This was the group of people I joined when I became a Christian. Shiny happy people holding hands in prayer, lifting their arms in praise and laughing their way through life. Hallelujah.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
I became a Christian, if I’m honest, because I wanted what the people in church seemed to have. I was so excited for my life which felt far from shiny, to suddenly become the picture-perfect example of Christianity – for all my troubles to be put down at the cross, so that I no longer had to worry about them. I was ready to ‘be like Christ’.
It was more than a shock when this turned out not to be the reality. I thought I had done something wrong when the things which were difficult in my life didn’t stop. I’d fallen for unhelpful, false advertising.
Why is it that when families or individuals go through a difficult patch, they so often have a ‘break from church’ or a ‘dip in their faith’? Yes, some of it is because coming to church in these times can become less of a priority and feel like a huge effort, but I think that a great deal of the reason is because we feel embarrassed to share with our church families about what is really going on, and we fear their ‘over-holy’ reactions. I am sick of hearing (after sharing a problem with another Christian): “That’s really tough, but God is good”. Or feeling compelled to end every sentence with: “But I’m trusting God to work everything for good, I’m sure there is a purpose for this hurt, so it’s fine”. Sometimes it doesn’t feel fine. Sometimes I just want you to let me cry and to get angry about it with me.
We are not called to be ‘happy’ people all the time. We are called to be real and to have hope. To rejoice with each other and to mourn with each other. Rejoicing in our trials does not mean smiling through them and pretending you don’t feel the pain – Jesus surely felt the pain of the cross and even He asked for mercy – it’s about relying on those who are stronger than us when we are weak. We have to stop pretending that everything is okay when it’s not, and we must allow other people to show their true emotions. How will they ever feel that they belong, if their life is full of the mess which we’ve decided to hide in our own lives? It will make those outside of your group feel as though God is only for perfect people with perfect lives, but irrelevant for those who have been dealt a messier hand.
The word of God is about truth – so why should the body of Christ be about lies and cover-ups? Surely by pretending life is all sunshine and fairy cakes, we are diluting the power of the gospel. Life is hard, life is dark and being a Christian does not exempt us from experiencing these things. But it does carry a hope to see us out the other end. As I matured in my faith, I began to learn this truth from a few brave Christians who made themselves vulnerable to encourage me; showing me were they came from, what they were still going through, and what their hope was for the future. This was invaluable – I no longer had to feel guilty that my life was not perfect or that I still felt miserable often. It was so freeing. This is the message I will dedicate my life to showing others – transparent Christianity.
We need to start advertising the real Jesus. Jesus is for the broken-hearted, the prisoner and the captive. He is for reality.
(Image via Creation Swap)