When a day like Mothers Day comes along for churchgoers, I often find small pockets of resistance, even within the christian blogosphere.
This is where we say something about weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. The difference between personal worship and corporate worship boils down to an open heart and mind, embracing all the very many experiences humankind can live through, and together weeping and rejoicing as fitting.
But while this is very true and we need to recognize and appreciate the vast spectrum of life experience individuals in our congregation have faced, it also occurs to me that we need to call people out on their narcissism. It proves to me, yet again, how consumeristic we are in our church going habits and that we take the worst of family life – the tension, the bitterness, the betrayal, and frustrations – right into the church with us. We want to reprimand the church for trying to cram everyone into a package, like a one size fits all t-shirt that doesn’t quite cover everyone the same way. And those who don’t fit, feel ostracized and even villainized by a church where they should be accepted and embraced as is, no matter where they are in life.
I do hurt for those who are angry and confused and don’t understand why God isn’t giving them what they want – marriage, children, a job or whatever it is they are longing for right now. I get it. I have certainly been there. And it made me not want to go to church too. It made me want to avoid good Christian, shiny, happy people because I, in that moment, would rather be stung by five bees on each extremity than to have to sit through a sermon on how to be a good mom.
But in more recent years, I also matured in my understanding of what it meant to be part of God’s family, and I sucked it up and I went to church on those dreaded days and I wished others in their seemingly perfect existences a happy day (though I have certainly learned since that not everyone is nearly as happy as they may seem at church). What I realized is that avoiding God and the family He provided for us here on earth wasn’t the answer. It was my own self-centered anger that kept me from truly experiencing church as He intended. Because if we aren’t coming to God in the middle of our hurt and anger, our fears or frustrations, honestly and fully, then we aren’t really coming to God at all. In essence, we are hiding in plain sight. And it makes me wonder if we really think we are capable of hiding from Him in the first place, if we are really fooling ourselves into thinking that. Or if we think that hiding from others in our sorrow is going to make us less sorrowful. If we think that we go into a church and feel that we have to put on a mask and hide what’s wrong, then either we aren’t going to the right church, or we aren’t getting what that Sunday morning community is all about.
Maybe it is after all the Church’s fault. I would be the first in line to say that the Church historically did a poor job of welcoming all sorts from all walks of life. Even today, many churches, if they were being honest with themselves, would really rather have clones of their Sunday best people than living, breathing uniquely beautiful and uniquely troubled individuals walking through our doors and expressing themselves in any real obvious ways. And maybe it’s in our choices of liturgy and songs that we begin to open those doors wider, giving people the freedom to grieve and to be frustrated. Maybe we make a conscious effort to say something about those people who braved the plethora of mom greetings and overt references to the hallmark holiday to sit in the pew and to still worship. A good church, a faithful, loving, God-fearing church will do that and more. They won’t just do it on Mothers Day. They will do it every week and will establish regularly that on any given Sunday, we are a building filled with broken people with messed up circumstances and bruised souls, feeling at times largely unfulfilled and longing for something to renew their hope and joy in life.
And the right church will point us away from ourselves and our obsession with all that is less than stellar in our lives, and will point us to the Jesus who is making us holy, and is, right here and right now, giving us ALL we need. Whatever you have in your possession at this very moment is all you need for hope and joy in life. Whatever boxes on the demographic checklist you check off, wherever you find yourself on the Game of Life board game, however many people came in your car this morning, that’s exactly where God has you and keeps you, for this day, for His glory and for your good.
So in many ways, it is one size fits all. In many ways, our churches need to be reminding us of that every Sunday, reminding us that in our weakest, most frustrated, angriest, saddest, harshest times, we belong in the pews. We need to be there, in exactly the state of mind we are in, exactly the place in life we are in and however we look and feel. Come as you are. And the Church will meet you and welcome you and bear your burdens and brave the storm. We will remember to not ask the impertinent questions or ostracize unwittingly or deliberately. We will stop making church all about “us” – whatever “us” we decide we are. We are all one body, one size, the right size, because we wear the same cross.
And we will remember that on this day, the Lord’s Day, every Sunday, we aren’t merely putting ourselves and our real life concerns aside to come to church. In fact, we are bringing all we are and all we hope to be and all our burdens with us into His throne room and using these very burdens to praise Him in the midst of the storms. It is because of our burdens, our hurts, our fears, our skepticism and doubt, that we enter into the courts of praise and show our face, bare and unmasked, bruised and in pain, to the God who sees it any way, to the family of God who needs to see it and speak to its hardship more often than it has in the past, and to the world who so desperately needs to see it all being redeemed. Oh that our churches will be a beacon! That we would be known for our love and tender caring for all. That God’s glory will be revealed in us, through broken jars of clay, through stories of sadness and longing, through the faithfulness and kindness of others shown at every turn, and through the joy that comes in the morning.