Day 7 of 31 Things to Teach Your Kids: Teach them to go to hospitals, nursing homes, and funerals.
Years ago I was acquainted with a girl who told me that she didn’t want friends. I don’t want to be obligated to people, she said, with a little laugh.
I know she was half joking. Yet, many of us in the church seem to be living our lives the same way. As if we don’t want to be bound to help each other out. To call each other out. We don’t seem to want to be connected to each other. We want to see one another on Sunday mornings, exchange pleasantries, and head on our way, without getting too mixed up in someone else’s issues. The truth is that many of us behave as if the Christian life is all about our private relationship with God, and has nothing to do with our relationships with other people.
Over and over again, though, the Bible admonishes us that the Christian life isn’t just an individual pursuit. We are meant to travel this road together, helping each other along, encouraging each other, not being afraid to get involved in each other’s struggles.
I’ve learned a lot about this by watching a friend of mine. I often tease her, calling her “the fixer.” She can’t bear to see someone struggling. If she can tell that someone might need help, whether a prayer or a babysitter or a hot meal or a listening ear, she jumps in and makes offers of help. And, more often than not, people take her up on her offer. She obligates herself to a great many people. But, the more I have watched her live out this pattern of not being afraid to share in the struggles of others, the more I have come to realize that she isn’t trying to fix things. She is simply trying to be a friend. And, she is really, really good at it. And, then it hit me: a huge part of living the Christian life is just doing the things that friends do.
You see, it is actually our privilege and joy to be obligated to one another. We are designed to share this life with other Christians, and when we open ourselves up to true relationship with each other, we find blessing after blessing. Jesus built the church for our good and for the good of this lost world. When we just come to church on Sundays and pretend like we’re all in this together while we avoid becoming obligated to each other, we are not being good stewards of what He gave to us.
We have to be aware of what is happening around us, giving up our self-centered tendencies.
We have to be open to inviting others into our own struggles, giving up our pride.
We have to live in a mode of expectation, looking for ways that God can use us among His people.
These are not easy things to do. Not if you’re a young mother buried in the wilds of child-rearing, and not if you’re a grandmother exploring the empty nest. No phase of life is the perfect one for making real connections with people. But, these connections are essential to our growth and the church’s health. In short, we need each other.
Don’t be afraid to be obligated to one another. Embrace the sometimes complicated, sometimes time consuming, sometimes heart-wrenching job of sharing life with your fellow Christians. I guarantee that the joys of obligation will far outweigh the heartaches.
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
1 Peter 3:8
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.
I’m a mere two years into the whole pastor’s wife thing. I have spent the majority of my adult life as a church member, serving where I could, being served and ministered to by the church, and making wonderful relationships within the congregations we’ve been a part of.
Then, one day I woke up, and it was Sunday, and my husband was the one standing behind the pulpit.
I felt no different. I had no miraculous transformation into a more dynamic or Christ-like person. Yet, here I was, sitting on the front row while the man I sleep next to preached God’s word to me. It was a strange day, that first Sunday. I had inadvertently earned a sort of round-about title due to my husband’s profession, yet I was still just myself, struggling in the same areas, being too quiet when I should talk, saying too much when I should listen, snapping at the kids on a day when I should be extra patient, forgetting everyone’s names during the greeting time. I was as ordinary as ever. As imperfect as ever. I felt exactly the same as I always had.
I still do.
That’s not to say that I haven’t grown in my faith in these years. I think I have. I have changed, as time changes all of us. But, I have not become more like a pastor’s wife. Whatever that gleaming, golden image is that people tend to hold up as the ultimate pastor’s wife, I am not her. And, the truth is that almost no pastors’ wives are her. Everyone has her own personality, own set of strengths and weaknesses, own unique circumstances, own ideas and ways of doing things.
The truth is that becoming a pastor’s wife is not a sudden cure for our less desirable personality traits. And, it isn’t an instant sanitizer to get rid of all of our sin issues. Yet, I have realized that this is what I always expected of my pastors’ wives. I criticized them (behind closed doors) for what I saw as personality flaws. I held them to a standard that I didn’t feel that I was called to maintain. And, I was unfair in my expectations that they should do things the way I thought best.
God, forgive me. Sweet sisters, forgive me.
Because now I know. Two years into this gig, I finally get it. There is no instant holiness or friendliness or greatness or charm that comes with stepping into the role of pastor’s wife. The truth is that pastors’ wives struggle with many of the same inferiority complexes, stresses, worries, weaknesses, and emotions as anyone else. And, I don’t know why I expected my pastors’ wives to be above all of that. I was attached to that golden idol that I had built in my head that said that my pastor’s wife should be doing this or that for me. I wish instead that I had thought of ways to minister to her, like the wonderful women at our church do.
I have learned so much by watching their stunning example–they have loved me from the start, for exactly who I am. There were no golden images to tear down. They see me as an imperfect human being in a unique position who needs friendship, support, and love. I only wish I had been so Christ-like toward my own pastors’ wives through the years.
Please remember this about that woman who is sitting on the front row on Sunday, the one who sleeps next to your pastor. She has a strange calling that is difficult to define. Allow her to fulfill her role in a way that suits her personality. Reach out to her. Be a loyal friend to her. And, don’t put her up on some lonely pedestal to waste away under critical eyes. Thank you to my church family for showing me how happy and fun and exciting being a pastor’s wife can be, if only she has sisters who walk with her. And, thank you to my former pastors’ wives for loving me despite my unrealistic expectations and selfish notions of who you should be. I still have so much to learn.
Be patient with me, church. God is working everywhere–even on the front row.
My friend Melody is simply the best cook in the world. She can make anything to perfection. Every time my family eats with her and her wonderful husband, we try to restrain ourselves, but we just can’t help it. We eat as if we haven’t been fed a decent meal in months. My kids think she is the Great Heroine of All Things Food.
In fact, this afternoon Adelade got a dreamy, far-away look in her eyes, and she said, I wish I had some of Melody’s tacos. Melody makes her own taco shells, y’all. And, you know what? When Adelade said that, she and I went through a long list of things that Melody makes that we wish we had sitting in front of us. Fajitas. Pork tenderloin. Lasagna soup. And, suddenly I wished that I could be more like her, the woman whose food that my ten year old dreams about.
It’s too bad you don’t have a mother who can cook like that, I said in a half-joking, half-longing way.
Adelade looked up at the ceiling the way she does when she’s thinking something over. Then she casually said, Yeah, but then it wouldn’t be special.
I laughed and told Adelade that she had just made me realize that my lack of cooking ability is actually allowing Melody to shine extra bright. I laughed. But, the truth of the idea has stuck with me.
What if this is how we looked at the body of Christ? What if this is how we viewed our own limitations and giftings? What if we were okay with the things we’re not that great at, because by not shining ourselves in some areas, we’re allowing someone else to shine?
What if we realized that the way to glorify God in our churches is to enjoy each other’s giftings and talents, without envy or inferiority complexes hindering us?
What if I just eat Melody’s tacos when I have the chance and revel in her God-given ability to feed people well?
It brings us great pleasure when God uses our strengths for the kingdom. And, it turns out He can use our weaknesses for the kingdom, too. Where we are weak, He is strong, and where we lack, He has designed some other member of the body to step in and shine. When we shine for Him, and when we allow others to shine for Him, He is glorified and the church finally works together the way it ought to. No jealousy. No beating ourselves up. No wishing God had made us differently. Just working in the ways that He has called us to, and appreciating all the ways He has called others to work.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. . .
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
-1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 15-20