Sunday Mornings, Guilt, and Reconceptualization

Growing up, I attended church each and every Sunday. It was just . . . what we did. Sunday mornings was for church. Period. My parents used a Bible verse to back up the importance of church attendance:

Hebrews 10:25

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

In other words, going to church was commanded by God. It wasn’t optional. And if you didn’t go to church, you would be displeasing God. And so, off to church I went, every Sunday without fail.

(On a related note, Catholics actually teach that not attending mass is a Mortal sin – as in, it is a sin you will go to hell for unless you repent and make things right with God.)

When I stopped attending church, which like for many came a while after my faith departed, it took me a long time to get over the guilt I felt. I no longer believed in God, but staying home on a Sunday morning still felt wrong. It felt . . . sacrilegious, which is weird because I no longer believed in the sacred anyway, but it still did. And I’m sure I’m not the only atheist with a religious background who has dealt with the “Sunday morning guilt.”

There’s another reason Sundays felt odd when I stopped attending church. Church served a social function for me. It meant seeing my friends and being around people. Honestly, being homeschooled, church was probably the highlight of my week. In fact, that was the place I regularly saw a large number of people gathered together in one place. I loved the hum of activity, the greetings from friends, the chatting and donuts and making plans to get together with friends. Friends usually came over after church to have lunch with us, or sometimes spend the afternoon. Sundays – and church – were sort of the social highlight of the week.

Without church, Sundays changed entirely. The social function of Sunday mornings disappeared. Sundays were just . . . there. And that was strange. What were you even supposed to do with a Sunday?

I have heard it jokingly said that the best thing about being an atheist is that you can sleep in on Sunday. This doesn’t really apply to me – I’m a mom, that whole sleeping in thing thing doesn’t work out so well anymore. Another thing I’ve heard said is that for the atheist Sunday is just a second Saturday. I found out the problem with this line the first time I tried taking my daughter to the mall on a Sunday morning (it was winter and I needed to get her out of the house) – it was closed. In fact, basically everything is closed on Sunday mornings, including stores, museums, and libraries. So no, Sunday isn’t just another Saturday – at least not until after noon.

Reframing Sundays for myself has been a process. It’s been about creating my own traditions and inventing new patterns. It’s been about thinking outside of how I grew up to conceptualize something different. It’s about consciously deciding what I want from Sundays, and making that happen.

Yesterday I realized how far I had come. I was out about town and heard a girl cajoling her mother: “Please mom, I don’t want to go to Sunday school tomorrow. Please don’t make me, I just want to stay home!” My mind went “wait, what? Oh yeah, people go to church on Sundays!” I think that means I’m starting to get a handle on Sundays, starting to truly reclaim them and make them mine.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • sisu

    Libby Anne, we have found Sunday mornings a great time for playdates with other nontheist parent friends! We often do a potluck brunch – bring a dish to share – at someone’s house. The kids play together, the adults sit and sip coffee and talk, and everyone has a good time. It really makes for a lovely morning.

    • Libby Anne

      That’s a great idea! Now I just need to find me some other nontheist parent friends in the area . . . I don’t have any yet.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        hehehe, find yourself some nice Jews too–shouldn’t be too hard around a university, lol. Theist or non-theist, we have the same “oh yeah, everything’s closed on Sunday” problem too. Although Easter is the worst. (“GAAAAAAH, I JUST WANT TO BUY A FREAKING CARTON OF EGGS!”)

  • Steve

    I think it was George Carlin who remarked that he has a severe problem with a god who takes attendance

  • JeseC

    You know, I’ve always thought we should get atheist groups together on sunday mornings and do a few hours of charitable work. So many of us are used to dedicating that time, why not dedicate it to something useful?

    • Makoto

      That’s a great idea! I just wish there were more out atheists in my area (northern Texas) to do such events…

  • JDBenefield

    Even as a kid when I still considered myself a believer, I didn’t like going to church, especially when my family went three times a week, twice on Sunday alone. Now, as an adult, the only difference I find between Sunday or any other day in my small town is that there are far fewer vehicles on the road when I take a mid-morning walk.

  • Meggie

    Sunday is just over – it’s 12:39am Monday morning as I write this. My daughter went blackberrying this morning. My boys played computer games most of the day. Family games of tennis this afternoon. A perfect sunday. No church. Oh, and of course, we are Christian.

