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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Cousin(s) (05/22/08)

TITLE: Sunday Guilt
By Joan Brown


Sunday Guilt

Two brothers and a sister are our parents and we are within a few months of each other in age. We sit around a small table in the local Mexican restaurant with chips and salsa and enormous glasses of ice water with lemon and talked about our lives. A battle with cancer that is drawing to a successful close, or at least as closed as those battles ever get. A special needs child crossing into adulthood, drawing out a new kind of energy. A marriage failed and a life of single acceptance. Differences that took our lives down purple and blue lines on a map that haven’t intersected for awhile. More differences, it seems, than similarities.

And then, one of us says, “I lied to my parents last week about being in church.”

All the differences melted away as we smiled around the table, knowing exactly how that situation unfolded. Whatever differences our parents might have, they shared a slavish obedience to the rituals of church attendance. You have to be in church.

“I was just so tired from all that went on this week, behind in everything at home, and feeling that I just needed some quiet communion, on my terms. You know, private worship.” We did know and it made perfect sense. Lives strung out in a million directions sometimes need that inward time, a Sunday morning of quiet meditation, without the fellowship, without the community, without the expectations, just quiet.

“Come sit with me, Lord, let’s have church together today. Just the two of us.”

But we also knew perfectly the conversation that would have followed, maybe through a Sunday evening phone call or a picking up the parent for a Monday morning errand. “So, what was your message about yesterday at church?” We knew just how she felt, like we all felt when we were sixteen and had left church after the morning service and failed to come back for the afternoon service, lost in time driving from the Dairy Queen to the hot dog stand, looking for boyfriends cruising the strip.

Wanting to just deflect the criticism, she just made something up. When she told us, we nodded, because we’d been there. And we’d done what she’d done later, ‘fessed up, that, well, really, we weren’t in church Sunday morning. “Oh, were you sick?”

How predictable these three siblings, with all their differences, are around this issue and so many others. They certainly brought something into adulthood, now into their 80s, that says compliance outweighs almost everything else. Just be there. Just show up. Just don’t let people wonder where you are and what you are doing. Just don’t make waves.

The three of us, cousins, each dragging some of that with us into our 50s, with our lives so different in so many ways, shared a slightly skewed version, as if we’d followed along until life just required an altered path.

No energy for compliance, we seek out communion. No patience for expectations, we look for authenticity. No heart for routine, we crave revelation for our lives. Where our parents measure obedience by showing up, we measure it by searching.

It may mean staying home on an occasional Sunday.

Around the table, with the taco salads and the grilled chicken delivered on sizzling platters, we concluded that they would continue to inspire guilt from time to time, that they couldn’t move from their model anymore than we wanted to move from ours, and that the family patterns that they shared and we shared had value. And that having cousins, moving through life with the same familial DNA, was a blessing.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/29/08
Your last sentence summed up very well what "cousins" means. I could identify with parental expectations--probably have had some of my own. :-) You showed in your story that we make our choices about how best to worship God.
Lucile McKenzie06/01/08
Very well done! I, too, tripped a bit over the first sentence. Think about re-arranging it something like, "Our parents were two brothers and a sister, and we cousins...." It would put the story in perspective right away. Otherwise, no other nits. I could identify with the guilt that comes from sometimes just needing to be quiet at home. You expressed that very well.
Lollie Hofer06/02/08
Loved the part "differences that took our lives down purple and blue lines on a map." And yet not so different. Good "food for thought" in this story. Enjoyed reading it.