap.”
In a few short weeks, the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the Moon, on July 20th 1969. His words on that historic occasion could also be used in our attempts to experience the miracles God is waiting for us to experience. Deciding to show up instead of skipping out on a service or a time of prayer might seem like “One small step for a man,” but would be a “giant leap” in our response to the priceless and invaluable love God intends to share with us, when draw near to Him, with “the fear of God, with faith and with love.”
So let’s stop fooling ourselves, making false assumptions and holding to ludicrous ideas. Let’s push past the resistance of our lack of understanding of what God is offering to us. Let’s show up, and meet the God Who shows up too, ready to offer us the priceless treasure of sharing Himself with us.