A church member asked me a few weeks ago whether or not I knew any happy stories. I guess the sermon illustrations in the weeks running up to that had a lot to do with pain, suffering, or death. I wasn’t quite sure what to say to the man. I do know “happy” stories, quite a few as a matter of fact, but oftentimes they don’t make it into the text of my sermons or writings.
I’ve spent the last few weeks wondering why that is. Why is it that I’ve spent 2004 focusing on messy spiritual lives and being disappointed with God? Is that where I live? Well, sometimes but not all the times. Do I enjoy the dark side? Not really. I typically recoil from unpleasantness.
Maybe it’s because 2004 has been the most difficult personal and professional time in my life. My father-in-law died, I’ve had increased responsibilities at work, my wife’s been in deep mourning, we’re stumbling through being first time parents, Texas has no income tax and takes it out of homeowners, and disappointment decided to make my life it’s campground–but I don’t think that’s why I talk and write about the things I talk and write about.
Rather, I think it is because I have seen and lived such false Christianity in my life. It is a religious life where everything with everybody is always fine and people always feel good. Church folks are great at pretending, so to be successful, I learned to pretend along with them.
The problem is that that is the worst possible way to maintain a relationship. It’s like a first date. Both people wear their best clothes, tell their best stories, and are always on their best behavior. That’s great for impressing someone, but terrible for knowing someone. Many of us spend our entire lives doing impressions of ourselves, hoping that people will like or love us. And soon after we have impressed all the people we want to impress and gained their attention and love, our hearts weep, because the person they have come to love isn’t really us.
That’s why I tell “unhappy” stories. We all need to know that we can be who we are, experience what happens to us and continue in faith without having to be on guard that our personas are damaged. I tell real stories about real people, so that people can have the courage to be real.
Truthfully, I want Christian people to discover their anger and disappointment with God. I want all of us to voice our questions and shed our tears to and about a God that we don’t understand. I think that is when He engages us.
A question cannot be answered if it is never asked. A tear cannot be dried if it is never shed. A relationship cannot grow if we never talk about what we don’t like about it. God cannot encounter our hearts if we are offering holographic humanity. We cannot know Him if we are hiding behind being okay with Him. The God of the universe is pursuing us, not the makeshift men and women we portray to the world. He cannot have us if we are pretending.
It is only when we are real that the happy ending comes.