Real (Not Ideal) Church

canstockphoto7985567Thirty-three years ago, Pam and I were newly engaged and getting ready for our June wedding when the warnings started coming in.

Warnings about marriage.

The warnings were disguised as wisdom from those who had successfully navigated the matrimonial waters for many, many years, but they were warnings nonetheless.

“Marriage is hard work.”

“It’s all about compromising.”

“Never go to bed angry.”

“Never give up, no matter how hard it gets.”

Wait, what?

Geez, I’m getting married, not going to boot camp. What’s was with these people?

I’m sure they meant well, but Pam and I had dated for seven years, everyone knew we were meant for each other, and the chemistry was obviously there.

This was going to be great.

After honeymooning for a week, we packed up our the few things we owned and moved to an apartment on the seminary campus in Louisville.canstockphoto9275161

I think it took all of two weeks for us to have our first fight. I don’t just mean the first fight of our marriage, I mean our first fight ever. I was so mad, and then I felt bad for being so mad, and then I was confused.

Who was this strange creature I was living with? What was wrong with her? What do I have to do to make her less…irrational?

I’m pretty sure Pam was thinking the same thing. This man she had married was obviously broken and needed some fixing.

So we spent the next few years trying to fix each other. The fact that each of us were flawed was obvious, and neither of us would deny it, but the real problem wasn’t with our flaws but with our expectations.

We came into our marriage with a great deal of idealism about marriage, and even when we came to understand that marriage took work, the goal we were working toward was still that idealistic vision we had of how our marriage should be.

And as long as that was our goal, we would always be disappointed in each other and in our marriage.

So working on our marriage wasn’t enough—we had to change what we were working toward.

We had to let go of the utopian vision we had and learn to accept each other as we are.

To learn that while our actions may need to be forgiven, we should never need to be forgiven for being who we are.

I don’t need to be forgiven for who I am, and neither does Pam. The things that used to drive us crazy about each other, we’ve learned to not only accept but actually love.

We’ve learned—and are still learning—to love the person in front of us more than the ideal of what that person should be.

The same goes with any church. We all have a vision of what a church should be, and rarely does any church match that vision.

There are lots of people bailing on the notion of church these days, and I certainly understand the impulse. It is a flawed institution.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that people expect it to be anything other than flawed.

Perhaps our greatest need is to stop loving our ideal of a church and start loving the church that is in front of us.

  • A place where forgiveness must be practiced all the time.
  • A place where grace is constantly called into action.
  • A place where our patience is given ample opportunity to be tried.
  • A place where we learn to love people who can be and often are unlovely.

Church is hard work, don’t ever think otherwise.

But it’s work worth doing.

Photos by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / 4774344sean © Can Stock Photo Inc. / 4774344sean

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