I was sitting on an old towel covering up the sticks and leaves of the woods seminar at Creation ’88. The mosquitos were out in full force as we took shelter from the late June sun under the trees. The speaker was telling a story about how he and his dad went bar hopping and spent the night getting wasted together, and how that moment with his mostly absentee father was one of the best representations that he had of God. Someone who was with him even in the dirtiest, most disgusting places. Someone with whom he could be his most honest, disgusting, true self. We didn’t say “authentic” much back in 1988, but that was what he was talking about.
And though I was not quite in high school and my history was pretty blameless at that point, I remember thinking that was a God I could get on board with. Someone who loved me completely, without judgment. Someone who would not simply accept my failings, but would walk through them with me. My church upbringing left me pretty sure that God existed, but it wasn’t much of a touchy-feely church, so the parental aspect of God had never been talked about. Love was a very abstract thing. But this wasn’t abstract – this was a God who was WITH me. This was Emmanuel.
I had never done an alter call before, but that June afternoon, I had no choice. I had to know that God.
This morning as I was driving kids to summer school and band practice, I was listening to Crowder’s song Come As You Are. The chorus is as follows:
Lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
O wanderer, come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart
Come as you are
I think this is a beautiful sentiment, but I don’t know if we ever really talk about how to do that. What does it look like to lay down your burdens when they feel like they are attached to you? How exactly do you lay down hurt when it’s so entangled in your everyday life?
More importantly to me, even after we get past the how’s, is where? Where do I go when I finally figure out how to lay down the troubles of the world? The Bible says “Cast all of your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” People say “give it to God” but what does that mean? If my pain is invisible and God is invisible, where exactly does this transaction take place?
I’m on the phone with someone who, yet again, has disappointed me by not behaving in a way that I think is appropriate. I tell her that until her actions are different, I can no longer have her in my life. I don’t want to talk to her or hear about her anymore. I cut off contact for nearly a year because I believe that while maybe God doesn’t demand that I leave her to her own destruction, it’s certainly allowed.
God has certain standards and when someone doesn’t live up to those standards (as determined by me, in this case), I no longer was obligated to have anything to do with that person. I may have had biblical support for this shunning, and I certainly used that in my arguments, but the truth is, I just didn’t want to deal with her perceived failings anymore. This was just a little bit too dirty for me. God could walk with them, but me? I was going to bow out of this one for a while.
Every single Christmas, my parents would wait until my sisters and I were in bed to put presents under the tree. And every Christmas morning at intensely unreasonable hours, my sisters and I would gather in one of the bedrooms. My middle sister would sneak downstairs to look at the gifts and then report back to us. Even as we went to college and were far too old to continue this tradition, we still did. Christmas morning meant the three of us bouncing around in a bed, trying not to be too loud before the approved time when we could all go downstairs together to celebrate together.
I’m not sure if it was the bed that was too old or us, but one Christmas morning after the spy returned, one of the boards that held the mattress on the bed we had all piled onto broke. We all screamed a little and then laughed, but it could no longer support the three of us. We had to move to another bedroom to await the morning’s festivities.
Even though that happened, I don’t fear collapsing into bed at the end of a long day. I don’t gingerly lower myself into bed, I flop. And I do it without really thinking about whether or not it can hold me. I trust that the bed will do the job that it does every night and hold me.
When I start thinking about casting my cares or laying down my burdens, the most tangible place to do that seems to be the Church. We meet each week with others who are struggling, who are hurting, who are in pain. Surely if there is a place where we can be our most real, honest, authentic selves, it would be in the midst of our Christian brothers and sisters?
I have heard it said that we can’t trust people because they will let us down, so we should only trust in God because he will never let us down. But if I can trust that a bed will hold me even though one collapsed on me once, I don’t think that trust in the Church would be so shaky if there were only a handful of times when the people failed to hold up one another in their desperation. Unfortunately, the Church as an institution and Christians as individuals have failed over and over to be a support to those most in need. We use discipline not as a way to bring people closer, but as a way to shut them out.
If I’m to lay down my burdens, I have to know that the place that I lay them down will be strong enough to hold them. When the Church behaves as I did, using God to justify my own prejudices and hatred and fears, it becomes yet another burden to carry.
What drew me to God in that bug infested clearing in 1988 was the thought that I could be completely myself and know that I was loved, and that unconditional love was what made me want to share love with those in my life. It wasn’t fear of God that led me to repentance, but rather the kindness of God. We cast our cares on God not because we are afraid of him, but because we know that he cares for us.
There is a line in the song that says, “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.” I don’t know if Heaven is a real place, but I know that right now, we can offer healing to those who are experiencing sorrow. We can offer hope to those who are going through despair. We can offer respite to those who are burdened.
We can bring Heaven to Earth through our kindness to one another. We can be a place where people can cast cares by being people who care.
Photo by Tetsumo