What would you do if, out of the blue, someone offered to clean your bathroom? A friend of ours was faced with this unusual dilemma last week.
She was outside when she noticed a large van parked across the street. She thought she recognized it as the church van from our former church. Sure enough it was, and the youth pastor popped out to say hello.
It turns out that he was driving around with a bunch of junior high kids from the youth group offering to clean people’s bathrooms. He asked our friend if she needed her bathroom cleaned. She politely declined, and the van departed.
Now, it’s great that he was trying to help people. I’m not sure if people at the church were signing up to have their bathrooms cleaned, or if all the requests were unsolicited, but in either case I can think of some problems with his plan:
- A bathroom is a very personal space. Many people (our friend included) wouldn’t feel comfortable having strangers clean it for them.
- A bathroom can contain any and all bodily fluids. For that reason it’s probably best not to have untrained junior high kids doing this sort of work.
- A bathroom can contain prescription narcotics. Kids stealing prescription narcotics is a growing problem (I’m not implying this is an issue at our former church, but surely it’s something to consider?)
- Who among us has ever thought, “I’m at the end of my rope, and my life is completely out of control. But if someone would just offer to clean my bathroom, everything would be O.K!”
Add to that the fact that this is an oddly specific request. “Hi, can we serve you in a specific narrowly defined way of our own choosing? No? O.K then, toodles.”
Now, let me be fair:
- I know for a fact that our former church (including the youth pastor) serves the community in many other, less puzzling ways.
- I’m sure the desire to do this came from a good place.
- I’m sure that no actual harm was done in offering to clean people’s bathrooms. I’m sure some people were delighted to have their bathroom cleaned.
- Maybe there’s an epidemic of dirty bathrooms in our area that I’m unaware of **
** Probably not.
I don’t know the precise thought process that went into this, but since I used to run in Evangelical circles, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say that someone was probably reading about Jesus washing the disciples feet (a very intimate, personal task) and thought, “How can we serve our community in an equivalent way?”.
Here's the thing: if you’re going to drive around to people’s houses and offer to serve them, why not say, “Hey, we’re from ---- Church, is there anyway a group of our unskilled fourteen year olds can serve you today?”
Yardwork, washing dishes, fence painting...any number of tasks come to mind.
In other news, our former church had a meeting in which the pastors apologized for the way they’ve been handling things over the past couple of years. I did not attend (the head pastor is aware of my blog, so...yeah), but I heard it went pretty well. During the meeting, the topic of the churches purchase of land for a new building came up.
At the time, the congregation had been assured that the leadership had been praying and seeking God’s will about this purchase, and that God had definitely given the green light. Then, after the purchase, we found out that we couldn’t actually build on the land.
At the meeting, the head pastor confessed that, in retrospect, he thinks they might have just been barreling ahead with the purchase rather than seeking God’s will. I say this with the utmost sincerity: I applaud him for his honesty. That was a very hard thing to admit.
I said all that to say this: there is a pervasive way of thinking in many religious circles that God is in control, and that humble meat popsicles such as ourselves don’t need to worry our pretty little heads about the details.
Of course God doesn’t talk to Christians directly. The most people will admit to is a vague warm fuzzy feeling of peace in regards to a decision that needs to be made. Or, perhaps an unexpected event will be credited to God, especially if it occurs in the form of an obstacle being removed.
In reality, how can anyone “give” a problem to God? If, while at my day job, I give a problem to my boss that’s too big for me to handle, I get verbal assurance that it will be taken care of, or am given concrete help in doing it myself. The Christian equivalent of this is praying about a problem.
But if a pastor with years of experience can pray about a land purchase (I don’t doubt they were telling the truth about the amount of prayer that went into this decision), only to find out later that they were “just barreling ahead”, what, may I ask, is the point of all this praying? If you believe that God created you, surely he gave you a meat based computer between your ears for a reason? Why not take the time spent praying and instead use it to figure out what the best way forward is? Heck, why not network a few of them together and crunch the numbers for a while?
But no no...that would be relying on our wisdom. God doesn’t help those who help themselves! Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding! The problem is that “our own understanding” is all that we have. No one can agree on what God says or what the Bible says. No matter how confident you are, you’re making it up as you go along.
If you’re just going to pray and wait for a case of the warm fuzzies, or look at each event and try to determine if it’s a sign from God, you might as well examine bird entrails. Or consult a tarot deck, read tea leaves, or flip a coin.
Some Christians go even further. Birth control? No thanks, God won’t give me more kids than I can handle. Anti-depressants? Nope, I’ll give my depression/anxiety/whatever to God. Cancer? Pray about it! Insurance? That’s gambling, friend.
Some of them will even, in the same breath, bemoan the lack of personal responsibility in our society! Or, when I tell them I don’t feel the same way about God that I used to, they will quickly point out that “Faith isn’t a feeling!” In that case, the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you think about an important life decision isn’t faith either.
They’re right, though - faith isn’t a feeling. It’s more of a thought. It can be reinforced by feelings, but faith itself is not a feeling. Specifically, it’s a belief in something that can’t be proven. A person of faith cannot prove that God is giving them the proverbial green light to go ahead with a decision.
Therefore, if someone says, “This is God’s will”, what they are actually saying is “I have faith that this is God’s will.” Which is equivalent to saying “I don’t know for sure if this is God’s will.”
Which you could have told me without praying at all.
Enough rambling - what do you think?