Lately, I’ve been focusing more on my relationship with God rather than all the rules & formalities I was raised around in my small Baptist church. I’m blessed enough to say that I currently attend a church where freedom reigns, but it’s still difficult for me to let go of the restrictions I knew as a child. However, I am working on it and learning more everyday.
It’s important to read your bible daily, yes. You should attend church regularly, you should serve your community, you should “be a good person,” yes, absolutely. But those are all works, and Ephesians 2:8 reminds us that works don’t amount to jack if you don’t have a personal relationship with God.
For by such grace you have been saved through faith. This does not come from you; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8
So often, I think there’s a certain expectation for Christians to have some sort of cookie cutter image. Church services are expected to look and sound a certain way, much like the people who attend them, and anyone who veers off what is considered “normal” is judged heavily by those cookie cutter Christians and they miss the point altogether. Can we just be real for a sec? Like, really real?
We. Are. All. Screwed. Up.
There, I said it. Don’t you feel better now? We’re all sinners and I don’t know about you but I’m sick of putting on my game face all the time. In fact, I think we might be more successful in reaching others if we were more open and honest about our struggles instead of trying to pretend we’re flawless. These are my confessions:
- I cuss like a sailor. No, really. I’ve been trying to clean it up now that we have Ellie because I don’t want her to be the kid on the school bus who teaches the others new words, but it’s a struggle. I know when to filter my foul mouth, obviously, but being a Christian doesn’t take away my love for the f word and other ‘sentence enhancers.’
- I like to drink. Not in a get trashed every weekend kind of way, but I do enjoy a glass of wine or a good mixed drink. I’m sipping a bourbon peach tea as I type this. Jesus drank wine, y’all, and there’s a difference in having a drink and being an alcoholic which is detrimental to your health and relationships.
- I can be really greedy. What’s mine is mine and that’s just the way it is, but I’m working on that too because I only have what I have because I’ve been blessed. Does that make sense?
- I wasn’t a virgin when I got married & my husband wasn’t my first. That’s a story for another day, but I think you get the point.
- I’ve struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide on and off for years.
- I’ve also struggled with low self esteem, negative body image, and been pretty obsessive about both of those things.
In short, I’m a hot mess and I don’t see that it should surprise anyone because I’ve yet to meet a Christian who wasn’t an equally hot mess once they really start opening up about themselves. I think that the misconception is that once you become a Christian, which is not the same thing as going to church FYI, you’re suddenly perfect and you should appear to have it together 100% of the time. You’re not, that’s the whole point. Our flaws don’t count against us any longer because Christ sacrificed Himself to cover them, but we aren’t without sin. So why do we act like it?!
Church is there to refresh us after a week of struggling to be better in a world that does nothing to encourage you, and to come together with other believers to help lift each other up in prayer. There should be a sense of unity in any Christian church you enter, and yet, we get so caught up in appearances. I can recall quite clearly a sermon many, many years ago that began by the pastor criticizing the clothing the teenagers were wearing. Never mind the fact that they were in church on a Sunday morning at 9AM when they could have all still been in bed, what really mattered was they were wearing flip flops. Are you kidding me? Dress decently, sure. I’m not rallying to have everyone show up on Sunday looking like they just stepped out of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, but considering those kids were there because they wanted to be, I think it’s safe to say that he missed the point and probably turned people against the church that day.
Oh, but wait a second, I’m just getting started. If I hear one more person complain that the church service is more like a rave or a concert, I’m going to snap. You do realize that God just says to make a joyful noise, right? He doesn’t specify which instruments should be used. And if we truly believe that God made us in His image, shouldn’t we also accept that our talents are a part of that as well? Why do people get so hung up on the lights, the stage set up, or the music itself if it’s all there to glorify God? In case you need a reminder, worship is not about pleasing the people sitting in the seats, it’s about worshiping God.
As I said before, the church I attend is pretty go with the flow. We do a good mix of old hymns and contemporary music. Sometimes, the band members even perform ORIGINAL music on *gasp* electric guitars! They’re choosing to use their talents in worship, did the cookie cutter Christians miss that part, or were they only focused on the fact that it doesn’t look or sound like a traditional service? Sometimes, we sing and worship the whole time. Other times, we just have people share their testimonies and close with a song. We don’t do things in a certain order and we don’t even pass the plate for offering (we still do it, we just have baskets set up so that people bring their tithes & offerings to the stations.) I don’t even think of these things as out of the ordinary until I visit other churches. There’s nothing wrong with more traditional churches with their beautiful stained glass windows and weekly bulletins, but there is something wrong with being so caught up in those meaningless details that you end up missing the point of being there in the first place and instead start focusing on the freaking shoes people are wearing! Jesus hung out with prostitutes and criminals, do you really think that He, wearer of sandals, really cares about flip flops?! Anyway.
The church isn’t a building, it’s a collection of believers doing their part in the world and working on their relationship with God. Christianity isn’t being a perfect person or even pretending to be. It’s more than that but, at the same time, it’s so much simpler than that, and it’s taken me a REALLY, embarrassingly long time to realize it. But here I am, really getting it for the first time since becoming a Christian at age 7. May I offer up some words of advice as I wrap this thing up? Stop getting hung up on the details, the rules, and the formalities and simply love the Lord. Stop focusing on perfection you’ll never obtain and own your flaws. It’ll change you in the best way.