Originally published 5/3/2008.
Sometimes when my husband is out of town I allow the boys to come spend the night in our bed as a special treat. (OK, really I'm just afraid that they'll need me and I won't hear them.) It always follows the same pattern, but they always want to do it and I'm always willing to let them try. Still, getting two small boys to fall asleep in the same bed is no small feat; it's like they are some unstoppable energy machine that has to keep on making noise and wiggling until 'boom' the battery runs out and silence and cessation of motion ensue instantly. It was no different this time. There were repeated cries of "Mom, he's bothering me," and "Mom, he's poking me." And finally there was the ultimatum. "Mom, I don't want Indy to be a part of our family any more."
Oh dear. What is a parent supposed to do with THAT statement? I'm not even sure what heinous crime Indy committed in order to deserve banishment from the family, something about scrubbing that was keeping Gates awake. I gently told Gates that we are all part of this family and I would be very sad if anyone was missing because I love them both so much.
I suppose it isn't that uncommon to hear from our children. I can recall wishing every now and then that my brothers belonged to a different family (or that I did). (Sorry guys.) What made me sad as I thought about it today is that sometimes we carry that attitude with us into adulthood and into the church. Sometimes there are people in the church that make us think "Boy, I wish they weren't part of the family; I wish they'd go someplace else."
I'm not talking about the people who are making things difficult for the church, I'm talking about the people that we just don't like. Maybe their personality irritates us. Maybe they have a disability that makes us uncomfortable. Maybe they don't dress 'right'. Maybe they challenge our faith in areas we don't want to be challenged in. Somehow they 'scrub' us the wrong way.
We don't want you in the family, you talk too much. We don't want you in the family, you need too much. You aren't up to my standards of what a church member acts like. You're too emotional. You're too philosophical. You're too distant. You're too clingy. It isn't fun to be around you. Your personality is scrubbing up against me and it irritates me.
God, forgive me for the times I haven't wanted people in my church family that you had placed there. When we stop seeing people as part of our family, we lose the ability to BE family to them. We forget that God put them there, just as surely as he placed each of our children in our earthly families.
Who don't you want in your family? Are there still people I wish weren't a part of mine? If I'm being honest, sometimes my hangup to being invitational isn't so much that I'm an introvert, it's that I don't want that person to be part of MY church family. It's a whole lot easier to invite someone who acts like me than it is to invite the person I wish would just disappear from my life.
A very wise friend of mine has said that if someone irritates you, pray for them. Continue to pray for them. You may not like their behavior any better, but you will find yourself being filled with love for them. You will begin to see them as part of your family. I've seen it played out in my own relationships; I need to be more diligent about continuing the practice.
Paul had some things to say about the church acting as a body:
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15 (NIV)
One body. One family. We strive to cultivate things like compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience in our own families. Can we humble ourselves enough to cultivate them in our church family as well?