Serve. Love. Fellowship. Learn.
What do you associate with relationships within a church?
For the first time, I considered the many relationships I had with people within my church family in the light of the emotions they entailed.
When Christ compared the church to a body--His body--the metaphor includes the shared sensory system of the body (if you think about it. I didn't.)
A stomachache, sprained ankle, paper cut may be localized, but they affect our overall well-being, no matter how functional the rest of our body is. Try writing a post with a headache. Similarly, in a church which lives out Christ's command to love and care for each other as oneself, emotions should be something we are privileged to share. Should be something we cannot help but share, in fact.
The pain of losing a loved one. Of a difficult child. Of illness. Of financial problems or a struggling marriage.
And on the other hand, the joy over a conversion, over answered prayer, in fellowship, through encouragement, and something as simple and miraculous as a new baby.
These very real emotions are spread and shared through the unique relationships we have within a church, and we should be prepared for both the sorrow and the joy.
From my own experience, the shared sorrow which should be part of every church's experience is very important as it
shakes these facades we so easily slip on, something we humans need so badly in the superficial interactions we call 'friendship' and even 'fellowship'. I remember the first funeral I attended which concerned the loved one of a church friend. There I saw and felt sorrow so personal it left me shaken and uncertain, but most of all, knowing instinctively that it marked a turning point in a shallow relationship which up till then consisted mainly of chitchat and laughter over tea break.
And again, on the flip side. A marriage should be a joyous occasion, something everyone is able to celebrate together, something which reminds everyone in the church of the relationship between Christ and His people, the love which characterizes that relationship. Something is very wrong when people within the church are unhappy, when they don't rejoice together with the couple, when the marriage--or any other otherwise happy occasion--becomes a means for old grudges or gossip to surface.
These examples of course are far from exclusive. I include them here not for speculation but as food for thought. Once you think about the importance of shared emotion among God's people, it's surprising how many little events and things become important. The simple fact that someone resents another person's joy, or that someone is unaffected by another's grief, speaks of a festering gangrene, a disconnect within the nervous system, even an amputation, within the body of Christ. If not an actual decapitation (from the Head.)
When we open ourselves to the widened spectrum of emotion which church relationships should entail, it means, inevitably, letting go of the subtle self-entitlement which underlies how we see our lives. It stops us from unduly obsessing over our own lives--whether on our own troubles, or on fine-tuning these troubles from our lives. It stops us from falling into the trap of thinking that these imperfections are the main thing, that our main goal is to craft a life as near perfect as possible, to manipulate the ratio of Nice to Nasty things in our lives (which sounds childish, but is a surprisingly real delusion.) Because once we enter this extended spectrum of emotion, so to speak, we realize almost immediately that the problems are always going to be there. If not in my life, then yours. Or his. Or hers.
And simultaneously, that joy, likewise, is always there. Even in the darkest times. There is always something to be thankful for.
Realizing this helps us to put life in perspective. Sorrow, as long as we are on this earth, is poignantly present. Even if we are happy--now--someone else's sorrow, like disturbing news headlines you try to ignore on your birthday, reminds us that happiness is not the solution, at least not here on earth. And happiness, beautiful as it is, is no more than an emotion, is not and cannot be the sole motivation for a life.
To quote Greg Gilbert, the church is 'where God's people learn to love one another, to bear one another's burdens and sorrows, to weep together and rejoice together, and to hold one another accountable...the kingdom of God looks like, at least before it's made perfect...'
Before it's made perfect.
Few churches, if any, will have a clean bill of health. But the diagnosis shows us what we lack and what we ought to fight for.
We need to be vulnerable and honest with each other. We can't afford to retreat into the selfishness of comfort-zones, guarding the sacred Holy-of-Holies of our personal life from anything that threatens to disrupt it, dreading and resenting those who need help--even if it seems endlessly. We can't afford to be content with Sunday-best facades which safely gloss over real-life problems and weaknesses, because the bonds within a healthy church call for the common experience of real, raw, honest emotions--of pain, sorrow, joy--under which these paper cutouts crumple.
If we don't feel together (and this works in both interpretations of that phrase; sharing the same emotions as well as the corollary sense of unity) with our church, perhaps we're not relating to each other as we ought. Perhaps in serving one another we've neglected a much more significant, far more basic way of loving each other.
After all, Christ was called a Man of Sorrows. He took on--and is taking, even now--the full load of our sorrows, and was made the means to our fullest joy.
And His love is the model for us all.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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