General Conference is nearly upon us, which means we are all but guaranteed to have at least one sermon on the Sabbath day, and how to keep it holy. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that I would ever be invited to speak at General Conference, but most Sundays I find myself composing an address to the greater Church membership on what they should say. I notice that the people who are giving talks are overwhelmingly male, in a patriarchal Church. In all likelihood most of the men speaking were busy at church meetings, doing calling stuff, or just being dads in the 1960s.
All of the speakers are long past the stage of having small children at home, and it is pretty clear that the further you are from parenting small children, the more you suppress the memories. My mother-in-law, whom I love and respect, once told me that she brought the kids early to Church so they could prepare for the Sacrament, and that they were able to be reverent. My father-in-law said “whose children were these?” My husband has a scar on his face from the time he flailed into the hymnal holder, gashed his skin, and had to be hauled screaming and bleeding to the ER to get stitches. Our General Authorities are of a similar age and distance from active badger raising. In short, the people who are telling me how I could better observe the Sabbath are people who have no idea whatsoever what Sunday morning actually looks like at our house.
Some of the advice I remember hearing in the past includes wearing our “Sunday best,” possibly all day long to encourage overall holiness. Families should prepare their clothing and bags the night before so the morning is peaceful and harmonious. You should arrive early so as to listen to prelude music and build a spirit of reverence. Small children may require amusement – this should include things like Gospel art pictures to look at during the Sacrament. After Church you should turn away little friends in favor of focusing on the family. Everyone should refrain from work, but also there should be a large special family meal. This should happen without mother working through a mysterious process that is perhaps only revealed in the Holy of Holies.
There is nothing wrong with any of this advice, and I bet it works like a charm if you’re 60 years old, have freezer meals, and no one else to interact with. I’m hella Christlike when I’m alone. But I would like to offer some more realistic goals – attainable goals. Goals that might help you reach a little higher, come a little closer to Sabbath peace, while also not being part of some fantasy world of retirement reverence.
How many times between awakening and sitting in the pew do you hear the words “I hate you” directed either at you, or a sibling? How often do you hear “I hate Church”? Anyone wishing out loud that you would drop dead? Next Sunday, keep count. One recent Sabbath in my home we got five in the course of an hour, which was actually pretty low for us. What could you, as a family, do to reduce the hateful invective by one? Is it possible to keep all family members separated from one another, while also getting ready? Could any or all family members wear noise cancelling headphones so that you can’t hear anyone saying “I hate you” which is practically the same thing as love at home?
In an ideal world your little angels would have styled hair, wrinkle-free fancy clothes, clean church shoes and a high level of personal hygiene. What is a realistic goal for your family? In my home my goal is clean underwear within the last 24 hours and everyone is wearing shoes. I’m not totally married to the second one, I can be flexible about it especially if the ground isn’t wet outside. The shoes do not need to match each other, and frequently they don’t. They do not need to be clean, on or the correct foot. They usually aren’t. If you’re shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace then loafers are superfluous. I know we own a pair of nice shoes for each child. Where they are is one of the mysteries of Godliness. Sometimes I can stretch beyond “are we wearing shoes” and I aim for “no graphic Ts.” Or if I’m really into it, we try for a polo shirt. Here’s a pro tip: Polo tops are reasonably comfortable. There is not reason on God’s green earth why your child can’t dress for Church the night before and sleep in their church clothes. Lay out the clothes the night before? We can do better than that! We can lie in the clothes the night before.
Ideally of course you would arrive early to Sacrament Meeting to build holiness and not be disruptive when your horde tromps in. But as part of your realistic goal setting, ask yourself how much time your children have in them to act domesticated instead of like feral weasels. My children have a maximum of forty minutes even when I drag bags completely full of graphic novels with me. Are these scriptural graphic novels? They are not. To me, church-themed entertainment is not a realistic goal because church-themed activities will hold their attention for no more than three minutes. My goal is that they are subdued and refrain from excessive writhing so I have a chance of catching a snatch of spiritual uplift. When you have determined both the outer limit of reverence, and a realistic estimate of what the average quiet period might be, consider how best to use it. For many people the most meaningful and important part of Church is taking the Sacrament. In that case, showing up on time makes sense. But maybe what you really need is to have an adult sharing adult thoughts about adult problems with Gospel solutions. In that case it’s more prudent to keep the barrel of monkeys at home, in the car, or in the foyer until the odds of catching a talk improve.
Misery loves company. Identify which children in the ward are about as ferocious and menacing as yours, and exchange phone numbers with the parents. Sometimes my best chance of resetting when we finally stagger in to Church is to text a dear friend whose home life looks like mine and describe our day so far. Or maybe I celebrate our successes – I met our Bishop in the foyer last Sunday and triumphantly announced “we’re here! Wearing pants!” and he celebrated with me because he has four small gremlins.
After my talk the Tabernacle Choir could favor us with a special musical interlude.
- Some holiness give me
- Striving with my children
- More patience in suffering
- Celebrating small wins
- More skin with no bite marks
- More hope they will have fun
- More willing to show up
- More thanks when it’s done