I grew up in the church, as did the majority of my family, and I was taught at a young age the importance of worship and spiritual fulfillment. As a result, the church has always been my sanctuary and the source of my sustenance. So when the pandemic hit, the thought of no longer being in the presence of family and friends to worship shook me to my core. Along with the spiritual fulfillment that I always experienced while in church, I also greatly enjoyed spending quality time with those who I love while at church. And I feared no longer having access to the social aspect of worshipping.
Then I realized I could attend live-streamed service online. But that was an adjustment.
The first Sunday that I attended online service, in April 2020, I was dressed in my church clothes with my Bible in hand and a pen and paper by my side. But about 10 minutes into the live service, a series of distractions hit me. I experienced everything from my then two-year-old daughter barging into the room like a gangbuster, to my dogs barking and my husband asking where something was. Eventually, I also found myself responding to work emails and suddenly feeling the desire to “quickly” mop the kitchen floor while trying to hear the Word.
The first few services followed the same start-and-stop routine and ended with me closing my laptop, unfulfilled. Slowly, attending church no longer felt like an escape or a place of solitude. It became more of a source of stress and angst, and I decided to take a week off toward the end of the month.
Then a few things changed. First, my church began posting services online, instead of only streaming them live. This was a huge relief because I had the option to tune in when it worked best for my schedule. I also did not have to worry about missing something in the event a member of my motley crew interrupted me while I was watching.
There is a certain freedom and peace that I have found worshipping in private. I now have the freedom to rewind and repeat specific parts of a sermon and openly cry, laugh or even shout without feeling watched or judged.
But the most significant change took place within me. During my weeklong break, I decided to devise a new strategy to better engage with online church. It became clear to me that my lack of boundaries while watching services was directly connected to the distractions that I experienced and my wavering focus. I take my role as a mother and partner seriously, and as a result, I have made myself readily available to my family. I have also taken the same approach to my career.
But at some point, I stopped being available to myself. I realized that I had become so consumed with being there for everyone else that I had not been nearly as intentional about carving out time for myself. I also realized I had been accustomed to the ritual of attending church in person. This is not to say that going to church in person was not otherwise beneficial for me, because it was. But my desire to uphold my family’s tradition fueled my fear of not going.
Given all of this, I changed my approach to attending church online. Before, I had approached it similar to how I would prepare for a meeting at work. But after working from home throughout the week — sometimes working 10- and 11-hour days with seemingly never-ending Zoom meetings — it seemed almost ridiculous that I was using the same approach for an activity that was intended to bring me peace and solace. So I traded in my blouses and slacks for a T-shirt and leggings — and my desk and office chair for a comfy couch. And I watched at times that worked best for my schedule.
After this change, I was more engaged while tuning in online than I had been on most Sundays attending in person. In retrospect, when I attended church in person, I regularly caught myself people-watching and sometimes even sending an occasional text. I was just as distracted at church when attending in person, if not more so.
This is not to say that I will never return to the sanctuary. I think there is power in worshipping with others, and someday I’ll be back. But for now, I enjoy the flexibility that worshipping from home provides.
I can plan ahead and designate times to worship when I know that I will be less likely to give in to distractions. There is a certain freedom and peace that I have found worshipping in private. I now have the freedom to rewind and repeat specific parts of a sermon and openly cry, laugh or even shout without feeling watched or judged.
I no longer feel the weight of attending church because of family tradition or pressure. Instead, I attend church online because I genuinely want to, which has resulted in me having a stronger sense of faith and a closer relationship with God.
Church is no longer about obligation. Now it's more about my spirit being fed.