Do you remember the T.V. show, Candid Camera? It was so popular that it ran for fifty years. It was based on trickery. After someone had been duped, conned or stunted, a hidden camera would be revealed and the host, Allen Font, would utter the famous bi-line. “Smile, You’re on Candid Camera.
And for the most part people did smile, not necessarily because they wanted to, but because tens-of-thousands were watching their reactions.
Sometimes (only sometimes) I smile when I don’t want to. I smile because I have been led to believe it’s only acceptable reaction for me as a Christian. Regardless of my circumstances, or inner turmoil, I should give others the impression of happiness. Is that not what God expects? We, as leaders feel that pressure even more than others. So, we bottle up the hurt, cover up the pain, live a lie and force a smile through gritted teeth. Then, we feel guilty because we know it is an act.
I think it’s true of many in the church. We smile because Christians are supposed to smile. We have been pushed and prodded, counselled and scolded into a perpetual smile. We do it even when everything in life mitigates against it. But it’s only for appearance, only skin deep. The real ‘us’ is navigating some brutal rapids. We call it an expression of faith. More authentic people call it ‘denial’.
In the COVID/post-COVID-19 church of 2020 some things will have to change. The “how are you?” - “I am fine” superficial dialogue must go. It must be replaced with the starkness of the Psalms. Yes, the Psalms! Have another look at them. Over half the words written in the Psalms are words of lament and consternation (no smile included). Oh, they usually end up with some type of faith statement and a positive epilogue, but not before the issue is thoroughly and honestly aired for God to hear and all to read. If David could be authentic about his struggles and still be called a ‘person after God’s own heart,’ can’t we?
For many people there is not a lot to smile about at-the-moment. And that’s okay. The whole orchard is producing lemons right now. People need a safe place to grieve and mourn. The Church should be that place. And leaders should lead the charge towards authenticity.
The real church is a safe harbour where people can weep, lament, express their doubts, frustrations, fears, hurts and still be embraced by believing friends.
Tell me! Is my smile real or contrived? You will never know unless you are willing to venture a little deeper into my life and hear what I am dealing with. I am pretty sure that’s what family is expected to do. I don’t need counsel in my distress as much as companionship.
And, if your smile is forced because you think it’s expected of you, I hereby give you permission not to be okay when you’re with me. Maybe then we can help one another.
Until the church becomes a place of authenticity, it will offer little to attract broken people.
I was glad when they said to me - let us go to the House of the Lord. I want to be there, not necessarily because it’s a always a happy place, but because it’s always a helpful place.