I remember Sundays at my house growing up. We didn’t always go to church, but my mom tried to make sure we went as often as possible. And on the days that we did go to church, it was utter chaos in the morning.
Everyone (eight children, two adults) had to be dressed their very best, with Sunday shoes and fancy hair. The hair was a bit rough because older kids did younger kids hair and lots of fighting and “ouches” and winces commenced, followed by my parents raised voices and commands to “stop it,” “be still” and “hurry up.”
But why? Why put us through the torture of styling our hair? Why make sure we were wearing our best clothes?
Because if we were gonna go to church, we were gonna go lookin’ good!
It didn’t matter if we fought and screamed all the way to the parking lot… it didn’t matter if one or all of us had been beaten with a wire hanger that morning… it didn’t matter if we had been crying on our way out the door. When we walked through those church doors, we put on our plastic smiles and our fake laughs and we acted like the world was perfect.
“Good morning!” was said to everyone with a big smile.
“How are you?” The greeters always asked.
“Fine,” “Great,” “Doing well” were automated responses for all of us.
But it was all a lie. We were anything BUT fine. Our world was broken, our household was chaos, and fear and intimidation ruled our lives. My dad was a dry drunk who got his jollies by beating his kids. My mom was depressed and anxious and trying to do the best she could with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Somedays she barely left her bed. I was lonely and afraid all the time. My brothers and sisters varied between angry and fearful. Tears weren’t allowed in our home, so anger and sarcasm were the only ways we were allowed to show emotion. And we did. The fights we got into, the broken noses, the knives, the threats. It was like a war zone all the time.
And, as I have heard stories from some of the other kids that sat in the pews near us growing up, I have realized that their worlds were anything BUT fine as well.
But no one knew. We hid it all so well.
And that… That is why I have a tendency to question “The Church.” That is why I look at the way people LIVE as much as possible before I decide to follow them. That is why a church, any church, that is inwardly focused, has no appeal whatsoever to me.
Because when we get engrossed in the “church lifestyle,” it becomes so easy to put on a mask and pretend that things are good. It feels like that is the right thing. Because heaven forbid, anyone know that maybe things aren’t so easy right now.
What is it about the church that makes us feel like we have to show only our best faces? Shouldn’t it be the safe place? The place that Jesus was to his followers? Shouldn’t it be a place of grace and compassion and love, no matter what your life looks like?
I don’t recall Jesus saying “Go, clean yourself up before you talk to me” to the dirty, disheveled kids that followed him.
I don’t remember him telling the prostitute to go away because he couldn’t be seen with her as she washed his feet.
I don’t recall him telling the woman caught in adultery that she deserved the judgment that people were about to throw at her.
I never read about him telling the people who had no food that they “should have been more responsible.”
So WHY do we do that? Why do we cover up our lives and hide from God and others? Why are we still acting like Adam in the Garden of Eden, attempting to cover our nakedness with a fig leaf?
What is it about the church that makes us feel like we need designer clothes, shiny cars, and smiling faces in order to attend this masquerade ball every Sunday?
Why do we do it? Is it because we don’t want to appear weak?
Is it that we want to appear strong as the rock of Gibraltar even if a husband is beating us on a daily basis, or our son is being bullied at school, or your best friend was just informed she has 5 years to live, or you just discovered that you might not be around until your youngest turns 18?
So we walk through those doors, with all the burdens of the world hanging round our neck.
“How are you?”
“Fine, just fine. Praise the Lord.”
And the church becomes a stage, instead of a place to meet our God.
We play “Let’s Pretend,” and the audience cheers for our performance, but the Director’s voice grows faint in the distance.
I love C.S. Lewis. In his book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a scene that reveals what I think God wants for us. (If you haven’t read or watched The Chronicles of Narnia, you should.) In this particular scene, the White Witch has turned many of Narnia’s inhabitants to stone. Aslan, the king, the lion (representative of Christ to some) displays incredible courage as he braves the witches courtyard and gently breathes on each of the statues, bringing them back to life.
This is how the scene plays out.
“The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing around him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colors; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow. And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, braying, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.”
Amazing, isn’t it?
But unfortunately, it seems many of our churches are stone courtyards, with everyone attempting to blend in, trying to conform to the image that is expected of good, church-going people. Rather than trying to be who we were created to be, rather than finding the image of a good God in all of or individual quirks and follies, we attempt to be JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.
And that leads to a very boring, very uninspiring world that cannot and will not ever draw anyone in. There is definitely no Magnetism in a lifestyle that does not accept others just exactly as they are. We were NOT created to be clones of one another. We were gloriously created to be colorful, wild, wonderful individuals. Real people. No masks. People on our own journeys. People with our very own purpose.
So, my challenge for you today is to allow yourself to be real. Allow the winds to blow the stone places away from your heart and mind and find just one thing, one moment, that feels authentic and totally you. Then take that moment and celebrate it with everything you have.
Because you, my friend are glorious and perfect and exactly who you should be, bumps, bruises, scars and all.