I've met lots of church folk who tell me as children they were expected to be in church "every time the doors were open." For most of us that would be twice on Sundays, Wednesday evening and often a prayer meeting or business meeting during the week. Of course, that usually means they refused to force their family to attend church like that when they got old enough to decide. I get that.
But it's not my story. I wanted to attend church whenever I could. I remember one Sunday we woke up to an ice storm. The country church I attended decided they would still have church that morning. All of 16, I decided I'd be there. Falling down the porch steps, falling a few times on the icy sidewalk, telling my mom all the while I'm sure the roads would be just fine.
We had another reason we didn't attend church all the time. My dad didn't go. I've written about this before on here. My mom seemed to sense the times it was better for our family if we didn't go. I don't mean on Sunday mornings. Those weren't up for debate (unless it turned icy). But if Dad was home on a Sunday evening and I needed to be at church for Bible drills or something, I might catch a ride with our neighbor up the road.
It's not talked about a lot in the church. Sometimes us women just know when it's best if we stay home. Especially if it means we'd always be leaving some of our loved ones at home. We need the reminder; it's relationship, not rules.
I often think about this on Christmas Eve. Many of you have a tradition of getting dressed up, attending Christmas Eve service as a family and going home to a fine meal and a few presents. It's a lovely picture.
But it's not my story. We only attended Christmas Eve service a few times growing up. Mom didn't want to leave my dad at home and he wasn't going. These days, we attend a church that meets in a middle school and we have Christmas Eve services somewhere different every year. We've gone as a family a few times. But sometimes I slip out by myself (if it fits in our holiday schedule) and attend a service on my own.
I suspect some of you have similar Christmas Eve memories. We haven't all come from Christian families where all the generations of believers meet at church, with the patriarch lighting a candle and passing it all the way down the row as the congregation starts singing the opening verse of Silent Night. Some of you are first generation believers, meaning you're the first in your families to include church traditions on Christmas Eve. You might be missing family members who never missed a Christmas Eve service but this year they're attending in Heaven. Maybe others have family members who won't attend with you. While others have family members who will only attend on Christmas Eve. Then we'll see them again at Easter. I rejoice with you when they join us!
All this to say my Christmas Eves weren't perfect. Although it was the cry of my heart, there were times it was better for my family if we didn't attend church every time the doors opened. For me now, some of my best worship happens when I take a few moments to attend a church service by myself. Even if it's Christmas Eve.
This year, ask God what He would have you to do. Think on the best way to right your focus on the Christ child. Maybe it's too simple of a truth to point out but Jesus didn't attend church on Christmas Eve. Mary and Joseph were otherwise occupied as well.
It's relationship, not rules.