"To be perfectly honest guys, I don’t really have anything to say today. Stuff is just hard.”
This was me, teary-eyed, with my church student team. We sat in some old throne-like chairs at the back of York Minster and any agenda went out the window. We didn’t say much. We prayed more.
Sometimes the right thing to do is to tell your mates you are having a rubbish time. You don’t understand why the world is as painful as it is, you don’t understand why God seems to be how he is (if you even believe he exists), you don’t understand it when people seem to encounter Jesus and then live like they've never met the creator of the world. I don’t understand why I live like that.
When most of us feel angry at stuff, upset by things out of our control and generally wondering what on earth (…as it is in heaven) God plans on doing about the mess, church, prayer or help from others can feel like the last thing we want. I've met countless students who have stopped coming to church because they haven’t felt they can go if they’re struggling with their faith. Do we assume that unless you’re “happy”, “sorted” or actually following Jesus, then anything to do with God probably should be avoided until you've “got yourself together” or “feel in the right place” to engage with faith again?
I wonder how many freshers haven’t showed up at church because, after being swept up by student culture, they feel too guilty to still “do the God thing” whilst they’re slightly hung over? How many second years would rather avoid replying to that Christian friend, because they don’t want to face “letting them down” when they can’t claim to be in a good place with God right now? How many finalists think it’s not worth trying to follow Jesus now because it’s their last year and so basically too late to change the way they've been doing uni? I wonder how many times I could have quit on my church community because life hasn't gone the way I hoped and I felt disillusioned and confused by God?
Thank goodness the reason Jesus puts all his hope in his people gathered, his church, is because he knows it is the place to go, baggage and all. He knows we are ok not to be ok, he knows we are made to rely on Him and support each other, and he knows we can’t actually upkeep any pretense that suggests otherwise. Yes, we can all think of examples of feeling judged by people, or feeling like hypocrites… I know God’s people have not always done a great job and the church has let itself down. But that is not a reason to quit going, to not bother praying, to ignore those nudges that call you back to the things of God.
I’d rather base my response to when life is rubbish, on what Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Sometimes I need Jesus to be gentle with me. Sometimes I need rest for my soul. Sometimes I am weary.
Students of the UK, know that we can always turn up to church, with or without a smile. Know that Jesus calls you, full stop. Not washed, sorted, disciplined you. Not prayerful, faithful, shiny you. Faith doesn't require a face-lift, a fake positivity, a place of “sorted-ness”. It requires you to come, full stop. Weary and burdened, hung-over, let-down, crying, disillusioned, lost… the call remains the same. Jesus says "come", because it’s ok to not be ok.