Early in my pregnancy, my husband and I took a vacation.
I swear, had God left me a note or something a couple months prior, I would have made sure we vacationed BEFORE then.
Hey, btw… you’re gonna get pregnant in June.
No one wants to spend every morning of their precious summer vacation hugging the hotel toilet. Or trashcan. Or sink. Or experiencing the first of pregnancy bloat and ballooning while in a bathing suit.
But alas… we were 13 hours away from home in beautiful South Carolina, and I was SICK.
Sometimes life doesn’t flow the way you anticipate.
Those of you who have been with me on my journey since I began writing know that I am a recovering perfectionist. I am constantly battling against ideas of “If I had done this, then that would have turned out better,” or, “If only I had known about variable A, then variable B would have been better.”
I have come to realize (largely thanks to my husband, who never says anything remotely negative) that constantly assessing “what could have been better” in a situation or event makes me come across as a pessimist.
From my point of view in these moments, I’ve always thought that I was not being negative, but was rather seeking how I could do things with excellence and experience life in the best way possible.
However, I have come to realize that instead of being praised as an excellent Quality Control Manager of Life (why doesn’t this exist?!), I instead come across as an ungrateful, never satisfied, cup-always-half-empty kind of person. My actions and experiences are never as good as they “could have been if…”
If I let go of my idea of a “perfect” scenario, my eyes are opened to the possibilities God has for me. Perhaps the person standing right in front of me that may not have been there had I followed my perfect Plan A. My strategizing would instead be replaced with gratitude. My living in the past would be replaced with a heart fully immersed in the present, beautiful, imperfect moments of life.
I have come to realize since our vacation that letting go of the pursuit of perfection seems to be a foreign concept in many churches in our culture.
Churches want to be so polished that everything flows perfectly, like a Broadway production. No errors in the worship lyrics, the lyric slides change at the perfect time in the song, lights dim and come back up like clockwork, and no one distracts from the service by crying, spontaneously coming up for prayer, or heaven forbid, exiting their seat to use the restroom.
It’s controlled… it’s perfect… it’s a production.
While on vacation, Chris & I made the drive to a popular South Carolina church that has campuses all over the state. I used to listen to its pastor regularly, and admired him and the way that his church had grown over the years. I had attended at several different campuses each time I visited the state, and was excited for Chris to visit with me.
On the drive to church, I was so nauseous, I almost barfed all over the floorboard of the car. I made it through the beautiful worship set, but as the pastor began his message, I knew it was coming. I got up and left all my things in my seat – purse, phone, husband – – to run to the bathroom. When I was finished being sick, I cleaned myself up and attempted to head back into the auditorium.
That’s right. Attempted.
As I pulled on the doors befuddled why they weren’t opening, I heard someone approach me from behind.
“I’m so sorry, but once the service starts, you’re not allowed to go back in.”
“I’m sorry… WHAT??”
The lady explained to me as kindly as she could that the church had a policy that doors were to be locked once the service began to decrease distractions. After all, she said, there were “lighting and sound issues to consider.”
In my disbelief, I stammered that I had left my purse and my phone inside, and my husband, who was locked inside, wouldn’t know where I was. She kind of shrugged and squished up her face and had no solution but for me to wait in the foyer on some folding chairs and watch the service from the outside of the auditorium on a small TV.
I was so livid, I couldn’t bring myself to even sit on those stupid, cold folding chairs that they had so kindly set out for their outcasts and pregnant women who may have to run and barf in the bathroom as to not disrupt the service.
I told her I wish I’d barfed in the aisle so that at least I could have enjoyed the rest of the service with my husband.
(I wonder how that would have affected their production.)
There was not a single announcement made about this policy, nor were there any signs on the door.
Fortunately, my sweet husband came out to check on me, and as I had prayed to God that he would (lest we have to wait until the entire service was over to retrieve our things), he brought all of our things with him! I sighed in relief that he had our things as I watched, unbeknownst to him, the door lock behind him. He was obviously confused as to why I was sitting alone with a tear-stained face and hadn’t come back into the auditorium. I cried to him, in my humiliation, about what had happened. He was just as shocked as I, and after consoling me, went to speak with someone in charge (as any good, protective husband would do)!
