This morning I got up two hours before I needed to be at church. When your husband is the pastor, you really don’t want to have a reputation for being late every single week. Yet, every single week we walk in at least fifteen minutes after the blessed Sunday school teachers have begun their lessons.
It’s always just one thing that keeps me from being there on time. Chad, of course, is long gone hours before we are, so it’s just me and the American Ninja Warrior caliber obstacles to getting myself and three children to church before the Sunday school lesson is completely over. Sometimes we are searching for a lost shoe. Sometimes we can’t manage to find a single one of the billions of hair bands that normally litter our house. Today, I couldn’t find my keys. The kids were already in the car, dressed to the nines and thrilled to be leaving the house exactly four minutes before Sunday school started. (We live in a small town. Four minute commute.) I felt victorious. We were going to do it. We were going to walk in on time. I pictured myself, waving Miss America style at all of the impressed church-goers as we walked in the door.
Then I realized that my keys weren’t in my purse.
I ran back inside. They had to be somewhere in plain sight. I walked through the house five times. I checked every room, and then I went to the garage and dug through my purse again. I went back inside and started throwing off couch cushions, looking in all the weird places: trashcans, drawers, under chairs. I was frantically running around the house in my heels, sweating profusely as I watched the clock tick right past the time for church to start. I felt defeated.
I decided to search the car where the kids were still patiently waiting. But, the keys were nowhere to be found. I was so frustrated that I started writing a curt text to Chad, telling him that I guessed the kids and I would stay home and listen to church on the internet. I turned on my heel to go back into the house.
And, then I saw the keys, sitting on top of the freezer in the garage, plain as day in one place that I would have never, ever thought to look. I picked up the keys. Instead of relief, I felt a huge surge of annoyance. I barked at Emerald to get in her carseat. The Sunday school teachers were now fifteen minutes into their lesson, and we were still in our garage. I was unkempt and sweaty. My heels were already hurting my feet. And then Sawyer handed me a Sonic cup full of day old mango slush from the backseat that had a hole in it. Mango slush juice ran right into my high heeled shoe. And, I was already tired of this day.
I kept trying to give myself pep talks. I kept chiding myself about first world problems. I kept remembering pictures I had seen, haunting pictures of starving children with swollen bellies. Pictures of refugees holding their children tight as they attempted to escape death. I had lost the keys to my pretty new minivan and then spilled a decadent sugary drink in my nice high heeled shoe. I am a wretched, awful person, I thought. And Sawyer just kept apologizing for the busted slush.
By the time I pulled up to the church building, I felt like I had already lived out a day’s worth of frustration and guilt and pettiness. I felt like there was no way to get my brain and heart focused on the Lord’s day. So far this day had been all about me. About my wants, my reputation, my appearance, my comfort. And, I still wasn’t managing to change my tone and be sweet to my children as I hustled them all into the building. I rushed them to their classes, dropping them off (late) without apology. A huge sigh overtook me. I turned to head for my class.
But, then a funny thing happened. In every hallway, I ran across people. Not just people. My church family. Face after face, smile after smile. They greeted me with warmth. They hugged. They hello-ed. They asked me how I’m doing, and I could tell they actually wanted to know.
I didn’t tell any of them about the whole lost keys debacle. I didn’t tell them that I felt off center and out of focus. I didn’t reveal that I had walked into the building feeling guilty and defeated. But, with each smile, with each face that appeared, all dear to me, I started to feel the strong arms of the church wrap around me. With every laugh, every familiar wink across the room, every handshake and hug, every prayer and every song, more and more I felt infused with the strength that comes from being a part of the Body of Christ. The building is not my church. Church is so much bigger than a structure made of brick and timber. Church is the arms that hold, the mouths that speak the truth, the eyes that fill with tears, the heads thrown back in laughter. Church is shared lives and shared struggles and shared victories and shared frustrations. Church is God’s people, living out His word imperfectly. Clinging to His truth even in our weakness. Carrying His banner of love, even though we love ourselves too much.
Church is so much more than a building.
I can’t live this faith on my own. It’s too hard. I’m too bad. I’m too easily flustered, angered, annoyed, weak, and wearied. I am too likely to lose all sense of what’s important. God, in His goodness, knew that we would need each other. So, He built a church made of people–all kinds. And, together, we black sheep listen for our Shepherd’s voice. Together, we know it. And, we follow. We make it, day by day, living for Him despite our many imperfections.
By the time I was sitting in our packed Sunday school class, looking around the room at people that I love, I already felt God’s mercy and goodness washing over me. Yes, I had had a rough spiritual start to this day. But, here I was, sitting with a circle of believers, talking about the Truths of Jesus Christ. And His love came to me in waves through His people.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28