The chandeliers in the apartment we stayed at for the first month reminded me (by way of trying to appear more beautiful than they actually are) of a piece I wrote a while back that I’ve meant to put up here on the blog and never got around to doing. It’s directed at church-goers, but is applicable to all of life. It was also published in the November issue of our New Zealand Reformed Churches’ denominational magazine, Faith in Focus.
Looking around at my fellow pew-sitters on a Sunday morning, I see our kids are nicely dressed and the way our families are sitting in neat rows makes it look like we have it all together. But we don’t. We each have a story of the hard road the Lord is walking with us — this hurting bunch of people with nicely brushed hair. We might look ‘all together’, but we are learning about grace, deep and difficult grace. We are learning that the only way of being put together means being broken first. Whatever amount of ‘having it all together’ is grace. And grace is not to be worn as a badge you earned. It is a gift.
It is easy to forget that we are one body, that we are closely connected to each other through Jesus. But do you really know these people in the pews around you? The ones you have grown tired of? The ones who are called your brothers and sisters? Look around the pews with me and be reminded. You might just recognize yourself too.
Many of us know the joys of marriage, and yet, among us are those
who still long for a marriage partner,
who have forgotten they are married to a person and not a job,
who have had many years together but have forgotten how to talk,
who have violated intimacy and trust,
who ache with that empty spot in bed beside them, because death swallowed up their love’s warmth.
We love children here at our church, and yet even in the blessing of children there can be much pain. Some of us know the pain of
of burying children,
of good children turned rebels,
of children having children before the time is right,
of children and parents who have forgotten how to laugh because they’ve built walls around their hearts.
We have illness here in many forms:
the physical kind that eats away strength,
the cancerous kind that steals beautiful people,
the mental kind that leaves you doubting the truth,
the spiritual kind that fills aching voids with darkness,
the weakening of a body that some flippantly call ‘old age’.
Most of us are in happy employment, yet we are no strangers
to losing a job,
to working hours that are long and wearisome,
to dealing with painful politics,
to being the object of ridicule for the sake of our love for Christ,
to feeling some days that it’s all just an empty chasing after wind.
We are all intimately acquainted with sin that flows from a heart that’s only in love with myself, and so
we justify the white lie,
we are pumped up with pride,
we are experts at hiding filth we think is secret,
we get angry, we gossip, we condemn,
we leave no sin unexplored — we hate it and yet it sticks to us.
Many of us weren’t born here. We have come here with different stories:
some with only a suitcase in hand,
some fleeing war and persecution,
some fleeing dictators and famine,
some simply hoping for a better future,
all leaving behind family and friends and all that is familiar,
all knowing the meaning of the word lonely.
We sit in these pews every Sunday, with hearts that believe and yet
we’ve wondered at times if it isn’t all a big lie (does God even exist?),
we’ve been disillusioned with church as an establishment,
we’ve listened to a sermon and taken none of it in,
we’ve sat through a service while last night still pulses through our veins,
we’ve come for selfish gain and not to see what we can give.
We’re experts at causing hurt, and holding onto hurts —
sometimes we have prideful tongues that cut deep,
sometimes we are ignorant about tact or sensitivity,
sometimes we’re superficial and avoid topics that matter,
we struggle to forget words or treatment going back many years,
some of us have toes that have grown so long they are constantly stepped on.
Is there hope for us? For this broken wound in its Sunday best? In God’s ancient wisdom there is medicine with which we can bring healing and with which we can actively bind up each other’s wounds:
As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col. 3:12-14)
What miracles would happen if we were to start taking off our masks, our pretences of having it all together, our attitude of pride? If we actually chose compassion instead of “they should have known better”? If we chose kindness instead of finding fault? If we chose humility instead of looking to attribute bad motives? If we chose gentleness instead of speaking words that hurt for years? If we chose patience instead of wanting “change right now or else we leave”?
What if we let go of bitterness, if we started forgiving one another with a generous forgiveness that has no strings attached? Can we just stop for a moment and remember how we are forgiven all? ALL. Could we stop nurturing our bitterness like a baby and start forgiving as the Lord forgives us?
Can we just remember for a moment that we were chosen? For healing, rescued out of the muck, to be truly put together, to learn the deep meaning of grace. The kind of grace that turns brokenness into a spotless bride.
Remember that you are holy and dearly loved. Yes, you. And also that family in the pew in front of you whose kids cannot sit still. And the guy who reads Rick Warren. And that girl whose skirt is too short. And the man who criticized you. And the person who was offended when you didn’t do things the way they’ve always been done. Forgiven, and therefore holy. Dearly loved. Not just a love of duty. Dearly, dearly loved.
We are dearly loved, and therefore we are to love dearly. It’s sacrificial. It’s hard. It’s not natural. But it will bring healing to us all, we who are brothers and sisters. It starts with me. And it starts with you. Loving each other is a choice (sometimes a hard one) but the result is a taste of heaven on earth — a joyous perfect unity.