Fragile Sundays

February 11, 2013 | 27 comments
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It was one of those fragile, vulnerable Sundays again. I’m like that sometimes, going through church shaking like a leaf, on the edge of my composure. It’s a kind of weakness, to always be close to tears, like to be overcome at any moment.

I’m not sure why some Sundays hit me that way. Perhaps I haven’t eaten enough. Or I may be experiencing some hormonal fluctuation. Or perhaps the expectation of the day is too much for me. I need to go, to work, to be spiritually uplifted, to edify others. I need to do my paperwork, contribute thoughtful comments to class discussions, to sing in a clear voice, and take the sacrament in a meaningful manner. The day of rest is a day of a different kind of work.

I’ve spent the entire week living the gospel as best as I can. But when I meet at church with my fellow saints, the cognitive dissonance rears up. I feel my shortcomings and flaws. I see the disunity among the saints, the failure of harmony. I can’t pretend to be a Pollyanna.

Once, years ago, I asked a question in gospel doctrine. The other class member who answered mocked the question itself, smacked it down with the unquestioning authority of his surety. I felt as though I had been physically slapped and the harshness of the shock sucked the breath out of me. Quietly, I cried, tears falling unseen in my lap, and I hid away for the rest of the meetings. That was a fragile Sunday. I didn’t know how fragile I was until I was broken. God knows he meant no ill will, and I bear him none. I learned to keep quiet on some days, because some days, I can’t bear an answer.

But I keep going to church, even when I feel again that it is a vulnerable day. I don’t talk much on these Sundays. I don’t seek out friends or leaders. I just keep my head down, staying as quiet and still as possible. But I am there. It’s an offering of a broken heart, to come even when I am weak, even when I feel I am about to shatter. Because I know I am not alone. I am not the only person who as ached through church, whose eyes have been filled with tears as I struggle to reconcile myself as I live and the gospel as it is taught and the church as it is made up of other flawed, broken people struggling for Zion.

So if you notice, don’t worry about me overmuch. I’m no more broken than anyone else, and some days, being vulnerable is my cross to bear.

27 Responses to Fragile Sundays

  1. Adam Miller on February 11, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Waiting, still, silent, my face pressed flush against my cold self’s fragile glass, the glass breaks mercifully, and then God’s warm breath.

  2. Ziff on February 11, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I love how you describe your experience, Rachel. I’ve learned from similar experiences to largely keep my mouth shut at church too.

  3. SteveP on February 11, 2013 at 11:10 am

    That was beautiful Rachel. I understand.

  4. Maryland Muser on February 11, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Thank you for this post. I didn’t know anyone else felt like what you have so eloquently expressed — I thought I had been all alone in trying to get through yet another Sunday all these years. It started after my difficult divorce years ago, when divorce in the church wasn’t as accepted as it is nowadays, and when RS lessons still featured lessons about husbands and wives and the invitations were for you and your sweetheart. Being a single parent to four damaged children didn’t help me feel like I fit in when so many others had their “Sunday smiles” plastered on their faces. I have tried to lower my expectations to the point where now I expect much less from my Sunday experiences and much more from my own reading and pondering. I’m still not sure, however, that I am not more broken than most people in the church. Or at least I hope others aren’t as fragile as I feel on Sundays.

  5. jennifer reuben on February 11, 2013 at 11:58 am

    today the gospel doctrine teacher chose to leave the scheduled lesson to target a comment I had made last week. He addressed my comment in a similar tone to what you experienced. Although he did not name me by name, it was clear that his lesson was directed to my remark( I don’t think he know my name actually). I should have learned, I should know better. He was not actually seeking meaningful interaction. I will return to my silent self.

  6. Leann on February 11, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    I’ve had several silent Sundays myself. I talked with my daughter last night about being in Church without my spouse. Her husband had to work yesterday. Mine had to work, too, but lately, he hasn’t come when he could, either. I realize you’re talking about a slightly different reason, but we all have reasons for being vulnerable. I think about the parents whose children have left the Church, people who are battling with repentance, those who do not feel entirely at home in Church. We all have need of the Physician. Those people who bark out doctrine are either hiding behind their own vulnerabilities or just maybe, they haven’t had their own vulnerable moment yet.

