Having hit the gym regularly for several months now, I have to admit that I was in that group of people that dreaded going in the first week of January. It’s kind of a running joke with the gym rat crowd – the first couple weeks of January will be over-crowded and by the 15th it will be business as usual. It will be empty by February.
So I have to admit to you that my patience was a bit thin when I walked in on January 2 to lift. There were plates and dumbbells everywhere. There were people who didn’t know the gym etiquette like the regulars. It can be quite dangerous when you’re walking cautiously backward with 100 pounds in your hands and someone bumps into your bottom. It can grate on you and ruin your perfect bubble of Jay-Z telling you in your ear how hardcore you are.
After my workout I went home and continued reading a great book on grace I had picked up. (I know, right? I’m so good at compartmentalizing.)
As I read this book it struck me how much we try to sanitize life when really, it is meant to be messy. The gym is there for people who need it. And January 1 is a safe time to start back because you know you won’t be the only out-of-shape person there. You know you won’t be the only person sweating a little too hard, dressed in baggy sweats instead of Nike Pro compression pants, wearing an old t-shirt instead of a shoulder-baring tank top. You’re comforted by the fact that even the fit crowd has overdone it over the holidays. Everyone is starting over.
I wish the church was a little more like the gym on January 1. We seem to get ourselves into a mid-June cycle where we’ve run off the newbies, everyone knows the lingo, and we can just enjoy ourselves without the bother of people bumping into our bottoms when we’re in the zone.
But we have to get comfortable with a church that looks messy. We have to stop giving side-eye to the guy who lights up a cigarette as soon as he walks out the front door or the girl whose profile pic is her in a bikini with her friends. We have to stop debating whether the guy who curses in his Facebook statuses should or should not be confronted. That stuff doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter any more than the guy sweating it out trying to walk a mile at a moderate pace. Stop expecting people to walk into church acting like the people that have been coming for 50 years. This is a process. It is a journey.
Church doesn’t have a January 1. Maybe Easter is the closest thing. Maybe Christmas. Days when you know you can walk in and not be the only new guy. You won’t be the only one that doesn’t know the words everyone else is singing loud and proud. You won’t be the only one who doesn’t know when to sit or stand or kneel. You won’t be the only one who doesn’t know the inside jokes or the way communion works.
We’ve got to make church less like June 1 in the gym – the time when the really dedicated are still around – and more like January 1, where everyone is a little more real about their mess. I find lifting more encouraging when there are imperfect bodies around me. I find church more encouraging when people are being more honest about their raw places and less polished.
January 1 is the best time to come in to the gym all fat and clueless. Because everyone gets it. You’re making a new start. You’re getting back on the horse. You’re trying. Even the fittest people in the gym appreciate that you are there. We’ve gotta make church like that. This is where you come in all messy and clueless and the other new messy people are there too and everyone can tell you don’t have it together and that’s just fine. And even the people who are there every week for years, they fall off the wagon too. They mess up and they have to start over again and again and we’re all in this together.
No perfect bodies in the Kingdom. We’re all sweating it out together and that’s just fine. We’re all hoping that someday we’ll be stronger, we’ll make better choices, we’ll get further along. We all feel like we *should* be further along. We all want to be. But all of us are on a journey. All of us have so far to go.
Those of us who are regulars – let’s remember our day one. And those of us who are avoiding our day one – you come any time. We can’t wait to meet you.