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Worship 101

By Jennie LaFortune


“May the odds be ever in your favor,” she leaned over and whispered in my ear.  I could feel the light weight of her body rest against me and her subtle perfume smell drifted through the air.  I gave her a side glance, wide eyes, and a here-we-go-smile as our mutual understanding though silent was definitely felt. We were quiet observers.  We watched the church goers file in continuously one after another as the sacrament meeting began or had long since begun. Eyes quickly glanced around looking for open seats.  People were noticed and friends beckoned as “How Firm a Foundation” echoed up to our balcony seating.   As the familiar structure of opening prayers, plodding hymns, and humble talks continued, I  started thinking about my Sunday worship – spurred on from my friend’s earlier comment.  Maybe she said what we were all thinking. I noted the vast shapes and ages, styles, and trials as they walked up the stairs. I liked the variation.  It used to panic me.

Let me explain.  My ward has six Relief Societies and three Elders Quorums.  We number between 700-800 people strong.  Or kind of strong, depending on whom you ask.

Welcome to the mid-singles ward.  Let the games begin.

While the cold facts may conjure up images of huddled masses of desperation, to be fair, it’s quite functional from my perspective.  Granted, I have the luxury and problem of being anonymous and coming and going as I please which breeds a type of complacency in my church going habits, but there are masses to be sure, but they include incredible worshipers, leaders, and people as well as what you may or may not be imagining.

I know how it is supposed to work.  You go to church every Sunday.  You take the sacrament and are quiet.  There are hymns, talks, and lessons, a few hellos, conversations, and you leave with more holiness.

In theory.  But there are a few things missing from that equation.

The week before the “hunger games” observation I received an email from a close friend living out of state with her husband and new baby. She said,

“It is so hard to go to church when Jack is screeching and everyone in Gospel Doctrine turns around to look at the show. Do I walk the halls? What is the point? I spent 4 years serving a very NEEDY ward and I feel a little spent/checked out now. A lot was asked of us – especially in my YW calling. And, I want a break. I know it is horrible to admit. I have a bad attitude about it and I don’t know how to shake it. I have never felt this way about church before- I’ve always done what was asked willingly. But, lately, I’d rather catch up on sleep.”

As I sat through the rest of the meetings I knew my intent needed recharging.  That simply enduring three hours without my own resolve is not enough for my worship, for my strength, for my connection to the very reason that gets me to church each week. Hearing others’ honesty about the Sunday routine helped me realize I’m not the only one, and that some of the best souls struggle with worship as well- single and married. And it’s ok.

Church and testimony are cyclical, not a linear line of tasks that once completed can be checked off.  If we come back again and again and strive outside of the arena just as much or more as we do on ‘game day’ we can learn and relearn the intricacies of true worship. I’ve let the sheer size and focus on socialness fade personal worship.  I’m remembering it’s an inside job and largely how my Sunday worship goes is up to me. My focus and resolve has developed a strong sense of ADD on Sundays, and while understandable, church isn’t living up to its design. I’m realizing habits, thoughts, and actions spiraling over and over and over again is a necessary form of worship inside and outside of Sunday – and maybe that’s where the odds become in our favor.

Do you ever struggle getting to church, and once there remaining present?  How do you make church meaningful while cutting  yourself slack to the realities of your demands? What do you do to reevaluate why it is meaningful and important part of your spiritual life?

*post script: the day after I posted this I got a calling as compassionate service leader.  Coincidence?  I think not.  I guess admitting I need to muster resolve from the inside out and start contributing or enhancing my worship was definitely heard in some way.  Yikes:)


About Jennie LaFortune

(Prose Board) is from Salt Lake. Figuring life out one book, beach, road trip, museum, and front porch conversation at a time. Perpetually on the search for the best dark chocolate, finest pen, and greenest field. When she's not teaching high school, she loves to spend time with friends and family, the shore of any ocean, holding her friends' babies, or taking long neighborhood walks.

15 thoughts on “Worship 101”

  1. I can really relate to the email your friend sent. My husband and I are approaching our 10th anniversary and we have always chosen to live in urban (& needy) wards as we finished schooling and began his career. I'm expecting our 4th child and in the last (almost) 10 years I have served as YW Pres, RS Pres for 3 years, 2 Primary presidencies, the one and only gospel doctrine teacher in a ward (so I had to prepare every week). My husband has served as YM Pres, EQ Pres, HP group leader, and in a bishopric. The most recent big calling I had was RS Pres and I'm sad to say it was not a good experience. I felt completely taken advantage of by my ward. There are very wealthy & successful people in our ward and people in poverty because we're urban. After I was released as RS Pres I was extended another big calling and I said no for the first time ever. I'm currently serving as RS choirster and I love it. Our bishopric was recently released (including my husband), I have told him that right now I will not support him in another big calling — we're taking a break until this 4th baby is about 4 or 5 years old. I don't feel guilty about it at all. 🙂 I absolutely love driving to church with my husband in the car, no meetings after church, and enjoying our sabbath day as a family. Sometimes you just have to say no and give someone else a turn to learn and grow.

  2. I struggled when my kids were all small and my husband was the Bishop – I hardly heard a thing in the sacrament meeting. I hoped that struggling through this would mean this time would pass and it did. I remember one Stake Conference i joined the Stake Choir so I could sit on the stand and watch him struggle with the children for a change. The funny thing is I can't sing and mimed all of the songs.