I’m proud of him for keeping his cool while simultaneously standing up for his wife and seeking to understand this crazy policy. (When I’m hurt, I tend to have a limited supply of “polite” and my filter no longer exists.) While the person in charge was apologetic, they stood by their policy, and we left the church, completely uninterested by this point in what the pastor on the TV in the foyer had to say.
I have NEVER in my LIFE felt so humiliated and unwelcome in a church.
Can you imagine if I had been a first time visitor that wasn’t a Christian?!
I work up the nerve to attend church… maybe curious what this thing is all about. HUGE step of bravery, right? But wait… nature calls during the service. I go to the bathroom. And then… BAM. Locked out.
“Sorry, you’re not welcome here.”
“Oh… we try to keep things flowing PERFECTLY around here. And if you go inside, you’ll mess it up.”
Soon after we returned from our vacation, we were dying to share the exciting news of our pregnancy with our friends and church family. We wanted to wait, however, until after we had heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time so that we could share the recording as a part of our announcement. Finally, the long-awaited 10-week visit came, and we heard the beautiful sound of life growing inside of me. Our recording was made, and I put the finishing touches on the announcement video I’d been working on, complete with that beautiful little heartbeat.
That Friday night before the big announcement to the world, we celebrated with our Freestyle ministry family as we stood in front of the crowd and played our little baby’s heartbeat over the loudspeakers and announced the news. What a sweet moment to share with this group of friends we’ve grown to love as family over the years.
It was incredibly difficult to continue to keep the news a secret, but I wanted to at least wait until we’d had the opportunity to share with our church family on Sunday morning. After all, we’d had many people in our church praying for us as we waited month after month for our baby. Many of my girl friends there knew I was becoming increasingly concerned it hadn’t happened yet, and many prayers had been lifted up for our baby-to-be. Our church typically set aside a time at the end of service for people to share a word from God, a prophetic dream, a praise report, etc., so I hoped to make the announcement then as a huge answered prayer!
Waiting on that Sunday morning felt like eternity, but recording in-hand, I showed up to our staff meeting prior to the service, where we put finishing touches on the service and assigned who would be responsible for which part of the service. During this time, someone suggested that we acknowledge the racial divide in our community (as the approaching the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death was causing increased worry and division), and add a time of prayer at the end to ask God for peace in our city and racial reconciliation. Great idea. I also shared what I wanted to announce to the church – a miracle. An answered prayer. New life. Our baby.
As a staff member, I was frequently in front of our congregation, usually to either make announcements or to pray with those in need. Therefore, I thought it would be no problem to share our news if not during announcements, then at the end of service during our typical praise report time.
I was totally wrong.
One of the pastors who was leading the service that day told us that he had planned to share the news FOR us.
I kindly explained I didn’t really feel comfortable with that – it was OUR very personal news, and we wanted to share and thank our church family for praying, as God had answered!!
The conversation went back and forth with suggestions of different options, all while my mind reeled with the shock of why this was so difficult. It felt like a battle for control – to appease someone’s idea of perfection for that day’s service, including my own.
It’s an amazing praise report for crying out loud. Why couldn’t we give glory to God for this miracle? Isn’t this what we should do in church? Build each other up with reports of how good God is? Inspire hope by sharing answered prayers?
When I suggested that maybe I could share at the end of service as a praise report, the response I received floored me.
“You know… I don’t really think that this kind of announcement will flow with this service today, especially with this Mike Brown thing we decided we’re going to do at the end.”
The hot fire I’d felt in my cheeks and my gut during this intense conversation erupted into an all-out hormonal momma-bear rage. I stood up, exclaimed that it was a shame that a dead guy was getting more attention that day in church than the God who creates life, and I left.
We never got to make our announcement to our church family.
I admit that my response was in no way appropriate and also did not intend to belittle the importance of a life lost (I later apologized for my outburst). The sting from the experience, however, stayed. We waited over 30 years for this moment in life… and highly valued sharing the miracle of answered prayer – the miracle of the creation of new life – especially those people who had faithfully prayed alongside us as we waited month after long month. This first baby, this long-awaited miracle, only happens once in a lifetime.
