Monday, August 24, 2009

Honest Worship

This past Sunday, we attended the chapel service at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Cindy will be leading some of those services this year as part of her responsibilities there, and, for obvious reasons, it is recommended that you attend a service before you lead one. We went as a family, and the service was both what I expected and not what I expected.

As the children and their caregivers came in the room, they represented every race, medical condition, and age of children. Some were in the 3-4 year old range. Some were 18 or older. Some were apparently dealing with some form of cancer. Some were dealing with paralysis. Some were dealing with burns. Everyone was dealing with something. I could tell our boys weren't exactly sure how to process all these kids coming to church in wheelchairs and IVs. That was something I expected.

What I didn't expect was how deeply affected by the service I would be. In truth, I wasn't sure exactly why. The chaplain's homily was fine, nothing spectacular. The music was fine. The children lighting the candles was nice, but not really tear-jerking. It was a wholly unremarkable service. So, I kept searching for why I was so affected.

The next day it occurred to me today that what struck me most about the service was that this was an honest worship service. All of us coming together with our obvious infirmities—our caregivers next to us with others helping if need be. Some were there just to help others be able to be there. Some were there out of a deep sense of need. Some were there out of obligation. Those there with emotional need wore it on their faces. All were there in obvious need. The needs were obvious. The prayers were genuine.

I once asked Cindy what she loved so much about being a chaplain. She said that it was the honesty of it all. In an Emergency Room, an ICU, a NICU, or even in a hospital room, the pious fa├žade we are so good at putting up is stripped away. People are real. Sometimes, real grief and real anger. And sometimes, real joy and real peace. It reminded me of the honesty we find in the psalms, where psalmists have no reservations about confronting the divine about their life situation.

Contrast that with what I see when I look around at faces on Sunday mornings in church. I know that every one of us is in need, but, of course, our needs are far easier to conceal. So, we go through life without contentment and without a real place for the divine in our lives. How hard it seems to have humility and worship through our infirmities instead of trying to hide them. We are masters at pretending that everything is alright. And too often, while we are pretending everything is alright, we are feeling sorry for ourselves. We lament our situation and wish things were different. With all the energy we expend trying to convince the world we have it all together while at the same time being consumed within with our needs, we miss the needs of the world all around. We don't love our neighbor because we don't love ourselves.

The chapel service had a wonderful teacher for that as well. When the chaplain asked for prayer requests, there was so much human need in the room, I remember thinking, "I imagine this will take some time. " To my surprise, no one asked for prayer for themselves. The most poignant request, though, was from an eight or nine year-old girl who was apparently dealing with some form of cancer sitting at the front of the chapel. This little girl with patches of hair on her head from chemo sat in her wheelchair and raised her hand (the one without the IV). She said in a weak voice, "I want to pray that God will help my Daddy stop smoking." A little girl so accepting of her need and position, she could focus on the needs of others. I heard the voice of Christ in her voice –while nailed to the cross in pain and agony, he voiced this prayer, "Forgive them, they don't know what they are doing."

Maybe I can strive to be more like the divine. Maybe I can learn that lesson even more clearly from this little saint.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Planting season & Marathons

The beginnings of semesters are always interesting. I am lucky in that my vocation is one that still has seasons, and August is the planting time. A new crop of freshman comes to college with their dreams and expectations. Some expect to show those professors a thing or two. Some are so overwhelmed they can barely function. But, all are excited and optimistic as they move forward into a new part of life.

Unfortunately, in a month or two, the dreams of August have faded. They no longer are idealistic. In fact, many have become cynical. Half of them change their major. A third of them will change their major twice. College isn't what they expected. Some, I never see again. They give up coming to class in favor of doing other things. But, there are those who tough it out. There are those who revise their dreams and expectations and do the work it takes to get to the end. They work with others. They plug into the student community. They get involved in BCM or a local church. They do well in their classes and really excel at the college experience.

It reminds me of the parable of the Sower (Matt 13:1-9), and I think it is an interesting metaphor for the Christian life. So many individuals have an experience with the divine and are excited and optimistic for the future. Then, they go and live in this world, and it turns out that being a Christian is hard. Family may not care. Co-workers or fellow students make it hard to be the person they need to be. Some become cynical. Some give up in favor of doing other things.

I suppose it is just another way to say that college/farming/Christianity is a marathon and not a sprint. It is showing up every day and doing everything you can to be better today than yesterday. Of course, we don't usually glamorize the marathon runner. We like the 100m or the 200m. We like "fastest man alive" or "fastest woman alive." I suppose it is harder to market "fastest man alive over a distance of 26.2 miles." That is kinda hard to put on a t-shirt. Neither is the Christian life very glamorous.

To those freshmen that start this fall, "Welcome!" and "Pace yourself! Plan on doing all the little things every day to succeed. To Christians, my prayer for each of us is "Pace yourself! Plan on doing all the little things every day to succeed." I pray we have the strength it takes to do whatever it takes to persevere, to be like Christ each day that we live. It isn't always easy. It is hard to keep our optimism and idealism when we look at this world. But, I know that with Christ and his gift of each other, we can walk forward with him—even when life doesn't turn out the way we thought it should.