First Posted 22-08-2015
Heard this one? That if we really knew somebody, knew the shame they carry, we would understand why they can’t go to church. They feel shunned. To which, I heard a response, “If you really knew me you would stop worrying about that.” Sunday mornings are a bit of an artifice. We dress to communicate, may seem like we are phoning it in a bit, and sit in pretty much the same spot because our purpose is to worship. The full weight of our lives won’t fit into 90 minutes, most of which is occupied by worship.
Worship is a couple hours, give or take, once a week for me, more for others. Still, there is a lot of non-worship time on the clock where life happens. If you really knew us during those other hours when we are not worshiping Christ, you would know that your shame has friends. We followers of the Way of Nazarene Jesus are much more of a hot mess than you realize. A lot of us are not in church because things are going well. Nope. We are there on Sunday because church is a hospital for us and Christ is our Primary Care Physician for our soul.
This post was first prompted by a friend who has been saved most recently a couple years ago. He returned to working on his recovery at about the same time. Like a lot of my friends he struggles with mental illness and addiction. He said to me that he was struggling with accepting deeply that God loved him. Shame bedeviled him. He, like me, was raised in the church. He went to catechism and became a confessed member of his Pentecostal Baptist Church as a teenager. I know you are only saved once, that Christ’ precious gift is given freely. Enough out of you with that. He and I are still tortured at times by those bits of our past that cling to us like hot tar.
Those of us who were dragged to Sunday School all the way to teenage rebellion know in our heads that God loves us. We have sung, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know . . .” countless times. We were baptized. Our parents did everything right. So, what’s this business about questioning whether God loves us?
I like sermonizing. Sharing is hard. This post was originally a flawed bit of sermonizing intended to comfort my friend. I am reposting it because in spite of its mistakes I feel like it still has value. “God made us so he knows us in the depths of our hearts, minds and souls. He knows our deepest secrets, our most closely guarded skeletons in our most heavily padlocked closets. He doesn’t need us to confess our hurts, habits or hangups. He knows.
For as much as I’ve screwed up, as big a hot mess as I am, each time I say it, say I want help becoming healthy, God has been there to help. I’ve risen to some degree of success and lost it at least four times. I am divorced from my wife whom I hit twice that the cops know about. Yet, here I am, employed, off the street, making good money with a few of the material trappings that are on my family’s list of “normal”. He has been there through countless people who served me as they felt led. I was not always happy about their ideas of what I needed and what they would do for me. But it was always what I needed.
We know things in our heads that don’t make it into our hearts or our stomach’s. There are things like memorizing the multiplication tables that have little emotional weight but are useful to know. Then there are things which can bring us tremendous joy that our heads know and our hearts sing about. The thrill of the moment when you realized you could ask her and she’d say, “yes,” is one example. For me, the quiet, growing knowledge that my church liked me, even loved me. And the stuff in our stomachs and hearts that needs healing. Those hurts, habits & hangups we have. That’s a place God can move in and give you peace beyond all understanding.
Our heads know God loves us. We’ve been told this since we were little. That’s not news. It’s the knowing in our hearts and stomachs that can be hard. I’d say, if you want to know God loves you, and know it in more than just your head, pray. It’s what I did. And, in addition to prayer, find a faith community that can walk with you as you grow out of the darkness and into salt and light. Then stick with them. The early days of being Christian, of healing, hurt. Life is not better. Sometimes, early on, it’s worse. But that misery fades to be replaced by a love of God like nothing else. It begins with a word, “yes”, and becomes a new life. God does love you if you let Him.”
Something I’m learning in this version of the blog is how to write without sermonizing. Let my words be miserable. Just share and trust that in respecting the moment, the emotion of my words, it’ll be better than rushing to persuasion. I can feel my Puritan and Scots/Irish ancestors and their romantic hopes of a realized utopia in the New World as I write. That relentless, boundless hope that this time we’ll get it right if we just start with a blank slate. I have bristled at history in the past. I didn’t want to know what had come before. I wanted new answers, new ways of doing things, a blind ignorance to the past. I could not say that I am my past but I am not only my past. History, our story, is crucial. It is the dung from which comes compost and soil in which we plant our mustard seeds.
I feel you if you are like my friend and though you know in your head that God loves you but the feeling doesn’t sink into your stomach but stops above your heart in your esophagus. I want words of comfort for you that are not preachy. I hope you read this and the blockage in your windpipe is eroded a bit. I’m a work in progress. I too have God’s words stuck in my throat some distance from my stomach. It is what made my friend’s confession affect me enough to invest a blog post in response to his words.