Above the exit of our church lies a sign — “The sermon is over. The service begins.” Or something like that (stupid mom-brain). This is the gist, though, and often when I pass under those words I think to myself “Wait. What was the sermon about again?”
Some Sundays I can’t even recall the readings for the day — any of them. You’d think out of the Psalms, Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel I’d be able to remember at least one of them. But nope. Mom-brain is part of the problem, for sure. No, really. Every child seems to make my memory so. much. worse. But it’s not just about this exhaustion-induced short-term memory loss. I’m also prone to distraction.
It’s not even the kids’ fault. I mean, sure, yes, they do contribute with the flailing in the pews, the bickering over crayons, the trips to the potty and the questions of “is it over yet?” Sure, I’m struggling to keep the baby from ripping out a page from the hymnal while shaking the toddler off my leg and reminding the preschooler to stand up for the millionth time. But that obnoxious dork, old Adam, isn’t known for stellar focus, especially on God’s Word. So that even when the kids are acting perfectly and the baby is sleeping sweetly in my arms, my mind still drifts. I know the pastor is speaking. I see his lips moving. But the Word isn’t registering.
I’m sure I’m not alone. I know I’m not, because my husband has the same problem. He, too, has exhaustion-induced short-term memory loss, be it “dad-brain” or “helicopter-pilot-struck-by-tinitus-so-he-can’t-sleep brain”, whichever. Add onto that the stress over upcoming exams, money concerns or wondering if our basement is flooding while we sit in the pew, and we have a major recipe for distraction in our family.
Whether you have kids or not — whether there are even little kids in your congregation or not — you may very well struggle with focusing during the Divine Service. Maybe you had a restless night and just want a nap. Perhaps you’re worried about a family member’s health. Or you’re anxiously awaiting word about the arrival of another grand baby. Or, you’re craving that bacon-wrapped pork roast you put in the crockpot this morning. I mean, it’s bacon. And pork. Mmmmm.
Distractions come in many forms, and they leave us feeling guilty and frustrated. We know the importance of this Divine Service — it’s why we’re here week-in and week-out, sliding into that pew when we could otherwise sleep in, get up-to-the-minute updates on friends in labor or simply smell that pork roast. No, we know we need to be at church, hearing God’s Word and receiving His Sacrament. We know it, so we go, but then we just can’t focus. We walk out the door an hour later, and all we can remember is how we need to find out who made those cookies, because they were just so good. The sermon topic, the Gospel reading, the epistle… wait, did Pastor skip over those? Because I just can’t recall them!
Before you go and berate yourself for being a horrible person and the worst Christian ever, take heart.
First, you’re not alone. Now, this doesn’t excuse this lack of attention, and this doesn’t condone daydreaming, but it does admit these things happen. Second, even if the Pastor doesn’t see you nodding off a little (though he might), God knows you don’t always hear everything He tells you through that Pastor. And this is the beauty of His Divine Service and the liturgy. There in His Word preached, His absolution given, His body and blood placed on your tongue He comes to you. Whether you remember the sermon word for word, or all you can remember is that the Pastor absolved you of your sins and fed you Jesus at the railing, God is there. For you.
There in the liturgy you can know — even if you can’t recall — that God’s Word was spoken to you and for you. Amidst every distraction, great and small, our Lord is good and almighty working in simple Words, Bread and Wine to give you the forgiveness you need.