‘Tis a Far, Far Better Thing

I have a job where I occasionally have to work on Sundays. When I do, I can work from anywhere, because all I need is my laptop and an internet connection. My weekend work is rote work that doesn’t take much thought; generally, I listen to books on tape or watch TV, and the work I’m doing is only a minimal distraction from those things. Nowadays my weekend work hours are flexible, but for the first year I was on a strict schedule of 8am-4pm, which, of course, included the hours I would normally be at church.

All of this is background to my discussion question: in this situation, do you think I should go to church? I can take my laptop and work there; my work is quiet (no typing) and I can sit in the back so my computer isn’t a major distraction to others. This wouldn’t be a weekly thing (more like once every 3-4 months). This way, I’d get to take the sacrament and listen to the talks and lessons, since my work isn’t much distraction, and I would fulfill my Sunday habit of going to church. (Whatever private heterodoxies I might entertain, I am committed to attending church regularly.)

On the minus side, it’s incredibly rude to the speakers to be seen with a laptop during the meeting, as it appears that I’m not listening (though appearances may be deceiving, since my work takes so little of my attention). It also makes a bad impression or example for the other ward members, who may not get the benefit of a full explanation from me. It also means that my attention isn’t fully focused on the talks and lessons, and it means I’m less available for fellowship with other ward members, since I’m busy working (and have to head home afterwards).

I’m not going to say yet what I’ve chosen to do, but I’m curious: which do you think is choosing the better part? If you were in this situation, would you go to church?


  1. What strikes me in your analysis is that all of the reasons you give for doing your work at the back of the chapel are ones that would benefit you. And half or more of the reasons for not doing your work at the back of the chapel have to do with negative effects on fellow congregants and your ability to provide them with fellowship.

    If that is the case, then perhaps you might want to analyze this dilemma from a third angle. Do you want to give greater weight to the reasons that are based upon what’s good for you or the reasons that are based upon what may be detrimental for the group?

    With some dilemmas it is better to make decisions based on the former and with some dilemmas it is better to make decisions based on the latter. You are the one who is best able to determine which this one is in your particular situation. Or, perhaps even better, understanding that dichotomy, to be able to creatively find, with a bit of inspiration, a different, outside the box solution that benefits both you and the group.

  2. MB, trust me, I’ve thought a lot about that but I didn’t want to burden the post with all my analysis. I agree that that is the trade off here, but that’s what makes me curious about this question–to what extent is going to church so good for me that I can potentially negatively impact others’ experiences there, and to what extent is it so centered around the community that I should stay away to my own detriment? I’m genuinely curious about the way other people would perceive that trade in this situation.

    RMM, I don’t want to say too much about my job or I would be instantly betraying my real identity. There are a few more details about this situation that I might add later, but for now I’ll just apologize for the lack of specifics.

  3. Interesting observation from MB. Spiritually, I don’t get much from church. It’s about the community. I wouldn’t be able to socialize while working, so it wouldn’t be worth going. Also in terms of being a community member, I think it would be rude to have a laptop. In my building it couldn’t be discreet.

    Actually, could you go listen to sacrament meeting while sitting in the RS room? Isn’t the chapel audio usually hooked up to the RS room? That could be discreet.

  4. HokieKate’s suggestion is an example of trying to move this from an either-or dilemma to a creative alternative solution, taking in the challenges of both proposed solutions. And there are a lot of those creative solutions possible here.

    But it sounds to me like what you are really looking for is a careful, thoughtful discussion of how to balance inclinations to act in favor of one’s own personal good (and possible ability to do good) with the opposing aversion to possibly detrimentally affecting others.

    It’s a common ethical dilemma. And I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution. But I do think that being able to successfully select a good solution that addresses all issues rides less on one’s personal analysis of the situation and more on one’s ability to communicate with the affected group of people as the solution is sought. That way they are alerted and can be involved in the opportunity to create understanding and assist in preventing the potential for damage to them.

    It’s not so much an “either-or” for one person to decide, but a “who and how and we” for you and the group affected by your decision. Much harder to do and time consuming, but generally more effective. And a bit closer to creating a Zion sort of approach to challenges.

  5. I thought of the same thing as hokiekate. My building has many rooms with audio and I take advantage of them more often than I care to admit.

  6. Does the Father knows what is happening to you? who gives the gifts? who will really blame you?

    My solution is this: if your will is right and you have not ‘yet’ real awareness of a better fruitful solution, do not worry. Pray to Him for His grace for you to become always a better sister of Jesus Christ, fulfilling all commitments perfectly. You cannot avoid the dogs barked.

  7. My reaction was the opposite from Tim’s – if this is only an issue 3-4 times a year, I’d feel no compunction about staying home. Bringing a laptop into church and working on it during meetings just doesn’t sit well with me.