  7. Doug G. on February 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Rachel,
    How incredible that someone at the other end of the world should write exactly how I feel. My wife-RS President, and me-EQ President, were talking last night about the disconnect between true Christ-driven spirituality and the reality of life in our ward. There is real enmity between our members; who seem to go out of their way to accent the differences instead of the similarities. It is a good Sunday indeed, when either of us can come home without recounting a story of tears, and say, “what a lovely service”. I begin grinding my teeth on Friday and struggle to dissapate a tension that builds until Sunday morning. I feel sometimes that the Church has embraced a corporate culture seeking increased market share and return, at the expense of its soul. The only thing that keeps me going is my allegiance to family and that decreasing demographic of spiritual friends.

  8. anonlds on February 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    As someone who is consciously less active because i hate being silent and hiding my authentic self, this post makes me sad. It does make me feel a bit better about my own less activeness as a silent protest against this type of culture. Someone we need to get the culture to instill as one of its values the appreciation for individual differences.

  9. Paul on February 11, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    This sentence: “The other class member who answered mocked the question itself, smacked it down with the unquestioning authority of his surety” has me searching my memory, worried that I must make amends to someone. For years I could have been that class member, though I hope I no longer am.

  10. Michelle on February 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    I completely understand–thank you for this reminder that I’m not alone.

  11. E. on February 11, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    #7 – Glad I’m not alone.

    DH and I have always known that we don’t fit in and are probably being talked about. I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago how many people in my ward are badmouthing others. One of our Gospel Doctrine teachers (my favorite one) was released and the next week, I unexpectedly heard several people whispering about how “smug” and “condescending” he was and how glad they were that he was released. Now I feel awful because he and his wife are some of our only friends but it does no one any good to relay that information.

  12. h_nu on February 11, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    I’m sure Jesus is happy to have people content to judge others for not being Christ like enough…

  13. h_nu on February 11, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    “My wife-RS President, and me-EQ President, were talking last night about the disconnect between true Christ-driven spirituality and the reality of life in our ward. There is real enmity between our members; who seem to go out of th eir way to accent the differences instead of the similarities. ” Maybe the members are just following the examples of the RSPresident and EQpresident.

  14. ji on February 11, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    Wow! I’m grateful for my ward, where this sort of thing doesn’t happen. Or does it? No, I don’t think it does, at least not visibily and hopefully not intentionally. Where it does happen, I hope forgiveness comes quickly.

    No one needs to be a victim in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  15. Rachel Whipple on February 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    h_nu: Those are some harsh comments. None of us are as Christ-like as we should be. That’s why we keep struggling together. Some days, we are the ones hurt, and other days, we are careless. And that’s as it should be, so that we can have both compassion for those in pain and humility at our own weaknesses. The weak are made strong, and the strong are made weak, and sometimes we are the weak ones and sometimes we are the strong ones.

    The post isn’t mean as a criticism of others’ unChristlike behavior. It’s a lament that some days I feel I am too easily hurt. And it’s a reaching out to the others who often feel alone in their pain. How can we bear one another’s burdens if we keep them all secret? How can we help another, commiserate with them in compassion, if we never admit that we feel pain?

    Snarky cut-downs have no place in this work of edification.

  16. Chadwick on February 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    I had a whole year of these once. My wife was in the primary so it was just me, alone, for the entire block. I often would catch glimpses of people that made comments like I would make, or challenge comments that I would challenge, and I started to feel not so alone. Then I realized that those people, whose thoughts were close to mine, seemed to fit in well with everyone. So then it begged the question, if it wasn’t my thoughts alienating me, what was it? Why was it that, when I got early to class and picked a seat, no one ever sat near me? And why did this bother me? After all, I kept coming every week; I wasn’t really there for the social aspects.

    I never found out the reasons. We moved and, for whatever reason, our new ward has been more like home. Go figure. Sometimes I want to just blame it on being a UT ward, but I’m sure it’s more complicated than that.

  17. Mike on February 11, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    I think each ward is different. I live in a Utah ward, yet I’m aware of other wards along the Wasatch Front that are different from mine. There have been a few occasions for my wife and I to take offense in the past 20 years (and we have, if only briefly), but we’ve decided to just move forward. We do not want to let others dictate for us what our religious experience will be like.

    Having said that, I do recognize that there are experiences out there that aren’t ours, happening to people who aren’t us, so I can’t judge how others react to their “offenses.”

  18. Kurt on February 12, 2013 at 1:31 am

    This is a quiet, beautiful post. Thank you for putting some of your intimate thoughts that so many of us feel into serene words perhaps so few of us could write.

  19. Clean Cut on February 12, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Thank you for your honesty. We’ll be closer to Zion when we our first impulse becomes compassion rather than simply being dismissive.

