Most of us have a longing to feel close to God during worship and to do that, we must be emotionally open. Our walls must come down in order to let the Spirit penetrate our souls. That is a very scary proposition for many, especially those wounded by their church experience. It’s one of the reasons that people cry in church when they can’t cry elsewhere. It’s one of the reasons people who are struggling actually don’t come to church sometimes because they can’t hide their pain at the same time as being open to God. This is why it is so important to create cultures of safety and vulnerability in our churches by truly knowing each other, with all our faults and shortcomings, in great love and mercy.
As I prepare to take some Sabbath time from my ministry, I keep reminding myself that it is okay to rest and be still. For most of my life, rest was only deserved after everything else was completed. Being still could only happen as a reward for work done. Looking back, I see it was a coping mechanism for my depression; get through everything that was expected of me and then I could reward myself somehow. It kept me moving forward when I wanted to crumble. Over the years, supervisors have told me, “be kind to yourself.” I never had a clue what that meant. Get a manicure? Take a vacation? Be still with God. That is the answer and it’s taken me many, many years to accept it.
Walking with others on their faith journeys requires my full presence and all of my emotions. There is no way to fake this ministry. To nurture the divine in others, I have to nurture the divine in myself and I have to take care of my soul as a top priority, not a last one. So as I ponder the necessity and hopes for my downtime, I am trying to make peace with being kind to myself first. God worked for seven days and then rested. I think too often we stretch that “work and then rest” model to the breaking point, well beyond seven days. For my own spiritual health, I find that I need daily Sabbath time as well as extended Sabbath time to stay connected with the Spirit and to be able to be fully present with others. I am continually amazed at how God’s peace is with me when I love myself first. Even a few minutes of meditation and beautiful music before diving into my day is transformational. And the more simple I am about it, the more I feel God’s presence.
I recently had an exchange with someone about grace. Her perspective was that God’s grace transforms us – allows us to kick a drug addiction or the like – essentially improve. This was a wake-up call to me. I have never viewed grace in this way. From what I see in my ministry, grace shows us how to love ourselves and others more. When I invite others into Christian community, it is not an invitation to become better people but an invitation to experience compassion for ourselves and others. When we encourage each other to be transformed, it is not to do better or be better, but to simply love more. The premise that we need to go to church to “keep us on the straight and narrow” or to “be the best version of ourselves” is shallow theology.
Jesus tried to boil it down for us: Love yourself and love others. And it had nothing to do with being good enough. He consistently modeled loving those who were despised. So, as we Christians work to change the world, let us remember that each of us deserves love and rest. Our churches do not exist to improve anyone but to teach us how to see the divine in all people with great love and mercy.
How can you prepare to love others more by loving yourself today? And not because you feel you deserve it but because God is waiting to sit with you and love you unconditionally.