Monday, November 18, 2013

My Fear of the Church Potluck

"I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,I come to Thee."
--Annie S. Hawks

The holidays are here again, or at least, just around the corner. Everyone’s spirits seem to lift in anticipation of the festivities. And so do mine . . . I love the cheerful Christmas carols being played, the decorations, the lights, the warmth, the glow. There’s “a song in the air,” a song that resonates in believer’s hearts as they focus on the Nativity, the Gift of the Christ-Child, the physical advent of salvation. And as Christian folks near and far gather together, we’re reminded of how we will all share in the great Marriage Feast of the Lamb one day, one glorious, freeing day.

I love the holiday season . . . and yet, there is one event that always strikes fear in my heart. And that is, another church potluck. No; I’m not afraid of calories (although to someone who is, the church potluck is not the place for the weak in will ;-)). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the fellowship, the games, the abundant fare, the succulent desserts. The church potluck strikes a note of terror in my soul because . . . I am not a “people person.” I am shy. I like to retreat into myself and nervously ponder whether or not I answered so and so in the “right” way, whether I said something that didn’t make sense, whether there was food in my teeth while I was talking to an elder’s wife.

In years past, I’ve tried to think of dozens of excuses not to go, to try to conjure up a reason for my absence.

I usually end up going. I usually end up enjoying myself and having a good time of fellowship with the brethren. I usually end up over-eating, but that’s a different matter . . .   :-)

I am better at expressing my thoughts through writing rather than through speaking. I like to think about what I am going to say. I like to make sure that I’m not saying anything (truly) heretical. I like to ask the opinions of other Godly family members and friends before I voice a strong opinion about something, in general.

But sometimes the Lord doesn’t give us exactly what we want. Sometimes He places us in situations where we feel uncomfortable so that we can learn, step by painful freeing step, to depend upon Him. So that we will experience His presence and Him speaking through us at the spur of the moment when we haven’t had time to think through what our answer is going to be.

And it’s funny, sometimes I don’t “feel” uncomfortable at all. Sometimes I can go to church or to a social gathering and be perfectly at ease. And I am like Peter walking on the waves, heading toward his Savior. But at other times, (most times) I am a blundering nervous wreck who hides behind my husband’s loquaciousness, nodding my head and smiling, trying to eat as slowly as possible so that I won’t have to rise from my squeaky folding chair and actually carry on a conversation with someone (the point of “the potluck!”) Suddenly (and usually when I am worrying about what people think or depending on myself) I begin to sink beneath the waves and cry out in desperation for Jesus to lift me up before I drown and make an absolute fool of myself.

All at the church potluck. And there are people there who are social butterflies just flitting around from person to person, saying all of the right things and giving all of the right smiles and there is never food between their teeth and they just don’t understand people like little old me who are terrified of the church potluck.

Isn’t life funny like that? And I think of the times that people stepped outside of their circle of friends and talked to me at the church potluck and I was eternally grateful, and they never realized it. I think of an associate minister’s wife at the time, who “stepped down” to spend time in conversation with me when I was in highschool and she wasn’t pushing to find out what plans I had for college or whether I had a summer job lined up or how well I did on my SAT’s. She was just living out the love of Christ toward someone who she probably realized felt awkward and uncomfortable. And there have been other people like that. People who are not concerned about whether or not they are sitting with the “right” people, the “important” people at the church potluck. People who sit with the people who they perceive to be “lowly,” and who don’t do it for the show of it, but because they genuinely have love for the brethren. People who are filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ and who don’t patronize but truly care.

We need to realize that the Lord makes people different, that He has placed them in all different circumstances in life, that they have come from all different backgrounds and most of us have hang-ups and insecurities and fears. And I am not giving anyone an “excuse” for fearful, introverted to the point of being unfriendly behavior, but I am saying that we should show mercy, not judgement and a turning up the nose and wagging the tongue towards them.

There is a great difference between someone who grew up in the church, sang in the choir, came from a Godly family and attended every church service, and someone who came from a background of abuse, beatings, soap operas, pornography, chaos, and constant sarcastic belittlement from a parent or from parents. We need to show compassion. We need to sit with people from the latter group at the church potluck who have come to Christ, who have been redeemed, but who still feel uncomfortable and who use the word “ain’t” once in a while.

And though I grew up under the influence of a godly Christian mother who protected us and brought us up in the fear of the Lord, my disposition is one of shyness. And on top of that “handicap,” many times in my own life, depending on the circumstances, I have felt extremely uncomfortable for different reasons because of the sinful behavior of my father and the effect that it had upon our family. I didn’t want to talk about it; I wanted to hide it and to protect those who I loved who were affected by it. I didn’t want to be confronted at the church potluck about “how things were going” by someone who completely didn’t understand the situation, the agony, the deep distress and the extent of emotional pain that it caused.

I understand now that there are “well-meaning” Christians who intend no harm in asking somewhat silly questions; they just don’t understand because they haven’t experienced it. But I think as believers that it is sometimes better to hold your peace and just let someone know that you are sincerely praying for them if you don’t understand. But I digress . . .

Ahh . . . the church potluck. For me, it is an opportunity to learn to rely more upon the Holy Spirit in any given situation. To stop thinking about how panic attacks run in my family and to just take a couple of strong aspirin afterwards when the inevitable headache comes.

For others, it is an opportunity to learn grace, to exhibit grace towards those who are uncomfortable. Not in a showy way that makes the “shy” ones feel like you are pitying them. The Holy Spirit will teach you how. The Holy Spirit will show you who to talk to and how it is more important to show the love of Christ in this way than to gush over the quality of the apple pie or to take the highest social place. The Lord will reward you. And He will be well-pleased in your obedience and the love that is poured out through you by His Spirit.

And isn’t that what the church potluck is all about? The love of Christ, the fellowship of the brethren, and the glory to Him alone.

Photo credit: daniel_dimarco / / CC BY-NC-ND

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