I was really not in the mood for church on Sunday.
On Saturday, for the umpteenth time, I had put on my happy face on to go to a wedding. It’s not that I didn’t want to be there and I was honestly really glad to be invited and to share their moment. I do mean that. And I thought it was pure quality playing this Michael McIntyre sketch while they signed the register. It’s just that there was that weird sense of déjà vu as I stood, yet again, to sing In Christ Alone and Be Thou My Vision, before listening, yet again, to Ecclesiastes’ reminder that not only is a cord of three strands not easily broken but that life is relatively crap for those who go it alone.
Knocking back champagne, I merged into the watching crowd when the Single Ladies were expected to self-identify as such before abasing themselves by battling each other for the bouquet. My frozen smile seemed to be cracking like a face-mask that’d been on for too long, but I continued to make interested noises in response to stories about other people’s wedding days. I faked über-delighted as I answered questions directed at me about my brother’s upcoming wedding as if it was the only relevant and interesting contribution that I could possibly have to make in this context. Please may I get down now?
And that was at the end of a week when I’d (ungraciously) received an email about church’s new monthly lunch initiative. ‘It is not sustainable,’ read the email, ‘for one or two couples to host the meals therefore the proposal is to find a number of couples who would be willing to host a lunch in their home three times a year.’ (Couples, couples, couples.) Right. Ok. So, why email me? ‘To make it easier we are also inviting a small team of people who could volunteer to support the host couple and be involved in the practical tasks including cooking, setting-up, child care, taking people from Church to the host’s address, etc., in order to make it as much a blessing as possible.’ Oh hoorah. Of course, I read this through my irritated it’s-all-about-me lens. Apparently marriage and house-ownership are the prerequisite for the potential to offer hospitality, so woe betide those would-be hosts who have chosen to walk a non-propertied path and who have clearly never been liked enough for someone to put a ring on it, so to speak.
This is really not the right attitude to take to church. I so nearly didn’t go. I felt rubbish for feeling rubbish, and hypocritical about going off to a place where I was pre-emptively wound up and patronised and reminded of everything that I don’t have rather than everything that I do. I COULD NOT BEAR the thought of an ‘all age’ song (which is clearly just a ‘kids’ song’ by a different name, trying to dupe adults into self-ridiculing actions.) Compulsory fun is the worst sort of fun at the best of times. And this weekend was far from the best of times. I was so ready to snap or be sarcastic. Stuff being a blessing. Oh God. I know it’s about grace but I have no grace for me, no grace for others, so what’s the point?
All I can say is thank goodness for Sean. Thank goodness for the fact that he stood up in a Hawaiian shirt on a chilly day and preached from Luke 15. Thank goodness that we’re trying to refocus on what he called, quite simply, the ‘really good news’.
Thank goodness for the fact that it was a sermon of questions, not just of answers. Yes, there were answers, in the sense of being reminded, in story form, of who God really is. But I couldn’t have heard the answers without the questions that preceded them: questions that allowed us to explore the disconnect between the reality of who God is and the parallel reality of how we actually relate to him. That disconnect between what we know conceptually to be true but which we don’t always know at an emotional level.
I’m emotionally distant from everything at the moment, probably because it’s the only way of coping with it all. I don’t want to actually get upset at a wedding which is, after all, a joyful occasion. Better to absent my heart and mind while being bodily present in my heels and Boden. I don’t want to cry at the rubbishness of life every time I read an article about protracted refugee situations or human trafficking, for example, or to face the reality that every statistic is a person and a story. Much better to read it at a theoretical distance and be done with it.
At the same time, I do want to feel it again: the bad and the good. Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. Right? And it’s not the first time I’ve written about these things: wanting to reconnect with the good news, to remember the joy of being found, and to see my identity as someone who is danced over and died for willingly. But right now I am hearing the familiar story as someone who is wanting to go to the party but who is assuming that rather than being served the promised fattened calf I’ll probably end up eating cold quiche from Sainsburys and being on the washing up rota.
I want to connect with the story again without the assumptions and all my issues. I want to see it again through the eyes of my Iranian friend who almost had an outrage-induced panic attack as she read about the Father running through the streets to embrace the son who’d shamed him. I want to hear it again through the ears of my Chinese friend who couldn’t get her head around a message of grace and restoration and who kept reading it again and again to check she’d understood it right. I want to feel it again, as for the first time, and in doing so I realise that it’s been ages since I’ve hooked the message up with someone who has never encountered it before. I miss that.
To be fair, I didn’t end up snapping at anyone or being too sarcastic on Sunday. I ate Caribbean food (definately a notch up from quiche), drank Schloer, and was relatively merry, all things considered. I realised that I was bothered about people and that they were probably bothered about me.
And then I went to the park, drank some decent coffee and ran around in the sandpit playing make-believe games with the kids. Ok, so I may hate the obligatory joy of children’s songs at church, but spending time with pre-yoof is probably what I need the most at the moment.
I like that hanging out with kids is not complicated: it’s honest, it’s messy, it’s emotional, it’s straightforward and it’s ok to laugh and to cry in equal measure. It helps me to discern the difference between being childlike and being childish (the latter being spectacularly exemplified in the preceeding rant.) Being with kids is when the idea that it’s-all-about-relationship makes sense in a tangible kind of way.
I went home with shoes full of sand and a cardigan covered in the dregs of Caleb’s smiley but excessively dribbly cuddle. Everything seemed just a little bit more ok. Onwards and upwards.