I'm Really Struggling Today…Church, We can't have it both Ways
Today, I find myself struggling more than usual over the issue of relationship, especially within the church. Before I clue you in to my current struggle, let me share a little background of why the issue of relationships is so important to me.
As some of you know, I come from a hurting background like so many of you. In my early years of life and even into my first ten years of being a Christian, the idea of getting close to people, being vulnerable, and having relationship, especially with women was the last thing I desired. At the time, I was hurting, self-focused, feared rejection, believed lies of who I was and my identity in Christ, selfish, and was a coward. Relationships equaled hurt and exposure to me. And I was not willing to take the risk for yet another person in my life to hurt me. I developed walls of protection and justified those walls by stating, “I’m not supposed to be friends with everybody” or “I’m just cautious.” I would go to church and stand right next to people I recognized and refused to say hi or engage in a conversation because I simply did not want to take the risk to go outside of what was easy for me. The truth is I just found it comfortable and preferable to live inside my believed world of safety. It did not click for a long time that despite my attempt to be pain-free from relationships, I was still lonely, horribly subjective, judging others for not knowing how I was feeling, and still felt rejected. Go figure.
Time passed, I sought help and I slowly began to understand the true reasons of why I feared people and getting close. However, my fear did not stop me from being asked to step down from church leadership as a music director due to my “issues and lack of being relational.” Nor did I escape the stigma of being seen as a person who would rather be alone and didn’t want relationships. Even after years had passed, that past impression of me remains by some when I return for visits to my home city of Akron, Ohio.
God has truly taken me through a journey and lovingly beat my behind up and down the street in helping me to understand that He is all about relationship. He is relationship. In some ways, I feel like Paul in how He took someone and transformed them to have a heart and passion for the very thing that was a source of their bondage. For Paul it was being graceless and in time being used to impact other’s lives regarding God’s amazing grace. In me, while no Paul, I feel like He has taken someone who greatly rejected relationship to impact others regarding God’s foremost priority, that of relationship. Please know, I am and will remain in process of growing until the end of my life, but I am so thankful for the eye opener and courageous journey I had to go through to extend myself out of what is comfortable for the sake of others.
I said all that to say this…I am struggling and hurting more than ever with the lack of relationship within the church, especially after attending a recent meeting regarding a church program. By the way, I am already expecting, “How dare you!” emails so at this point I’ll put myself out there. By the way, my email address is email@example.com for those needing it.
What struck and hurt me the most regarding that meeting was the idea of moving toward a platform of discipleship and service whereby the members would learn each other’s stories and gain relationship while learning and living out the movement of God in their lives. Please, please hear me close on this. I truly believe with all my heart that the program is valuable and a God-thing. I am not stating anything negative about the program at all. I am still pondering involvement for myself. Again, this post is NOT about what they are doing. My struggle and my hurt during the presentation were regarding what is not being done…relationship outside of programs.
I was so hurt in knowing that a program was in process for relationship but in practice, my efforts to form relationships (go out for coffee, hang out, talk on the phone, get a return email, etc.) have seemingly been rejected or overlooked due to being busy, forgetfulness, family or other various reasons. Last night, I lay awake harboring the hurt and lack of understanding in preferring a program to being about relationship over actual relationship regardless of a program. The failure is not in any one leader, program, or organization. I truly believe the problem is simply us; fallen, hurting, imperfect people who choose to remain in safety. That failure lies with each and every one of us at different times.
This post is not about blaming, pointing the finger or stating that I have got it all together because of my value for relationship and others might not. My prayer is that this post will convict us as Christians to challenge ourselves to realize a program, acts of service, giving money, charitable acts, teaching, preaching, witnessing, work, groups, going to church, being a good Christian (whatever that is), and having a close walk with God will never replace the actual relationship with His people (saved and non) that He calls us to.
I am reminded of the cross. It is a symbol of the two level relationship God calls us to. The vertical is our relationship with God while the horizontal is the relationship with others. Often we believe because we sharing intimacy and relationship with God, it means that our relationship with people is fine too. In fact it is just the opposite; our relationship and intimacy with people reflect our intimacy with God. His word even brings out the point (I’m using the Charlotte translation of the scripture) when stating how can we say we got it like that and have a deep and intimate relationship with God who we don’t see but can’t love and enter into relationship with those we can see? In other words, the indication of our relationship with Christ is reflected by our relationship with people. I can’t say MY relationship with God is tight but I can’t say hi to the person sitting beside me in church. I’m not talking about His relationship with us, salvation or the passion, love, or belief in God (which all comes from Him) I’m referring to our relationship and the level of intimacy that we offer to Him. We simply cannot have it both ways; intimacy with God but have no holler for His people. Personally, I really don’t want to hear people tell me about how wonderful God is, writing notes in capital letters and preach all over Facebook, the pulpit or anywhere else unless they are backing up with relationship in their lives with others. I already know He’s wonderful but are we walking in the risky relationships with people that He is telling us to do? Talk is cheap, relationship costs something.
Yes, we should give to the poor and give through charity, acts of service, and certainly continue with programs and offerings to push us closer into the arms of the Lord. However are we willing to enter relationship with the same people we are talking to and serving? It’s great that we serve food at the food shelter, but at some point, are we putting down the ladle to sit with the people we are serving and be known. I remember spending time with a buddy who used to be a prostitute and drug addict. She told me she would never darken the door of a church again simply because, “they want to save me, give me tracks, and preach about the love of Christ, but they are not willing to sit down with me for an hour to find out who I am.” Shame on us and God forgive us for our foolishness in not offering and forgetting the grace we were given. We reject Christ on a daily basis through our sins, selfishness, etc. yet He always takes the risk of His heart to remain in relationship with us.
Finally, I encourage you as I encourage myself to push past what is safe. We cannot remain safe and comfortable and go with God. Let’ me say it in a more forceful way. We cannot be cowards and please God who requires us to live a life of risk and trust. We cannot continue to not speak to others, refuse to make time, cancel appointments due to fear, only hang with our group and cliques, only communicate via technology instead of picking up a phone or engaging in person, fear rejection, make excuses, not return emails, etc. and call ourselves Christians making an impact in people’s lives. God is going to always do what He does. But what about us?
I promise you, our continued fear of rejection and blurred view of ourselves and our worth in Him will keep us in bondage. Only that courageous course of risk, challenging what we feel, and holding onto the truth will move us toward all that His has called us to be and the dreams and visions He has placed in us. How long we fear control our lives?