Yesterday was bittersweet. I parted ways with a lifelong companion who has journeyed with me these 32 years. I’ll admit that for a majority of those years I took him for granted. Despite all that he did for me, I never gave him much thought. It wasn’t until he stopped being a team player and began acting out that I even got to know him. And yesterday we said goodbye.
That companion was my gallbladder, and his name was Gary.
I first got to know Gary (we named him Gary after he became a significant part of our lives and conversations) about 3 weeks ago when he attacked me. That is to say, I had a “gallbladder attack.” Following severe abdominal pains I went to the hospital, and soon after learned that I had gallstones. As a result, I made the decision to have Gary evicted.
The surgery was minor. It was outpatient and the recovery time is not that long. I’ll admit it’s not as easy as I thought it would be (I guess I’m just a wimp) but it is only a day after I had an organ removed so I suppose I should give myself from grace!
Overall, the procedure went well and the hospital was awesome. Every one of my nurses was an angel sent from heaven (and I mean it–nurses are Jesus to people every day, cleaning patients’ butts and putting up with cranky sick people, some doing it all with a smile on their faces. Nurses are legit!). I also had a fabulous doctor, but one of my favorite things about the hospital was the welcome sign that greets each patient as he or she walks in. It reads:
This is a place of healing.
I don’t know why but that sign really stood out to me. I loved it. It made the environment seem less sterile, and it made me feel safe. As I walked through the corridor toward the surgical area, I couldn’t help but think that that sign, which communicated so much to me, should be hanging over the door of every church sanctuary.
Perhaps the sign stood out to me because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about brokenness and healing. I’ve been thinking about how the church is perceived, versus who we really are. And I’ve been thinking about the church’s role in the life of wounded people.
I first began this path of reflection a couple weeks ago as I stood and sang during my church worship service. Around me I noticed members with their hands raised high and their faces beaming with love. Sometimes this image of zealous evangelical worship comes across as a cliché. It has been caricatured in the popular media, or used as a marketing tool for churches. Cynics look at this form of worship as a superficial show of piety, or a meaningless going-through-the-motions. Others even belittle it to the category of “entertainment.”
But that morning I saw my surroundings through a different lens. The Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart the beauty of that crowd of worshipers, and what it signified:
At any given time in any given worship service, I gather with fellows believers and we praise the Lord as a broken throng. To my right is a single mom trying to make ends meet. To my left is a family with a special needs child. Behind me is a man who has climbed out of the pit of alcoholism. In front of me is a loving couple who once battled their way through the devastation of an affair. And in front of us all is a pastor who has hurt his wife, or disappointed his family.
Every one of us is a broken person. And yet we raise our hands and proclaim God’s grace because we have experienced it. God has healed us. He has been faithful. Christ is making us new, and those smiling, worshipful faces are a sign of that merciful work. Sure, some might be going through the motions, but many, many others are praising God because they have experienced His goodness firsthand. They can testify that God is a healer, and that the church is a healing place.
As I sit here on the couch today feeling sore all over, I am reminded of my own brokenness and my own limitations. We all have them–physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual–which means that the church isn’t the prim and proper social club it’s often made out to be. It’s the place where broken people go to be made whole again.
If you’ve never been to church, or you are new to the church, or even if you’re a seasoned Christian, I want you to know that the church is not for the already perfect. It is a healing place. Or at least, it can be. When you walk in that sanctuary, I hope you’ll look past the exterior, past the cute outfits, past the slick programs, and past the illusion that everyone has it all together.
Instead, remind yourself that each individual who steps through those doors has a story. Their stories are a mix of joys and sorrows, some possessing more of one than the other. Some are in the thick of their story’s most devastating chapter, and still they come. Because that is what the church is for. It is a place of healing, a home for the homeless, and a refuge for the weak. It is also where we gather to remember God’s goodness in the past, and trust in His provision for the future.
A place of healing. What a wonderful vision for a hospital, and an even better mission for the church. I hope you will remember it come Sunday, and worship in freedom among the fellow redeemed. As Isaiah 53 reminds us,
He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.