    My husband & I decided many years ago that Sunday would be a family rather than church day. Work, school, sport, music – our activities keep us pretty busy through the week and we needed to spend time together. My husband regularly quotes the ‘God made the sabbath for man, not man for the sabbath’ line although there is a part of me that still feels guilty on Sunday.

    Sunday has become the most special day of the week for us. It is a day for picnics, trips to the lake, for bushwalks or for slobbing about at home. Libby Anne, can I suggest trying this with your family? It is the quantity versus quality argument of parenting. My home schooling relatives have quantity parenting; they are with their kids every day but there is nothing special about it. I have quality time with my kids and we treasure every minute of it.

  • vianne

    Goodness, it is like you are reading my mind…Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I realized that I no longer feel guilty about not attending mass; instead, I love having the extra time to spend with my husband and toddler, no plans, just being able to do what we want to do.

    I think that Sunday morning non-theist brunch, get-togethers, or volunteering time are absolutely lovely ideas; now I, like you, just need to find some real-life, local non-theist friends!

  • Ginny

    I love Sunday mornings. Since my fiance and I began dating, it often turned out that Sundays were our best opportunity to have a quiet morning together, in bed till noon or making a fancy breakfast or whatever. I never deliberately set it up as a tradition opposing my old churchgoing habit, but every time we have our Sunday quality time I end up thinking at some point how much happier I am in my new way of life.

  • round guy

    My wife (Catholic school K-12, then a Catholic University) still jokes about the ‘guilt bells’ every Sunday morning.
    For a lot of years those bells had real power over her. It was a joke that acknowledged pain and guilt for not living up to the expectations of the religion and her mother. She has finally come to terms with it and that power lessens each year.
    Sundays are positive days we spend together.

  • Anders

    As someone who went to church on Christmas (if that), this is such a strange world. I feel like… when I listen to you or something like the Godless Bitches podcast I feel like I’m in Barsoom. Nary a familiar thing in sight. It’s fascinating in a way, but there’s no way I would want to live there.

    Besides, isn’t this technically works theology? Aren’t most Christians opposed to that?

  • student

    For me, Sunday has always been homework day. Saturday is the day to do fun and social things after a long week, and Sunday is the day to catch up on homework and chores. But then, I’ve always had a huge amount of homework and studying to deal with, and that takes away time when you could be doing things like planning potlucks. I always wondered how people managed to get all their work done if Sundays are taken up with church.

  • lordshipmayhem

    For me, Sundays are the days I sit back and plot out my nefarious plans for the week. I take stock in two ways, getting my meals planned out (and thereby my grocery list) and laying out what I hope to accomplish. I review what I did last week. I enjoy coffee, and the sunlight dappling through my window – or on cloudy days, the fractal patterns forming in the clouds.
    Soon enough it will be time to do the laundry, clean the apartment and then start cooking supper, but Sunday mornings are an excellent time to just lean back with a cup of coffee, recharge my batteries and think. And pet my cat.

  • Daniel Fincke

    Sunday has always been the most restful day of the week to my mind. Saturdays are supposed to be the most fun. Sundays the most lazy and recuperative.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Yikes, I guess that could be interpreted as the ol’ Christian Sabbath mindset lingering with me… But it’s not, just a function of how the days have worked for me naturally.

  • sceptinurse

    When I stopped attending it did feel funny at first. So I usually made a big brunch on Sunday mornings and everyone was just allowed to laze around and rest. It was such a pleasant way start off the day especially after a busy week.

  • Monimonika

    My family never attended church of any kind, although there was a short period where I was dropped off at a Sunday school on base for some reason by my parents when I was very young. Only thing I really learned was that Easter was not just about bunnies and colored eggs (shock!).

    What I instead had was Saturday morning Japanese school every week. I so did NOT like this. At all. I missed all the Saturday morning cartoons because of that and I cried (yeah, I was a brat).

    I asked why we couldn’t have the school on Sundays instead. Nothing interesting is on Sunday mornings! It was explained that too many people needed to go to church on Sunday morning. *shaking of small fists of fury at church-thingies*

    I stopped going to Saturday school once they ran out of classes they can place me in, and have felt no guilt whatsoever!

  • F

    The very concept of a five day work/school week and weekend is a foreign concept to me. I haven’t lived in that country since high school.

