Not long ago, I was talking to a man who had been asked to share his faith story. He confessed that his true faith story involved the example of his family, after being deeply hurt by a pastor’s words years ago. But it was a messy story, so instead he shared a happier story, but one that really wasn’t a cornerstone of his faith. It was just easier that way.
A lot of life, even Christian life, really is messy. Jesus says the truth will set you free. We too often avoid the truth of our faith struggle because it’s messy. It’s easier to show up at church, all shiny and tidy, and hope that the cracks won’t show. But I’m pretty sure all of us have a story of hurt, of doubt, of despair that has affected, or been affected by our faith. We may even be living with that hurt, doubt and despair right now, and praying for some thread of hope and courage to sustain us. Some of you might even be staying away from church … I know I did, for a while, when a pastor broke faith with my family. When I started asking around, almost everyone I knew had a story like that. Most of them also had a story of how they ended up back in church through a caring invtitation, some healing words, or their own soul’s hunger. A couple of years after my experience, I was drawn back to (a different) church because I needed it. I needed to worship and sing and pray and hear the truth of God’s faithfulness to me even while I was trying to figure out my faith in Him.
From that experience, I learned that church isn’t a place full of perfect people with perfect lives who always say and do the perfect thing. I don’t know why that was such a big surprise for me, but it was. A surprise and a relief. I finally figured out that church wasn’t about hiding the hard parts, or even avoiding the hard parts. Who knew?
In this month of Thanksgiving, I truly give thanks and praise to God who loves us and saves us, no matter how messy, wonderful and complicated our lives are. I am glad for a God who is strong enough for my anger, my hurt, my disappointment, my despair, my doubt. I rejoice in a God who urges me to tell the truth about my life and my faith, the good and the bad, for that is my whole story.
• Reverend Sue Bahleda is pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church. Find out more at www.rlcjuneau.com.