‘Tis the new year, and with it come resolutions. After I get over my Christmas chocolate stupor, it’s back to salads and low fat dressing. Somehow, there seems to be an appreciable spike in participation at the gym, and the line-up to get a lane in the pool seems to be a little longer than usual. For some of us, we give up on our resolutions after a few weeks; there is an initial flourish of activity around our new regimen, but then life gets in the way. It’s back to chocolate, skipping breakfast, and letting the gym bag collect some dust. But, if we get beyond the flourish and stick with it, over time it all feels more pleasurable. On this journey, we have days when the food tastes better than other days. Sometimes, we feel a little hungry, but other days the moments of hunger are outweighed by feeling better and lighter when we get up in the morning. When we go to the gym, there are good workouts and bad workouts. There are days when we are really into it and other days where we just need to slug it through. It’s never all bliss all the time, but if we do not come regularly we miss out on the all the good stuff. Regular participation brings more joy.
When it comes to church, we may have a flourish of commitment before we find other things to do on Sunday morning. Perhaps after a few weeks, something happens that annoys us. The sermon was punching our buttons or someone breezed by us in the hallway and seemed to be ignoring us. The Sunday school lesson or the choir rehearsal was a little dry. So while we may have had a few good Sundays, one Sunday leaves us a little cold and we find ourselves drifting. Maybe we want to come back but our kids give us a little heat. So it’s back to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal and coffee on Sunday morning. After all, it’s the only day we have off, so why bother with the messiness of church.
But for those who stick with it, we discover that our joy increases and builds over time. We need to expect and endure some of the rough patches to receive the benefit which springs from being in a regular pattern. Every Sunday, we are given another blessing and another chance to be in community and to encounter the living God. We get another Sunday to experience forgiveness. When our kids are reluctant to come, it’s really ok as parents to insist they come and not give them an option. More often than not, after we got them out of bed and they expressed some resistance, kids tell us at Sunday lunch that they were glad they came. With time, there is less resistance. It was Annie Lamot who, when her 10 year old son asked why he had to come to church, said, “because I am bigger than you are”!
For those of us who lead worship and take responsibility on Sunday mornings, we come to do our best. We know sometimes that we connect better on some days than others. Jeremiah Wright said at a preacher’s conference a few years ago, that preachers, like good artists, must realize that every sermon cannot be a masterpiece. As Wright said, what people do not understand about Picasso is that for every masterpiece which is proudly displayed in some gallery, there are three other works of art which were clunkers and resigned to the attic. Sometimes, the clunkers are experiments which culminate in something better, but we needed a few dry patches to get there. I would also add that one person’s masterpiece is another person’s clunker. It’s a little trial and error as we try to figure it out.
Investing ourselves in coming to church over time offers a much better benefit than just popping in once in a while and hoping every word and interaction will be a home run. Of course, for some of us, popping in for a while is how we begin the journey before we hit out groove. The good news is that we are given a chance everyday to be renewed and transformed. All of us get that second chance which is, of course, the blessing of being in a faith community. Don’t worry what you did or did not do before. Just begin, live a life of second chances, and give the rest to God.