  8. I know at least for myself its extremely distracting when someone is on their laptop in front of me. I’m with ECW, if this is only going to happen 4 (maybe 5) times a year there’s no reason to feel guilty about staying home. Chances are you miss more Sundays being sick than working.

  9. For me, missing three or four times a year is no biggie. Were I in your shoes, that is what I would do. (But I consider missing a sort of vacation; if you really, really want to be there, then my perspective is not a helpful one, I’m afraid.)

  10. I’m not sure if my post was clear enough–I’m not still in this situation, as nowadays my weekend work comes with flexible hours, which means I can both attend 3 hours of church and complete my 8 hours of work. Also, thanks to some other changes, I don’t think I’ve had to work a Sunday in nearly a year now. So thanks for the suggestion, Tim, but I am (and was) quite happy with my job and never even considered looking for a new one over this issue.

    The suggestion to listen to the audio in the Relief Society room is a good one, and, oddly enough, something I had also never considered; I don’t have children so I’ve never been in a situation (other than this one, I suppose) where I couldn’t be in the chapel during sacrament meeting.

    And I’m curious about this in part because I generally simply skipped church in this situation, but after several times of doing that I realized that it only made me feel worse about my weekend work–guilty because I couldn’t go to church, and, honestly, spiritually underfed because I hadn’t had the opportunity to take the sacrament that week. Additionally, my weekend work was often quite demoralizing and, well, soul-damaging, and I found myself more at peace when I could also attend church. That’s where the dilemma actually came to life for me–church, and especially sacrament meeting, was something I wanted and needed, but my presence there would be distracting for other people and I wanted to be sensitive to the community as well as to myself.

    I think I ended up bringing my laptop to church only once or twice, and when I did I made every effort when I did to not be distracting–I sat in the overflow area in the back, to the side, where there was no one behind me, and I tried to be as quiet as possible, and look up at the speakers as often as I could. I also wasn’t entirely comfortable bringing my computer, so I only did this when I felt strongly about taking the sacrament.

    I guess I’m just thinking about this scenario because I’m curious, in general, about the ethics of balancing a personal desire for church with the needs of the community. I also think the scenario is an interesting one because of the intersections with other possible scenarios where one person’s presence at church may be distracting or uncomfortable for others. I can think of lots of examples here–women dressed in certain ways may be distracting for some; people who smell of cigarette smoke might be distracting for others. I don’t think we’d ever tell those people they shouldn’t come to church or sit in the chapel, and yet (even to me) the laptop situation feels different, and I’m not sure why.

  11. Thoughtful.

    For me, whenever I am participating in an event or ceremony that is important to me or for which I wish to show respect, and I am obligated by other, non-people oriented committments to be less than fully present for it, I am bothered by the fact that the situation I have brought with me prevents me from being able to fully focus on what, for me, is the more important activity going on, and may prevent others from doing so as well.

    On the other hand, if I did not attend that event or ceremony that I felt deep respect for at all, I would also feel thwarted and dissatisfied at not being able to be present.

    I think that is simply a manifestation of discomfort due to feeling unable to have your actions fully reflect your priorities or the desires of your heart. And to a woman who is trying to live with integrity, though such situations may be unavoidable sometimes, it’s just plain uncomfortable.

  12. Intriguing situation, especially seeing the reactions.

    I think that if you go to church, heading in the Relief Society room (or other auxilliary room with speakers) might be ideal. Since I know our Deacons in our ward take a brief look in the foyer and then head right back in the chapel, it might be a good idea to let someone know you’ll be down there so they know to visit you.

    On the other hand, not sure of the CHI dictates on this, but could it be a possibility to have someone bring you the sacrament at your house after church? I know it’s usually for extreme circumstances (elderly, very sick, directly-post pregnant women, hospital-bound), but that might be an option?

  13. Your situation makes me think of some women I know who bring their knitting with them to church–it actually helps them (because of ADHD, PTSD, and other things) calm themselves and focus on the meeting in a way that they could not otherwise.

    If you know (or just hope) you would benefit from being at church, even if you had to bring your laptop with you, I think you should just bring it.

    I don’t know how large your congregation is, but I can’t imagine that if a speaker were even to notice your laptop from the other end of the chapel that it would be a huge deal. How many other people in the audience have out their iPods and iPads, after all?

    And if you were worried about the message you might be sending a Gospel Doctrine or RS teacher you could always just say, “I have to have my laptop with me today because of work, but I’m so glad I get to be here for your lesson.”

  14. One last note: I realize that a good part of your question is really about whether you should engage in behavior that might lesson the spiritual experience of those around you so that you can have your own spiritual experience.

    IMHO, it would be a good thing for our congregations to welcome those who wish to join us in worship, even if this means that sometimes things will happen that are outside the norm.


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