Where did we get it into our minds that church isn’t a place to bring what’s real?
We’re not too comfortable, it seems, with being real—particularly about the most painful, or sinful, or out-of-control parts of our lives.
I was talking with a young man the other day who was violated by another person in a life-altering way. As he shared his story with me, his body visibly tensed and his voice grew louder as he expressed the rage he felt toward the other person. A moment later, he apologetically explained how he knew his anger wasn’t how God wanted him to feel. This happened three separate times in our conversation, each time ending with some kind of apology for what he was experiencing.
As though his reality and truth couldn’t co-exist.
Many of us are comfortable enough talking about what’s true. We try to keep our minds focused on what’s true, remind each other of the truth, and listen to sermons and study Scripture to know what’s true. This is all good.
But why is it such a common experience that the darkest, hardest parts of our lives (the parts that look the least Christian) have to be kept outside our fellowship? I’m not suggesting we revel in our sin together, but I am asking if we can’t bring our worst parts into the light of Christ’s body, then where will we bring them?
And so we keep our sanctuaries sanitized and keep what’s real somewhere else outside, afraid of what happens when they collide.
One Sunday several years ago, I’d stayed up until 3 a.m. looking at pornography. Six hours later, I stood alongside Christian brothers and sisters at the Sunday worship service. To me, they all seemed bright-eyed, happy, and free. I was groggy, guilty, and ashamed.
And fighting an impulse to leave.
But Jesus met me in a powerful way that morning. It’s difficult to explain except to say as we worshiped, I knew he was there, forgiving me, cleansing me, loving me still. And I had a faint glimmer of hope rekindled that I wouldn’t keep sinning like this forever.
When the truth of God and our real experience run into each other, it’s scary. Our carefully maintained images fall to the floor and leave us exposed to ourselves, others, and God. It breaks us open.
But only ground that is broken open can receive seed, water, and sun.
It’s comical, really, our attempts to avoid the collision. We drive around like kids in bumper cars, thinking the goal is to steer clear of the inevitable, when the best course really is to spin ourselves round and charge into the fray, bringing our real into the presence of Christ and His church.
For crying out loud, our favorite stories in the gospels are when the worst of the worst run into the best of the best—when real and true collide. So why do we expend so much energy trying to convince ourselves, each other, and God that we’re fine?
The mere act of walking into church really should be akin to walking into a recovery meeting, standing up in front of everybody and saying, “Hi, my name is _________, and I’m powerless over [fill in the worst you’ve got].
May church become again the most frequent place for collision.
It will be messy. It will be good. Miracles will happen.
Won’t you join me in bringing your real life to church?