It’s strange: I had no idea when I began writing full-time that I’d do so little of it.
Whether for signings, corporate speaking engagements, church firesides, school assemblies or some hearty stew of all-of-the-above, I'm often on the road.
Unfortunately, I'm often on the road on Sundays. As much as I love traveling and the people I meet, there's nothing like attending church with your own family. It’s not surprising that I usually miss my wife and children more on Sundays than on any other day of the week.
On a recent Sunday I was on the road to speak at an evening fireside. I arrived that afternoon just in time to check into my hotel, find a nearby chapel on the Internet and navigate my way there for a 1 p.m. service.
I walked in just before church began and scanned for someplace to sit. I spotted a young couple alone on a pew with plenty of room for several more people. "May I join you?" I asked.
The couple, presumably husband and wife, looked at one another awkwardly before the man said, gazing across the chapel at the door I just entered, "Actually, we're waiting for someone."
“No problem at all.” I smiled and took one step forward to the next pew where an older couple sat, again with plenty of room for a guest or two.
"Is anyone sitting here?"
"Just you," the woman said and she patted the pew with her hand.
I sat and introduced myself. She was kind and gracious and even let me take her hymnbook when she saw I did not have one.
Moments later I noticed another couple had come and joined the husband and wife behind me. We heard them greet one another and I wondered if this was a weekly occurrence for them, a chance to sit together and enjoy worshipping with friends. The moment made me miss my own good friends at home.
As the meeting unfolded, the whispers and the giggles — once muted — became something quite irreverent. At one point the two women were laughing uncontrollably until one of them, thankfully, stood and left the chapel. Her friend remained and laughed herself to tears with her head buried in her lap.
I thought of how many children might have noticed these adults. I pictured a frustrated mother three rows back shushing her rambunctious child, "Please stop talking."
The child might have pointed and answered, "But mommy, those people are talking.”
I began to watch and listen to the many children in the young congregation. There were some occasional cries and minor tantrums over books, toys or Cheerios, but they were brief and appropriate for their ages and attention spans.
I closed my eyes and missed my own children. How many times have I asked them to be more reverent during church? My two oldest, both teenage girls, have never been much of a challenge on Sundays. But my two youngest, both boys, are making up for it. They’ve each gone through phases where they treat me like Mt. Everest, scaling my chest, face and head and screaming when they hit the peak.
If they had a flag, I’m certain they’d plant it.
Suddenly I was tuned in again to the conversation behind me. Was I at church or a baseball game? Others noticed, too, and the chatterboxes seemed oblivious to the distraction.
To combat my irritation, I kept reminding myself that everyone talks in church sometimes. Who hasn’t whispered when others were trying to worship?
“Did you put the roast in?”
“Did you turn the iron off?”
“Did you let the dog out?”
“Yikes, did you see Sister Susie Sassy’s new haircut?”
Yes, most of us have been irreverent. We’ve chatted when someone spoke from the pulpit, we’ve laughed at inappropriate times, played on our iPads and checked scores on our iPhones. I once watched a man smuggle in a foot-long Subway sandwich and sneak nibbles all throughout sacrament meeting.
Yes, some of us have done those very things, then turned to our children and asked them to pay more attention. At least in my case, they’re often more tuned in to the meeting than I am.
Church should be the place where I leave concerns of the world at the door and come with an empty cup to be filled by the word. But all too often, I don’t hear the word, because I’m too worried about the world.
But if I expect my children to be more reverent in God’s house, shouldn’t I lead the way?
Perhaps the lingering lesson from my pew pals is that I must practice what I preach with my own children. I will remind them — and myself — that there is a time to laugh and a time to talk. There are moments to sing and moments to meditate. There are chances to play and chances to pray.
Most importantly, there is also a time to do nothing at all but sit quietly and listen as others do all-of-the-above.
How are you trying to be more reverent in church meetings?
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at [email protected] or www.jasonfwright.com.