Imagine if you will a portrait of Paradise, with a white cottage in the midst of a green garden. A young boy plays outside in the sunshine. He is wearing pajamas.
This is likely not your picture of Paradise, but it’s one of the only memories I have of a weekend spent in Paradise … California. In predawn hours, my parents had bundled me directly out of my cozy Bay Area bed into the faithful ’49 Plymouth, hoping to complete the long drive in time to meet friends there for Sabbath School. Asleep on the back seat, attired in my favorite pajamas, I was blissfully unaware of an impending crisis — my clothes had been forgotten at home.
I was old enough to know that attending an unfamiliar children’s Sabbath School in PJs was not likely to reap admiring compliments from kindergarten peers. My parents were wise enough to understand that missing class was preferable to a son with post-traumatic issues. Nevertheless, my memories of that decades-old weekend are a bit foggy. I recall nothing more than the faint image in the sunshine and a nagging sense of dysfunctional embarrassment.
Neither do I ever recall observing anyone else wearing pajamas to Sabbath School. From an early age, we have been schooled in the art of “dress for success.” Even Ellen White admonished women to avoid dressing “like images to frighten the crows from the corn” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 464).
My mother used to say with a meaningful glance in my direction, “You wouldn’t wear Levis for an appointment with the president, would you?” No, I probably wouldn’t. But coming into the presence of the Lord carries a markedly different dynamic than a formal handshake or photo-op with the chief executive. Respect is one thing. Honesty is another. Worship is much more than making an appearance.
Look around you at church this coming Sabbath. Suits and dresses mingle with sport shirts and jeans. Put aside your human tendency to focus on what you can easily see. Press “pause” in your judgment of those in the pews. To be praiseworthy and pleasing to the Lord, worship must be without pretense. True worship is a "turn your eyes upon Jesus” and not "upon us" experience. Our Father is less interested in how shiny we are on the outside than how open we are on the inside.
Rather than critically measuring each other, Sabbath School and church should be an opportunity to “look full in His wonderful face.” A place and time where “the things of Earth will go strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
And when our study and worship are bathed in the light of His grace, we find safety and assurance with each other as we journey together with Him.
So go ahead, polish the shoes, do your hair, wear your best. But know that the King of the universe looks past that to your soul. And no outward bling will improve a heart shut tight against His call.