It was Sunday at noon and we were home preparing for the 30 minute drive down I-264 to Big House in Ghent. My seven year old son was on the couch watching cartoons on Netflix when I told him it was time to turn the TV off and get in the car to head to church. "I hate church" was his prompt and whining reply. My usual response would have been an angry word of instruction about respect with threats of consequences if an attitude adjustment did not manifest immediately. However, in this moment time slowed down and my eyelids grew heavy as my eyeballs rolled into the back of my head; I let out a deep sigh that sounded and felt like "I Give Up!" (Parents, you know this sigh all too well) The lack of an anger flare up made a nice deep quiet space in my head where I sometimes hear "The Voice." You know, the God Voice, like Obi-Wan calling out through the force to Luke on the frozen plain of planet Hoth. In my head the God Voice sounds like me...but a much more intelligent, gentle and likable version of me. The Voice chimed in with my seven year old son and humorously echoed "I hate church, too...and so do you!!!" I immediately understood what he meant. No, I don't hate Big House, or the greater church of Jesus Christ...and I certainly don't hate you :-) I hate the striving that comes from performing for others, performing for God and even performing for yourself...it is so much work!!! I hate it when I allow religiosity to build a cold desensitizing layer of dead flesh around my heart. It always happens when I have failed to take time to be intimate and honest with my father about the issues swirling around in my heart. This thing we call "prayer" which is really just refreshingly candid conversation between us and our maker where we invite him into the middle of our mess.
Church should be a relief, a shoulder to lean on and a place that reminds you who you really are as a child of the living God. Yes, it is a place to serve, but only out of an overflow. And the overflow of grace for our lives comes from the well of his presence that we joyfully dig through the surrender of worship and prayer. We raise our hands to surrender as if saying "God, I give up" and so abandon the world's way of prideful independence in exchange for his strength that flows so proficiently in our weakness.
Get hungry by getting real with yourself...you need God as much as anyone else. It's ok to admit you hate church, too, if that means you are tired of striving to prove your worth and validity, if it means you are tired of hiding your struggles from others for fear of ridicule. Let's hate all things that come between our connection and our ability to exist honestly and in a way that makes room for the gospel of hope to work miracles in our own lives. In doing so we can redefine church and redeem our culture's understanding of what the church represents. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. So whether you show up Sunday full of faith and ready to storm the gates of hell, or if you can barely drag your burdened soul through the door...just come as you are. His love will take care of the rest.