My relationship with the church is like a bad marriage. Maybe that’s the best way to describe my on-going angst with church and why I don’t give up.
It always starts off like you are soaring through the stratosphere, giddy. Sometimes it is a dream, a fantasy maybe! You are in love and your lover seems perfect! I don’t really know too much about how love relationships turn sour, at least not personally! My wife and I have been married for almost 30 years now and although we have had plenty of conflict, we still can’t live without each other. I can’t spend a whole day at work without sender a text to my lover and the first thing she does when I get home is tell me everything that happened that day and ask me “what happened at work today, what have you written…?” We just draw the breath of life from each other. We are at the point now that we have given up completely; we are stuck with each other!
Whenever someone asks- usually teenagers or young teachers since she has been a high school teacher and administrator for some time- “How do you know who to marry,” or something like that, she always says the same thing: “ you have to know that you can’t possibly live without him/her.” “If you wake up tomorrow and he’s not with you, you are not sure you will be able to breath. Living without them would be monstrous, unbearable torture!”
Like I said, we had plenty of challenges, but when you depend on each other for your next breath, it’s easy to make up and reconnect and stay together.
Church was like that at first. I had to be there to soak in every song, every word, the joy and thrill of this new life. I drank it in, every moment was like a breeze that blows off the ocean. All cool and moist, you can taste it and you sit back and let it blow over you!
I remember once when I was a newborn believer. I played football on Sunday morning and I sprained my ankle running out onto the field! OK, stop laughing! I was actually a pretty athletic kid but this was not my finest moment. My kids laugh when I tell of my must embarrassing injury as an adult. I pulled my rotator cuff when my hand got caught in a toll booth tray as I drove through! So I was an athlete with a accident streak! Now I am no longer an athlete, but remain a little accident prone.
We returned home after my mom brought me to the ER and they had me all taped up and I was on crutches. I had broken the same ankle during baseball season when I slid into third base (accident), so we knew it was going to be bad and of course everyone expected me to lay down and rest. All I could think about was that I had already missed the Sunday morning service and I was not about to miss the one at night. The Sunday night meetings were the best! It was more relaxed because mostly just the regulars were there and we could cut loose and really worship!
When my mother suggested that I should stay home and rest, I lost it! I put up quite a fuss, in fact, I started crying! Generally, 16 year old boys don’t cry because they can’t go to church! I had it bad!
Like I said, I am no expert on what goes wrong in love. Although I have heard a lot of songs about it and during the time I served as pastor I did watch a number of marriages implode! The main thing that I have observed is that both parties have to grow and we must let the other person grow at the rate and in the direction that they need to grow. If one partner is set on staying the same and expects the same stagnation in the other person, something is going to blow! People are just made to grow and change.
You can only keep the lid on for so long before it blasts off and causes a mess! My son and I found that out when we tried the coke and mentos explosion experiment! Of course we couldn’t use the normal recipe, we had to use a 2 liter of coke and as many mentos as we could get into the bottle. It exploded so loudly that one of his friends from across the street came running over and my wife came screaming from the kitchen expecting to see one of us holding a the other person’s leg in our arms! It was great!
I started to feel like this about church. She wanted to keep my lid on. She expected me to continue to love her straight lines. Her black and white vision was so liberating at first but after a while I began to watch it work against the untamable love that I was experiencing and wanting to share with others! I tried to get her to look deeper, to consider curving her lines to make room for love, but she had her ways and was not willing to compromise.
I wanted to give up! I wanted to walk out, slam the door and be done with it! I wanted to leave and never come back. I tried to walk away several times, even spent years as an occasional churchgoer. I tried to visit a softer side of church but that did not satisfy, I got bored! When I left, I thought I could find another love, wine and reading? But alas, I found myself reading about God and church! It was like reading love letters from my long lost love who was still pining for me! I couldn’t get her off my mind, so I kept reading and talking about church and occasionally slipping in the back door only to leave empty. But our relationship was too deep, it had become part of who I am!
So I started to rebuild this relationship, but with a new approach. First, I had to insist on no more black and white or straight lines. This is a relationship; she can’t set the rules and expect everyone (me) to tow the line. I will wait patiently for her to grow and reshape her lines (curves are preferable) and I must be allowed to think and question and even doubt. Secondly, our love has to be wide enough to include everyone. No more us and them. No more “love the sinner but hate the sin.” That is ridiculous! We will love all people without conditions and by love I mean welcome them, live in communion with them and fight for their causes!
Maybe as I patiently wait and share my heart and connect with a group that shares my passion, maybe a whole new love will blossom! Maybe we will both be changed into the kind of people who can’t live without each other. Maybe a new church will spring up out of the crusty ground and maybe the love I had as a teenager will be re-born!