I know it’s nowhere near being the same thing. It’s probably more like comparing apples and aardvarks. Nothing at all alike. I get that. So, that’s my disclaimer before I tell you how — for as long as I’ve been married to a pastor — I feel a special affinity with the First Lady of our nation. No matter who she is. No matter her age or her political affiliation. I feel a sense of sisterhood with the woman in the pillbox hat, or the pantsuit, or the sleeveless sheath, walking across the White House lawn toward Air Force One.
For the most part, I’m sure she gets a bit of a thrill out of the State Dinners and the holiday decorating and the parades and the travel and all the attention. But, I can’t help but wonder if sometimes she isn’t thinking to herself, “Really? It’s time for another State of the Union Address already? It seems like I just went to that. Do I honestly have to go this year?” Because, for her, it is so much more than just the State of the Union Address.
That’s how I feel about church. A lot of the time.
H is kind and patient with me. He always tells me I can skip it. He never makes me go, and he doesn’t make me feel guilty when I don’t feel like going. I do that to myself. “I can’t just not show up!” I say. “What would happen if Michelle didn’t show up for the State of the Union Address? It would be the talk of the tabloids!” I realize there’s a lot of stuff in that statement that needs to be unpacked. But just take my word for it. Sometimes, it seems skipping out on church would have bigger ripple effects than putting on my Sunday shoes and finding a way to make church work.
I’m not sharing these things with you to rustle up sympathy, or to get you to encourage me to see things differently. I know it’s a thing, and I’m not proud about sharing it, but I can’t get to my point if I don’t give you some background.
Yesterday, I managed to get dressed and get myself into the car, and to point the car in the direction of church. It takes me about seven minutes to drive downtown and park my car in the alley. And, just to be clear, it’s not every Sunday I don’t feel like going to church. But yesterday was one of those Sundays. Bleh. Heavy weight in my chest. Yuck.
All of sudden, I realized I could talk about this with God. So, into the air, I said something that sounded like this: “God, I do not want to go to church today. It’s not You. It’s me. Look at this perfectly beautiful morning! Look at those people running and biking and enjoying the day! Why do I have to go to church? [Pause.] Do I have to go to church? [Pause.] I really can’t not go to church. I mean, you know, the whole State of the Union Address thing, right? I wonder if I’d go to church if my husband wasn’t a pastor? Would I? What would it be like to go to church just because I want to go to church and not because I feel obligated to go to church? And, how do people who don’t feel obligated to go to church do it? What motivates them? And would I feel like them if I didn’t feel obligated?”
I drove past the high school and the baseball field and I may have stopped at a red light. I can’t be sure. Because I had a revelation.
“Oh my God, God! This is no big deal to you, is it? I don’t need to be stuck in this crazy pattern of thinking, do I? OK. How about this. Would you please make it so I can drop the whole ‘feeling obligated’ thing? I don’t know what that looks like, or how it would feel, or what you need to do for that to happen. I’m going to leave that up to you. I don’t want to feel obligated. I want to want to.”
So, in church, all I could do was nod my head and take good notes when H spoke about how sometimes, some of us confuse a Gospel of Discipline with a Gospel of Desperation. H didn’t know about my Sunday morning church blues, and I had no idea what he was planning to preach.
Gospel of Discipline: If I do this, then God will be with me. Gospel of Desperation: I can’t live without you, Jesus.
No one disciples us in what it means to be desperate, you know? We are all about pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and we are darn proud of it, too. But desperation?
Yesterday, when I made myself get ready for church, I was checking off items on my Gospel of Discipline checklist. But when I got honest with God, told Him what He already knew about how I was feeling, and then let Him take control of the situation, I crossed over from discipline to desperation. God gave me my own, personal sermon example, before I’d even heard the sermon. Thank Him.
There is a place for discipline, I think. But I also believe we make far too much of it. We want to have everything lined up in nice, neat rows; black and white; i’s dotted, t’s crossed; to-do lists done! And we — okay, me — I get awfully proud of all I accomplish. I get tricked into thinking I don’t need help. I get so comfortable with discipline that the raw and gritty real of desperation looks a bit foolish to me. “Get a grip, girlfriend,” I want to say. “Stop embarrassing yourself. Stop embarrassing me! Oh, my gosh, the whining! Pull yourself together, for Christ’s sake!”
And there, I vainly run all roughshod over the name of Christ, invoking Him to cover my shame and finding out He’s not at all inadequate for that. My desperation splashes on the pavement and He is more than enough — familiar with the spilling and the shedding and the crying out in desperation.
Desperation. It’s what saves me every time. His first. And then mine. And then, His again. His desperate, unflinching, unapologetic, raw, and gritty love for me.
It takes my breath away.
I had that heart-to-heart with God on my way to church and God met me right in the middle of my bleh and yuck. He doesn’t want me feeling obligated, either. After all, who wants to be loved out of a sense of duty rather than…well…actual love? Not me, that’s for sure. And surely not the God of everything.
God, I pray you keep us desperate for you. When you hear our heartbeat, I pray it sounds like this: “I can’t live without you, Jesus.”