Feature Story, Online edition!

What is your “Sunday Best?” With Karen Milioto

Last Sunday, while feeding my horses before church, I set the buckets down, and glanced at my shoes. Laughing at the sight of my ‘Sunday Best’ atop a pile of muck. I attempted to dust them off, then hopped into the car with the notion of ‘Sunday Best’ still circulating in my mind.

What exactly is ‘Sunday Best’? I wondered.

Is it the clothing we put on that morning? Is it our accumulation of knowledge or our ability to use certain language with ease? Is it how much we give of ourselves? Is it the behavior of children? Or perfectly coifed hair, approving smiles and nodded heads as the message is delivered?

Is that our ‘best’?

I have always struggled with the notion of bringing my ‘best’. Failing to live up to whatever I believed that ‘best’ was.

First, I was a little girl who was fairly disruptive. I sang a bit too loud and I loved to use wild hand gestures for all of the songs. Often landing me on the receiving end of a few disapproving glares.

Then, as a youth, I lacked sound decision-making skills and for a while I failed to live up to the expectations of myself and the people around me. By then, the notion of ‘Sunday Best’ paired with those disapproving glares resided within me, and urged me to believe I wasn’t good enough for God or the church.

Nowadays, as I look around at the faces of the people I encounter, I can’t help but notice signs of this ongoing plight. I see weary expressions. People struggling day after day to bring their ‘best’ to those around them. Who seem exhausted from trying to live up to the arbitrary marks set for them by other human beings. I see slouched frames, heads hung low, creases and sometimes tears forming in the corner of tired eyes. Evidence of defeat is visible everywhere. From our church pews, to the streets outside and all of the other pockets and corners of our lives in-between.

And it’s strange, because the Message we have been given to carry out from our Sundays into the world, is not a message of defeat, but a message of provision. And unearned, undeserved love. Not because of what our best looks like. But because of Who we belong to.

We have the message of grace.

And as, a recipient of this audacious and underserved gift, I feel compelled to reframe what ‘Sunday Best’ represents. Repositioning it from an outward appearance and anchoring it as a constant posture of my heart.

The best I can bring on behalf of God in this world is humble gratitude of what has been done for me. And to be a living illustration of what it looks like to receive God’s love. Standing alongside all of the muck and mud of my lift and somehow still set apart and chosen as His treasured possession. And made holy not because of who I am or what I do, but because of Who lives through me.

The best of me is Jesus.

Karen is a former Bostonian who now resides on a small farm just north of Baton Rouge.

She loves scripture and her garden and often weaves both into her work as a writer. In 2017, Publisher’s Weekly described her debut memoir, Mustard Seeds and Water Lines as an ‘emotional and finely crafted’ account of her personal journey towards healing after The Great Flood of 2016, in their annual Book Life Prize review. And, as her story has made its way across the country, readers have consistently embraced her as an authentic voice with a message of hope in the wake of a disaster.

Karen is a wife, mother and weekly co-host of The Back Porch Book Club, a podcast designed to build community and conversation surrounding books about Spiritual Formation and the Bible.

You can find her on Instagram @karenmilioto or online at www.karenmilioto.com