God knows nothing of solitary saints or spiritual hermits.
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 35, working as a middle school English teacher and finishing up his master’s degree in secondary school administration. My mother was actively participating in a local service club and church, and experiencing great fulfillment as a stay-at-home mother. I am probably three, my brother nearly one.
Besides my fascination in seeing an image of my mother 23 years younger than I am now, I get a charge out of our attire — particularly the outfit worn by Mom. She sports a pastel suit accented by a pillbox hat, complete with white netting that slightly covers her eyes. 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 Mary Janes and also holding a purse. I have on a hat, secured to my head by an elastic band looping under my chin that I clearly recall itching like crazy. Nonetheless I possess a huge smile on my face — revealing 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 comfortable with informality and cannot imagine looking at everyone through a hat with netting. I think I’d feel like a bee keeper. Yet I understand there are losses associated with our hurried pace and reluctance to surround ourselves with formalities. These often include good behavior and manners. It is for this reason that the Walt Disney Corporation continues to insist that its Graduation Night guests dress up. They learned by experience that their high school senior guests behave better when dressed in business attire. It is a truth that has withstood the test of time.
Forty-five years later God reveals to me, using this tiny ’60s snapshot of my nuclear family, that careful attention to details gives substance to your love. It tells your children they are worthy of new clothes and offers them the opportunity to demonstrate their appreciation in return. It also reminds me that children will eventually absorb the love that motivated your planning and sacrifice associated with seeing those plans through to completion.
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 — that includes participating in church activities each 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, that people can get closer to God by walking the beach, writing poetry, or gardening. I understand the value of those
experiences, for when I go for walks and spend time outdoors, I am infinitely touched 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, hate convention, and get easily sidelined by challenging human behavior, 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 want to sleep in and can’t understand the wisdom of sitting politely and listening to a sermon, or cleaning up after a church luncheon, or memorizing lines for a Sunday school skit, or serving a meal to someone living on the streets, or teaching a child a song, or memorizing a line of scripture, commitment to regular time with God will be rewarding 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 clothes basket or you forgot to buy more milk and nobody will get their bowl of cereal before going to church. 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 will deepen. Your eyes will be opened to God’s faithful presence.