“Dear Abby” Van Buren once said, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” As I begin my therapy journey today, I feel very much like the proverbial patient. I’m asking myself ridiculous questions, such as, “Should I put on makeup so I have at least one thing to feel good about? Or will I just cry it all off anyway? Should I wear a naked face to help me undress my heart?”
I’ve never had a problem appearing “naked” before God. I was raised on the twin ideas of inherent sin and an omniscient God; there’s never been any point hiding the Real Me ™ from Him. He sees me to my spiritual bones. I’ve never had too much of a problem baring my soul to my friends, either. I’m not gifted with a mask, so I gave up trying to create one, except for times when it’s plain my honesty will be inappropriate or weigh someone down. I’ve tried hard all my life to avoid the label of “Christian hypocrite” by opting for transparency instead, even to the point of answering “How are you?” truthfully. In the immortal words of Indigo Girls, “Maybe there’s no haven in this world for tender age/ My heart beat like the wings of wild birds in a cage/ My greatest hope my greatest cause to grieve/ And my heart flew from its cage, and it bled upon my sleeve.”
But today I am about to show the ugliest parts of my inner self to a psychologist (and I’ve picked one I know, one who understands my theological point of view). I’m a little nervous about the social implications of that.
Imagine – suspending the obvious issue of modesty – if we all went to church in hospital gowns. Maybe the Salvos have it right: uniform is a great leveler and reminder of who we are. Picture this: you arrive at the church door and are ushered to a changing booth, where you doff your street clothes and put on your hospital gown. You spend the entirety of the church service with your back exposed, as does everyone else. The songleader wears a hospital gown. The preacher wears a hospital gown. Everyone in the room is a patient.
Someone walking in is not going to be met by a cadre of well-dressed, successful, “be-like-us” professional-looking Christians. Instead, they are going to know themselves (a) in the company of people who all acknowledge that they need help, and (b) in a place where help is offered, no matter how long it takes you to get well. Anyone can ask for help. Nobody can hide their status. Everyone is in an attitude of awkward humility, but also sharing in the camaraderie of all being in this unusual boat together.
Of course we can’t wear hospital gowns to church, and most of us will recoil in horror at the very idea. But the point stands: we will reach a whole different set of people with less gloss and more grit.
The idea, then, is to find a way to be fully dressed as well as fully drossed. Here’s what I want to honestly say as a member of my church.
I may not have the best testimony because I am not an unqualified success, or my miracle hasn’t happened, or hasn’t happened yet, or I never had a watershed moment. My life has been two steps forward and one back, lather rinse repeat; and I’m still living with xyz and I have no answer for why. Hearing people give their shiny testimonies about how, unlike me, God delivered them from their deal in an instant, makes me want to punch them. I mean, I’m happy for them, and glad their words help some; but I can’t accept the idea that if you just had enough faith you’d get your healing too … ergo, your sickness is your fault. Make no mistake, there’s healing here. But if, like me, your miracle hasn’t come overnight, well, there’s love here too. Love looks to the long haul. And the failure to break through is not because you don’t have enough faith: Jesus said you only needed a tiny bit. So don’t tell yourself you’re disqualified. Yes, look into other factors, but know that there are people here who will journey with you whether you get your miracle or not. Because we don’t just celebrate success. We celebrate a God who loves us no matter how unsuccessful we are. He died for us in the midst of our terrible failure, because we needed Him to. It would have been pointless if He’d done it as a reward for what we could achieve with our own positive thinking & action.
What brings God glory? He is no doubt glorified when people tell of the wondrous things He’s done for them. He’s done a few for me, too! But here’s the most wondrous thing I’ve seen Him do for me and my family: He has stuck with us. And that is my testimony. I’m still on my journey toward breakthrough – let me not at all diminish your hope that yours is coming too! – and I don’t have to go it alone. My brothers and sisters are walking beside me, because we’re all just walking each other home anyway. And He’s with us to the end.