Hmmmm... I don't like pretense and I can't seem to pretend that I do :)
I once was in a workshop involving teachers from several districts. I ended up in a group with a woman who said (more than once) that she couldn't stand clutter, that her kids understood that and kept their rooms clean. And that at the end of every day, when she made an inspection of her house - once she knew for sure that everything was in it's place, she was fine. She reiterated this theme and elaborated on it by saying that as long as her house was picked up, she had no worries, no problems, none at all. Some in the group quizzed her about that: no worries?? no problems??? But she stuck to her guns: dirty socks in the dirty clothes bin = life is good.
As I heard her speak, I remembered that joke about denial is not just a river in Egypt... As she proceeded to tell us how smooth and trouble -free her life was (and had always been), I remember thinking, "You have more than one child. You have at least one kid who is an adolescent. You are approaching middle age. You teach full time. And the biggest problem in your life is making sure that the house is completely tidy before you go to bed??"
Some things are just hard to believe.
Most people I know are pretty realistic about the problems and issues that they face in the everyday stress and strain of life. In fact, this woman's statements stand out in my mind many years later simply because I'd never heard anyone take a stand like that and hold onto it. Most teachers, at some point in time, will tell you teaching is demanding, kids can get on your nerves, the pay check doesn't always stretch - sometimes it snaps, and dirty socks are usually not at the top of the problem-solving list for each day. From what I've seen, most teachers are positive, encouraging, and nurturing but also ...realists.
What I mean by that is this: they don't go to school singing, "I love that beautiful feeling that I feel when I get together with the State Depts'. wonderful children..."
And yet, that's exactly what we do sometimes when we cross the threshold of the church - we put on our happy faces and act like our biggest problem in the world is making sure all the socks in the sock drawer match at the end of the day. (Actually, that's a major problem around here! Or was.. until we discovered Sock Cops... But that's another blog... Ha!)
I believe if there is any place where we should be able to go just as we are, without one plea -it should be church. I don't mean that we should go to church and bombard people with our problems. But I do mean that if we are sad, scared, or lonely, we shouldn't feel like we have to go in with a smile pasted on our faces in order to ward off criticism or rejection because we are somehow "lacking"
I once heard a man share in church how upset he was because his brother had died unexpectedly and his estranged sister-in-law, an avowed atheist, refused to honor her husband's last request - which was to have a Christian funeral. I vividly remember this man standing up in front of about 300 people and saying something like, "I know I shouldn't feel this way but I'm so angry right now I don't know what to do and honestly, if my sister-in-law were to walk in front of my truck right now, the way I feel, I'd run over her."
Wow... talk about "let's do church".. we did! Elders and friends gathered around him right then and there and prayed for him, putting themselves, through prayer, under this abnormally heavy burden of grief and anger that he was carrying, fulfilling Galatians 6:2. The man recovered from his grief in time and was strengthened in his faith.
Another time, when we attended a small group Bible study that for some reason wanted to stay strictly on the surface of things, I distinctly remember when the group (which ultimately dissolved) failed big time. One lady in our group was going through an unwanted separation and divorce. To complicate things, she had a two-year-old son. One night we had our Bible study and, as usual, ran out of time for prayer. So with ten minutes to go before we were to disband for the week, the leader told us: tonight we're just going to go around the group and voice a sentence prayer of thanksgiving. Without giving time for anything else, he started to pray when this young woman called out in an anguished voice, "Wait! Please don't pray yet! I need..." and here she started sobbing. She had been served with divorce papers that day and her young son, sensing tension in the home, had been acting out all afternoon, leaving her emotionally drained.
I've never forgotten those words either - "WAit! Please don't pray yet! I need..."
This woman went on to do well - but in a different church.
Many times I do love the feelings that I feel when I get together with God's wonderful people - but not always. And never do I feel comfortable when I think others are faking it until they can make it because they are afraid of rejection.
Our church does "real" and that's one reason I love it.
I'm pretty sure Heaven does "real" too and that's one reason I look forward to it -not because all my socks will match, but because all our tears will be acknowledged and wiped away by Jesus' nail-scarred hand, leaving unalloyed joy in our hearts.
But before the joy,then as now, there is the cross, the loss, and the pain.
And what should be the most hope-filled words ever: "Let's do church."