Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act — Proverbs 3:27

This title is going to get me in trouble with my mom. Sorry mom. Hopefully you will read to the end and realize I mean well.

I am going to get right to it.

If you are religious, I think that it is a good a idea for you to skip skip church. Or temple. Or mosque. Or wherever you may go to worship whatever God you choose to believe in.

I do not think you should skip every week. Just once a month. Take one Sunday, or Saturday, completely rededicated to something else.

“What else?” you ask…

Service.

The Prayers. 

If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.” — Siddhartha Gautama  (The Buddha)

 This idea first came to me when I was very young. It was only recently that I found the courage to share it.

You see, I grew up in a very religious family. I went to church almost every week. I went to private Lutheran schools for most of school years. I was an usher at my church. I sang in my school’s choir. Going to church every Sunday was a regular part of my family’s weekly schedule.

And every Sunday, our church would have weekly prayers. These prayers were lengthy and often included individual prayers for anyone ranging from members of the congregation to victims of a particular natural disaster to our national politicians:

Lord please be with Evelyn on her birthday. Please watch over the Petersen family as they mourn the passing of Edith Petersen. Lord please keep the victims and the families of the Sandy Hook shooting in your loving embrace. Please pass your healing hand over Russell as he recovers from hip replacement surgery.”

I would listen to these prayers in church. These prayers specifically mentioning people who were experiencing a difficult time in their lives. Some of these people required a miracle. Divine intervention, or just really, really good luck, was necessary for their outlook to change.

But often the church prayers centered around members of the congregation who were simply having a tough go of things. They were particularly ill. They were mourning the loss of a loved one. Recovering from surgery. Bed-ridden from a recent fall. Going through a divorce.

One sunny March morning, I had an epiphany.

“Wait. WE are the answers to these prayers.”

Every single person in the church had the ability to help. Every person possessed a unique skill set that they could share with the world.

Most of the people that we were praying for did not need to have their water turned to wine. They didn’t needed some divine miracle. They needed someone to go sit and play cards with them. Or to come and help them with yard work. They needed a babysitter to help watch their kids for a couple hours. They needed a friend to visit them in the hospital. An ear to bend. A shoulder to cry on.

It was painfully ironic to watch a building full of people who possessed the answers to their own prayers continue to pray for a divine spirit to intervene.

I imagined God sitting somewhere on a lofty cloud thinking, “Well, I have given you all a tremendous amount of gifts. Why ain’t you using em?”

Why You Should Skip Church. 

The reward of goodness is nothing but goodness — Al Quran 55:61

Now, I want to make it very clear that I am not encouraging anyone to abandon religion. Nor am I here to bash it.

I am very aware of the fact that churches, parishes, temples and mosques are daily working to help improve their communities. I know that in many communities, the church or the mosque is the only place that is doing this type of work.

But I will not shy away from stating that I believe many religious people are doing more wishful thinking than productive acting.

The beauty of the “skip church” idea is that you do not need to find time in your already busy week to lend a helping hand. If you are a religious person, you have already reserved a block of time each week for worship. The time is available. You simply need to erase “go to church” and pencil in a volunteering activity.

This study from Statista shows that close to 22% of the American population goes to church or synagogue on a weekly basis. With a total population close to 330 million people, 22% is about 72,600,000. That means that if every regular worship attendee skipped service once a month and instead volunteered for two hours, there would be an additional 145,200,000 hours of volunteer work each month.

That is an extra 6,050,000 complete days of volunteer manpower each month.

Think of all the houses that could be built, children fed and old people comforted with that amount of time. Quite the difference from a relatively small change.

Plus, a Sunday away from the confines of your church or temple might be just the thing you need to strengthen your individual faith.

Here is an analogy that some of you might be able to relate to:

Weightlifting and strength-training programs are specifically designed to avoid what is referred to as “plateauing.” Plateauing is when your body no longer responds to your training program. In its incredible ability to adapt, the body adjusts to the routine of a physical workout and muscle growth comes to a halt.

In order to avoid a plateau, strength-training programs consistently implement change so as to keep the body continually guessing. Cross-Fit is a prime example of an exercise program designed specifically towards avoiding a plateau.

Is it impossible for your faith to plateau?

Is it so far out to think that going to the same building, repeating the same mantras, singing the same songs and shaking the same hands every Sunday might not be the best way for your faith to grow?  Do you really think doing the same thing every week is the best recipe for you to get the most from your religion?

Community service will come as a much-needed change of pace. Your faith would be engaged in new ways and would thus grow. You would have a chance to put into action the principles so often talked about in your house of worship. You would see the pain and the joy and the struggle of those you pray for each week. By loving, you would experience love.

Can you think of a better place to coordinate volunteering efforts than a church or a mosque or a temple? Religion is to community service what Las Vegas is to gambling.

What you decide to do is up to you.

You, better than anyone else, should know your own skill set. If you are handy, find someone who could use help around their house. If you like to cook, prepare a meal for a grieving family. If you prefer to be social, go sit at a nursing home and play bridge. Bring breakfast to someone in the hospital. Go rake leaves for the single mother who could really use a hand or two around the house.

If you find yourself saying that you have no idea how you can help, you are either not thinking hard enough about the problem or not thinking highly enough about yourself.

Here are some examples of how I have put this idea to practice. 

  • While living in Medellin, Colombia I volunteered in some of the poorer neighborhoods of the city working with kids. I like working with kids. I have worked as a teacher. Some people close to me would argue strongly that I am basically a big kid. We played with the kids, taught them some English and passed out snacks. The crazy part? I got to see parts of the city I might have never seen previously. After one class the students took us on a hike. Here is a photo from that hike:

Here is a video about the program.

  • I helped to work out/train with a younger Colombian kid while living in Medellin. He was about to leave for the United States for a basketball camp. He was going to be playing in front of college scouts and was hoping to get a scholarship. I love to play ball, have played my whole life and am abnormally large. I was able to provide him with experience playing against a bigger, stronger player. Twice a week, for about a month, we met at a court. I rebounded for him, went through ball handling drills and played one on one. A friend and I even bought him a container of protein to help him bulk up. He was offered a scholarship to a private school in Missouri.

Notice how my volunteering efforts aligned with things I liked to do? That was on purpose. There is no giant rule book that says when you help people it has to suck. Do things you like to do.

Prayer Without Action is Hollow.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” — James 2: 14–17

Because here’s the thing. Nice thoughts, while nice, are simply not enough. I would be amazed if anyone reading this expected to make a living by simply closing their eyes and wishing really hard for money to appear in their bank account.

No matter what the situation is, if you want for things to get better, the answer is almost always found in some form of action. Want to lose weight? Eat less, exercise more. Interested in learning another language? Crack open that book and start studying. Want to learn to surf? Not likely to happen if you’re sunbathing on the beach.

If you are religious and you are passionate about your faith, then it is essential for you to be the tip of the spear. For you to be the person on the front lines of life enacting change and providing the greater good.

I do not want to diminish prayer. Pray on. I am not religious and even I admit that prayer is a wonderfully reflective and contemplative exercise. Put all those positive vibes out into the cosmos.

But prayer and action do not need to be mutually exclusive events. Why can’t you pray AND take a little action? I am sure whatever God you believe in would appreciate a helping hand.

I would like to leave you with this thought.

Among the major religions of the world, there are few ideals that are universally recognized by all of them. Service and goodwill to others is one. Kindness does not favor one religion over another. Love does not belong to the worshipers of a single supreme being. Remember:

If you find yourself saying that you have no idea how you can help, you are either not thinking hard enough about the problem or not thinking highly enough about yourself.

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