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FAITHFUL LIVING: Be part of a spiritual community and grow

God knows nothing of solitary saints or spiritual hermits.

--Rick Warren

“The Purpose-Driven Life”

Tucked away in a family photo album is one of my all-time favorite snapshots of my childhood family. At the time the photo was taken, my dad was 30-something, working as a middle school English teacher, and finishing up his master’s degree in secondary school administration. My mother was a busy, fulfilled stay-at-home. I was probably 3, my brother nearly 1.

Besides my fascination in seeing an image of my mother 19 years younger than I am now, I get a charge out of our attire — particularly the outfit worn by my mom. She sports a pastel suit accented by a pillbox hat, complete with white netting. She clutches a purse that matches her shoes (of course!) and holds white gloves that I know were slipped on moments before entering the church sanctuary to ensure their cleanliness.

I am wearing patent-leather shoes and also holding a purse. I have on a hat, held in place by elastic that loops under my chin and as I recall, itched like crazy. But what truly reveals my excitement is a big smile on my face — exposing my obvious delight with the fancy dress my mother had sewn for the occasion.

A lot can be said about the photo — especially now as we live in a world that moves with ever-increasing speed and embraces extreme casualness. I am most comfortable with informality and cannot imagine feeling compelled to round up purses, hats, and gloves for my girls before we head out the door to attend church. Yet I understand that there are losses associated with our hurried pace and our reluctance to couch ourselves in any kind of formality. For years the Walt Disney Corporation has insisted that its Graduation Night guests dress up because they learned by experience that their high school seniors behaved far better. It is a truth that has withstood the test of time.

Forty-one years later God reveals to me, using this tiny ‘60s snapshot of my nuclear family, that the up side to careful attention to detail gives substance to your love. It tells your children that they are worthy of new clothes and all the late nights needed to sew them. It also reminds me that children will eventually absorb the love that motivated your planning and the sacrifice associated with seeing those plans through to completion.

Perhaps my children will pass those attitudes on, someday.

The photo also speaks to the value of stepping away from our obligations to worship God as a family — alongside others who share similar worship styles and religious beliefs. I am talking about a life plan for our families — not just occasional attendance — but each and every week, with rare misses. It builds into our understanding the concept that honoring God is unifying and good and holy. It teaches obedience and gives credence to the idea that where people are gathered, God will display His presence.

I have heard it said time and again, “I’ll get closer to God by walking the beach or writing poetry.” I understand the value of those experiences, for when I go for my walks and spend time outdoors, I, too, am served by nature and how clearly God speaks through His creation.

But a spirited commitment to honoring God and getting to know Him invariably involves two inescapable factors: sacrifice and communion with other believers. In spite of great protests that people cannot stand organized religion and hate convention, I am aware of no solitary saints who progress in their relationship with God. And in spite of kids creating loud scenes of protest because they don’t want to parcel out a portion of their free time to God by showering and getting ready for church in any form, commitment to regular time with God will be rewarded on many levels.

It is by God’s careful and mindful design that corporate worship, small groups, Bible studies, and care for each other through the great and the tragic of times is an essential part of growing in one’s faith.

This is not an easy goal. It is no fun rolling out of bed when you stayed up late the night before. It is stressful when you realize your best shirt is crumpled in the clothesbasket or you forgot to plan for an early dinner and everybody goes to church hungry. But regular interaction with other believers, in spite of current social wisdom or your immediate personal desires, will be rewarded. Your family will be strengthened. Your faith deepened. Your eyes opened to God’s faithful presence.

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