And why? Why were we denied this opportunity? Why couldn’t we share a real moment in life? Why couldn’t we share this moment of vulnerability, the sharing of reliance on God to fulfill the prayers in our mouths and the desires of our hearts… a moment to give glory to Him, because He is good?
For the sake of “perfection.”
The problem lay in the fact that this idea of perfection one particular person had for that day’s service was completely different than my idea, or anyone else’s for that matter. In my mind, the announcement of a long-awaited answered prayer is as near to perfect a church event as you can imagine.
What better than seeing someone healed?
What better moments of perfection did Jesus have than telling the lame man to take up his mat and walk? Or smearing mud and spit into some guy’s eyes and giving him sight for the first time? Or even the announcement of Jesus’ birth himself? He was the answer to generations of prayers for a savior.
Jesus didn’t have some perfectly polished message planned, complete with a theme for all aspects of his “church service.” Most of the time, his ministry was the opposite. It was dirty. It was unplanned. It was a crowd. It was people desperate for him.
A bleeding woman reached out in a crowd of people just so she could touch him.
Jesus touched an unclean man with leprosy so that the man could be healed.
Jesus brought a widow’s dead son back to life just as they were carrying the body out of the house.
A group of friends lowered their friend through a roof just so they could access Jesus in the midst of a crowd he was teaching.
Luke 5 – “One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”
Jesus was teaching, and those jerks plopped a paralyzed guy right down in the middle of the service! What nerve they had to interrupt His “service!”
Where in the world did we get this idea of what a “church service” should look like?
How did we become so offended when things don’t go as planned, or when they’re not perfectly orchestrated?
Where did the idea of fully relying on the Holy Spirit go? …Or existing in our daily lives and church services to glorify God and experience His presence?
The scripture in this story states that Jesus was full of power to heal the sick. He was THERE!! You could touch him. Wouldn’t you be desperate too?
Imagine you’re sitting in a church service… Jesus is sitting there too, fully capable of healing anyone and everyone there… but because of the carefully planned, bullet-pointed church bulletin, no one gets up to ask Jesus for healing?
It makes no sense!
He is still just as available now as he was that day, sitting in that crowded house.
Before we moved and I resigned from my church staff position, many of my last Sundays at this particular church were filled with moments of running to the bathroom to throw up, sometimes just before and after I made the announcements. One particular Sunday, I felt so miserable that I left the service and waited in the foyer with my head on the table.
Later, my husband insightfully shared with me he thought it a shame that when people are sick, we expect to send them OUT of our church service, instead of pulling them right up to the front like Jesus would have done, for prayer and healing.
But no… that would interrupt things, wouldn’t it?
Every weekend, people sit through a church service and go through the motions of worship and a message, suppressing their deepest needs. Why??
For the sake of perfection.
If we were to allow people to get up from their seats to approach the altar with tear-stained faces and uninhibited cries of desperation, the church service would not look perfect. It may not end by noon. It may be extremely uncomfortable.
But guess what?
These broken hearts and sick bodies might get healed.
This year, in our Freestyle ministry, we have put less focus on putting on large events in specific areas of the city as we’ve done in years past, and instead have made room for intimate worship nights.
Sure, our numbers have dwindled.
There is much less entertainment available.
Sometimes we’ve even shown up with nearly nothing planned but a worship set.
People are uncomfortable when the confines of “church expectations,” a schedule, and attractive events are removed. One time, we had such a small turnout that we didn’t even enter the worship space… we sat in the foyer and talked and then had intentional prayer time individually and in small groups. We’ve even stopped worship for long, uncomfortable periods of silence for the opportunity for prayer. For the sake of everyone having their own intimate moment of connection with their Creator.
But these worship nights have been highlights in my past year – some of the most powerful times of connecting with God I’ve ever had. Instead of sitting like a “good girl” in my seat as I would have been expected to do in 99% of churches, I found myself face-down on the floor in the middle of the room having one of the most powerful connections with God I’ve ever experienced. It didn’t look perfect. But it was.
