When our daughter was in high school gymnastics, she had a great team. Without fail, the girls cheered one another on. Shouts of “You got this!” and “You go girl!” bounced off the gym walls at every meet. Other teams noted the camaraderie and envied it.
But I remember one other team. They were highly ranked. They had a reputation. They scored big numbers. The evening I sat close and watched their girls vault, I figured out why. One by one, those girls took off toward the vault and threw some tricks that, judging by the way they hit the floor and sometimes the wall, they should not have been trying. The difficulty, and subsequent scoring, were huge. The danger was, too. Their coaches, who should have discouraged trying skills that could land them in a hospital, stood at the end and cheered as the girls hit the mat.
Cheering for people is great. I love being encouraged to do hard things. Sometimes, though, the best thing we can do for someone is to say, “Um, no, you actually don’t got this. Don’t go, girl.”
We’ve been talking here on the blog about church. What it is. What is could be. What it should be. The primary thing it should be is family. Family encourages one another big time. Sometimes, though, family has to do something more difficult. Sometimes, family has to tell us the truth.
Family keeps us on course
Sometimes, your sister has to tell you not to leave home in that outfit. Or not to date that jerk. We all know that later, we are grateful. It’s a family’s job to keep the weird uncles in check so they don’t embarrass everyone too much. It’s a family’s duty to tell Aunt Ruth she needs a hearing aid because she’s talking so loudly the rock band next door can’t practice.
We edit one another’s resumes, practice job interviews, and filter photos before we post them, because we want our family to be shown in their best light. Hey, if it were not for my daughters, I would still be going around in mom jeans and white tennis shoes. Family tells us the truth when we won’t look in a mirror and see for ourselves.
Note: We don’t always appreciate the truth.
If church is our family, we should be keeping one another from that terrible date.
Nudge or Judge?
When someone in our church family is going off the rails, a good family nudges her back over onto the track. Don’t miss that important word. We nudge. We don’t judge. That one letter makes all the difference in whether or not we correct one another’s courses well.
Church has gotten the reputation of being kind of judgy. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to judge someone than it is to correct them. Judging is quick. It’s easy, because we have our set of rules taped to the wall, so we know when someone has broken one. It’s painless, even a morale boost sometimes, because if we can conclude that someone is worse than we are, we feel better about our own missteps. Judging is simple. Walking with someone through resurrection is hard.
Admitting we need someone to walk with us is perhaps even harder.
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. (Galatians 6.1-3)
To share someone’s burden implies that we treat it with reverence and care, like it is our own. Paul’s words create a picture of someone taking another person’s error and cupping it in her hands, like a nest for a baby bird, to support and sustain until the bird is able to fly. They do not leave room for judgment. Quite the opposite.
Gently and humbly.
When is the last time someone did that for you? When is the last time you did it for someone else?
The other side, of course, is that we have to be people who learn to accept correction. We have to begin to trust our families to tell us the truth. The beginning is the most difficult; after you begin, the going on seems natural. It is. It’s the way God meant for us to be.
Moving from relationships based on eggshell walking or grenade lobbing takes intentional effort. It is so much easier to either skirt conflict or to take shots at one another from the safety of our own righteous foxhole. Neither one requires risking rejection. Both keep us at a safe distance. Either allows us to keep “my private life” separate and unassailable from public examination.
It’s just that Jesus never let anyone get away with that.
Gently and humbly. I keep coming back to those words. What would our churches look like if we learned to steer people away from the dangers of life and learned to submit to that steering with those two qualities?
Just Take It
Accepting course correction means giving out rights we might prefer to keep.
When I tell my family that I want to strengthen my muscles, I give them the right to ask every so often—“So, have you been to the gym?”
When I tell them I want to eat better, I freely offer them the right to give side eyes to that frozen custard stop. I’ve invited them into my life as course correctors.
When my daughter tells me she has applied for the job she wants, it’s part of my job to ask her gently, “Have you sent a follow-up yet?” I’ve earned that right after changing hundreds of diapers, wiping grape juice vomit out of the car vents, and driving to approximately twelve hundred gymnastics practices. I’ve gone the difficult distance with her.
Just Earn It
Family gets in your face when it’s for your own good. They’ve earned that right. Church families need to earn the right—by going the difficult distance with us and bearing the burdens we can no longer bear. And when they do, we learn to listen when they tell us the curve is up ahead and we’re going a little too fast.
Family asks—Have you been reading you Bible like you wanted to? What’s your progress on that temper issue you told me about? Are you working on you marriage? These are hard questions. But ultimately, they are kinder than standing on the sidelines and cheering impending disaster because that’s more polite.
Gently and humbly. Good words to ponder. Possibly to paint on our walls.
Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.—Rachel Held Evans