It is Sunday. Sunday in our world very well may be the only predictable day of the seven we are given every week. The one day that despite unforeseen circumstances, moods and challenges with a family of seven that provide an opportunity for predictability and consistency: we go to church. Nine months out of the year our children attend school. It is the same schedule everyday, yet still I feel that we battle every morning with the checklist- Did you brush your teeth? Please go upstairs and find your glasses. Carter did you change your underwear? I laid out your clothes for the day, why are we in sweatpants and sweatshirt in July? Yes, these are real, daily conversations. Yet, Sunday’s are different. I don’t know why but they are easier in many ways. The bigs get themselves ready, know the appropriate attire and practice appropriate hygiene. They know that on Sundays we bring our best, and it’s not bringing our best for the onlookers, but bringing our best to the LORD. That church is not only a commandment and a responsibility that we have to ourselves and others, but a ‘get to’ that many people in this fallen world do not get to exercise. We give great thanks for this.
We show this gratitude by showing up. By being committed.
For all of my friends that understand the schedule of a nurse, you know that sometimes we aren’t allowed to be physically present; for many things. People in the world, big and small, aren’t only sick and in need of our care Monday-Saturday, but on Sundays too. So there are some Sunday’s that I simply cannot be there. However, my husband takes the kids and I listen to the sermon after work. Every third weekend my husband works, and that requires the flip side. The littles and I get corralled and as we enter church, we meet Colin as he is exiting because he will attend the early service before going to work. It is our rhythm. It is not what I would consider ideal or fit for everyone, but it is ours. That is enough for me.
This morning when my alarm went off I simply could not get out of bed. I have been tired- so tired. Dare I say that! I feel we have almost lost the freedom as mama’s, as wives, as friends, as employees, as Christians to simply say “I am tired.”
I am further convinced that if we find that we can in fact say we are tired; that we do not feel license to do anything about that. Especially on Sundays. It was brought to my heart in Genesis when the LORD asked Adam and Eve in the garden, “Who told you that?” Friends, who has told us that???
Our family is in a season of a LOT of transition. We have commitments under our own roof that are quite demanding, the relationships between all seven of us that are incredibly important to intentionally steward. Then we have the outside commitments. Whether that be work, extra work, friends, neighbors, extra circulars, church commitments, to those in the small group that we lead, individuals and families that we disciple to that we have to make time for. Often it is an impossible effort of us trying to use the 24 hours we are given to put in work that takes far more. Trying to add minutes to our days, add extra days to our week that simply cannot be. When we catch ourselves in this place, we have learned to immediately stop, pray and listen. Practicing the pause is what I have called this; the discipline that the LORD laid on my heart this past January. That I have tried to remain tethered too, and my goodness the blessing in it.
One of the greatest propelling factors initially for our “perfect church attendance” was our children. By demonstrating to them that they are children of the most high God. That their last name is Atkinson; and in light of these truths, church attendance is part of the package. That they do not have to earn seats in either of these two places; they have already been bought and paid for. However in response to such, there are certain responsibilities that come with that. Teachings that I am so thankful the LORD showed us first, to be able to help lead them with.
This also includes our teaching and fervent prayer that our children know their identity as Christians isn’t a costume they put on on Sunday mornings, and take off when they get home. That is it who they are. It cannot be removed; nor should it be.
We have missed plenty of events on Sundays. Birthday parties, going away celebrations, sporting events. Anything that impedes on our church attendance. The kids understand that as a family we just simply do not go. The posture in which we do or don’t is of utmost important to us. We do not go because we are ‘better’ than any of the invitations, because we are unappreciative of the intention and inclusion from others, or because the people in our life are not ‘deserving’ of our time and attendance. Rather this is a sacred time that is set aside for our family. That sanctity is something that we honor by reserving it in the way we do. (Disclaimer: If you have such things that prevent you from church attendance I want to be clear in saying that this is simply OUR rhythm. What we feel WE are called to do! So if you haven’t been to church in 7 weeks because you have been at soccer games cheering on your tribe, or traveling in the summer because your schedule allows you keep doing you!) I did not want that to be heard incorrectly. Heard as something I feel is true for everyone because I do NOT feel that way. Now if your last name is Atkinson, well, we can have a conversation about that!