  3. I was divorced last fall and my ex-husband still attends church with our ward, even though he is no longer officially a member and doesn't even live in our ward boundaries. It's been hard to try to get myself and my two teenagers to want to attend when my ex is there, staring at us from across the chapel or causing a scene just outside the building doors. I know I need to attend because that spiritual boost literally helps get me through the week, but I hate feeling so awkward with him there. The kids hate it, too, and just ask to go home all the time or sneak their phones to play games or text their friends. The other ward members aren't sure how to react, either. It's an awful situation that I never thought I would find myself in, that's for sure. I start out hopeful every Sunday morning that today will be better and so far that hasn't happened but I keep trying.

  4. I've been in the RS presidency for three years now and there are times I just feel overwhelmed and tired. When this happens I, as activity counselor, decide we're taking a break from planning another activity for a month. I've found from experience that if I make it all or nothing, I get burnt out, especially with also having infants throughout this time. It's ok to say no if you just can't do it or are needing some space.

  5. Patterns of church attendance may be cyclical depending on life circumstances (health, work schedules, family crises, etc.), but the growth and development of our testimony should (ideally) come from within regardless of other factors.

    Plenty of times I've found it difficult to attend church regularly. As an adolescent I experienced a period of persecution by peers, but I still attended weekly because I felt that was what Heavenly Father wanted me to do–even if I cried on my bed after every Sunday service and midweek activity.

    As a young mother, Sundays left me exhausted and drained (from wrestling three girls into dresses and hairdos, refereeing during the meeting, and never-ending relays between bathrooms, chapel, and foyers). Again, the answer to "Why do I bother?" was tied to my knowledge that Heavenly Father wanted me to be there–regardless of what I got out of it–for my children's sake as well as for my own.

    When I was newly widowed I found church excruciating. Sometimes I made it only through the opening hymn before fleeing the building. There were (and still are) days when lesson or talk topics had (and still have) me pulling a Sudoku puzzle from my purse to distract my mind and heart from tough, tender topics.

    During times when I couldn't attend services regularly it was even more important to prioritize personal prayer and scripture study. There's was no substitute, though, for the spiritual blessings of partaking the Sacrament and interacting with my fellow saints.

  6. I've gone through periods of difficult church attendance too. Maybe we all have. Small children wrestling in the pew or disrupting Sunday School. Overburdened with too many callings. Missing my husband who worked all week and then was gone all Sunday leaving me to wrangle the minions in his absence. (I love your choir solution, Elissa! How wickedly inspired!) Right now we live in a rural blue-collar ward and there are only 3 or 4 other couples where both are college-educated. That's the biggest challenge for me. The gospel doctrine teacher has trouble putting complete sentences and lucid thoughts together. Am I evil for sitting in the foyer each week? It's hard not to judge people who mean well but know less. That's my big challenge at church. Being patient with others who are learning. Personal scripture study & devotion helps.

  7. I think you hit the nail on the head by saying "sometimes you just have to say no and give someone else a turn to lean and grow". And don't feel guilty. This, is not easy as a woman, but so important to learn to say no.

  8. I think we can all agree that we're not alone. And that, is good to hear. But for strength and connection – to buoy us all up and encourage. Just reading about your stories and struggles reminds me how it is our job to uplift each other. Sometimes in the authentic utterance of "ya, I don't jump out of bed every Sunday" is enough motivation to just keep going. Also, Iike Teresa said, if you can just make it to the first 20 minutes in the heat of a crisis, then 20 minutes it is until you can worship longer. Thanks gals.

    *sidenote: the day after I posted this I got a calling as compassionate service leader. Coincidence? I think not. I guess admitting I need to muster resolve from the inside out and start contributing was definitely heard in some way. Yikes:)

  9. in hard times, i take comfort in Ecclesiastes 3 ~ I ponder what "time" i am in at any given moment. it helps.

    jennie, thanks for the inspiration to be more intentional and mindful. you're a great example ♥

  10. I love the reminder that our church experience and testimony are cyclical, having experienced a few of those cycles myself. I think I may always struggle to feel engaged in Sunday School, but I'm fully aware that is mostly my own fault. I did have a neat experience last Sunday. I was tired and hungry and irritable, quite certain that it would be one of those Sundays where I sat in church just to keep the habit going. During the Sacrament, I opened my scriptures with a conscious (but not particularly hopeful) prayer for Heavenly Father's help to soften my heart and help me to be open to any nibble the Spirit had to offer. Before long, a verse in Ether struck me in a new way, and I opened my journal to write down my impression. Suddenly, it seemed that every other testimony dove-tailed on that verse. That doesn't always happen, mind you; sometimes the fatigue or the whining kiddos win out. But the more often I sit in the pew and the more actively I seek for the Spirit by trying to engage in the meeting (or at least in my scriptures), the more likely I am to have those epiphany moments.

  11. Oh, my dear, that sounds very hard. I'm not sure of the details of your situation, but from what you describe you may have grounds to get a restraining order against your ex. (If he is making a scene, threatening in in any way.) He would then be required to stay away from anyplace you might be, including church. I don't know if this is feasible in your case, but you may want to look into it. I hope that things work out for you and that your Sabbaths become more of a day of rest.


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