Loving Messily in a Messy World
Discipleship as a Three-Legged Stool, Week 4
by Andrea Lingle

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There is a moment almost every single day when I find that all of the training that I have ever done in my life isn't enough.

Not nearly enough.

I am a mother of several children.

Today, at my oldest daughter's gymnastics class, I had the profound joy of watching the fruit of my body being drug off the gymnastics floor, bodily, by her thoroughly befuddled coach.  Through the lobby window I watched her thrash and scream with her chin thrown back, mouth wide open, exposing her perfectly straight baby teeth in a cartoonish grimace of despair. Her hands clutched at the feet of her coach as she begged for one more minute of her attention. Tears and snot smeared a film across her cheeks, mixing with the dirt of a five-year-old’s day, and leaving me broken. And angry.

Later, she confessed that she felt like everyone in the class was better than she was. She wanted to be big and brave. She wanted to show her coach and the other kids in her class she could finally lift her head off the mat in her bridge (a back-bend for those of you non-gym-parent types)—something she had worked on all week. It was the wrong time. It was the wrong place. She didn’t wait for permission. She lay down on her back, flipped her hands around, and strained to get her head off the mat. Her coach asked her to go along with the lesson as planned.

Her coach didn't know how hard she had worked all week.

I knew.

I stood in the lobby behind the “STOP” and “Absolutely No Parents Allowed in the Gym” signs trying to keep my youngest daughter from eating out of the trashcan. In that moment I found myself profoundly alone. No one met my eye. No one wanted to even get close this portrait of utter failure.

Parenting is solitary, isolating, and public. It is subject to criticism and evaluation by every stander-by. Living a life of faith in a world that is rejecting religion sometimes feels the same. As we, the worried remnant, sit in the roomy pews, we find ourselves framing our evangelism in terms of apology rather than apologetics. That moment at the gym, pacing behind the glass, was miserable, and, yet, if I am honest, I am envious of my daughter’s freedom to express her frustration in a world that has made it clear that expression is not something we are free to do.

Sometimes life leaves you so frustrated and angry, that the only reasonable response is to sit down, right where you are, and wail. With your mouth wide open. Until someone kicks you out of your class.

When Jesus gave the greatest commandment, he was talking with a group of people who were known for their knowledge and understanding of the texts sacred to the Hebrew people. And they asked him a question.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36, NRSV)

These were not people of simple faith. It was not earnestly meant. It was not a question, but a trap. And then, Jesus changed everything. All the laws and rites and traditions were at once magnified and discarded in one simple way: love.

It is so simple. It is so hard.

Love God. Love neighbor. How many times have I heard that phrase within in walls of my churches? One hundred? One thousand? But lately I have found myself frustrated and angered by my own inability to love. I am tired and the rites surrounding worship seem hollow and consumable.

“I thought everyone was better than me, and I wanted my coach to see me.”

There are four children living within the walls of my house, and the volume of words that pour over me every day is staggering. Most of those words simply puddle up around my feet lost to time, but those words stand out in my mind. She wanted to be seen and, instead of going quietly along with the lesson, she made her point. She got in trouble afterwards, but she made her point. She would be seen.

We want to know that we are seen. Even in the dark. Right now the church is living through a profound season of darkness. Attendance is down, giving is down, membership is declining. There is a sense that we have shown up, but no One is watching. Every metaphor eventually breaks down. As I wonder about the future of the church, I am not sure who I am suppose to be in this decaying situation. Am I the worried parent, sitting behind a glass panel of uncertainty, helpless to fix the problem? Or am I the wailing child, refusing to be invisible? It seems like I might be both.

The good news is, if enthusiasm for religion is down, so is obligation. Those who remain, choose to remain. The church also has a choice to make. Will we allow the darkness to overwhelm us, or will we pause for a moment, allowing the darkness to become a womb, preparing us for rebirth?

Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:

  • Where are the “STOP!” signs in our communities of faith that need to be torn down?
  • How should we be making the invisible visible?
  • How is our practice of daily living out our faith showing us when to let it all go and wail?

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