Do what you say you’ll do
It has been a long enough time that no one can remember when this young woman whom I’ll call Elise said to me what she said. It was moments after the memorial service in the church for her nearest and dearest “bestie,” a twenty-something who had died suddenly and unexpectedly. Some could accurately say Elise’s friend died tragically.
Elise, a twenty-something woman, hadn’t been to a church in a very, very long time. Her demeanor throughout the memorial service revealed that a house of religion was new to her, or, more accurately put, unfamiliar to her. To my knowledge, she had never been to the church I serve in Harford. To be honest, the moment we shared was both reverent and revealing. God is seen and experienced in limitless places, one of them being near the pulpit where I had given the eulogy. There in this safe, tender, holy space, her open, expressive eyes beamed with the unexplainable compilation of both wonder and understanding, questions and assurance.
What was noticeable too were that her eyes had a thin veil of tears over them. In what became a private moment between us, she shared some compliments on her friend’s service. Then she added what I cannot forget. “And I’ll be back. You’ll see me here in church.”
Elise has not been back.
Did Elise LIE in a house of God?
I don’t think so. In that moment, she experienced what so many of us experience, and that is an honest conviction and an honest connection. Elise’s desire to return to the holy, sacred space that felt good and right to her was genuine, real, and authentic. Yes, I do believe Elise honestly meant what she said.
So, what happened?
Here’s how I can answer this question. Like many of you, I listen to the “positive and encouraging” Christian radio station, K-Love. The music is all THAT. Also inspiring are what I call the affirming, scripture-laden soundbites played between the music. So much I hear in these 60-second affirmations is so, so good. In a recent bite, I heard the DJ known as Skip (whose last name I do not know) speak about who and what we worship. What he read really sticks out because he said, “We can even worship the devil.”
Darkness fans are all into this type of worship, I imagine, but as Skip shared a litany of our worshipping our careers, our families and our lifestyles, he also said we can worship the devil. This wasn’t his main point, but the point he brings is beyond valuable to all of us church people and non-church people.
I know a little about Elise prior to this memorial service and truly doubt this great, positive and affirming soul outwardly worships the devil. Whenever a connection between God and church is made and then cut, however, it does make me think the enemy is smiling at his success. His goal is to divide us from God and God’s community. Some of us smirk when others personify or denote evil with the first-person pronoun ‘he,’ but we who have been fooled more than once know the crafty one wins when we say to ourselves things such as “I’ll get around to it,” “I’m not that bad,” “Religion stinks! I want no part of that ______!”, “My relationship is God is good—ah—mostly,” “Following Jesus too much or too closely will make me completely poor and serving as some hapless volunteer in some third world nation where in both mud and muck, I’ll die from some ravishing disease.”
True story. I have a family member who, after learning I would be attending seminary fulltime for my Master of Divinity degree, said the following not with insult but care and concern, “You’re not going to go off and be some missionary someplace, are you?”
Sidenote. There is mud and muck in ministry no matter where we go. Every pastor everywhere as well as every missionary everywhere knows exactly what I am talking about.
A place of muck that hurts is that this story of Elise can be told everywhere because it happens everywhere. Yet there is hope. For the Christian, there is always, always hope. For starters, Elise didn’t give me or herself a timeline as to when she’ll be back. Maybe I’ll see her this coming Sunday. Maybe it’s just taking a little longer than either of us thought for her to come back.
Speaking of Sundays, those of you peaked or pulled by God (yet again) heard an Easter message this past Sunday, and, just like Elise who have been away from church, have said to yourself, “Yes, I’ll be back.”
Come back. This goes for all of us, churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike. We are all works in progress. We all have moments of profound connection with God and pure distraction from God. Like Elise, we experience mountaintop highs with God and, when back down from that experience, we back down on ourselves and our ability to return to God, sit with God, and worship in the company of God with just that—company—not just our own limited chants and mumblings. Yes, inner private time with God is a must. This time is always enhanced when we spend time with others in worship of God.
Favor? When you find yourself backing down, realize you’re doing just that. Then stop, turn, and then return. Doing what you say you’ll do is not impossible, it’s actually amazing. Learning from and leaning on Jesus, the One who conquered death by rising from it for all who call on Him, is, well, awesome.