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:
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.