Being “right” is exhausting.
You know what I mean. A controversy blows up over social media and the faith must be defended. A conversation about church practices becomes a nitpicky theological debate. A news story catches our eye and we are filled with outrage and take to our laptops to be the first to comment.
I feel as though I live in a world in which I’m constantly tempted — and encouraged — to major in details and minutiae and miss the very real and beautiful and incomprehensible presence of God.
Which is why being “right” is exhausting.
I thought of this the other day while visiting a different church from the one in which I am a member. My first — and wrong — reaction was to tense up. It seemed that everything about church that I had tried to escape was on display. I’ve learned to pay attention to those reactions. I have found that whenever something bothers me and makes me speak in absolutes, it’s because there’s a part of my heart I want to hoard for myself instead of allowing God’s light to shine on it. I hate to admit it, but so much of my identity as a Christian is defined by what I’m not.
No, I’m not one of those Christians who separates themselves from the world to form their own “weirdo” culture, right? I’m in some ways worse than that. I engage with the world — with culture — thoughtfully, and I read good theology. I’ve thoughtfully prayed and studied and considered it all. I’ve had the nuanced, late-night discussions. I’ve read the books. I love God and people and genuinely want both to be well acquainted.
Yet, in some ways, my Christian life sometimes feels like the equivalent of a carb-sugar-fun-free (self-righteous eating, natch), craft-brew (so much better than that watered down stuff) diet, coupled with a patronizing air of “knowing” because I researched it.
As I sang along during worship at this church, I felt the Holy Spirit speak in my heart. “When was the last time you sang to me? When you’re worshiping, are you really singing to yourself and your preferences?”
Of course, I immediately wanted to roll my eyes. God, that was so Matt Redman-“Heart-of-Worship”-circa-late-90s, amirite? Which of course prompted me to quickly repent. I’ve become better about the snark, but obviously we still have some work to do.
The irony that the Holy Spirit was still communicating with me despite it not being my preferred mode of worship and experience was not lost on me. Here I was, worshiping in a room full of other young adults and Millennials, singing our hearts out to God on a Sunday in the middle of Washington, D.C. What a crazy, strange, beautiful, and amazing miracle.
Here I was, focusing on the distinctives, while ignoring the mysterious and undefinable.
How often is our work, our writing, or our commentary singing to God? Or are we singing to each other — or ourselves? God is so utterly beautiful and so worthy of our attention, but it’s much easier to write about God than to engage God. What is God saying? What does God want us to be doing and saying? What is God doing in the world and how can I be a part of it?
In Amos 5, God says “When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice — oceans of it. I want fairness — rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” I love this translation because it’s so personal. And so real.
John Calvin was spot on when he said of humanity, that our nature “is a perpetual factory of idols.” We are kind of the worst in that we will take even the best and greatest things — like the worship and study and contemplation of God — and turn them into false gods. My being “right” about theology and worship and what it should look like becomes a false god when it keeps me from being able to worship God freely in any place there is an assembly of other Christians.
And my being “right” about theology and worship and how Christians should be in the world becomes a false god when it keeps me from being able to love my neighbors and be charitable to them though we disagree.
We should care about people getting it “wrong” about God, about people thinking the wrong things about this great and wondrous God we love. And our hearts should absolutely break when we see vast and stormy oceans of injustice while God’s people go about their daily lives.
But wouldn’t it be better to exhaust ourselves in the heart-felt pursuit of God wherever God is found … instead of being “right?” There is a time for silence and stillness — which enables us to break our silence and take action in a way that helps, rather than hurts, that restores rather than exhausts us. Can’t we look for the glimpses of God in the “other” when we disagree? Can’t we take to our prayers first and our laptops second, when we are filled with outrage?
Can’t we worship the God who is always right (no quotes necessary) and sees how wrong we are, yet loves us anyway? And isn’t that the entire point? Even this blogpost has a tinge of self-righteousness and I hate that I might have put on anyone a too-heavy burden that God will have to come along and lift. That God still loves me for some reason. That’s a God worth singing to.
Juliet Vedral is Press Secretary for Sojourners.
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