I’ve gone to church since I was a fetus. In my family it’s just something you do. Like school. My parents were teachers so we measured our life out in semesters with summers off till my dad became an administrator (no more summers off for him). As a college teacher I still do this. It’s part of my Circadian rhythm.
When I was a kid we went to church every time the doors opened. There was not a question of what to do on Sunday nights or Wednesdays. You went to church. You sang in choir, led VBS, played piano, taught Sunday School, went to GAs, visited, kept the nursery, tithed, deaconed. Whatever there was to do at church you did. I have mostly good memories of all of this. I loved church.
I remember one time Alice Vardaman and Pat Hillard taught me a lesson about patience. Our Sunday School class of four and five year olds sat in a circle and passed a Mason jar of heavy whipping cream, each person giving it a shake. After what seemed like hours it turned into butter we spread onto Saltines. I can still taste its yummy smoothness, still recall that simple truth.
As an adult church has at times felt much more complicated. I’ve never not gone, but there have been seasons I dreaded it. I once bought a book by Philip Yancey called Church: Why Bother? The title speaks to my mental state at the time. I’ve come to believe church is a lot like marriage or any other relationship. It takes a lot of work for it to be good. And some churches—like some relationships—may be so toxic you need to get out. (For more on this, see my previous post “Legit to Quit.”) But the biggest lesson I’ve ever learned about church I learned from my daughter, Stella, age three.
We were in the nursery together during Sunday School. I sat on the floor with her in my lap reading a book. There was a bracelet on my wrist that kept falling off. I’d pick it up and try to fix the clasp, and it would fall off again. Finally, after several tries, I just laid it to the side.
“What’s wrong, Moma?” Stella asked, her blue eyes shining.
“Oh, I guess it’s broken. I can’t get it to work right.”
She picked up the bracelet in her little hands. Then she patted my shoulder. “It’s okay, Moma. It’s okay to be broken. I will help you.”
Later that morning when I left the nursery and walked into the sanctuary full of people, I saw church with new eyes. There were people in bad health, people with eating disorders, gossips. On another row sat an adulterer. There were several divorcees, a porn addict, another who has problems with drugs. There were people with learning disabilities. A former prostitute. Obsessive compulsives. People who fly the Confederate flag. There were people who have suffered devastating losses, people who battle depression, people addicted to shopping, people who are desperately poor. People with PTSD. Single moms. Single dads. Teenagers with no family support. People with poor hygiene. Drunks. Right wing nuts. Bleeding heart liberals. Loud people. Scared people. Mad people. Lonely people. And me.
I sat down at the piano. All of my own issues spread out before me like sheets of difficult music. All of my own fears and failures and inadequacies. And I thought about what Stella said. It’s okay to be broken. I will help you. It dawned on me that this is exactly what church is for.
Walk into any church and you’ll find the same cross-section of humanity, more or less. We’re all broken. But what Stella taught me is that it’s okay to be broken. The more broken the better—because that’s where the beauty is! Click To TweetThe miracle of church is that broken people come together and help each other. We forgive, we encourage, we give grace and receive it. We find God together in the midst of our brokenness. That’s what church means to me.
Ps. Here is a picture of my spiritual advisor.