I hate Wal-Mart.
I loathe Wal-Mart.
I haven't always felt this way.
When I was a bright, optimistic, brand new mommy, I loved Wal-Mart.
Well, I did once my daughter got past her I'm-going-to-scream-the-entire-time-every-time-we-are Wal-Mart phase.
Yep. That big box superstore with its aisles and aisles of everything a stay home mom could need from Clorox wipes to baby formula to bread to hairspray was my haven. My getaway from my little castle where my daughter and I spent most of our time. I could go there, shop, spend WAY too much money, and usually end up seeing a friendly, familiar face or two. I always felt welcome at Wal-Mart.
Six months ago, I set out on a journey I wouldn't wish upon anyone: I began the process of getting a divorce. And, as if getting a divorce isn't painful or hard enough, the circumstances behind our divorce which included my extramarital affair spread like a wildfire all over this tiny little town, and overnight I became a small town gossip sensation. It was as if I had gone to sleep as a good, virtuous wife who was hiding terrible, dark secrets and I woke up as a modern day woman at the well going to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night just to avoid encounters with all those people waiting to cast the first stone.
And the worst part about it, some of the people who have been waiting to cast stones are "Christian" men and women I have known my whole life: pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, women's Bible study leaders...people who have known me from my early years in the church to those who knew me as a young wife and mother. These are not people who just saw me at church on Sunday. These are the people who taught me in children's choir, went on youth trips with me as adult leaders, attended my wedding, hosted baby showers for me when I was expecting, and who clapped politely when I would sing a special in church. These are the I-have-a-pew-with-my-name-on-it Christians who helped lay and strengthen the foundation I have in Christ, and now they are the ones who are waiting with the dirtiest looks and the biggest stones.
It's no wonder I loathe Wal-Mart.
I have accepted my fate as a fallen princess of piety who ventures to my well late at night with others just like me who feel judged and down trodden. Those of us who can't sleep at night because nightmares from our past constantly haunt not only our dreams, but our reality. And on the rare occasion I venture into Wal-Mart during the day, I spend most of my trip wondering what it would be like if only one those "Christians" would put down their stones and offer us hope and love instead of hate and indignation. If only one of those people who claim to know the love of awesome, forgiving God would reach out to us with a reassuring smile instead of a look that is meant to tear us to shreds.
Where is the "church" when we need them most?
Where is the body of believers I was taught to believe in? Where are the people who claim to drink from a well of endless grace? And why do they refuse to even offer a sip to those in this world who need it most? Where are the people who close their eyes, lift their hands, and sing songs about how they want to be just like Jesus on Sunday? And why do they walk right out those doors, pick up their stones, and proceed to behave more like Pharisees than the Jesus they pray to be like?
As a fallen princess of piety who was raised in church and blessed with an upstanding Christian education, who can say the books of the Bible backwards, and who can simultaneously quote Scripture while singing a Michael W. Smith song to you, I have been forced to view the "church"...my church...as an outsider looking in from right here in my comfy place on rock bottom.
Trust me, it hasn't been easy to watch people who once loved me divert their gaze and look the other way, or to turn down an aisle only to see whispered conversations suddenly silenced. I have never felt more alone in my entire life, and from where I'm sitting, I'm here to tell you that the "church" I knew while I was on the inside only exists in rare form to those of us on the outside, especially those of us who have never even set foot inside a sanctuary door.
And I wonder, why is it that so many Christians pray to be like Christ, but refuse to truly live like He did? How can we, as Christians, read the stories about how Christ dined with tax collectors, healed lepers, allowed a reformed prostitute to wash His feet with her hair and some perfume, and asked a divorced, social tainted woman for a drink of water, and pretend like those stories don't apply to us on our quest to be just like Him?
It's no wonder the people around us don't want our brand of hope and grace.
It's easier to find their own brand of it in a needle, at the bottom of a bottle, or in the arms of the wrong man if that means they don't have to endure the judgement and scrutiny of those who claim to be followers of a loving God.
Now before you start thinking I've renounced my faith, let me just say that I haven't. I truly believe that God has used my life over the last six months to convict me of my attitude and my heart before my fall from grace. He has used this time in my life to not only convict me of my past, but how we as Christians not only treat non-Christians, but our fellow Christian brothers and sisters during some of the darkest times in their lives.
I spent a good part of my life on very high pedestal. I judged others-even people in my own family. I thought I was "better" than everyone else, because I was "Christian". I thought my values and morals put me at the front of the line, and gave me a free pass to pity those who were unsaved.
Yes, I knew I was supposed to lead the unsaved to Christ. I knew I was supposed to share the Gospel with those around me, but I also know there was time in my life when none of the people around me would of wanted the brand of Gospel I was selling.
So, what did God do with my prideful heart? He knocked me off that pretty pedestal, so I could see how 90% of the world really lives and what it's going to take sell them the hope I claim to offer.
And you know what the answer is?
It's that simple.
I think too often we, as Christians, pollute the Gospel with our man made rules and a sense of self-righteousness. We spend so much time on the negative, that we forget what we are offering is positive. Yes, being a Christian means there is a standard of living. No, asking Christ into your heart doesn't give you a free pass to do whatever you want. But, those lessons come with time in God's Word. The knowledge of those things and what it truly means to live like Christ is the bread of our faith, and we won't get anywhere trying to force the people around us to eat the whole loaf in one bite.
What if instead of force feeding the people around us, we made a conscience effort to change our hearts? What if we choose to see people AS people, instead of their past, their mistakes, or their flaws? What if we took the time to smile at people not just with our mouths, but with our eyes? What if we choose to listen to someone's story instead of worrying that their story will somehow make us dirty? What if we offered to help the teen mom with the crying toddler in the checkout aisle, instead of berating her with our annoyed gaze? What if we talked...really talked...to the kid ringing up our purchases with the black nail polish and eyeliner? What if we actually acted the way Jesus would have?
Don't you think that then and only then, they would actually start to see something different in us?
Listen, I know that as a Christian I am not OF this world, but I have had a change of heart when it comes to getting my hands a little dirty as long as I have to BE in this world.
Because BEING in this world the way Jesus was in this world requires getting a little dirty. It requires meeting people in the midst of their mess, so that you can show them the message. It requires loving those who are the hardest to love, because those are the ones He would have called down from tree just so He could share a meal with them. It requires accepting that the skeletons in your closet aren't any different from the ones in their closet, and that the best way to lead them to hope is by showing them that YOU believe in a God whose is bigger than YOUR monsters instead of pretending like your monsters don't exist. It requires that the we, as the church, actually start acting more like a haven than a practice range for the firing squad. It requires love and patience and grace-SO much grace, because then, and only then, will they get the real message that we've been forcing down their throats all along: hope.
Yes. Hope. Beautiful, shiny, heart wrenching hope. Hope that maybe...just maybe...whatever they may see in our lives might just give them the strength to find the way out of their mess. Hope that despite every sin, stain, flaw, hurt, and broken piece they are still loved-SO loved-by a God who knew them before they were even formed in their mother's womb. Hope that their life is worth saving. Hope that they too were meant to be a living, breathing canvas of the Gospel to those around them.
In the world today, hope is a rare thing. So, why do those of us who have known the ultimate hope hide it from them? Why do we choose to radiate condemnation and judgement instead of the very thing this world craves the most?
Where is my "church"?
Because from where I'm sitting, I'm starting to think that maybe "the church" no longer exists.