I had plenty of time to sit and think yesterday; spending two and a half hours in dead-standstill traffic that should have only been a 35-minute drive gave me way more "free" time than I wanted, but hey, when you get it, USE it, right? Kelsey had a Casting Crowns CD in and even though I've heard it a hundred times, their song Stained Glass Masquerade really clicked in my mind for some reason yesterday and got me thinking. Just before the song came on I was contemplating where to do a "nice" family photo shoot so we could capture not only current images of our family but also the amazing scenery and the awesome fall foliage that is nearing the transition between awe-inspiring and ugly...then of course my mind wandered to what we'd wear, how we'd get all the kids to smile, how do we hide this huge scrape on Dani's cheek that she has as a result of her little face-plant at the playground? Cue the music...
If you haven't heard that song, go listen to it somehow. Hey, if I can manage to figure out how to get one of those music doohickeys on my blog, I'll let you listen here, but for now, you're on your own in cyberspace. At any rate, it's a very thought-provoking song that speaks of the fake happy face we put on around church folk in an attempt to make everyone believe we're just "fine" and are as strong and righteous and happy and well-adjusted as everyone else. Thing is, is everyone else "all that"? And why on EARTH is there any artificialness (yes, I invented yet another new word) going on within the Lord's Body???? Isn't that the one place where all the masks should come off and we should be just "us"? Is real life truly too messy for fellowship?
For the most part, Christians are a "happy" bunch. At least that's what you see on Sunday mornings. But what's almost funny is seeing folks in their element, living real life. It's SO much different in most cases that you really do wonder who the people are who are sitting in the pew next to you worshipping God "in spirit and in truth". What's THEIR truth? Can we handle the truth? Can we really display the love of Christ by facing real life WITH them, or does it make us uncomfortable? We manage to handle physical illness pretty well--we know how to make sure freezers are full of casseroles or mailboxes are full of cards (whether we actually DO it is another matter entirely, but that's another soapbox I won't pull out just now), but what do we do when we know someone is dealing with something that is challenging their faith and turning their hearts upside down? All too often, we invite them to a fellowship meal or to go out to eat, or we invite them over to our house for a day full of idle chitchat that makes us feel like we've "done" something but doesn't really do much more than force them to be artificially normal for a few more hours?
We need to cut the act. Knock off the dramatics once and for all and (forgive me here, I'm going to quote Dr. Phil) "get real". What is the church really here for if not to offer help for ALL of life's ailments? Of course God is the one who does the healing, but if His people aren't in the business of ministering to one another, are we doing our commission a disservice by absentmindedly forcing people into false okay-ness?
We got some great news a few days ago; one of the men we've barely known in the church here (because he's only started attending regularly a few weeks ago) told Pete that after a long and nasty separation, his wife will be returning home to reconcile. This man and his wife have been on our prayer list for as long as I can remember; they have been having problems for the entire time we've known him, and we've never even met his wife. Thing is, we were discussing marriage and divorce in our Bible class last Sunday and this poor guy...you could tell he was very obviously hurting. This opened a festering wound for him and poured salt all over it. But what really hit hard was looking around the room and noticing how many of the mature, Christian adults who couldn't handle his questions. They gave the curt, scriptural answer and left it alone. Nobody could look him in the face. People almost rushed out of the room after that class was over, leaving him to sit there and gather his belongings in a painful silence. Maybe it was the fact that it takes us twice as long as everyone else to gather our belongings, or maybe it was that I was hurting FOR him, but I hung around a bit just to let him know that I knew just how hard it is to accept what we know is right. It IS hard. It's not always as cut-and-dry as we want to believe it is to be righteous. Sometimes what's right really does hurt. It cuts deep, it bleeds, and it is incredibly painful. But we can't just hand people a Band-Aid and expect that being right is going to make all the pain go away, because it doesn't. Sometimes we have to sit there and hurt with them. We have to get dirty; we have to get our hands all over their bloody wounds if we're going to be God's instrument here on earth that will help stop the bleeding.
News that this family was going to reconcile did something to me that I have never experienced before--it brought me to tears. GOOD tears, but tears nonetheless. And suddenly the vagueness of what God was preparing us for through all the trauma a few years ago started to sharpen. We barely know these people. We don't know the whole situation, but the little details we do know let us in to a world that we have visited before--pain. Life is ugly, sin is ugly, selfishness is ugly, and what it does to families is horrendous. But the news of reconciliation isn't the end of it. This may make everyone feel better, and it moves this family up a bit on the prayer list to "a prayer answered" status, but it doesn't help them to just let them go now. NOW is the hard part. Now they need what we needed in the past and never really got--the permission to be in pain without putting on a mask to make those who didn't know what to do or say feel better. That is what builds relationships. It's what strengthens the bonds of fellowship within the church. It never really did me or Pete any good to sit with our happy-face masks on during the worst time of our life. It didn't help us heal any. It made people feel better, though, to "see" that we were doing okay. But they didn't see what was real. We never truly gave them the opportunity to minister to us, because we learned how to hide the pain all too well. Problem was, there were only a few people who ever really peeked their faces behind the masks to see what was behind it all--it was that minute handful of people that got the real story, and it was those people to whom we were bonded through the hard work of repairing hearts and relationships.
Random thought time--plastic has an interesting quality about it--it's hard to get things to stick to plastic. You can't get Saran Wrap to adhere to a plastic plate. You can't paint plastic furniture very easily. Tape falls right off of plastic. What of "plastic" people? There's nothing to grab onto; nothing to "bond" with. So if we have shallow, happy-face-wearing, "I'm fine" relationships with our fellow Christians, do we really have a bond? The blood of Christ is an amazing glue to bond hearts, but what if they're coated in plastic? Interesting.
Anyone who gets a Christmas card from us this year will see that we are forgoing "pretty" made-up family photos in favor of "real" ones. We will not be wearing our Sunday best, we will not be hiding scratches and pimples with cover-up makeup, and you know what? If it's blurry or someone is making an ugly face, well, that's just going to have to stay. Because that's what life looks like.