Saturday, June 30, 2012

God deliver us from having it all together

Nobody likes messing up. When you end up making a stupid decision, or you’re kicking yourself for something you said, or things just don’t go the way you had hoped because of some error you made... well, you messed up, doggone it! It’s a terrible feeling. But there is one thing that feels worse than messing up. And that’s having other people see you mess up.

Who wouldn’t prefer to be seen as someone who has it all together? Those are the people we admire, right? The ones who have it all together don’t make stupid decisions. They don’t say the wrong thing. They don’t crack under pressure. They never show their anger or their tears. They are responsible and competent. They don’t make mistakes. Their lawn is well-manicured. Their children are well-behaved. They don’t get zits. They have no body-fat. You never see them at Walmart in sweatpants with no make-up. Because they have it all together.

The whole notion of the comfort zone is, at its core, about our desire to have it all together. What falls within our comfort zone is the stuff that we know we are competent at doing. When we start a new job, it’s outside our comfort zone. It takes a lot of practice to get to the point of feeling competent but, in time, that new job becomes old hat and it falls within our comfort zone. The same can be said for any new situation. If we have to learn new skills, we're outside our comfort zone. If we have to meet new people, we're outside our comfort zone. If we have to find our way in a new place, we're outside our comfort zone. If we’re introduced to new ideas, we're outside our comfort zone. Being outside our comfort zone also means doing stuff that we don't do well. It’s why I don’t spend a whole lot of time on the tennis court; I’m a lousy tennis player. I don’t know about you, but I expend an inordinate amount of time and energy avoiding situations that are outside my comfort zone. And a big reason for this is that I want to be seen as someone who has it all together.  Living this way can be very limiting. I miss a lot when I rarely journey outside my comfort zone.

It’s always disturbing when people think they have to have it all together within their faith community. They come to church and pretend like they’re someone they’re not; God forbid other people would ever know what a mess they really are. I’ve been in so many churches where people have gone through horrendous things that they didn’t dare share with other people in their church family: their separation and divorce, a child who has a drug problem, a deep depression that sent them to the hospital, trouble with the law, financial devastation, and even homelessness. Why do people living within Christian community go through things like that and keep them to themselves? It’s always puzzled me. It would seem that, if there’s any group where you can be yourself and share your own vulnerability, a church family would be that group.

Since coming to Holy Trinity, I haven’t noticed a whole lot of that. We don’t tend to keep our struggles to ourselves; we’re pretty good about being authentic with one another and sharing our burdens. We can admit that we don’t have it all together, and we need help. And a big reason for that is found hanging on the back wall in our sanctuary where we read the words that summarize our mission, Loving Not Judging. We don’t expect people in our congregation to pretend like they have it all together. We expect them to be human. And when they show their humanity, we hope they can trust that they won’t be judged for it.

This is the way Jesus was with people. He wasn't all that impressed with those who appeared to have it all together. Instead, he was drawn to people who were real, people who messed up. And he reponded to them compassionately, without judgment. They weren’t afraid to admit that they needed help, and Jesus helped them. It still works that way.

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