Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day Four: Wisdom from Desperate Housewives

Facebook was a major illustration in today's sermon at presbytery. The preacher, a friend of mine, compared our churches to our Facebook pages, saying that on Facebook we make ourselves sound so productive, healthy, and interesting, even though the reality is we are a sitting at home in our bathrobe eating chocolate chips out of the bag trying to come up with clever things to post. She said that people in church behave in a similar way. On Sunday mornings, we dress ourselves up, put on our happy face, and show up to worship squeaky clean and with perfect children. Little does anyone know that behind the fake smile lurks depression, a looming divorce, mental illness, grief, loss of our job, or any of a number of heartbreaks.

At a recent church meeting an Elder told us that church is the last place she wanted to be when things were going badly in her life. She said she liked to come to church in a happy frame of mind, and she liked to receive an uplifting message. If things are bad, she said, best to keep it to yourself. I pity her, because what happens when one is no longer able to keep up the facade? Then the perfect and happy church can easily become a place of pain. Is it right to stay away from our faith community because we're having an off day? What does it say about our church that we don't feel we can bring our whole selves to the table?

In Acts 2:43-47 the author Luke describes life among the first followers of Jesus Christ. "All who believed were together and had all things in common." (v. 44) This is followed by a description of a life in which the people shared meals, worship time, and even their own possessions. This life of true fellowship, or koinonia in the Greek, was the model for the early church. They had ALL things in common. That means the good, the bad, and the ugly. Although communal living is not practical for everyone in our current society, the spirit of sharing that Luke wrote about is worth considering. Would it make a difference in your life if you knew church was a place you could take your hopes AND your fears, your successes AND your failures, your perfect days AND your chaos?

In one of my favorite scenes from Desperate Housewives (yes, I watched the first several seasons) Lynnette, mother of four, has a nervous breakdown because she feels overwhelmed by everything going on in her life. When her friends find her curled up and crying at the neighborhood soccer field, they gather around her and share stories of times in their own lives when they had been pushed to the brink of insanity by some stressful event or emotional upheaval. Lynnette looks at each of them and cries out, "why don't we TELL each other these things? It would be nice to know we weren't alone!"

That's what the church can provide. We may not be able to agree on doctrine, or politics, or even what color to paint the walls in the fellowship hall. But we can share our stories with one another: the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly. Because the church at her best should be one place in this world where we are not alone.


  1. I love this post! The sermon illustration is fabulous, and I watched a season or two of Desperate Housewives and thought that a brilliant scene.

    As for me, I can't/don't hide much. The way I am at church is pretty much just the way I am (online, offline, everywhere I go). I teach adult Sunday School and there was one particularly difficult Sunday when I was having - gasp! - a personal crisis. I started to cry whenever I tried to open the lesson. So the group supported me and steered our conversation toward the decision of where to send one of their sons for Kindergarten instead. Afterward, one of the class reached out to me via email to make sure I was OK. And I appreciated that - not being put on the spot when I was so overwhelmed and rather being able to compose myself and my thoughts when I was able.

    (In another 6 weeks or so, feel free to look me up on Facebook. ;-)

  2. Hi Liz!
    Your post reminds me of a great book I read in seminary, "Rachel's Cry." It talks a lot about praying with the psalms, particularly psalms of lament. I remember something that really jumped out at me - he talked about our worship being "relentlessly cheerful" and not allowing people to express the full range of human emotion.

    Before I went to seminary I was experiencing a lot of grief, and it was a blessing to me to be able to sit in church and let the tears flow. I don't know when I started to feel safe crying in church, but I did. I wonder how we can make our churches more emotionally inclusive so that people would feel safe expressing what they really feel instead of putting on the happy facade.

    Holy Lent to you, dear friend.

  3. Sarah, I will look you up for sure! Thanks for your fact I facilitated a woman's group at church a couple of months ago where I had a very similar experience. Hallelujah for groups like that!
    And MH, thank YOU too my sister. On my last Sunday at Parkway a woman and her young boy came in and sat in the back. She cried the entire service, and when I preached she hung on every word, nodding her head and crying. It was a beautiful moment for our small congregation, and most everyone was so respectful of her. Thanks for sharing. :)

  4. I have used the term "relentlesly cheerful" many times about my home church in the last 1.5 years. Church is seldom a tolerable place for the heartbroken, a major factor in my soon-to-be-post-seminary discernment.