I like Easter, I've decided. There's less hubbub surrounding it, so there's no use spending oodles of money and traveling across the country for it, and it's easier to make it a quiet day. And easier to think about its religious significance, if you're so inclined. Which I am.
But when Sunday dawned, I confess that church was the last thing I was interested in. Sam was sleeping soundly, and though the day looked sunny and gorgeous, and Henrietta and I were in our colorful Easter Best, I was so full of dread as I drove to church that I frightened myself. I felt like weeping. Maybe it was because just the previous Sunday I had attended with a whole bunch of my family, but it seemed a particularly lonely thing to be doing.
Let's be honest: sometimes I don't want to go to church. Especially lately, with 9am meetings, and a new ward (because of our move) that I don't feel super close to, and a squirmy baby who doesn't want to nap when there are all sorts of fascinating people around, and going basically by myself when there are rows and rows of families that seem perfect and shiny. And yes, I did marry someone who isn't Mormon, so in a way I signed up for this. But that doesn't mean it isn't insanely hard to get myself there sometimes, and lately that's been true. My goodness, it's been difficult. And on Sunday it was harder than ever.
I drove there, praying, crying a little, wondering what to make of so much dread. I prayed one of my sassy prayers: I told Him he had to make it feel like it mattered that I was there, that it didn't seem like it mattered at all, and if it did, would He please show me that it did. I sat in the parking lot, collecting myself, and it occurred to me that I probably wasn't the only one who had a tough time coming that morning, that there were probably millions of us that weren't exactly looking forward to it, and who felt lonely while there, but showed up because they believed it was important. Thinking about other people like me helped, as did something my father told me once when I talked to him about this. He said that we go to church for two reasons: to take the sacrament, and to find someone to serve. Everything else was incidental, and could be good or bad, but those were the parts that mattered.
I can't tell you it felt great from the start. In fact, someone said something that hurt my feelings almost immediately, and I thought, "Well, you're not off to a great start here." But my friend is the choir director and her Easter musical number was beautiful. And I said the opening prayer, and that made me feel useful.
When it came time for me to teach my lesson, I was exhausted, which is always the problem with teaching the lesson during the third hour of a three-hour block of church. In fact, I sometimes start my lesson by just leveling with the girls: "Okay, I'm covered in baby vomit and I'm so tired I can hardly talk, but let's discuss the Plan of Salvation, shall we?" It started off rocky and sort of lame, but by the end I was telling them what I wanted to tell them, which is this: that the astonishing thing and the wonderful thing about Christ's sacrifice is that it applies to whatever pain/sorrow/stress/sin/trouble they are currently experiencing, no matter how small. Mormons believe that he suffered for everything--for pain, sorrow, sickness, not just sin. And I got them to tell me what they worried about--about homework, and people not liking them, not feeling pretty enough, not having the right clothes, having to practice sports when they were tired and didn't feel like it. And I told them, look, this is what it's all about, this is when you need Him. This is when you can ask for His help. And I was talking to myself, too, and feeling like I was going to cry because He was helping me right then, He was the reason I was managing to stand there. And who knows what they really got out of it; they're twelve, and I am such a tiny blip on their radar, but I do think that there were some lightbulbs. We acknowledged that on the grand scale of suffering, a lousy wardrobe was minuscule, but the wonderful thing is that God's love and help is big enough for all of us, and for all of our struggles. There isn't a size limit in either direction. This they seemed to understand, and it tasted sweet to see it dawn in them.
But it's not those small lightbulbs that I keep thinking about. It's not that lesson that has come to stick with me about Easter. It's what happened at the very end of the class. I asked a sort of quiet girl if she would give the closing prayer, since I'm working on drawing her out a little. She said, "I can't; I don't know how." This caught me off-gaurd, and I wanted to talk to her, but I wasn't sure what to say. Someone else said the prayer, and she walked toward me, and a question arrived in my head, "Do you have any questions about praying? I'd be glad to talk to you about it." We talked a little, and it became clear that she didn't feel comfortable in the structure prescribed by official Mormon prayers--the opening and closing were okay, but she wasn't sure how to navigate the middle part, and she didn't feel comfortable praying in front of people anyway. I told her it was okay; that I wouldn't make her pray in front of us if she didn't feel up to it, but that I wanted her to know that there wasn't a wrong way to pray, that if she wanted to, she could just talk to God. He would listen no matter how she went about it. She looked right at me and asked, "Really?"
I keep thinking about that "Really?" I've been turning it over and over in my head. I don't know what it meant to her. It was a short conversation, and I'm not sure if I understood what she as trying to say. But if I was somehow the first person to tell her that God would listen no matter what she said or how she said it, that He was anxious to hear from her and open, wide-open to listen to whatever she wanted to tell him and however she wanted to tell it, then I think that was worth every ounce of dread I experienced that morning about getting myself to church. If there's some point, even years from now, when she is very low and in despair and feels like she has nothing and no one, and if some part of her remembers the idea--even if she has no recollection of her awkward vomit-smelling teacher who said it--that God is listening, that He is there to comfort her, no matter what--even the chance of that happening in small part because of our brief conversation, humbles me, floods me with gratitude, makes me think I will get up every Sunday and drag myself to church for a million years.
Somehow, now, this is Easter to me. It's that quiet, hopeful "Really?" It's the deep, miraculous, eternal yes in reply.