Today started as no different than any other Sunday. Colin was heading to work which means I was left wrangling the littles. It was a torrential downpour. Morning rain I used to just love. However, now with two Saint Bernards, that love has been morphed into a feeling that I can’t quite put into words, but it is an ugly one… It means I will start my morning wrestling these beasts to go outside because they do not like the rain, it will mean wet paws the size of Colin’s, it will mean mopping, it will mean there will be accidents to clean up because they refuse to go out. Sorry for the tangent. Anyhow, after I tended to them the Sunday morning schedule started. Colin has been mentioning recently how my sleeping has seemed disrupted. That I toss and turn all night. That I wake up once, twice or even three times. That when I wake in the morning I look like I never went to bed the night before. Low and behold, he is right. This morning was no different.
We are in a season with a lot going on. More so than usual. The LORD is working. Oh my word is He at work. A prayer that I have been praying alongside two of my most precious friends is being answered. One small reveal at a time. Changes are on the horizon that we never saw coming. Changes that involve faith and courage that I know independent of God I do NOT have! We are in a process of listening and responding to what God has been saying, and friends all I am going to say is the work that is being asked of us is not more than what He will walk us through, but in my humanness its a challenge.
I have a dear friend that has walked through so many years of life with me. She is the most gentle, kind, encouraging, loving person there is. She is a mama to two boys, wife to an enneagram “8” (wowza! bless her heart. A husband and best friend who are “8”s) and has a baby on the way. She is a nurse in a very demanding environment, and all this being said is one of the BEST women I know at resting. She is incredibly good at prioritizing herself and her time in a way that meets the needs of herself and her family- unapologetically. She knows most of what has been going on in our world, and she said words to me this morning that I have NEVER heard. Not from ONE friend; Christian or not. Not from one person that has served as a disciple to myself or my family. Her words:
“Sleep my friend. Even if you just stay home and rest all day. [don’t go to church] Just listen online… I think you need to hear it. Remember His expectations of you are never to push yourself to pure exhaustion. Stay home, rest and pray and absolutely no guilt allowed.”
I realized in preparing to show up this morning, I was not operating from a place of peace. I was in a place of chaos coordination. Checking the boxes. I couldn’t help but immediately gravitate to places of judgement. Harsh judgement of myself and others. I was prompted to reread her text over and over. All I heard was grace. What I read over and over was mercy. Reminders of the way the LORD rested. As He was on a journey to heal, redeem, restore and eventually give His life to save all of ours- He rested. It brought to mind Sabbath. Really asking the LORD to show me how I practice this. When I practice this. What is the lesson(s) to be learned in this.
I get so busy and allow my life to become so loud, that while I am seeking God I fail to remember He is already seeking me. Always. That I cannot hear His whispers because I am too busy checking my boxes; fulfilling my initiatives. Living as a legalist; an old habit that rears its ugly head over and over. Today I am thankful for the messengers. His messengers. That I heard the permission He has given me to rest. Refuel. Simply be with Him. I heard this permission as a result of the obedience of my sister who heard what the LORD was speaking, and who responded. He is always faithful to send them.
As I dove into the word, it was put on my heart to share this message. Share this message with others. That you have full permission to rest. It may not be on a Sunday. It may not mean you miss out on something. On the contrary it may. It may mean that you get the raised eyebrows or experience the scrutiny of others. I have already received texts today about our seats being empty- YES! Accountability is a necessary part of our walk but accountability and accusation are NOT synonymous.
So today as I opened my ears, opened my heart, opened the Word and am soon jumping on to visit a church that I love SO much, I just pray that if you were in need of rest today and find yourself at home that you find permission in that. That you do not fall victim to feelings of shame, guilt, doubt, regret, etc. That we are called to be Christians seven days a week inside and outside of the church. That we would be known by our faith by the way we love and live. Church attendance and participation is CERTAINLY part of this. Yet it is not the ‘it.’ The it is your relationship Jesus. That you allow Him to lead YOUR life, the life of your FAMILY, that you allow Him to dictate your rhythms and habits. So if you are sitting at home after being up all night with littles, a restless night sleep because of work or worry, because you just cannot face a crowd today and simply need to nest with Jesus know you have the permission to. Not because I said it, but because He has said it. He has said it by the way He demonstrated it.
If it is raining where you are, as it is where I am I invite you to crack a window. Listen as the rain falls. Allow it to be a reminder of the way He cleanses. The way He waters our dry spirits. That He is living water. That He is good. So very good. May the drops that fall be symbolic to you, and reveal to you more of God’s character. For me, the rain that is falling is a reminder that our God is peace. May the rain wash away any of the lies you may be tempted to believe as your seat this Sunday may be empty. Seek to hear Him today; He is always waiting for you to pick up that invitation that never expires.