Get REAL……


Read recently a piece on the dangers of sentimentality – it mentioned the over-egged cuteness of those Thomas Kinkade pictures. Surrounding ourselves with cuteness does us no favours at all, because life  is difficult and tough. There is grief and pain as well as joy.

I wonder whether we sometimes think we must have a rather sentimental take on Christianity.  Do we feel we’ll be letting the side down unless we report perpetual peace and joy, an uninterrupted  consciousness of the supporting presence of Jesus?  Are we afraid to tell it like it really is, but instead present a doctored image, embellished with fake joy and sweetness.

Well, I guarantee you that not a single one of us experiences faith as constantly upbeat. There are struggles, questions, doubts, times when we rage at God, times when our lives seem to be unravelling. And there are also (for many of us) moments of joy and clarity, when we know ourselves loved and held even in our pain and brokenness, even with our unanswered questions.

The challenge is to tell it like it is!  As a much younger person, I thought that communicating the Christian faith meant handing out a leaflet, or quoting the ‘right’ Bible verses with someone. But in fact we communicate the faith best when we are REAL:  when we interact with people, accepting them as they are and open to learning from them – and sharing with them what Christian faith is like for us. That means sharing about the joy – but also about the times of brokenness when God seems silence, and the times of failure when we yearn to hear again the still small voice of grace.

And our conversations at church will be positive and life-affirming to the extent that we are REAL with one another. Telling our faith story of the past week as it really was, rather than presenting it in a rosy light. And listening receptively and encouragingly as the other person shares their reality with us,  not afraid, or too impatient, or inadequate to hear it like it is.   ‘Ask the second question,’ as someone said. When someone says ‘It hasn’t been a brilliant week but I’m OK now’ give them the opportunity to unpack what caused part of the week to be less-than-brilliant part of the week, and how ‘OK’ they really are now.

But of course if we are to be REAL with one another, we need first of all to be REAL with ourselves, and REAL with God.  And maybe that’s the thing we need to hear: that we don’t need to hide the mess and confusion in our lives. We can be open to who we are, shadow side and all, accepting ourselves without fear.  As Christians we are massively helped in reaching this acceptance because we learn that we can open up who we are to God. We discover that it is when we are REAL with God, that we find God REAL to us. We realise that God loves us, just as we are; and that since we are so loved, we can love ourselves, for our Father sees us as lovely and precious. And knowing ourselves loved, we are set free to love others and to be REAL to them.

And so the challenge to us is: don’t sentimentalise Christianity. Get REAL, and in our reality the true loveliness of our lives will be seen.

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