“On the seventh day . . . He rested.”
Sundays are meant to be a restful day; a designated 24 hours free of the concerns that plague us the rest of the week. And for most of my life, that’s what they’ve been for me: a day to recharge spiritually.
All my life, I looked forward to the Sabbath… Until I didn’t.
Because dealing with a chronic illness? It means a lot of missed Sundays. And here’s a fact that may come as a surprise to you: it’s really hard to have a meaningful church worship service when you’re not there.
So counterintuitive, I know.
As the missed Sundays began to rack up, I felt a gut-churning combination of guilt and panic. I so badly wanted to be at church on Sundays, but there wasn’t much that could be done when I was having a flare-up. Sunday had always been a day where I grew in my love for and understanding of the Savior, but was that going to end because of an illness beyond my control?
No. It absolutely wasn’t, not if I had anything to say about it. (Okay, there’s no way you can honestly tell me that sentence doesn’t make it seem like I should drop everything I’m doing to go change into a superhero cape. BRB.)
Here’s the thing: many of us will have seasons in our lives where we aren’t getting much out of church spiritually. Maybe you’ve got a new baby or feisty toddler that makes listening to the speakers and teachers hard; maybe you’ve got crippling social anxiety and it’s all you can do to be at church, let alone focus on lessons; maybe because of work that can’t be avoided (I see you, nurses, doctors, and so many others who sacrifice parts of their Sabbath to help others!), you’re not in church as often as you’d like. Whatever the scenario, your spirituality does not have to suffer because church isn’t as meaningful for you as it once was.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray and try to have a spiritually uplifting church experience, but when you feel like your spiritual gas tank is low and, due to unchangeable circumstances, church isn’t filling it up as much as it once was, here are some tips on how to stay spiritually connected to heaven.
1. Immerse Yourself in the Scriptures and Come, Follow Me
In my life, I’ve had times when scripture-reading became a checklist item for me. It wasn’t about feeding my spirit or strengthening my relationship with my Father in Heaven; it was about accomplishing something on my to-do list. But when my attitude has changed and I’ve treated the scriptures as a lifeline rather than an inconvenience, I’ve had some of the most soul-stirring and spiritually edifying experiences of my life.
Cali Black, the spiritual powerhouse behind Instagram’s @ComeFollowMeStudy, knows all about navigating life with a set of scriptures by her side. With a young child (and another on the way), she finds solace in scripture study each day:
“I feel very passionately about studying the scriptures. When I’m immersing myself in them for good chunks of time every day, even if I feel like I don’t “get much out of it,” the peace and spirituality that comes [from it] is so powerful. And when I do it each day, I’m just lifted up. It doesn’t matter how church went with a crazy toddler where I can’t pay attention, or how anything else goes — the scriptures really give me that personal ownership over my own spirituality and give me that connection above.”
Whether you’re consistently having profound experiences at church or can’t make it on Sundays due to difficult circumstances, scripture study is key.
In his April 2015 talk, “Is It Still Wonderful to You?” Bishop Gérald Caussé remarked:
“We should hunger and thirst every day after spiritual knowledge. This personal practice is founded on study, meditation, and prayer. Sometimes we might be tempted to think, ‘I don’t need to study the scriptures today; I’ve read them all before.’ . . .
But the gospel is a fountain of knowledge that never runs dry. There is always something new to learn and feel . . . in every verse of scripture.”
A friend of mine explained how she has found this true in her life, especially as she has implemented Come, Follow Me into her home:
“At church as I was wrangling [my son], I realized that this is why Come, Follow Me is important for my family. I don’t get anything out of church, so taking the time during the week in personal study and doing Come, Follow Me as a family is where my spiritual nourishment will come from.”
Scripture study — which is strengthened and assisted through the Come, Follow Me resource — is one of the greatest tools we have to draw closer to heaven, and they always work so long as we read them with a sincere desire to grow closer to our Heavenly Father. It’s just a matter of making time for them, whether that looks like reading when you first wake up, listening to them on your phone while you do the dishes, or sneaking in a few verses while you eat lunch. No matter the scenario, Heavenly Father will bless us for prioritizing them, especially when they become our only significant source of spiritual sustenance.
2. Recognize That Church May Not Be About YOU Right Now
Despite my eagerness to change into a superhero cape, I have a confession to make: after struggling with chronic illness for a few years and missing so many Sundays, I began to enjoy my scripture study more but found my desire to go to church waning. When I felt well enough to attend, I always went because I wanted to take the sacrament and I knew it was something Heavenly Father wanted me to do, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I felt like I’d heard the same lessons at church over and over, and wasn’t really getting a whole lot out of it.
