There was a time when I could have gladly smacked one of those smiling, happy, praise-singing, weirdos upside the head with a hymnbook as they had their own little personal in-love-with-Jesus experience in a church service. The guy up front leading the choruses, who insisted we all needed to plaster on a smile as big as his, particularly irked me. Did he not know the scripture that said, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda?” I was tired of faking it. I didn’t need to add hypocrisy to my considerable growing list of sins.
“So your Christian experience is wonderful. Goody for you,” I thought, “Well, mine sucks. I am exhausted trying to raise rebellious teenagers, maintain some sort of relationship with a workaholic husband, dutifully meet the expectations of church and parents and maiden aunts, and appease picky people everywhere I go, all while coping with depression and chronic fatigue and pain that nobody, even doctors, understands. His yoke is easy? Hah!”
Finally I quit trying. I just gave up.
I gave up on my ability to try any harder, or to try at all.
I didn’t give up on Jesus though, unlike some of the outsiders I formed friendships with at the time. I felt like one of his left-over disciples standing around after he said something about eating his body and drinking his blood. Many religious keeners found that statement extremely offensive and said, “That’s it. I’m outta here.”
Like the ones who stayed with Jesus I said, when he asked if I wanted to leave too, “Where else can I go? The stuff you say is really hard to understand but I have no hope in anything else. I don’t get you and this whole church thing drives me nuts, but I recognize that you alone have the words of life.”
When I finally gave up, he could finally start to change me.
Recently I heard someone go on a mini-rant that sounded very familiar. It was along the lines of, “If someone is having a great personal spiritual experience they should just keep it to themselves! It is insensitive to talk about what God is doing for them when so many are suffering.”
How strange it is to be sitting on the other side of the table. I realized the irritating person he was talking about was me. God has been so good to me in the past few years. I have come to understand his love in a way I never did before. Like a person who goes on and on about a new love, I just want to talk about him, brag about him, praise him. I had forgotten how annoying that can be when you are in a place where the relationship feels duty-based, when prayers aren’t answered, when pain and suffering without an end in sight is a way of life.
Here’s the question I have been pondering: Should I shut up? Am I somehow increasing the pain of disappointment in God by talking about his goodness to those who can’t feel it right now? Should I just keep a lid on it?
I was reading today about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: “And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19: 33-40
And the events in the temple after his arrival: “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” (Matthew 21:14-16)
Jesus did not allow expression of praise to be limited to a level that was comfortable to those who felt indignant, like I once was. The reason I was so uncomfortable around people who had joy and a deeper personal experience with Christ was because I was like the older brother in the prodigal son story who had worked so hard for the Father and felt angry that I even though I had been so dutiful, I had seen so little reward. The wandering irresponsible younger brother had done nothing to deserve special treatment! My pride was in my effort, and that’s the very thing that was getting in the way of seeing that everything he owned was already mine. It wasn’t until I gave up my need to prove my worthiness that I could start to receive.
Will I stop talking about his goodness? No. My focus is on the Lover of my soul first. I have tremendous empathy for those who are frustrated and feeling left out. I really do, but I desire to bring hope and not merely sympathy. I don’t intend it to, but sometimes that just may appear to be offense-worthy. I know there is nothing in me, or the millions of others who have known His favour, which has earned a single drop of his blood by my own effort. I weep with those who weep, yes, but now I can finally rejoice with those who rejoice without feeling offended myself.
I’m not going back. In the words of the old spiritual, “If I don’t praise Him, the rocks is gonna cry out, ‘Glory and honour! Glory and honour!”
God is good.