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When I size up the crowd filling the pews on Sunday morning, there is a lot of grey hair amongst my fellow church-goers. But not so many 20-somethings are clamoring in ready to hear the sermon.
This makes sense, according to a recent study in the International Journal of Social Economics. Many religions preach that the spiritual payoff comes not during our day-to-day slog, but in the afterlife. And aren’t older adults more keenly aware of their mortality than us youngins? Considering that the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78 years, the study concludes that people believe they can spend decades sleeping in on Sunday mornings before they have to worry about their immortal souls.
And yet, on most Sundays I cajole my reluctant troops to turn off Cartoon Network, change out of their beloved pajamas and stop whining before Mommy has a meltdown. Why do I go through all this effort? I can barely think about what I’m doing next week, so the afterlife is nowhere on my radar. But I do find myself awake at 3 a.m. wondering how I can be a better mother tomorrow (because today was not my best day), how I’ll meet the next deadline, how I’ll manage the exhaustion the next time my kids are sick. And so I shuffle the family into church on Sunday mornings. The hymn singing, the rituals, the sermon have a calming effect on me. I find myself breathing more deeply. I pray, and in doing so I let go of the negative emotions that hound me in the middle of the night. After the service, I drink coffee with the grey-haired elders. I chat with other parents who understand the challenges of calming down an impatient 3-year-old who likes to yell, “Are we done now?” at the end of each hymn.
At church I am relaxed; I feel part of a community; I know I’m not alone in my challenges. And so while I may be too young to be concerned with the next life just yet, my everyday working soul appreciates the respite.