I come from church-goers on my mother’s side. (I also come from hell-raisers and Alabama moonshiners on my father’s side, but that’s a different devotional.) For years my great grandmother, Lucy Modenia Spanagel, was a pillar of the Mt. Vernon Methodist Church in Birmingham. In most of the old photos of Grandma Lucy, she’s wearing a simple housedress and apron—her “everyday” clothes. But a few pictures show her dressed to the nines with white cotton gloves and a fancy hat—her “church” clothes. For Grandma Lucy, as for many from her generation, the practice of wearing Sunday Best to worship arose from a genuine desire to honor the Lord.
I have a young friend whose faith inspires me and who, like a growing number of worshipers, is decidedly more casual in his attire. Once, when an older man in the congregation chided him for “disrespecting God,” I overheard my friend’s gentle response: “I’m trying to honor God by offering my real self,” he said. “Not just my Sunday self.”
I wondered later if my young friend had been reading Psalm 103: “Let my whole being bless the Lord. Let everything inside me bless his holy name.”
Everything inside me? Seriously, everything?
This flies in the face of the sacred Southern aphorism: “We may think it, but we do not speak it!” But what if “speaking it” is the very thing God desires most from us? Not the endless (and futile) polishing up of our shiny selves, but the offering up of our whole selves.
Let everything inside me bless God’s holy name. Sure, the happy, thankful parts of me are going to find it easy enough to sing. But what about the other parts—can they also bless the Lord? According to Psalm 103, you bet they can:
~ The exhausted part of us can sing praise to the One who “renews our youth like the eagle’s.”
~ The part that’s angry at injustice can bless the God who “works righteousness and does justice for all who are oppressed.”
~ The part that’s suffering can sing to the God who “heals our sickness.”
~ The part that’s guilty can sing to the God who “forgives…and removes our sin as far as the east is from the west.”
~ The part of us that’s weak can bless the One who “knows our frame and remembers we are dust.”
As Henri Nouwen puts it:
The discipline of the heart makes us stand in the presence of God with all we have and are: our fears and anxieties, our guilt and shame, our sexual fantasies, our greed and anger, our joys, successes, aspirations and hopes, our reflections, dreams and mental wandering, and most of all our people, family, friends and enemies, in short all that makes us who we are….
We tend to present to God only those parts of ourselves with which we feel relatively comfortable and which we think will evoke a positive response. Thus our prayer becomes very selective and narrow. And not just our prayer but also our self-knowledge because by behaving as strangers before God we become strangers to ourselves.
Who can say where God lands in the “white gloves vs. flip-flops” debate in worship? As with most things that really matter to God, I imagine it comes down to the heart—and not just our Sunday heart. Our whole, real, raw, angry, anxious, unpolished heart. This is the best offering of all.
This piece appeared first in a shorter version on September 14, 2015, as a devotional for Baptist Women in Ministry. http://bwim.info