Have you ever been to a Christian festival? You know, those shiny, happy events where we all jump up and down and praise God for a few days, then come away refreshed and inspired from a good dose of highly motivational talks. Yes, I have had my fill of them too but ironically this blog was conceived at just such a gathering.
The ONE Event is held each August Bank Holiday weekend in the heart of the UK. Last year it was baking hot, so during the Saturday lunchtime meeting I sat outside in my camping chair catching some rays whilst listening to Rob Parsons (the guy who set up Care for the Family) give his speech. His talk was a good enough one, about the Christian life being a marathon not a sprint and how we need to persevere. I couldn’t argue with his thoughts despite acknowledging how often I wanted to opt out of the race and sit on the side lines for a few miles.
He quoted and spoke about the well-known verse:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.2 Corinthians 4:8-9
I sat there thinking how little those words felt true in my own life. I had been crushed; I was frequently perplexed about my faith; I had known despair at the brutality of life; and was quite frankly feeling pretty washed up and not wanting to go on.
So, when Rob invited any of us who felt worn down and weary to come forward, I knew that I had to be brave and walk into the big top and down to the front. What I didn’t expect as I entered the tent was that there would be a swell of other people doing the same. Here I was thinking I am the only one struggling with my faith, and I discover that far from being alone there are many, many other people also having the courage to own their far from perfect Christian lives.
There was a solidarity in that moment of knowing that it wasn’t just me who was a ‘failure’ for not having the together sorted happy shiny face that we are exhorted to live from the front on a Sunday morning. Instead here we were admitting that our lives fell far short of that glory.
And so with a glimmer of hope I turned towards the stage where the leader of the One Event had joined Rob Parsons. I could see from both their faces that they hadn’t expected this volume of response to Rob’s invitation. Rob prayed a simple but beautiful prayer then handed over to the leader, who was clearly not sure how to respond to all of us waiting in anticipation.
What he chose to do was to tell us that if we really needed prayer there was a prayer team on hand; otherwise the meeting was over; it was time for lunch and we were sent back out in the streaming sunlight.
I was so disappointed. For a moment I had felt it was ok to admit my struggles and the next I am back out in real life doing it alone.
And at that moment the idea for this blog was born.
Driving home from the festival I felt sad for all of us who feel like that. We are brave enough to own our pain and the response we get sends us scuttling back vowing never to be that open and vulnerable again.
As I reflected further on the events of that hot summer morning, I realised that for a moment the edge of the sticking plaster had been lifted. The extent of the problem had been revealed but no cure was offered at all. A lid had been lifted off a box of troubles which charismatic western churches are not ready to deal with. They aren’t yet willing to engage in mainstream conversations which acknowledge that many of us aren’t experiencing victorious triumphalist lives. Festivals don’t do that. They are there to inspire not cure. Cures take a long time with real people offering real help. At the time I was angry with the leader for not providing something which was more helpful, but I now realise he didn’t know what to do; he wasn’t equipped to help.
Because I now know that there are many of us who really do struggle with our faith on a whole load of levels for a whole raft of reasons. I want this blog to be a place where we can say #metoo and find solace in not being alone and strength to move forward because we do want to move on but are struggling to find that path on our own. I don’t promise any magic wands or easy answers. Yes, there are stories of instant miracles but most of the time it is about grinding out our faith in the grist of everyday of life.
Have you ever experienced an event or church service like the one I have described here? How did you feel afterwards? What message did the experience give you?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.