For a little over the last year, I have made it a weekly duty to keep at least one appointment. No matter what happens in my week, no matter what comes up, what occurs in my personal life or professional life, I make it a priority to see Heather once a week. We greet each other with warm smiles, get caught up, share some quick updates about our kids, and then both of us get comfy and prepare for conversation. Maybe you guessed, but Heather is my therapist. She has become my confidant, my confessor, and one of the few people in my life who speaks truth to me in a way that doesn’t sting. It’s a weird relationship, really. If we weren’t therapist and client I’m almost positive we could be close dear friends. But, we keep it professional. She has seen me cry. She has seen me angry. She has heard me say words that are not appropriate for church. And in return, she has helped me to become a little more comfortable with being vulnerable. I trust her and I’d like to think she trusts me. She’s even allowed me the honor of praying for her. She is a woman that I somehow simultaneously love and hate (in a good way that you can hate someone).
I don’t hide the fact that I have a therapist. I think more people should have a therapist. I am lucky that insurance covers my visits and even if it didn’t, I would financially figure out a way to go; that’s how important it is to me. I don’t hide the fact that I am on antidepressants for depression and anxiety. 75 milligrams of zoloft keeps me afloat for now. Between Heather, my meds, regular exercise, and diet, I stay okay most days. But as I went through my week this week, one thing led to another, and it wasn’t a great week. It culminated with me being almost paralyzed sitting in a dining room chair and calling out to Chris “I need help. I’m not okay.” We got over it. Anxiety is a tricky thing and can make us think stupid things.
When was the last time you admitted that you weren’t okay. And I don’t mean in a physical way. I mean, when was the last time you put your mask down, showed your vulnerability, and reached out to someone else to say “I’m not okay?” Exposing our souls takes courage and here’s the thing: we don’t do nearly enough of it at church. And of all places that we should feel comfortable coming completely and totally broken, it should be church. But, somewhere along the way, church moved from a place full of broken people being okay with being vulnerable and exposing hurts to one another to being no different than the country club. We now show up once a week pretending to be well, hoping to show off to one another, and, sometimes, hoping to one up one another.
Then, Jesus shows up. Jesus shows up because that’s what he always does. Jesus shows up and reminds us that he knows the “real” us. He knows the us we try and hide from other people. Jesus even knows the us we try and hide from ourselves. Jesus knows that when we walk in these doors we are broken people just putting on a show. Jesus was vulnerable and he wasn’t afraid to be courageous and walk into a situation where he was going to be even more vulnerable. The Pharisees tried to warn him. They encouraged him to go some place else, maybe even to hide, because Herod was trying to kill him. But instead of running away, maybe even instead of putting on some kind of show that would distract Herod, he told the Pharisees that he was going to keep doing what God created him to do. He was going to be courageous, bold, daring, and vulnerable and continue casting out demons and performing cures. And the craziest thing about this Jesus was that he did this all out of love.
I think love is the most vulnerable things we can do. To love someone and to allow ourselves to be loved means that we have to drop any notion that we are perfect, that we are flawless, and that we don’t need to be loved. We know the truth, Jesus shows us that truth, and Jesus even begs to love us. Jesus wants to gather us in like a mother hen gathers her chicks. Jesus offers us security. Jesus is begging to offer us what we think the church is but instead, we prefer Herod’s version of the church which is death. Because at least with death, we can continue to be something we aren’t so that we don’t have to deal with the pain and vulnerability of being something we are. Why must we fight being what God created us to be? If Jesus is going to be the example for us of what it looks like to be brave and have courage, maybe, just maybe, we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable and follow suit.
Often in Lent, people talk about giving things up in order to focus on the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. What would it look like, then, to give up being fake? What would it look like then, to stop pretending? If we are going to claim a God of love, as we should, then we should also claim with that 2 things: 1) that we are worthy of this love and that 2) we will accept God’s love whether we think we deserve it or not. Because, at the root of being vulnerable is the ability to admit the need for and reception of love.
There are often discussions around the fears of church dying. And here’s the thing: the longer we attempt to treat the church like a country club, the faster it will die. So if you want to keep wearing masks, pretending that everything is perfectly fine, and putting on a show like you’ve got everything together, that’s up to you. Country club memberships are expensive, but no less or more than your weekly offering. But, if you desire a place where you can finally stop the show, put down your masks, and a place where you can be vulnerable and say, out loud, “I’m not okay” and know that you’ll be loved, then perhaps the church does have a future. It’s up to us, really. God has longed to gather us in, hold us close, and love us. We need to stop fighting it. God’s mercy and grace are strong and it will find you. When it does, you’ll have no choice but to be vulnerable.
You all know I’ll never turn anyone away from the table. And pretty soon, we’ll feast on bread and wine and remember what was done for us so that we may be saved. But, this feast isn’t for perfect, mask-wearing, saints. This is a feast for vulnerable, broken, sinners who aren’t afraid to say “I’m not okay….but eating this feast is a step in the right direction.” Anyone can come to this table, arms outstretched, but you and God will know which is the real you coming forward. So who is approaching this table today? Church you or country club you? It gets real tiring real quick pretending to be something we aren’t. You, brothers and sisters, are beloved children of God. You, me, all of us, are broken sinners in need of healing. But we are still loved. We are still gathered under the wings of God’s protective love. We are still given grace upon grace. This lent, give up pretending, and start feeling the amazing and transformative power of God’s love.