  20. Sharee on February 12, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Saturday, it snowed. Although it wasn’t as bad as the last snowstorm, I drove home from the symphony at 25 mph. There were about 3 inches of snow on the ground. I decided that if there was more snow by morning, I was going to stay home from church. I got up a 7:30 Sunday morning, not quite awake, and looked out to see that there was just a skiff of new snow that had fallen during the night. I thought maybe that was enough to keep me home, so back to bed I went, promising Heavenly Father that if I was fully awake at 8, I would go to church, hoping I would sleep until 8:30. I guess you could say it was a fragile Sunday for me. Well, I was wide awake by 8 and looked outside to see that someone had cleared my driveway and sidewalk. I really had no excuse. We had excellent speakers in Sacrament Meeting (even the youth speaker was great), my favorite Sunday School teacher gave an superb lesson on personal revelation (this teacher will refer to the relevant scriptures, but does not have someone read each one–inaudibly to the rest of the class). And in RS we had an wonderful lesson by one of our very best teachers. As usual, when I go to church when I don’t feel like it, I come home rewarded.

  21. jill on February 13, 2013 at 3:37 am

    I am more withdrawn and just don’t like to be doing sociable things when I’m premenstrual.

  22. h_nu on February 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Sorry Rachel,
    My comments were not directed towards the OP, and I guess I could have made that clearer. I just find it highly ironic, that in a post lamenting the hurt you felt, others saw fit to share their judgement of members who just aren’t good enough. Those, who in their first breath complain against “unnecessary divisions” and in their next divide between those who “live the gospel reality”.

    And it wasn’t a snarky putdown, by the way, it was an ironic mirror.

  23. Rachel Whipple on February 14, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks for your gracious reply, h_nu. I’ve run into problems myself with conveying ironic tone and nuance in these kinds of conversations, and I recognize the irony you point out.

    It’s interesting to me that so many of the comments are focused on the way we hurt each other, often unintentionally. I think that what I was trying to get at in the OP was that some days I feel more hurtable than others. It’s good to know that others feel that same vulnerability at times so we can be quick to apologize and forgive when something small like an off hand comment hurts someone unexpectedly or more deeply that seems warranted.

  24. Porter on February 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    After 44 years of utter boredom and lack of spiritual fulfillment my wife and I finally stopped attending church last year. We were finally able to admit to ourselves – and to each other – that church attendance didn’t work for us. We got nothing out of it.

    We had heard and taught all of the lessons multiple times, we had heard all the hastily prepared sacrament meeting talks, lame jokes and conference quotes innumerable times. Our efforts to bring insight and reflection to lessons were met with hostility and even a meeting with the bishop. We had failed to make it an uplifting experience for us and others. We were just ready to be done.

    I can report to you that after a year of not attending we have never been happier or more spiritually fulfilled. Our Sundays are filled prayer, silent reflection, scripture reading, wonderful music, thoughtfully prepared food, and good conversations. We worship together and we have been fed and nourished every week by spirit of the holy ghost in our home. I highly recommend this to all.

  25. Carey on February 16, 2013 at 7:47 am

    This helps me: Forgive them for they know not what they do even when they believe they do with ever fiber of their being.

  26. john roberts on February 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    although I agree with some of the remarks made by Porter and I too long sometines for a more uplifting spiritual experience during my “church” Sunday, I need the group and routine. I note that Porter used the word We in discussing his home worship service. It would be interesting to see who is the we. The movement to home worship groups is very popular many places, prayer groups, worship gatherings, praise nights are some of the names of these groups. The personal interaction of a small group is also why we miss our little branches.

  27. Jason F on March 5, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Very well described Rachel, thank you. I have new vocabulary I will add to my toolbox: Fragile Sundays. I have felt very similarly and I especially resonate with the experience of some Sundays being worse than others. That is what makes deciding to attend each week so difficult, not knowing if it will be a good day or bad. Though even the good days are not so much good as they are not awful.

    If I make a comment that risks getting “slapped down” I don’t have the personality to simply back down from it, but even still it is emotionally draining and affects me even though my response is not tears. I have to validate for myself that it is still an emotional situation even if it doesn’t drive me to tears since it may not be as obvious to others that I am being emotionally affected by the situation. The reason this acknowledgement matters is so that I can understand why it is difficult to hear advice to just ignore it or let it go. Emotions are at play here and that makes everything more difficult.