    Even as a rather religious Catholic child, I didn’t care for mass, and I didn’t care much for most of the belief system. There was nothing socially fulfilling or binding about it, and I didn’t much care for most other Catholics (not more or less than any other group, anyway).

    What was truly odd was when I realized that I didn’t buy into any of it. Just what the heck had I been doing all that time, being a believer who didn’t believe anything I was supposed to believe, who had no special regard for the Church or religion in general?

    I would have done all sorts of things if it had meant I could avoid Sunday Mass. (And I did, sort of. I would regularly pass out in church. It was like a narcotic.)

  • Janey Q Doe

    Just be thankful you weren’t brought up in an Opus Dei family, they have to go to church every single day.

  • Clytia

    It’s odd, I actually stopped going to church regularly before I stopped believing. I’d discovered sex (before marriage! It was one of a handful of things that led me out of religion). So I was getting home very late on a Saturday night and having trouble waking up on Sunday mornings. I don’t remember if I felt guilty about it (I probably felt more guilt about the sex than about not going to church, but then that was never painted so strongly as an obligation, more as a very good thing to do). So by the time I left religion, sleeping in on Sunday mornings was the norm for me. Also, here (in New Zealand) nothing’s closed on a Sunday (morning or otherwise) besides some banks that are also closed on a Saturday. So it really is a second Saturday.

    • Meggie

      It is the same in Australia – if it is open on Saturday it is open on Sunday as well. Libby’s comment about the shops being shut on Sunday surprised me. Can anyone tell me, is this normal is the US or is it only some states? I think Sunday opening began in the late 70s/early 80s here (I remember shops being shut on Sundays when I was very little) and I thought it existed everywhere now. Perhaps the Aussies & Kiwis are just special. Lol.

      • cactusren

        Shops being open on Sundays is quite variable in the US. I live in a large city, and most places here are open on Sundays, though often for fewer hours than on other days. For example, the store my boyfriend works in is open 9-8 most days, but only 11-5 on Sundays. So if you’re an early riser this could be a problem. Personally (since I live in a city and places are open) I love to do my shopping on Sunday mornings, as stores are far less crowded than at other times of the week.

        In smaller towns in the US, though, there are often fewer stores open on Sundays (particularly in the morning). I think there are even still some counties that have “blue laws”, banning businesses from opening on Sundays. (Sometimes this only applies to certain businesses–generally liquor stores.) This has surprised me more than once on road trips through rural areas.

    • kisekileia

      I still more or less believe (with some skepticism and uncertainty mixed in), and I stopped regularly going to church years ago because it’s my biggest PTSD trigger.

  • Dorothy

    i experienced the same feeling of “what to do” when i stopped going to church. i was a young mom at the time, and i found a nearby recreation centre with “family swim” time on sunday mornings. we turned sunday mornings into family time. it was great! maybe you could find some recreation in your area that is open as well

  • Garrett

    You should try living in France. It’s crazy how dead the place is on Sunday, though I’ve more or less got used to it. I’m originally from Ireland, a very Catholic country, but even there the shops are more or less open on a Sunday and I also used to go to Mass when I lived in Ireland. The strange thing is that France is a very secular country so it takes a bit of time to understand why everything is closed on Sunday. The first obvious reason is because France was once a very Catholic country, so it’s a byproduct of that bygone era. But the real reason places are closed on Sunday in France (Paris excluded) is because of workers’ rights and long Sunday meals. France is traditionally a very socialist country, so workers’ rights groups see government proposals for Sunday work as a slippery slope towards bad worker conditions. And French family meals on Sunday go on for hours, so it’s not as if they have nothing to do on Sunday.
    Just thought I’d share that.

  • emmaliaharrington

    What about the Sundays when someone was very sick? I don’t think having to run to the toilet every five minutes makes for a very edifying service.

    • Jerusha Wheeler

      those were the days that we usually were left home…but you pretty much had to prove it (throw up every single hour) if you wanted to convince the grown-ups that it wasn’t a good idea. The aging factor of the congregations (like the 75+ group) is something that is perhaps detering more people from bringing sick kids to church.

  • James K

    For me Sunday is for Dungeons and Dragons.

  • Sheena

    I’m currently out of the church-every-Sunday habit, and don’t feel guilty at all.

    If you’re near any parks, they’re usually quiet and peaceful on Sunday morning…I’ve spent many Sundays hiking, reading outside, or otherwise being out of the house. And most don’t lock up because people “should be at church”. :)