On the drive home to Georgia, I sat wondering why I had answered the way I did–why I avoided sharing anything from my heart at all. After quite a while of raffling between regretting being shallow and feeling like an idiot, I finally came to a two-fold conclusion: I didn’t answer because at the time, the answer in my heart was more of a bucket of wonderful abstract thoughts and feelings, rather than a concrete opinion, and second, because I couldn’t have given a concise answer, I felt like those thoughts from my heart would have been looked at as irritating, unnecessary, and just…stupid. Would the kind people I was sharing lunch with have responded that way? Doubtfully. My friend wouldn’t have asked if she didn’t want me to answer, but I somehow convinced myself in the moment that no one would want to hear anything I had to say from deep down.
As the time went on, I occasionally thought about that answer I never gave, and kept wishing I could have answered it. Eventually, though, my days led to a summer that left me in a place of being completely overwhelmed, too many demands on my time, too many things to handle, and not enough sleep. At that moment, I couldn’t have cared less about answering the church growth question for myself. Oddly enough, it was me being pushed to my limit from two different directions that God used to show me how this body of believers was held together, and why it kept drawing more in.
From one direction, I was just tired. Tired of thinking and planning, tired of having to make unkind people happy, tired of remodeling, tired of always being behind on chores because of the remodeling, tired of having a perpetually dirty house because of the remodeling and the being behind, tired of arthritis screaming at me for doing all of the remodeling work myself, tired of being at work until dark…and the list goes on. Before I knew it, it was time to plan for children’s choirs at church, and I wasn’t sure that I could handle planning and giving time and energy to anything else.
From the other direction came the “old fear monster” renewing himself. The fear of musical failure. The fear of feeling like everything I do has to be over the top, lest it not be pleasing enough. The fear of judgement from music ed colleagues and mentors, who might not think I’m teaching enough music ed in church choir. The fear acquired from past church circles that to be valid–a valid Christian, teacher, church member–we must have reached the “arrival point.” No room for imperfections, insecurities, or grace. The fear that if I make a mistake, that no one will forgive me and give me a second chance, and most deeply, the fear that I am dumb and have nothing worth giving.
Some of these fears are just things that Satan whispers in the ear of the perfectionist. Some of these fears, however, are fears that I call learned fears–fears that come from previous situations that cut our hearts deeply, and that Satan uses to try to push us backwards. As most women know, when either of these fears come crashing down on us at a time when we are over-stretched and sleep deprived, we usually don’t handle things terribly well. We do a lot of “freaking out,” but not a lot of listening to what God might have to say to us. (I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who hops in this boat from time to time.)
I think it was pretty clear to several that I was overwhelmed, and a couple of folks requested that I call them this week to talk things over. In the past, this meant a reprimand, so I tried to prepare myself to listen to my failings that I was already acutely aware of, and just made the calls. What I heard on the other end, instead of the reprimand I had expected, was affirmation, kindness, love, understanding, and sharing. These ladies shared with me their own fears, “old fear monsters,” experiences, and hearts. We laughed about how we all try to do too much, and graciously figured out how to scale things down to what was realistically possible in this particular season.
What I learned here, was that everyone around me was freely willing to admit that they are just as imperfect as I am, and they don’t have to be ashamed about it. This is a body of people who recognizes how much we all need God’s grace daily, but at the same time, that we should daily try to image God by our actions, thoughts, and words. We are a group with high behavioral standards, but a group who lovingly and quickly forgives when we fail. We are a group of understanding servants, who live life in the real world, and we all understand what it means to struggle, but instead of hiding the struggle, we share our experiences and our resources to help another. We disciple each other, and learn with each other. No one is expected to “do it all,” “have it all,” or “know it all” to be valid, but everyone seems to want to help, give, and learn more.
Is our church perfect? No. Is there any member who is perfect? No way. We are a group of flawed humans–or as the world likes to say, hypocrites–who constantly make mistakes, but what separates this group from others, to me, is that instead of hiding our shortcomings, we help each other grow past them. We forgive each other, love each other, and show our caring for each other, through verbal grace, through arriving at a home on a Saturday to lend a helping hand, or by simply spending time with each other and encouraging one another.
As far as those old fears go, well, most of them just needed to get put into perspective. I know I’m not stupid, and I may not be a soprano bound for the Met, but that isn’t God’s musical calling for my life. Will this semester be heavy on music education? Probably not–you can’t do much in 20 minutes. Somehow, though, if older boys are willingly singing and participating, and three-year-olds are singing little solos in a singing game, things can’t be going too badly. If we can teach children about the Lord, teach them that church is a good place to be, and put a love for music in their hearts at an early age, I think that’s pretty good. After all, who are we supposed to be pleasing?
If we are afraid of sharing our hearts because we are afraid people will react to us with annoyance, harshness, or a good eye-roll, we are selling many people short, who probably would love to hear what we had to say, and who would never react cynically. As far as the people who would react cynically, those probably aren’t the people whose reactions and opinions matter. Considering that cynicism is usually the fruit of emptiness, those people should never have power over my heart and how I choose to speak to others.
And to finally answer that question that was unassumingly asked in May, I believe that God is present in the people, and that spirit draws others in. This church is a body of people who are trying, stumbling, learning, forgiving, and loving, with scripture as their guide. With every corporate song sung together, every disagreement that gets resolved, every roof that gets put on, every meal that gets delivered and shared, and every verse of the Bible that gets learned, the people take one more step forward in the footpaths of Christ. Instead of a church that tries to look good and look smart under a veil of ritual and cynicism, it is a church that tries to do right and good by carrying out God’s commands, and become smarter by studying and discipling each other in the Word.
We share our lives, our burdens, our joys, and our hearts, as we try, with God’s grace, to be what He calls us to be. We stumble and forgive, and help each other to keep trying. And, as Brian Moore would say, “There’s always room for one more.”