When someone drops by your house unexpectedly, how much does it bother you to have baskets of unwashed laundry sitting around and a sink full of dirty dishes? Are you embarrassed at having your mess on display or are you able to shrug it off?
What about when you visit other people and see those things inside their home? Kids toys on every surface and floors that obviously haven’t been vacuumed recently. Do you secretly judge them and feel a little smug knowing you keep your home tidier than theirs? Or is it a relief to see that other people have messes, too?
There have been an abundance of articles in the media over the last few years on how we, as a society, need to stop judging each other. Most of these voices say something similar, “I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me.” Yet the criticisms and judgements from each side never truly seem to end.
Even more tragic is that this judgement is happening inside our churches, too. We say everyone is welcome, we say we are all sinners, and that no one should feel too intimidated to join us. But then we all put on our best clothes and our best faces and cover up all the messy stuff in our lives and gather together with others who are most likely covering it all up, too.
Whenever I hear of someone saying they are not “good enough” to go to church I hang my head. Because if that’s how we, as Christians, are making people feel then we are doing it wrong. If we are saying all the broken, down-trodden, sinful wretches are welcome in our churches but portray our own selves as perfectly pulled-together and act like we’ve got it all figured out then we can’t truly mean that everyone is welcome, can we? What we’re saying is that everyone who either has it all together or is capable of putting on a got-it-all-together facade is welcome. And all the rest of you can come once you figure out how to do this thing, too.
It’s time to change our approach.
I confess, my house can be messy sometimes and if you come over I might be embarrassed by it. So, I’ll spend time cleaning and organizing for the sole purpose of preventing myself from experiencing your judgement (whether real or imagined). Maybe I’ve saved myself from your criticisms but the other thing I’ve done, even without intending to, is put pressure on you. Because the next time I come to your house you’ll remember how clean my place was and then you’ll make sure everything is in perfect order. And we’ll both continue on with this for eternity even though I’m secretly wishing you would stop so the pressure would be off and maybe you’re wishing I would stop, too.
So here’s what I propose; quit telling me you don’t judge me for my mess and then clean your own up before I come over. Be vulnerable. Be real. Don’t make your place look perfect for my benefit. That’s the only way I will ever truly feel comfortable letting you see my mess. And I will do the same.
If I can’t afford nice clothes to wear to church is it going to help me more to read on their website that “all are welcome” or to actually see other people at their church dressed in less fancy clothing, too? If I’m having a rough time in my life would I want to go to church if I feel like I have to hide my struggles in order to fit in? Or will I benefit more from having the opportunity to connect with others who are struggling, too?
Now, of course, if you have a conviction that you need to dress or behave in a certain way because it would be disrespectful to God then I certainly don’t want to encourage you to go against your conscience. The body of Christ is made up of all kinds of people and if you are one of the people who really doesn’t have a mess or has no desire to show it then I absolutely do not want to be a stumbling block to you. There are other people like you out there and I respect who you all are, too.
But I’m a messy person and I am always drawn first to other messy people. The people who mull things over, who struggle with what decision to make, who flip-flop and wrestle, pray for wisdom, seek counsel, these are my people. They can admit they failed last time and the time before that but they’ve learned from it and are going to try again. And they always, always try to do better tomorrow.
If we say we welcome all kinds of people in our church then we have to start being all kinds of people. We need to stop hiding what God has made us because we feel afraid or ashamed of what other people might think. Let them think it. That’s not what really matters, anyway, and we know it.
It’s time to start living like it.