I was assigned by Bishop Walker to give a talk in sacrament meeting today. The content of the talk, 3 Reasons for Missing Church, is as follows:
“The subject Bishop Walker asked me to speak on today is “Why does the church have meetings?” After he told me the assigned subject, I silently responded in my mind, “seriously…” for a myriad of reasons. As I contemplated on how to approach this topic, I decided to limit my focus on the three primary meetings. I concluded there is not enough time or desire to address all of the many other meetings we are expected to participate in our various Church callings.
“As I worked on an outline for this talk, a thought occurred to me. There are reasons we do not attend our church meetings as commanded as well as the reasons that we do. Therefore, I will discuss three reasons for missing church meetings.
“During my youth, serving as a full-time missionary, and then as a student at BYU, I always attended church every Sunday. I never thought of not going to my church meetings. Attending church was just a part of my life, my weekly ritual… I actually looked forward to it. However, after my marriage, I have had times of semi-inactivity, in one way or another. My excuses were pretty lame reasons and, in retrospect, very selfish reasons. There are three excuses I sometimes use for missing my church meetings. First, Church is boring. Second, the gospel imposes so many rules–that I do not measure up. Moreover, I regularly feel guilty and know I will never ‘make it’ anyway. Finally, I do not feel physically up to it every Sunday. Let me address each one of these reasons and excuses separately.
Church is Boring
“Church is boring because it is repetitious, predictable, and ritualistic… but so is life. The structure of the days of our lives is around cycles. Cycles of work, eating, sleeping, family, and recreation in all its various forms. Any of these activities can be boring if we do not strive to find something interesting or enjoyable about them.
“Sometimes my 5th-grade students tell me a certain lesson I have prepared for them is boring. I always respond, ‘It is because you have not tried to find something interesting or beneficial to you in it. YOU have made it boring!’
“For example, if someone is giving a talk or lesson, about the Word of Wisdom, one might automatically say in their mind, ‘I live the Word of Wisdom’ then tune out and think about or do something else. I know I have done this many times on many topics.
“However, if one made the effort, one could discover how to live the Word of Wisdom more fully because it is a commandment not only in word but also in spirit. Instead of drinking that three Pepsi’s a day, one might more fully live the Word of Wisdom in spirit by cutting their drinks down to one per day or even stop drinking them altogether. Instead of having an ice cream sundae every evening after dinner, one might limit those sundaes to once a week or better yet, cut them out completely, especially if one is overweight like me.
“Saying church is boring because the topics are repetitious and ‘I have heard it all a hundred times,’ usually infers other more deeply rooted problems.
“I recall telling Bishop Terry this once as an excuse for not being more active in some of my meetings. Almost surely, I’m sure he perceived my response as a ‘know-it-all’ attitude. I admit I do sometimes come across with an attitude of that nature. He responded with something like, “The Savior suffered for your sins, and the least you can do is come to church each week to show your appreciation and gratitude for that.” His point is well taken, and that statement sufficed for quite a while and still does.
“However, my underlying problem was selfishness, selfishness with my time, with which I still struggle with from time to time. If I was going to go to church, teach me something new or intellectually stimulating; in other words, entertain me.
“The objective of going to church is not for entertainment. It is to seek to build our relationship with our Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ, and our fellow man. One of the greatest scriptures in the standard works, in my opinion, is Matthew 22:35-39. For me, this scripture is the secret to our success in this life and the gospel. A lawyer asked Jesus: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Loving God is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
“The Savior taught the lawyer several principles. First, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Second, we are to love our fellow man likewise. Third, and these first two commandments imply this conclusion, we are to feel and have this love for ourselves. Fourth, all the other laws, ordinances, and commandments are of little value unless we are in possession of the emotion of love for God, our fellow man, and ourselves–this pure love of Christ.
“We can love our fellowmen, or ourselves, without loving God. However, we cannot love God without having a love for our fellowmen and ourselves. Not attending our church meetings, because we are bored or have heard it all, not only exercises and magnifies our selfishness, but also shows a lack of love and concern for God, our fellow men, and ourselves.
“The next excuse I have used in the past is that the gospel imposes so many rules and commandments of which I do not measure up. I constantly have a sense of guilt thinking, ‘I will never ‘make it’ anyway.’ The lack of self-efficacy is one of Satan’s favorite and most useful tools.
“I remember sitting in many church meetings, week after week during certain periods of my life, hearing about all of the things we should be doing to keep our covenants to obey all of the commandments. Things like paying a full tithe, maintaining a journal, attending all of our meetings, loving our fellow men and ourselves–and all the endless details those commandments entail, saying our daily prayers, reading and studying the scriptures daily, the list goes on ad infinitum.
“After these meetings, I remember feelings of doubt and discouragement. Feelings of ‘there is too much to do, that I will never make it anyway, so why keep trying? You know the Church is true; you love the prophets, are excited about all the good the Church is accomplishing, but you feel unworthy to picture yourself gaining a divine status. Your flame of hope is almost out, and you often feel like the Church is a burden rather than a blessing.’
“While self-reflecting on this quandary one day, I remembered a talk by Bruce R. McConkie where he made the statement about this predicament of mine. He stated, and I paraphrase, “If you will make an honest effort to do your best every day, after accepting the gospel and its saving ordinances into your life, and stay on the path of righteousness, and more importantly never give up, then, whether, in this life or the next, you will eventually “make it.” Whenever I get discouraged, I remember this promise and it gives me the hope I need to keep going.
“Satan desires to discourage us; therefore, he teaches us that we must earn the celestial kingdom. The need to earn this reward is a great lie. What could we possibly do to make billions of dollars in this life, let alone the celestial kingdom? We do not earn the celestial kingdom. We know it is a gift. It is freely available to all who apply, participate in the covenant of baptism, and then press forward, staying on the path of truth and righteousness, and never give up.
“The third reason, or excuse for me not currently attending all of my meetings, is I do not physically feel up to it. A week or so ago, Dale stopped my wife while she was walking one night. He asked her why I don’t consistently make it to priesthood meeting? He wondered if it was because I did not like the brethren. I like and respect everyone in my high priest’s quorum and yes Dale I like you.
“The reason I oft times skip priesthood meeting is that I have a bad back and sciatic nerve problems. This is problematic of my excess weight which I admit is my own doing. Sitting for more than one or two hours in church is very uncomfortable for me at times.
“However, as I reflected on Bishop Terry’s statement to me years ago about the Savior suffering for my sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, I have renewed my commitment to attend all of my church meetings every Sunday no matter how “uncomfortable” it may seem to be. So thanks for this opportunity Bishop Walker, I do not know if inspiration was involved or if I was the last person on your list? I hope it was the former in that I have greatly benefited from the preparation of this talk as well as I hope some of you have.”