|Self portrait by Pablo Picasso|
Image from www.wikipaintings.org
This made me think about the kind of pressures we can put on each other in our faith communities. In what ways are we unconsciously (or even consciously) holding each other to standards which are unrealistic and unsustainable? Are these pressures prompting us to make superficial changes in order to to give the appearance of a vibrant and healthy faith community? A spiritual face lift, so to speak?
I feel this pressure on occasion; our faith community is not outwardly that impressive. We are relatively small, we have limited resources, people come and go a lot, and we don't offer many programs. In the past few weeks someone mentioned that we need to begin a children's church and a visitor observed that our church is in the pioneering stage, implying that we are still struggling to find our way and lay our foundations. The result was that I felt an uncomfortable pressure to change, to perform, to put on a better version of our community. And I know from experience that responding to that pressure is not healthy.
At least once a year we reaffirm what we value in our faith community. This is helpful in preventing us from making cosmetic changes just to alleviate the pressure we feel to be better or bigger or more impressive. Here are some of those values.
1. Let our faith community be known for how we love. Let us not prioritize dynamic teaching, edgy and creative worship, an impressive building, high-profile events, or growing youth and children's programs. Though these are all good, let us never put pressure on anyone (or ourselves) to deliver these things. Whatever is happening in our faith community, if it is to be of any lasting worth, must be the result of the movement of the Spirit of God among us, not a great five-year plan.
2. Let us not expect perfection from ourselves or from others. Let me bring my real self to the faith community and encourage others to do so as well. When I am having a hard time connecting with God or working through a difficult problem, let me embrace the privilege of having a community walk together with me in this. Let me learn to receive love, advice, encouragement, forgiveness, and friendship from those God has placed around me. Let me live humbly, openly, honestly, and truthfully with myself and others. It is in these humble, imperfect places that we often meet God in profound ways.
3. Let us not pressure people to stay the same. It can be disheartening to have people leave or quit or threaten to change things up when everything seems to be going great. We must resist the urge to enforce what seems to be working well and instead, rely on the movement and work of the Holy Spirit. Transformation and growth are natural when a group of people are walking with Jesus, but exactly what that looks like is not in our power to control or dictate. We must give people the freedom to change, mature, grow, risk, walk away, resign positions, and question their roles without feeling threatened or panicky. Nothing is as vital to the faith community as the presence of Jesus. And he is with the broken, the needy, the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted, the hungry; in short, he is with those who admit they don't have it all figured out.
4. Let us not pressure people to change. Sometimes I see areas where people need healing and transformation and try to help it along. That never turns out well. The best way to help others is to love them just as they are, to walk with them on their journey as much as I can, to model transformation openly, and to invite the Holy Spirit to have her way. Changing people is not in my job description. Loving them is.
5. Let us be faithful without being rigid. One of the telltale marks of a surgical or chemical face lift is the accompanying tightness and lack of facial expression. The face becomes unnaturally rigid and as a result, can exhibit a permanent look of strain or surprise; it can also seem disproportionate, resembling a caricature. The last thing we want is for our faith community to be limited in expression or to be an unnatural representation of the real thing. Faithfulness, on the other hand, has little to do with maintaining a certain look and everything to do with committing ourselves to love each other through good times and bad, in times of plenty and times of lack, in youth and through old age. Faithfulness sees the beauty in it all.
May our actions, our language, our choices, and our interactions with each other show that we value much more than what things look like on the outside.