Why I Need The Church

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Pajama Picnic Potty Party! (I know all you English teachers out there appreciated that alliteration.) Let’s all take a guess as to what day this was…go ahead, just take a stab in the dark. Yep, Sunday. And not 2 minutes after this picture was taken, the cereal in those bowls was spread all over my bathroom floor. My bathroom is a happenin’ place on Sunday mornings. There’s nothing more fascinating than mom putting on makeup…or mom burning herself with the curling iron…or mom screaming in pain over said burn…or mom trying to pee while attempting to keep the toddler out of the shower. It’s a losing battle, friends. If you ever see a mom looking disheveled, crabby, or raccoon-eyed from the sleep deprivation, do me a favor. Walk right up to her with a big smile and tell her how beautiful she is. Offer to get her some coffee and take one of the million items she is juggling, and tell her she’s doing a good job. Even if her kids are disturbing the peace and running rampant all over the joint. Chances are, it was an uphill battle to get where she is (which is anywhere out of the house). Chances are, she could use a gesture of kindness and solidarity from another (adult) human being. Chances are, she’s feeling overwhelmed or tired from carrying the burdens of her day-to-day life, and a smile and a connection will give her the encouragement she needs to keep on truckin’. We’re all gonna make it, dangit. But not without each other.

The truth is, it’s not just moms that need this. We all go through seasons where we feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle. We all need kindness and solidarity from one another. And we all get tired and overwhelmed by carrying our burdens. These feelings are universal. I know this because I haven’t always been a mom, and I know plenty of people who aren’t. Loneliness is an epidemic in our society, even though we’re technically more “connected” than ever, thanks to social media. (The irony of me mentioning this via social media is not lost on me.) I hear the desperate cry for connection from almost every person I encounter, even if it’s not overt. I feel the cry bubbling up from within myself.

This hunger for deeper connection has caused “community” to become a popular buzzword in our culture. I seem to see it every time I turn around. Unfortunately, everything claiming to provide community usually falls short of the expectations tied to that word. What have we come to expect of “community”? So many things, but here are just a few I’ve heard in many conversations on the subject: Deep, authentic relationships. Help and support. To be treated like family. What do we find in the reality of community? Messy, complicated relationships with broken people. Some help, though imperfect and usually different than we prefer. The striking realization that these other difficult, broken people want to be treated like family, too. (The nerve!) True community is a can of worms people often regret opening. People often get hurt, and then run away to nurse their wounds, which is a natural and understandable response.

Sadly, one of the places where these dynamics are most common is inside the church. I mean, the church is a family all right, but it often looks like a pretty dysfunctional one with an overabundance of embarrassing uncles. Sometimes it feels like being trapped in a perpetually awkward family reunion when all you want to do is go hang out with your friends-the people in your life you get to choose. That’s the thing about families-you don’t pick ‘em. You never asked to get your cheeks squeezed by scary Aunt Bertha but there you are, stinging cheeks and all, and knowing you’re mom’s gonna let you have it if you don’t smile and pretend you’re not terrified by her drag queen makeup job.

I know many people who have been so disheartened, disillusioned, or wounded by the church that they’ve given up on it altogether and walked away. Again, I get it. That’s understandable, because the pain is real. The people who can cut you the deepest are family. And it’s hard to stay in a family where you feel awkward, misunderstood, and uncomfortable. I’ve been a part of the church since I was a fetus, and no church I’ve ever known has been perfect. News flash: there IS no perfect church. Do you know WHY? Well, there is a wise saying, “Wherever I go, there I am.” I am imperfect. I make mistakes. I have quirks and flaws. I’m sure I’ve hurt people over the years, and I truly hate that, but it’s just bound to happen. I’m human. And so is every other person in my family-both THE church, global, and MY church, whatever expression of the body of Christ I find myself in.

Jesus always meant for his followers to be a true community. He prayed, “Father, make them one just as you and I are one.” And he told his disciples, “The world will know you’re my disciples by your love for one another.” I often wonder, would people know I follow Jesus by the way I love my brothers and sisters in the church? And what should that love really look like? Jesus answers that one for me, though sometimes it’s hard to hear: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” OOF. That’s a toughie. But in order to follow Jesus, he tells us we have to take up our cross. We follow him by imitating the way of self-denial and sacrificial love. Catherine McAuley, the founder of Sisters of Mercy, said this:

“When and how do we expect to take up our Cross and follow Christ, if we are not to meet with it in those with whom we are associated?”

Being a part of this glorious, flawed, gorgeous, broken, beautiful family is often what God uses to sanctify me. (That’s a super religion-y word for making me more like Jesus.) I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if not for the church. I may have opposing desires to the person sitting next to me, or the person in that other denomination over there. We may disagree. We may rub each other the wrong way. That’s good for me. The more pressure and irritation the sand causes, the more the beautiful the pearl becomes in the end.

And being a part of God’s family is also what heals me. When I’ve been wounded (even if the wounding happened in the church), it’s my brothers and sisters around me who have listened, counseled, cried with, prayed with, and comforted me. If not for the church, my bitterness and cynicism could have rotted me. God’s family has been a safe place for me, carrying me when I couldn’t walk, giving me time to heal, and cheering me on when I was ready to run.

God’s global family has given perspective and depth to my faith that I never would’ve encountered on my own. Worshipping God in a baptist church in Russia, a charismatic church in India, and a Church of God in Appalachia has allowed me to experience God in drastically different ways, and to know him more. I’ve been challenged and refined by the church around the world, and I’m so, so thankful.

A few Sundays ago I had had a pretty rough morning (imagine that), and I was just not feelin’ it. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. I mean, I made it to church, what more could God ask of me?! I was standing there, watching the wonderful people around me worship God, and having a pretty stinky attitude. But as I heard my brothers and sisters singing, “Rise up, people of God. Rise up, and sing of his love” the most amazing thing happened. My spirit really did start to rise. I was able to get above my petty circumstances and fix my eyes again on my father. No, the church is not perfect. But I, for one, desperately, desperately need her.

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