My husband and I were talking the other day about how churches should be more like AA meetings. To us, AA meetings are a place where broken people can go to find acceptance and support and friends and encouragement in their healing process. Where your past, or your present, aren’t held against you. It is a place where you already know that you are broken and you know that everyone you meet with are broken too. But the brokenness isn’t something to be hidden and ashamed of, but something to be celebrated because you are finally free in your brokenness. People don’t scowl at you when you enter for not measuring up to their standards. They don’t pre-judge you before they know you and they don’t judge you when they do get to know you because when they begin to form a relationship with you it is as fellow broken humans who need each other and can fight this together.
Perhaps we are glorifying the AA meeting which is very possible because we only know family members and friends who have gone to these meetings. But from the outside, standing at the doors of an AA meeting, at times, sounds more appealing to me than standing at the doors of a church.
I know several churches who say that they are a place for broken people. Who say that “Churches are a hospital for the sick not a hotel for saints” but in practice people don’t always live that out. Whether it is in the church’s spoken words or actions or attitudes, most of the time people visiting or even attending a church feel like brokenness is not accepted. Going into a church building, I think most people feel they need to hide their brokenness. Even if they don’t know exactly what is broken about them, there is a feeling that when you show up someone will see that brokenness and point it out.
Once inside, often there is not a feeling of acceptance, only a sense of possible acceptance if you can make yourself good enough and live up to all the standards and rules and do all that is needed to be done- confess, get baptized, become a member, go to every church meeting, don’t miss one day the doors are open, volunteer, teach, wear the right clothes, say the right things- basically “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” and don’t show any sign of humanness “because you are a new creation.”
Please know that the verses I am quoting are not supposed to be condemning or make one feel inadequate. I am only using them to show how Scripture can be twisted to make someone feel less than.
I have found that inside a church acceptance is conditional and love is conditional. Making the true God into a false god. Worshipped every Sunday as a conditional god who only accepts you when you are good enough, when you have jumped through all of the hoopes, when you have corrected yourself and made yourself righteous and holy and perfect all before you come to Him. Because if His children, who are examples of Him, treat us this way then it must be the same with God. There is no God to meet you in your brokenness here. If the church doesn’t go to this low level then there is the level where the unspoken word is “just do the best you can and cover up the brokenness so no one can see and then you’ll be accepted.”
And if ever a shard of glass from your brokenness falls out of your secure pocket on to the floor, scowls greet you. Once in awhile there are kind helping hands that stoop down and pick up your pieces and share the super glue they use with you. But most of the time, we all are just superglued broken glass trying to hide our cracks in dresses and suites and pretty words and judging others when we see through their stained-glass.
We have a problem here. A church is supposed to be the most welcoming and loving place ever. But more people find acceptance and genuine friendliness in a bar or an AA meeting than they do in a church. Judgments rain like praise songs in a church.“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10) It should not be, but it is. And I’m part of the problem too. There are several times when I wish I could have bit my words before they came out of my mouth. Whether I think someone deserved it or not, is that who I really want to be? If I want others to be loving and accepting, then I should be what I want. I still forget we’re not the super infallible Christian we all dress up to be.
I wish I could always speak kindly and always see the best in people even when they don’t show me their best. I don’t want to be someone who makes this problem worse. Someone who makes God out to be a conditional loving God. That is the worst place to be in. I used to be there. Always striving for perfection, or dressing myself up in the perfection everyone seemed to require of me. Giving the right answers, buying the best super-glue. I met all the standards they demanded-confession, being baptized, showing up every time the doors were open, teaching, volunteering- and soon I believed that meeting all of those standards is what made me a Christian. It was almost like if I even messed up on one of those “requirements” then I was a step further on a downward spiral to hell. I trusted in my own actions to save me. And it was exhausting. When you live like this everything becomes an obligation and not a joy. Everything is dependent upon you instead of Jesus.
If you believe that you are Christian because you show up every time the church doors are open and because you meet all the standards and requirements, that is the same as an addict believing they are sober because they show up to every AA meeting. Sobriety can’t happen if an addict keeps drinking. Christianity can’t happen if we keep hiding. There has to be a heart change. And our hearts can’t change if we keep locking them up because they aren’t perfect enough yet. We need to stop judging and conditioning God’s acceptance. Nothing will change if we keep dressing up our brokenness. Let’s stop the scowls and stop the judgments and actually start treating others the way we want to be treated. Whether they deserve it or not. Who is it you want to be?
It’s going to be hard but let’s be broken together. Otherwise if we keep biting and devouring one another, we will be destroyed by each other. God didn’t condition His love for us, so let’s stop conditioning our love upon others.