Stripping the Freestyle Friday of its schedule, its crowd-drawing activities, and its entertainment factors was a risk. What if people were uncomfortable? What if they stopped coming?
But then we asked the more important question.
When did our comfort and our entertainment become more important than seeking after a true encounter with the God of the Universe?
Why don’t we GET OUT OF THE WAY??
When did putting on an orchestrated televised church service (with protected lighting and sound factors) become more important than the visitor who really wanted to connect with God that morning?
When did a schedule and a perfectly orchestrated church service outweigh the importance of seeing the person right in front of you?
The newcomer with a broken heart?
The bleeding woman? The paralyzed man?
The drug addict who was brave enough to come to church?
I agree that doing things with excellence is important.
Planning a church service isn’t easy.
Worship is important. So is a Spirit-inspired message.
Perfectly timed worship lyrics, dimmed lights, and a service that “flows” are a part of the experience, but if holding this standard of excellence so high that it gets in the way of seeing what we were after in the first place – God’s presence himself – then that pursuit of excellence is void.
It only got in the way.
It’s like anticipating the arrival of your family for the holidays.
All you want is to spend time with them. To make memories.
You want everything to go perfectly, so you go to the grocery, plan out an exquisite meal plan, and schedule activities for everyone to enjoy together.
When they arrive, you are so busy making preparations and scheduling the visit’s details that you don’t even sit down. By the time they leave, you are exhausted from trying to make sure everything went perfectly. And you realize – you never even really spent time with them.
There was nothing wrong with your pursuit of an excellent experience for your guests… but in pursuit of perfection, you missed the whole point.
This reminds me of our classic Mary and Martha situation.
We’ve all heard the story. Jesus was welcomed into a home by a woman named Martha, who spent her time “with much serving” while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching. Martha expected Jesus to reprimand Mary for not helping. However, Jesus responded in the complete opposite way Martha expected him to. He said that Mary had chosen what was better. To sit with him. To be with him. The story even says that Martha was “distracted” by her serving. She had great intentions, but completely missed the point!
Luke 10:38-42 – Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Recently, Chris and I, along with the Freestyle team and a couple of other groups in the region, held a worship event that we entitled “Experiential Worship.” While much planning went in to the event, such as setting up interactive worship stations and planning and practicing worship sets, the leaders of the event made it a point to not attempt to over-control the evening. They even set aside a time to ask those present to share any word from God they’d received that night.
On stage. With a microphone.
It had the opportunity to be completely awkward. What if someone took over?
What if they wouldn’t stop talking? What if what they said was totally wrong?
Surely we couldn’t trust the microphone in a stranger’s hands!
But we trusted the Holy Spirit to guide the evening.
We worshipped. And at times we were still.
Beautiful encounters with God. Hearts set free.
A handful of people were even physically healed!
That’s right! They walked in with bum knees and tooth aches and walked out completely healed.
We definitely don’t have it all figured out. And we probably never will.
But when we trust God in our discomfort, amazing things happen.
When we question the status quo, our expectations change.
When churches lay down their attempts to control every detail or to recruit as many people as possible, and instead seek after His presence as the prize, they notice a shift.
Things actually HAPPEN.
It’s not that God rewards a certain method. It’s just that we need to make room for Him.
If not, we’ve missed the whole point.
We need to listen.
We need to rely on the Holy Spirit.
We need to lay down our pursuit of perfection, and instead ask, “How do you want to show off today, God? How do you want to make your glory known? How can I get out of the way?”
Jesus brought glory to God everywhere He went.
He taught the truth, and as He did, He made room in his busy schedule and amidst the crowds for the blind, the paralyzed, the adulteress. He walked in power, in perfect communion with His Father, and was able to do ANYTHING. He was perfect.
JESUS. IS. PERFECTION.
Now that I think about it, maybe God doesn’t want us to stop pursuing perfection after all…
Maybe He just wants us to correct our definition.
Jesus = Perfection.
Let’s chase only after Him.