Every year our little town kicks of baseball season with opening ceremonies. All of the teams, from the tiny t-ballers up to the seasoned little leaguers, trot out onto the field in their uniforms, everyone looking so fresh and clean and cute. We sing the national anthem, a ceremonial first pitch is thrown, and a local pastor prays over the season. (Our town is amazing.)
This year, right smack in the middle of a run of gorgeous springy weather, opening ceremonies happened on a cold, windy day with a few sprinkles of rain tossed in for good measure. As soon as the ceremonies end, games fire up all over the baseball complex, and Adelade had her first game of the day right off the bat (no pun intended).
We walked over to her field and quickly realized that we were going to need coats and umbrellas, so Chad ran home to get them. I watched Adelade warming up out of the field. She was smiling, obviously enjoying tossing the ball with her friends.
The game started, and the weather got progressively worse. I knew Adelade must be cold and wet out there, but she continued to look like she was having a great time. Even when the drizzle started, she never stopped to wrap her arms around herself for warmth like I was doing. She just did her job. She played the game. She acted exactly the way you would expect an eleven year old girl to act during her first softball game of the season.
By the time the game was over and Adelade’s team walked away victorious, none of us could feel our feet. We raced for our cars and hurried to get home and get thawed out before their next game, which was scheduled for later that afternoon. Our whole family was already in the car with the heater cranked up whenever Adelade came out of the dugout. She still looked perfectly content as she headed our way. Then she got in the car, and the tears started streaming down her face.
“That was one of the worst experiences of my life!” she announced, which was a great shock to all of us who had just seen her seeming to have a grand old time on the field. She went on to tell us how her hands were so cold that they were aching, how she couldn’t feel her feet in any way, how she was wet and miserable.
We got her home and she put on all of her fuzziest, comfiest clothes and socks, and we huddled together in our warm house before we had to go out and do it all again.
I couldn’t get that picture out of my head, though, of a child who had been smiling moments before out on the field, crawling into the car and bursting into tears.
It made me think of some people that I see at our church, sweet families who come in week after week, smiling. People who are dealing with unimaginable heartbreak, who live a life behind closed doors with tears and mourning and turmoil and unbearable stress, yet each Sunday they arrive in our sanctuary, and they smile and they act exactly how you might expect families to act at church, like all is well. Life is great with Jesus. Too blessed to be stressed.
Except we forget sometimes that life is still hard. Even for Christian people. We still live in a wicked, chaotic place. We’re still dealing with the sinful tendencies of ourselves and the people we’re closest to. We’re tempted to look around us at church and assume that everyone must be okay, because there’s so much smiling, and so much assurance coming from our mouths that we’re doing fine. Yet, I have watched people who are in the middle of the worst crises of their lives smile and tell the church that life is great.
Heck, I’ve done it myself.
Christian people do love to carry terrible burdens in silence. We’re good at it. We can pretend that we’re more in love than ever when we know that our marriage is on the brink of a complete implosion. We can hide our deepest hurts for a long, long time, while the load that we’re struggling with is just about to put us under. Still, we smile. We’re drowning in our own fear, but instead of crying out for help, we wave to the shore as if we’re having the time of our life.
This is not what Christ created the church to be.
Paul tells the Corinthians this about the body of Christ: If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 1 Corinthians 12:26
We aren’t acting like the Body of Christ when we hide our struggles and burdens from one another. This isn’t a game of who has it the most together. The truth is that we all go through painful, terrible times. Imagine how much farther we could go in really knowing each other and really loving each other if we just dropped the act when things are really bad. Smiling is good–I’m a big fan of it. But, behind the smiles, what if we let the tears fall when they need to? What if we let honest words spill out? What if we allowed the Body of Christ to suffer with us and rejoice with us?
I wonder how that would change the face of American Christianity?
In case you’re wondering, Adelade wore lots more clothes to her second game on Saturday, and she had a lot more fun. Thankfully, the smile she wore on the field carried over to her climb into the car. And, she really meant it.
I pray that we will learn to open our hearts to each other in our churches, in good times and during the rough days. It’s not easy to ask someone to help you carry a burden. And, it’s not easy to help someone carry a burden. But, the Christian life isn’t about what’s easy. It’s about what’s most God-honoring.
Let’s honor God in our churches, through our suffering and our rejoicing. Life is hard, but through Christ we’re in it together. We just have to open our arms and invite each other in.