And then Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson gave a talk in October 2017 that completely changed my perspective and reignited my desire to attend church. She said:
“Occasionally our children would ask us the question, ‘Why do I have to go to Mutual? I just don’t get very much out of it.’
If I was having a good parenting moment, I would reply, ‘What makes you think you go to Mutual because of what you get out of it?’
My young friends, I can guarantee that there will always be someone at every Church meeting you attend who is lonely, who is going through challenges and needs a friend, or who feels like he or she doesn’t belong. You have something important to contribute to every meeting or activity, and the Lord desires for you to look around at your peers and then minister as He would.“
Maybe when you attend church, it isn’t so much about what you are getting, but what you are giving.
So if you’re a parent with children desperately clamoring for your attention during sacrament meeting, rendering you unable to truly listen to the talks given, know this: you still have so much to give at church. Your kids, for one, are learning to love God and learning that you love Him. And you can sit by someone who is lonely, talk to someone who is struggling, comment in Relief Society or Sunday School when you get the chance, etc. — the list goes on and on.
“Church isn’t about me,” explained one of my former missionary companions. “We meet together to support each other and testify. So I try to be friendly and participate in discussions so I can support others. Even if I don’t get much out of church, maybe my brief interactions with others can help them.”
As I’ve shifted my perspective from “What am I getting out of church?” to “How can I serve someone at church today?” even the weeks where I don’t feel as spiritually uplifted as I would like have become fulfilling.
(Now, for those with a chronic illness who can’t even attend church, there is good news: you can still serve others and be spiritually strengthened. On the weeks I don’t feel well enough to go to church, I still find someone to serve by texting a ministering sister who has been on my mind, etc. It’s made all the difference in my church worship and relationship with the Savior.)
3. Prepare Before Sunday
As you’ve probably already gathered, I reached out to some friends of mine — particularly those with young children — as I was writing this article. I wanted to know how they cultivate spirituality in their lives even when Sunday isn’t the haven it once was.
They all had amazing answers, and I was struck in particular by a few friends who shared the role Sunday preparation has had on their worship. One explained:
“Taking time for conscious thoughts about taking the sacrament before Sunday [has helped me a lot]; to have that reverence in preparation so if I don’t get it during the moment, I still feel renewed.”
Preparing for the Sabbath by studying its significance, the life and works of Jesus Christ, and a host of other gospel-related topics can help us having a more meaningful Sabbath, whether that’s at church or, for those who are unable to attend, at home.
An LDS Blogs post similarly detailed how Sunday mornings became a significant source of spirituality in the author’s own home:
“I find it helpful to be the first one up, so I can have time to prepare my own spirit before trying to guide everyone else to a spiritual beginning. Putting on quiet, spiritual music can remind family members it’s a reverent day and set the tone.”
For more ways to prepare for church beforehand, read ChurchofJesusChrist.org’s article entitled “Are You Ready for What the Sabbath Offers?”
4. Cut Yourself Some Slack
One of the most comforting scriptures of all time is found in Alma 18:32 when Ammon is teaching King Lamoni. He teaches him:
“[God] looketh down upon all the children of men; and heall the thoughts and of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.”
God knows the intents and desires of our hearts. He knows that we are trying to have a spiritual experience; that we are trying to be a good example for those around us by going to church even when we aren’t finding the spiritual fulfillment we crave. He cares that we keep trying!
“[In April], Elder Holland gave a talk about getting to church early, but made a comment about how grace will always be applied to mothers walking in late with a trail of Cheerios behind them,” said another friend. “That hit me so hard and made me realize that God is completely aware of us and our efforts. We aren’t alone. And even though Elder Holland was specifically talking about young mothers, it also taught me that grace is applied to anyone having a tough season: infertility, divorce, etc. We all have a trail of something behind us when we come; for some, it’s Cheerios — but what matters is that we come.”
As Elder Holland said in another talk (he is obviously #inspo goals), “the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.”
The Lord knows our desires. He knows that we want to have a relationship with Him; that we want to feel His Spirit in our lives in abundance. And that matters so much to Him. He will bless us with His Spirit even when Sundays aren’t the beacon they used to be as long as we keep trying to prioritize Him.
Every season of our lives is different, but every season is beautiful in its own way because of the things we learn from it… Even the seasons filled with Cheerios.