My sermon last Sunday was about feeling inadequate, especially in a culture where we are bombarded by messages telling us we are inadequate unless we buy the right car, clothing or diet plan. I told a story from Glennon Doyle (formerly Glennon Doyle Melton), author of the bestseller Love Warrior and creator of the blog "Momastery." The story "Quit Pointing Your Avocado at Me" is worth reading in Doyle's own words. I was moved deeply hearing Doyle speak at the United Church of Christ General Synod, especially what she had to say about pain.
Doyle's had a lot of pain in her life. In her memoir Love Warrior, she tells about becoming an alcoholic and a bulimic in middle school. She only understood being worthy of love in terms of earning it by being thin, pretty and vicious towards other girls. Her relationships from high school forward were ones where she hid her true self out of fear of being rejected. The memoir tells the story of how she began the hard work of recovery and sobriety--work made even harder when her husband and the father of her children admitted to cheating on her throughout their marriage. I haven't finished the book yet; I'm still in the part where she shares about her pain and haven't gotten to what comes after. I know there is an after, because Doyle said as much when I heard her speak.
Doyle has been through a lot of pain, but she has come to see pain as a gift. Her attempts to hide from her own pain only brought deeper pain. Only when she faced her pain could she move through it to learn what that pain was trying to teacher her. She said that we shouldn't fear pain, but rather we should fear the "easy buttons" our culture offers to cover up our pain. You know the "easy button?" It's from the Staples commercial where when things get complicated in business you hit the "easy button" and Staples shows up to take care of your complicated problem. Doyle says there are no "easy buttons" to take away the real pains that come in life.
She described pain as the world's greatest professor which knocks on our door and says, "If you will let me in and sit with me for a while, I will teach you amazing things." She stated that the only way we can find transformation is to sit with the "hot loneliness" of our pain. She said, "When we transport ourselves out of the pain, we reject the invitation to our transformation." She also said, "If we changed our ideas about pain, we would transform our lives, and our relationships, and our church."
Not only did I take Doyle's words to heart regarding the struggles in my own life, but I thought about her words in terms of our church. Our church does a lot of things well; for instance, I believe we excel at welcoming people. Visitors often tell me how much they feel welcomed at our church.
Doyle is a member of a UCC church in Naples, Florida. She shared how she found it. She was going through a difficult time and took her kids to church--not something she had a history of doing. She knew God loved everyone and thought church would be a place where people were truly themselves. Instead at that church she found people dressed up, looking their best and acting as if they had no problems. She felt that she was a mess and so were her kids.
So, as I shared in last Sunday's sermon, as soon as the service was over, she bolted. A woman followed her out and caught her before she made it to the safety of her minivan. The woman said, "I don't normally do this, but I feel God wants me to tell you something." Doyle thought, "Oh no, here we go!" The woman said, "I think you are meant to be at the church down the street, the United Church of Christ congregation." So Doyle gave it a try the next Sunday. There she says she found authenticity.
I hope people would say that about our church, yet I wonder if at times we act too much like the church which has it all together.
Doyle credits her success to being vulnerable about her pain. She told us, "People don't need perfect; they don't even need good. They just want real."
As minister, I never know how much is too much when it comes to what I share about my own journey. I never want my work as a minister to be self-indulgent or all about me. Yet, I suspect I am not vulnerable enough and I feel pretty sure we aren't vulnerable enough about the pain so many of us carry.
I don't have an answer for the question of what do we do differently? I do know that Doyle has connected with thousands upon thousands of people who are attracted to her vulnerability--which somehow allows them to be vulnerable too. I suspect there are people looking for a church where they can be vulnerable--some of them might already be members of our church.
After all, we Christians supposedly follow a guy who became vulnerable to the point of death. Doyle said that Jesus offers us the truth that resurrections cannot happen until after the pain is faced head on.
Grace and Peace,