As I write this, it’s Black Friday morning, and I’m finding that focusing on writing a Presbyletter article rather than shopping the “deals” is extremely difficult. But as I recognize my own distraction, I know that we are entering a season of distraction. Parties and family gatherings, school programs and gift exchanges, last minute sales and long lists to Santa Claus will distract us from what is ultimately important this season. The birth of a baby in a manger in some far away stable tucked away in the Middle East does not make the party circuit in Tiffin, OH in the same way Christmas light displays and grand and glorious holiday festivals do. There is no eggnog in that small stable. No beautiful Christmas cookies. No “Frosty the Snowman” reruns from our childhood playing on the stable wall. No half priced tag hanging from the lowing cattle or the braying donkey. But there is something that is more valuable than sales, more important than any tradition passed down by our grandparents, more relevant than parties and lists and programs.
The story of Christmas, in our Christian ideology, is the story of God coming into the world to be with us in the only way humans could ever understand: person to person. As Jesus is born into our world, God comes to look at us with human eyes, to speak to us with a human voice, and to hold us with human arms. Unique to our religion, God experiences the very life we live. God understands the limitations of mortal existence. God cries with us. God hurts with us. God serves among us. And God loves us still. The story of Jesus’ birth is the story of God wanting to be in relationship to God’s creation – to you and to me.
Even as the old Bing Crosby songs make their way into our hearts and the memories of families and friends dominate the “feels” of our imaginations, let us make room for what matters more than all of that. Let us be awestruck as light breaks into our darkness, as hope breaks into our doubt. Let us watch with the animals contained in the walls of their stable and discover the story that has been told to us generation after generation: God comes to us. God wants to know us, face to face. Don’t miss it.
With joy and peace and love,
Reflections from Pastor Katie
A few years ago I was struggling to get even one pound off. I knew what I needed to do. Everyone told me that I needed to eat right and exercise. I was a member of the YMCA, but I was a lousy member. When I went, I felt good, but those times were few and far between. I am not really a “classes” type of YMCA member because I get embarrassed by how I look compared to all of the others who love classes so much they have better bodies than I do – not to mention they all knew each other and I didn’t want to be the new girl. I knew that what I needed more than anything was accountability. I needed someone to miss me when I didn’t show up. I needed someone who cared about my health enough to seek me out if I went missing for awhile. So I finally got up the nerve to talk to one of the trainers out there to tell her what I needed. She was a wonderful, caring individual, and she heard what I wanted. But she wanted me to come to her classes, which, again, I was too self-conscious to do. So I never found my way in. And because I wasn’t missed and I had no one who cared about my health, I dropped my membership.
Shortly after I dropped my membership, my doctor decided to take interest in me. She recognized the metabolic issue that was treatable, but she still told me I had to eat right and exercise. And she held me accountable, making sure I came back to her every 1-3 months to confess what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. Sometimes I did what I was supposed to and sometimes I didn’t, but she didn’t give up on me. And that fact alone convinced me I needed to try to care about my health.
After the baby was born I didn’t want to lose the momentum I had gained before my pregnancy, so I immediately made an appointment with my doctor again, and she welcomed me back with open arms, giving me new directions with my new baby body, and encouraging me along the way. But I still knew I wouldn’t eat right or exercise without ongoing accountability, and not knowing where else to turn, I tried something a bit out of the norm. I texted my doctor the following message, “I just took a 1 mile walk. It’s your turn.” After she figured out who was texting her (she had given me her number in the past), she returned my text with the following, “I just ran a mile and did 20 crunches, 30 squats, and 25 lunges. Your turn.” I had my accountability partner.
I share this story because in the church there are a lot of us who know exactly what we need in order to grow in our faith – we need to meet with others to study the scriptures, we need to spend time in daily prayer, and we need to worship God with a community that wants to do the same. Some of us easily fit the “class type” and we like to gather with other people who have been in the church for a long time and who seem to know a lot about the Bible and the Christian faith. But the majority of us, despite what we know we need, lack the confidence to show up at a class or even in worship on Sunday morning, for fear that we will be “noticed” too much, and not in a good way. We fear we will stand out because we don’t know a specific biblical story or because we haven’t been baptized or because we feel that we think just a little bit differently than other people. We fear that someone will ask us to pray out loud and we don’t really know how to do that. We fear that we will have to find something in the Bible and we take a long time to find the passage. So we just don’t show up. But in truth we really want to be there. We want to get spiritually healthy. And we want someone to notice when we don’t show up. We want to matter.
It’s a big deal to start being involved in a church. It’s also a big deal to resume being involved in a church. Some of us come with huge weights on our shoulders – maybe we hurt someone and just don’t want to come back to the place where we have to face that so that healing can begin. Maybe our feelings were hurt by someone in the church who didn’t understand how hard it was for us to put ourselves out there the first time. Maybe we’ve never been to church before in our lives and don’t even know what we’re supposed to do.Or maybe, just like me and the YMCA, we just need to know that we matter enough for someone to check on us, to notice we aren’t here, to care about our spiritual life as much as we want to care about it.
It’s an above-and-beyond-job not only to notice when someone doesn’t come, but also to follow up with them. It wasn’t the YMCA’s job to check on me, but because they didn’t, I, in my self-conscious state, didn’t feel that my health mattered to them. It wasn’t my doctor’s job to text me back with her own exercise routine, but because she did, I immediately felt that my health (and therefore “I”) mattered to her.
I urge each one of us to care about our own spiritual health and about the spiritual health of others who may or may not be associated with this church because we all matter to God. Who will you call this week? Who have you missed? It’s not your job to check on people or even to welcome them when they show up, but it has the potential to communicate that their spiritual health matters to you . . . and that they matter to you. It’s time consuming. And it may even seem unnecessary to those who are regulars in the church (because they have a responsibility to show up themselves! I shouldn’t have to hold their hand!), but ultimately, hand-holding may be what they need, just as it’s what we need at other times in our lives.
I hope that I can share as generously with you as my doctor has shared with me. I do care about your spiritual health, and I do care about you. Let me know if you need some accountability. It would be my honor to be accountable with you.
In Christ’s love.