Whether you attend a service that is dressed to the nines or wear jeans and t-shirts to church, there is still an expectation. We don’t want to see imperfection. We don’t really want to know what is happening in our neighbors home- that might get messy and we would have to give up our precious time to help or support.
We don’t want to know the pastor is lonely or struggling with a bully in the congregation (yes, there is always one and pastors won’t tell you who it is, but trust me, they are there and they are mean because they can get away with it because pastors won’t be mean back).
We sure do not want errors in the bulletin or errant slides or heaven forbid, a bad sound system or musical gift.
We want perfection.
As I read M.E.’s thoughts for today, she speaks of false expectations and at first I was caught up in the friendship side she mentions. But after some time in silence and meditation I read the passage again and the words “we have false expectations of our holy days, of our churches” jumped off the page at me. Immediately I knew I was guilty of that. I want my church holidays to deliver some meaningful, emotionally laden and personally life altering experience. That is not what the church is for.
The church is also not a place for us to put on a face of perfection. The fact is, you go to church with people who suffer. They fight inner demons of alcohol, drugs, cruel fists, sexual yearnings and more. They are not perfect and neither is your pastor. We are just human. All of us.
A few places we have been my first complaint to Lance was that I felt like I wasn’t being ‘let in’. Really. I was welcome to help at church and worship there but the personal lives were bricked off like Ft Knox. I wanted relationship. I wanted personal. I wanted real.
How can I pray for you when you won’t tell me? But why on earth would you tell me if I am going to judge or blab about town? I get it. No wonder we build those walls thicker at church than at home. We are afraid of the judgement. I know that feeling very well. I am blessed with a daughter who knows no sense of secrecy when it comes to ‘life’. Her greatest desire upon being hospitalized for depression was for us to tell people where she was and why. She figured they might be able to find their own inner demons and fight them if she shared hers.
The hardest part was being so transparent to others at church and her school. Let me tell you, offering up in verbal prayer to the whole congregation that your daughter is hospitalized for suicidal thoughts is not easy. It had me quaking in my boots. I remember thinking, they really will think this is TMI (too much information) but my heart yelled at me, “this is not about them, this is about Sandy and what she wants and needs to heal!”
So I did it. I prayed for her safety and health and spirit out loud. I shared with her friends and then, I left service crying several times over the weeks she was not with us. What I found though was not judgement. (*Caveat, there was fear deeply wrapped about the ‘s’ word- and that is another blog for another day- shame and suicide). Instead I found arms of solace and even more shockingly, as I shared, more and more people came to me crying themselves for the pain they had never shared with another soul or outside their little families. They worried for grown children, for teens at home. They mourned their own years of despair spent alone and afraid. Some of these wounds were dozens of years old! One woman had watched her little brother go through this when she was a teen, now she is in her late 40’s. Not one word to anyone else in all these years.
As I lowered the mask of perfection, what I saw, felt, heard and experienced was a freedom. For me, yes. But for those around me too. When I took that first step (coerced by mothering instinct alone) I gave them permission to open up too. This allowed my daughter’s and my cry for help to be their cry for help in those moments. Together we grieved and found solace. That would not have happened if I had maintained “perfect” standards.
Don’t get me wrong, church is not the place for broad, personal, verbal confession, but it is a place we should find imperfection and we must follow that up with the gifts of grace, mercy and absolute forgiveness. Let’s let the message really work…. but first, we have to admit we are imperfect.