Wednesday, February 8, 2017

why do so many people think church is lonely?

friends lisa kudrow phoebe buffay phoebe friends tv

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.
-1 John 4:19-21 (MSG)


Jesus had some really lousy friends when He wore flesh and blood, walking the dirt roads of the Middle East. He had a few hopelessly devoted and loyal friends, too. He even had one back-stabbing buddy who cared nothing about how badly his betrayal would wound Jesus or the people around him.

Maybe it’s just my dark sense of humor talking here, but I find this all delightful.

In the disciples’ defense, Jesus was tricky to befriend. He disappointed his friends on countless occasions, was rarely predictable, and He communicated in complicated and less-than-obvious ways. If a pastor stood up on Sunday morning and told a story about a farmer he once knew and then sat down without drawing any conclusions or offering any applications, we would all die from confusion. I have all the feels for the disciples.

Jesus' way of being random may offer hope for our erratic way of relating to one another after all.

Most friendships seem to come and go. Someone gets married or moves away or has a baby or takes that new job, and our friendships seem to change. It’s easy to feel betrayed, lost, and completely confused when these things happen. “I thought we would be close like that forever! We binge watched Downton Abbey and shared mascara, for heaven’s sake. We were practically SISTERS.

It usually takes several seasons of Friends followed up by Mean Girls to decipher when, exactly, a ruined friendship really peaked. Except maybe it hasn’t even started to peak. Maybe it just changed a little. It’s often hard to tell.

As a pastor’s wife, I feel pressured to hold tightly to all the friends I have. It’s odd how many strangers have casually mentioned to me how lonely it is to be married to the pastor of a church. This kind of talk makes me nervous. I know they mean well, but they make my chance at real friendships seem so scarce. I want to shout back at them, “I have friends! Lots of friends! Don't jinx me with your pity!!” Because generally, I’m not lonely. I do often feel alone in my life, but there’s a difference between alone and lonely.

Feeling alone because you're misunderstood seems like a cornerstone of life on earth.

I wonder if Jesus felt alone when His friends didn’t understand what He was talking about, as He told parables and spoke of straight-up weird things like rising from the dead. What did the disciples really think at pivotal moments, like at the last supper when Jesus tells them to drink His blood and eat His flesh? (Not really polite dinner conversation, Jesus!) I don't think Jesus minded being misunderstood. He didn’t seem to take it personally that His closest friends couldn’t grasp His deeper feelings. I wish I could be more like Him in that way.

James and John argued over who would gain the most from the friendship. Specifically, they wanted to know if they could sit at His right and at His left once He reigned supreme. I find this horrific, despite the fact that I have been that friend before, to other people and even to Jesus. (“Please, please just give me this one thing, Jesus. You know you love me! Give me, give me! I need I need!!!)

In the Garden of Gethsemane, not one of His friends could manage to be there for Him when He really needed them. No one could stay awake. No one could pray for what weighed on Him so heavily. He was all alone there. Just imagining this makes me want to cry.

Then Peter denied he even knew Him. As if things couldn't get worse for Jesus in the friends department.

I thought I had the worst friends ever in fourth grade, when Jenny B. and all my other BFFs stood between the monkey bars and the Dodgeball circle and said I couldn’t be “in their group” anymore. It was tragic and awful and I had never experienced anything like that before. But I’m pretty sure now that Jesus had it worse than I ever did.

Here we are then, in churches full of Jenny B.’s. We aren't always good at loving one another. We aren't always good at understanding Jesus' teaching. We don't even realize all the people around us who feel like they don't fit into the groups we've formed. We are just like the disciples a thousand times over.

Even so, I believe in the dream of the local church. I believe we are better together. I believe that five friends who support you in real life are more valuable than a thousand who will follow you on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. I do feel alone sometimes, but then I text real-life people who love me and I try very hard to help them understand what I need. Mostly, I just hope they will believe the best about me when I seem totally weird and inappropriately needy. They usually do.

But even if my friends all betray me and forget to love me well, I have a God who promised to be with me forever and love me to the very end. Even when I'm alone, I'm never really alone. 

(That last sentence sounds a little like a creepy thriller movie subtitle, doesn't it? Well, so does Jesus' eat my flesh thing, so I guess I'm in good company....)

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