Last night Rita and I sat on the couch after a long day in which we hadn’t seen each other. We both had stressful days for different reasons. She was dealing with the fallout from yet another in what seems like an endless string of conflicts with one of our children, and she felt beaten up. She was struggling with lots of old doubts and fears, and through the tears and the frustration welling up inside she gave voice to her internal wrestling match: “am I a good mom? Am I a good wife?”
She wasn’t all dressed up. She didn’t have any makeup on. Her eyes were red with tears. Her face had that pinched, exhausted look of a long, hard day.
And she was beautiful.
I told her that I loved her, and she responded that I only loved her because she was my wife. I don’t know if it was an inspiration that hit me in the moment, but I realized something then and there.
“I don’t love you because you’re my wife. You’re my wife because I love you,” I said.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen several different articles shared on Facebook about the church. Articles that tell pastors why people are really leaving their churches. Articles that talk about how the church is dying and no one really cares. I even shared an article myself that wondered out loud about the real reasons people don’t invite friends and family to church with them. While I’m sure the intent was mostly positive, and helpful, I couldn’t help but feel a little depressed by it all.
Because despite all her faults, and her flaws, she’s the church, and I still think she’s beautiful.
Even on the days when she has that exhausted, worn out look from chasing the latest fad that promises she will grow exponentially if she just tries this new system.
Even on the days when she feels like crying herself to sleep because she can only see all the things she has done wrong and she’s pretty sure she’ll never measure up to that standard of the “perfect church” she heard about at some conference or that some blogger wrote about.
Even on the days when she is filled with hypocrites who can’t seem to make their Monday life measure up to their Sunday life and she wonders if she is ever making any amount of difference in people’s lives.
Even when she feels like everyone around her has told her that she’s irrelevant, that her looks have faded, and that they are ready to trade her in for a new companion.
No matter what anyone says, Jesus loves the church, and she is the church BECAUSE he loves her. He makes her beautiful. He sees her fragile beauty despite all her flaws, and he is the one who has placed an unsurpassed treasure in this broken vessel. He is the one who loves her perfectly and will present her to himself spotless and blameless – the most stunning bride, walking down the aisle while a billion galaxies look on in envy.
As long as Jesus loves the church, I am going to love her too. You’ve seen her flaws, right? Guess what? I’ve been in pastoral ministry for 15 years, and I’ve seen more of her flaws than you have. You know she’s filled with hypocrites? So do I. In fact, there’s one writing this blog post. You think she’s all show and no substance? Some days I agree.
Do you know what else I see? I see men, women, and children who would give their lives to see someone else make a connection to the God of the universe. I see those same hypocrites who acknowledge their struggles while sitting on a couch with each other, praying with each other that God would be gracious with our weaknesses. I see the faces of my friends who have walked with me through my most difficult seasons of life. I see that hour or so we spend on a Sunday morning as a sacred moment when the people of God – all of us weak, all of us broken, all of us sinners – sing and pray and preach and listen until the tears wet our faces and we find beyond hope that there is a God in the vast expanse of this world who loves us.
So you keep telling her what she’s doing wrong. You keep telling her that if she changed this or that about herself she’d be more beautiful or more relevant or more appealing.
I’ll still be here loving her, telling her she’s beautiful.