When I was in college, I had a group of friends nickname me “Hope” behind my back. It was sort of a slap (and a fair one) because at the time I saw the world through rose colored glasses and thought everything could be fixed up pretty if we all just tried hard enough. I was unrealistically hopeful, which is irresponsible once you get to a certain age or level of awareness.
One day I turned 28 and understood that the world wasn’t all pretty, and wasn’t going to be all pretty. In a moment of alcoholism that I couldn’t break free from, I realized that I wasn’t all pretty either…because the skeletons in my closet had begun rattling their chains again.
For the last twenty years I’ve been leading worship professionally. “Professionally” is an odd word to sidle up next to “worship.” If you were a part of the local church I work at, you would often hear me singing and saying things like, “We love you, Lord!” and “Thank you for your grace, oh God!”
If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I wonder what I’m doing up there. Have I just learned how to do this? Am I simply doing what I’ve seen done? The honest answer is yes. I have learned many of these leadership tactics from worship videos, former worship leaders, and current worship leaders I admire. But do I actually mean these things when I say them? And the big fat answer to this question is…
…I hope to.
I remember a guy once telling me, “I’ve always thought you were a fraud up there.” He said this in front of a large group of people who gasped when he said it. But I appreciated his honesty. I knew exactly what he meant. Because worship leading sometimes feels like cheerleading. And I think that is what he was really getting at – that it doesn’t always feel sincere.
But since we’re being honest, can I just say…sometimes the whole Christian faith feels like cheerleading.
If someone is down, we either think they shouldn’t be or do our best to help them see the silver lining that may or may not surround their personal storm cloud. If someone experiences tragedy, our goal for them is some type of recovery that will transform them into a survivor as soon as possible. If a question arises that we don’t have the answer to, we think it’s our job (or our pastor’s job) to find that answer and cling on to it for dear life.
At times I feel I’ve gotten in a little over my head with this whole Christian thing. I’ll be honest in saying, initially I wanted a piece of it because my life was out of control and I needed something to hold me together. But often I find myself in a quandary. Because I’ve let people tell me what faith in God is – not just what they think it is…but what it IS, period. And I’ve kept my mouth shut and let them believe that the solutions and mood elevators they rely on as the core of their faith in God, are reality, when I know they aren’t.
Like Brennan Manning, I believe we are a ragtag group of people…not just Christians, but all of mankind. We’ve tried to piece things back together in this world. A lot of Christians believe the world is getting worse, while I see it advancing in a much more beautiful way. (Call me hopeful.)
I do not have the answers anymore than you do, but I think I’m getting better at knowing how NOT to spin my wheels in this life. I really do believe that if I’m a “better person” all around, that God will be more beautifully on display in this world than if I’m stuck in the mire of personal complacency or live my life with the blinders I often use to protect me from seeing or experiencing the pain of this world.
Better does not mean perfect. Better does not mean pretending to be something I’m not. It simply means better…healthier, increasing in sanity, more love for others, more tolerance…more grace for myself, which will always translate into more grace for you, from me.
So pardon me if you hear me say, “I love you, Lord” or “thank you for your grace, oh God!” out of a ritual that is connected to the hope I carry within me. No, it doesn’t always come from the most honest place…but it honestly wants to. And as I give my life up for something greater than myself, it’s that want…that desire within me to mean it when I say something good or do something virtuous for someone else – THAT passionate place of “want to” is hope. And hope is going to help me get there one day – to the person I long to be.
Ragtag beautiful. I’m all about it.
Yes, they called me “Hope.” And while I’m more honestly hopeful than I was back in college, I’m certain I haven’t fully grown into the nickname my friends gave me so many years ago. But one day…
…I hope to.