So, this is a little awkward, but I need to tell you something you might not want to hear. Kind of like that friend in high school who really, really, wants to impress the guy with the leather jacket who smokes so she starts smoking and wearing skintight leather pants to fit in, and you can’t help but feel scared for her because even though it seems like she has won, and will be popular and loved from now on, you know deep down she’s living a lie and will probably end up a pregnant high school drop out with lung cancer. So church, when I see you turning into Sandy from Grease, I can’t help but want to say something, because I didn’t speak up to Sandy and have always regretted that.
It’s not like I’m looking down on you, because I’ve done it too, so I get it. I’m a writer, and now I write my books to try to show through story how God takes us as we are, loves us, and give us His power to enable us to be our best version of ourselves. At first I worried-a lot-that I’d offend people by talking about Jesus, so I watered down the message. I’d hide it in humor, or use more of a ‘spiritual’ approach, lest I come off as too religious and drive people away. I did that with Grace Group and it wasn’t until I realized it and changed it substantially to speak my truth that it turned into a book I was proud of.
See, I grew up in a culture that told me religion was all about pleasing an unpleaseable and intolerant God by giving up everything fun and pleasurable. I ended up adopting a concept of God as this old man up in the sky judging me and gleefully punishing me or threatening me with hell. My response was to opt out. Since I couldn’t and didn’t want to please that God, I took my ball and bat and went home (not realizing that this isn’t a game you can actually opt out of).
Unfortunately, you are judged every day anyway. If you’re not popular, or successful, or rich, or skinny, or you don’t have 100,000 followers on social media, or you’re not a sexy rebel, then people can overlook you at best, and make your life a living hell at worst. I don’t think I’m the only person who tried to overcome fear, anxiety, and a feeling of not being good enough by a) trying myself to death to change and be good enough and please the masses or b) numbing myself with food, booze, relationships, work, or other assorted things to make myself think I was having fun and not actually dying of anxiety and fear. And ultimately feeling like a complete fraud and failure who passively, and then actively, tried to die just to escape it all.
Here’s where you come in church. Like I said, I know you mean well, but when you try to be hip and cool, it’s not all that helpful. It means I have to keep the fake face on, because I’m not hip and cool, and you’re just another place that stresses me out because it feels like deep down, you’re just a shiny, happy way to feel better about myself without offering me any real solution because you don’t want to piss anyone off. All you really do is tell me to give up my vices, which are my coping mechanism for dealing with life as you and the world offer it.
Here’s what did work for me, in case you wondered. Having people who understood the pain, shame, and guilt of living the life I’d been living because they’d lived that life too. What helped me was the people who’d been like me and knew it was wrong and acknowledged there was a need to change, and had learned how to let God change them. They focused on the hope that change was possible. They encouraged me to learn what God wants for me, and how much He wants me to have it.
You telling me I was a great person wouldn’t have appealed to me any more than telling me I was a horrible one. I knew something inside me needed to change, I just needed help believing that I didn’t have to be the one to change me. But shame isn’t love, and that won’t turn someone’s heart to God either. What really saves people is the ultimate message of the gospel, which is that God already KNOWS everything about us, and never expected us to be good on our own anyway. He loves us, warts and all, and wants to help us elevate ourselves into a better way of being through letting Jesus take the punishment that deep down we know we deserve, so we don’t have to hide from God, thinking he’s mad at us.
So church, please don’t water down your message, or try to scare me into being your friend. Just tell the truth. You might be surprised at how much people will appreciate it.
Believe in yourself, church, and what you have to offer. It will be better in the long run, I promise. And stay away from that Danny guy.