There are times when having a faith isn’t the easiest thing and there have been points where I’ve felt that life would be a whole lot easier if I wasn’t part of a church family. It’s not that I’ve had any particular theological issues, it’s more that I’ve had difficulties seeing eye-to-eye with other Christians. Never very big difficulties mind you, but I’m a flawed human being and sometimes I get antsy over “stuff.”
It’s a familiar tale and one, I’m sure, you’re no stranger to. You get very few instances of people leaving churches because of something Jesus did; but all too often you hear of people leaving because they couldn’t get along with someone, or a group of people in the congregation.
I didn’t attend church over Christmas and New Year and nor did I want to. Towards the end of last year I was beginning to feel very ‘churched out’ and needed to be away from it all. I am in my church building six days a week and after four and a half years of it and not much of a break during 2011, I was beginning to feel a bit jaded.
There’s also been a bit of an upset recently and coupled with it being the time of year when everyone’s here, there and everywhere; there’s been no time to discuss it, apart from corridor conferences, which aren’t helpful and in many cases just serve to peddle gossip. It reached the point that it became hard to be in the same room as people who didn’t share my views on things. I wasn’t going to cause a scene, I wasn’t going to say anything to anyone, it was up to me to sort this out in my own head, because it wasn’t anybody else’s problem.
Thankfully, with the passage of time I feel happier and I’ve worked through most of my concerns and feel ready to join in again. Those concerns that do remain I know will be resolved. If there’s one benefit to getting a bit older, it’s realising that nothing is really that much of a problem and there’s very little that a cup of tea, an honest chat and shed loads of prayer can’t fix.
I was never going to walk away permanently, but a few weeks sitting on the sidelines and taking a breather seems to have helped me to clear my head and re-coup my energy. I do however need to build in a little distance before my entire life becomes church.
This whole situation has got me thinking about why so many people do walk away for good when everything in the garden stops being rosy. Having had this small wobble in my own life, I now know that if your roots go as deep as mine do, pulling away from your church family will be very hard; will not be done at all lightly and will hurt.
My difficulties have been temporary, will fade and will be replaced by better times. You can’t keep a good bunch of people down long and our congregation are essentially that – a good bunch of people. They’re not remotely perfect and one of the things I love about my church is that we know we’re all deeply flawed. Our previous minister (we’re currently in an interregnum), called us the ‘walking wounded’ and that’s precisely what we are. Jesus himself didn’t come along to save perfect people, he came to offer hope and salvation to idiots like me.
Three times in the New Testament we get the same phrase, of Jesus saying that “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, sick people do… I have come to call sinners, not people who already think they’re good enough.” If there’s one thing Christianity isn’t about, it’s being perfect. The sooner you understand that, the easier things are.
But the media thinks that all Christians are perfect people; therefore the second someone displays less than perfection, they set about them in much the same way as hounds deal with foxes. Of course, those people who have been caught doing hideous things need to be dealt with through due legal process; but it’s the relish in reporting it that upsets me; as if, in revelling in the unmasking of a less-than-Christian person they are somehow exposing the lot of us as a load of phonies. Sorry, but you’ll have to do better than that. While bad behaviour is not excusable, any Christian worth his salt knows the value of grace.
Grace is a hard thing to explain but essentially it’s this: No matter how much you mess it all up, God will be there to dust you off, set you back on your feet and forgive you. God is not going to have the mother-of-all hissy fits and flounce off if you muck up. He’ll sit there until you stop acting like a prize wally, realise what you’ve been doing and decide that you want to be back on good terms with him. There will be no resulting big stick -although it’s up to you to admit what you’ve done – and if you’ve upset people in the process, apologies will never go out of fashion. Of course, grace works both ways. That apology can be received grudgingly or gracefully. Always make sure it’s the latter.
Time and again in Proverbs you get the same basic message; ‘be slow to speak, don’t shout your mouth off, don’t rise to the bait, let things wash over you’. I hope I’ve managed to do that this time by taking a step back from things, instead of employing my usual ‘bull in a china shop’ technique. Perhaps I’m finally learning those ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ that mark out Jesus’ way from the rest of the world’s.
I’m not remotely perfect and I know at least 250 other people who are not perfect either; but we muddle on and we muddle through because we all know one thing: That Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. If we all hold fast to the one true thing, then any and all disagreements will be worked out in the end.
I particularly love this quote from Aldous Huxley. Whenever I’m inclined to think someone has got it wrong and isn’t seeing sense; I’ve taken to reminding myself of it:
“The third petition of the Lord’s Prayer , Thy will be done, is repeated daily by millions who have not the slightest intention of letting anyone’s will be done but their own.”
That’s me at times. Is it you too?