One of the things that I struggle with in church is the pressure that we feel to put on the churchy version of game face when we come on Sunday. If you’ve been in the church at all you probably know what I’m talking about. Game face is a look intended to convey that everything is under control and there is nothing amiss in one’s life.
I use the first person plural pronoun because I know I have felt the pressure to hide problems so that people will think that things with me are way better than they really are. Based on what goes on in churches, I assume that others feel it too.
To support this claim, I point to the many churches that offer designated people to pray with congregants after the service. How many people actually take advantage of this? It seem that only a major illness, a death in the family, or an immanent tax audit qualify as being worthy of prayer. It’s got to be something big or incredibly debilitating to the reluctance to go ask for prayer.
But, on any given Sunday, there are dozens of things going on in my life that require serious prayer. Why then do I feel reluctant to go up to the front and ask someone to pray with me and for me? I assume that the same is true for everyone else in the service. Why then do so few go up for prayer?
These musings were prompted by a passage in 1 Samuel that I read this morning:
“While she continued praying in the Lord’s presence, Eli watched her mouth. Hannah was praying silently, and though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to be drunk? Get rid of your wine!” “No, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the Lord. Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment.” Eli responded, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request you’ve made of him.” “May your servant find favor with you,” she replied. Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer looked despondent.”1 Samuel 1:12–18, CSB
Hanna availed herself of the opportunity to bring her petition to the one person that could positively affect her situation; she brought it to her God in prayer.
Eli, rather than being sensitive to her need, supposed her to be drunk rather than afflicted with a burden.
Which brings up a question that all of us need to ask ourselves: are we creating a culture in our church where it is OK to be NOT OK? Do we have a culture where people can freely confess the stuff that is happening in their lives without someone looking down on them? Or, are we like Eli, and assume that the one who is distressed is morally defective?
In the story recorded in John 8, Jesus said that only the sinless have the authority to cast the first stone. It is interesting to me that the only sinless one (Jesus) refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery.
The point is that none of us feel we are where we want to be in life. We have habits that we struggle to conquer. We say things that are hurtful. We have been hurt by others who have said and done things that make our lives difficult. We have economic pressures and we are not as good at parenting as we would like to be. The things for which we need God’s intervention is a longish list.
Can we stop the pretense?
Can we stop looking down on the people that are honest about their brokenness and their needs?
Can we develop a culture where we can say with honesty that pretense is not necessary?
Can we accept and rally around the brokenhearted rather than make them feel pressure to look as if nothing is wrong?
I think we can. I have seen glimmers of this in grief support groups and addiction recovery groups in the church.
My hope is that as the world gets more and more divided and judgmental, the church can once more become the place where the beat up and broken hearted can find companionship and encouragement as we openly acknowledge our own needs and point people to Jesus, the Great Healer.
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