I remember the first time the church fell off the pedestal for me.... I was 21 and newly married. As if being 21 and newly married wasn't difficult enough, I had married a youth minister and suddenly become responsible for twenty to thirty kids. I was starry eyed and determined to be the most perfect "help meet" for my husband as I loved and guided a group of teenage girls into avoiding the same mistakes I had made as a teenager.
My husband, raised inside the proverbial glass box as a preacher's kid, was much more realistic than I. But, of course, I had spent my life peering in the glass box from the outside. Growing up, my preacher and his wife had somehow found following God, completely, well, at least tolerable. To me, life inside the glass box didn't at all seem enjoyable. After all, who has ever enjoyed swimming in blue jeans? Not to mention the list of words that couldn't be said was entirely too long… Did you know that saying "gosh" is actually a precursor to saying "God" and taking the Lord's name in vain? And is no doubt a slippery slope to having the mouth of a sailor?
Still, at the time, as stale and un-admirable as their lives were, their devotion to the life they thought they should live was at least worthy of respect. So, the times when I would run into the preacher and his wife out in town, I would eagerly pull at my skimpy, three-inches-above-my-knee-shorts in an attempt to gain every inch of church-girl-modesty possible (out of respect for them of course). Who would ever have imagined then that I would one day be the proud owner of my own glass box?
I had tried everything I could think of to break things off with my then-fiancé. Mainly because I couldn't imagine a life having to wear pantyhose even though I would be wearing skirts that reached my ankles. But as love often does, it had its way, and I found myself becoming a minister's wife, determined to bring the church into the 20th century with a nice pair of capri pants and a stylish and nicely pressed, capped sleeve shirt. It wasn't long before I realized that pantyhose were the least of my problems.
After only two weeks of marriage, two weeks into my new role, we were invited to the preacher's house for dinner. I was well versed in the expectations of a preacher's wife in throwing dinner parties. But using the word party in conjunction with preacher's wife, in this case, is irony in its purest form. Regardless, the invitation was no surprise at all.
I was flabbergasted to find our meeting wasn't a full evening of singing Kum-ba-ya, head bowed, no clapping of course. There was plenty of time set aside for reverent formalities. I knew I had dishonored my husband, unfortunately, when everyone quieted and stared at me as I stole a croûton from my salad before we said the prayer. But the moment was brief, moving quickly to the prayer, thus preserving my soul, as much as possible, after my great sin. Then I proceeded to learn a truth my heart was not yet ready to learn. Although eating before the prayer was a cause for confession on Sunday morning, nonchalantly discussing "church politics" with the assumption that God dislikes the same people in our church as we did, was clearly acceptable.
I remember my husband's surprise as I cried the whole way home that night; one, my pride was hurt because I was clearly, unaware of “minister's wife etiquette.” two, and more so, because of the secret behind the illusion that I believed had been revealed. I was newly walking in reality within my own glass box, with full knowledge that there was nowhere on earth to go to catch a glimpse of Heaven, or so I believed that night. I remember, even more clearly, my surprise at my husband's surprise, and the realization from his reaction that what I had just experienced was well within the norm of the happenings of the church. I clearly had bitten off way more than I could chew.
I would like to say this was only an isolated incident in our time of ministry, and that other than that, it has been all rainbows and butterflies. But this particular incident is actually mild compared to some we've experienced. There were many times I would have walked away totally, could I have gotten away with it. This is not to say that in our time in ministry, we haven't met wonderful followers of Jesus. Or, that the people in that house that night weren't those followers. And, there have been wonderful glorious moments when we have gathered as a church to lovingly care for someone in need that I have, no doubt, felt as if I was catching a glimpse of Heaven. The truth is, the church is made up of humans. Humans, even those who proclaim to follow Jesus, are fallible. And in our fallen state, we often misrepresent Jesus. And so this disillusionment that I've experienced with the church often leads me to a crossroad. A crossroad where I once again choose to either walk away because of a broken people, or to press along toward, as my husband says, "making God's dream for the world a reality" as He uses us and molds us and one day makes us whole. As I'm faced with the choice, again and again, I know that there is only one way that provides any hope at all. So today, I choose to leave my fingerprint smudges on my glass box and ask that God helps me to see others with the grace that He sees me..