“Oh, Mom, my stomach hurts. I don’t think I can go to church this morning,” said nearly every American child at some point during childhood. Sunday sickness or Sunday illness can refer to one of two syndromes. In the above example, Sunday sickness is an imaginary malady that attacks when church attendance is expected but undesired. It usually hits first thing in the morning but does not affect the appetite or the sufferer’s ability to watch television, play video games, or enjoy outdoor activities. The second definition of Sunday sickness refers to the slump a person feels on Sunday afternoon as he or she anticipates the workweek ahead. It is a form of mild depression that lasts until Monday morning.
Sickness can be multifaceted, so determining whether or not it is real may not be as easy as it sounds. Our minds can play tricks on us, and, if we believe ourselves to be sick, then sometimes we can actually make ourselves so. A child who desperately does not want to attend a church service can even make himself throw up, so in that regard his Sunday sickness is real. A worker who hates her job may, in fact, feel so glum at the prospect of Monday morning that she has no enthusiasm for Sunday afternoon activities. She may truly feel sick.
Another factor worthy of consideration is Satan’s role in Sunday sickness. We know from Scripture that Satan and his demons are actively at work to thwart God’s plan and harm His people (1 Peter 5:8; Luke 22:31). It is likely that demonic attacks play a part in some instances of Sunday sickness as the enemy works to keep people away from the preaching of God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
However, the most probable explanation for Sunday sickness is the desire of our own sinful flesh. Children who have not yet grown in their faith may see church attendance as a drudgery that robs them of playtime. Christian parents need to be aware of the sin tendencies present in their children and not allow them to indulge their selfishness on a regular basis. Adults who fall prey to Sunday sickness also need to check their hearts. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (ESV).
If we have fallen into a habit of using Sunday sickness as an excuse to avoid something God wants us to do, we should ask ourselves some probing questions:
1. Am I allowing my relationship with God to grow cold? (Revelation 2:4–5)
2. Have I grown so arrogant that I believe I don’t need the fellowship and accountability of other Christians? (Hebrews 10:25)
3. Do I need to find another church where I can grow and look forward to attending?
4. Am I being controlled by my sinful flesh or by the Holy Spirit in making this decision? (Galatians 5:16, 25)
Those with Sunday afternoon sickness might ask these questions:
1. Am I seeking to glorify God in my job or school every day? (1 Corinthians 10:31)
2. Could God be asking me to develop endurance at this place where He has me? (James 1:3)
3. Are my feelings a reflection of an ungrateful spirit? Should I be thanking God rather than feeling glum? (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
4. Am I lying about being sick instead of being honest about my feelings? (Colossians 3:9)
Sunday sickness is a “real thing” in that it prevents sufferers from engaging in all God has for them. Whether Sunday sickness is a true physical malady or simply a figment of the imagination, the results are the same. Christians are reminded that to be in Christ means we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). To follow Christ wholeheartedly means our sinful flesh does not get a vote. When we stop listening to it, we may find that our Sunday sickness has been cured.