I love most Sunday afternoons.
There is nothing quite like coming home after church and knowing that until Monday morning, if you choose, the world exists exclusively inside your home.
Like many of you, we don't shop or eat out on Sundays, and we generally stay close to home base.
Sometimes we'll travel to visit a relative or share dinner with family or friends, but even in those activities, we do our best to treat it as a day of rest. Admittedly, we're not always successful, but we recognize our failures and constantly work toward a better understanding and a tighter embrace of the Sabbath. After years of far-too-casual treatment of his day, it's become a high priority for our family.
If you're actively involved in any church, you know that Sundays are not always strictly for worship. They're also a common day for the administration of church affairs. There are often planning or finance meetings, myriad committees, scheduling sessions and more.
The business of doing God's work, no matter your religion, unavoidably requires us to dip our foot in the world's pool of paperwork, assignments and administration.
My current volunteer assignment in the LDS Church is to serve as the president of the young men's organization covering 11 congregations in the Winchester, Va., area. Every week I have the opportunity to meet, fellowship and teach young men 12 to 18 years old in wonderful places like Woodstock, Front Royal and Berryville. I've never had so much fun serving in church.
This particular assignment, like many others, requires a number of meetings to ensure the needs of the young men in our area are being met.
Are they growing closer to their Heavenly Father? Are they being spiritually fed each week in their respective congregations? What can we, as leaders, do to enhance their growth as men in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
These meetings, held at least once a month, also cover the nuts and bolts of leadership. What activities might we share with the young women?
Who's planning the barbecue next week? Who's designing the poster? Who's inviting the speaker to our next youth conference? Who should be assigned to this or that new committee?
These are important decisions made in important meetings by people with important responsibilities. These sessions are usually enjoyable and productive. I value them and the people who sacrifice to attend.
On a recent Sunday, my family returned from church with fewer scars than normal. There was no pushing, biting or screaming. No animal cracker wars. No shoes tossed three pews forward. It was a complete, and rare, peaceful and successful trip to worship in the church we love so dearly.
After mom's famous nachos for lunch and a quick discussion about the busy week ahead — we call it Family Council in the tradition of my own mom and dad — the kids disappeared to read, color, play with toys, etc.
My youngest went to his room to play with his treasure-of-the-moment, a green toy ball he'd been carrying and sleeping with for days.
As for my wife and me, we found ourselves sitting in the living room rehashing the morning at church and enjoying the unusually quiet Sabbath afternoon.
Then I looked at my watch.
"You have a meeting today, don't you?" she asked.
Sigh. "I do."
"All the way at the chapel in Winchester?" It was another question she already knew the answer to. She also knew very well it's a 40-minute round-trip drive.
"You need to be there?"
And with that I stood up, slowly retied my tie, and trudged back upstairs to retrieve the suit coat I'd tossed upon the bed.
Then it happened.
As I walked back out of my room, my 3-year-old son met me in the doorway. He was wearing his favorite crocodile shirt with red flannel snapping jaws and green shorts. "Where are you going?" he asked.
"I have a meeting, bud."
"Yes, a church meeting. I'll be home tonight."
Then with pure childlike innocence he pulled his green toy ball from his pocket and said, "But there's a meeting in my room, Daddy."
"There is?" The lump in my throat felt like an 8-pound bowling ball.
"Yes," he said. "It's a green toy ball meeting. And it's reaaaaaally important."
Ouch. Make that 12 pounds.
I knelt down and he opened his skinny fingers, one of them sticky with leftover nacho cheese. In his palm he held his prized green toy ball.
Looking back, I sure wish I'd said something profound. Instead, with tears racing to form drops and a pit in my stomach, I simply gave him a hug and promised to be home by bedtime. Then I closed his fingers back around the ball, patted his lowered head and sank down the stairs.
Ten minutes later, I rolled out of the driveway and headed to a meeting I hardly remember attending. I'm sure it was productive, and I'm sure important decisions were made.
I've thought of that afternoon almost every afternoon since. I love my church responsibilities and the opportunities I have to serve the Lord and the youths around me. Serving them brings me closer to him. Of that I have no doubt.
But what happens when the meetings and planning and planning more meetings becomes more important than the people we serve? At what point do I — or you — allow those we love the most to become low priority items on life's agenda?
I love the Lord. I love his gospel. I love the people with whom I worship every week. I'm especially grateful for the amazing young men I work so closely with and for whom I pray for their success and well-being.
But in the very end, when the meetings have concluded and the benedictions have been said, when the only one across the table is the Judge, the Holy One, the Redeemer of Mankind, I suspect my attendance at the administrative councils of life and religion will matter much less than the number of times I said "yes" to the green toy ball meetings.
I can't wait for the next one.