"The struggle is your worship."
I heard God speak these words to me very clearly during the forth worship service one Sunday evening. It is obvious, but we have all been wondering when "normal" worship will resume and the effects of COVID disappear. There's a weariness that many feel stuck at home, looking at a screen, or silently sitting by themself. Or maybe there's a weariness of jumping through a million ethical questions before you are able to meet with someone else in person. Or maybe for those who work for a church, there is a weariness of staring at a lifeless camera lenses and empty seats for over nine months. Or maybe your nose just hurts because you wear a mask all the time.
There is a deeper weariness though. It is a weariness that comes from one-direction digital conversations, from having to 'fill in the gaps" of changed relationships, of wondering if you've communicated successfully with someone over a text message, or from constantly evaluating your community from a distance. More than ever, it is easy to fall into judgementalism or fear of man. Without embodied communication, we are weary of maintaining connection with others, and worse, weary of maintaining a connection with God.
In a world where social media has already hyper-focused our thoughts on what others think of us, the increased distance has evolved our, my, narcissism into a pathetic state. While at one point, presenting an image online was one of a few options for maintaining relationships, now it seems for many not just an option, but a lifeline. In what can only be described as a pitiable condition, we find ourselves at home constantly staring our narcism in the face. The skeletons that could be happily overlooked in the bustle of "normal" life, are now crawling our of our closets, unmasked, and we can't run away.
I left social media in May and spent seven months without it; the longest period of time since I joined in 2005. I'm a millennial and that means I've spent almost half of my life, and all of my adult life, maintaining an online image. Over the last seven months, my narcissistic skeletons have come at me one by one, but for the first time, I actually looked at them for more than 30 seconds. I struggle to forgive, I worship my accomplishments, I avoid ugly things, I think my time is more valuable than others', and the list goes on. I certainly do not blame the internet for all of this, but I do blame myself for using social media to stuff these skeletons continually in the closet.
Maybe it is obvious, but narcissism, obsession with yourself, makes worship really hard. Our heightened reliance on media, our increased social distance, and the reduction of our individual personalities to a literal image on a computer screen all act like giant megaphones for our insecurities and obsessions.
It is easy to ask God why, if we are trying so hard, does he make it difficult to worship? We've tried to come up with creative ways to meet, attempted to replicate church online, invented new ways of feeding our spirituality... but it is still challenging. After all, does God not want to be worshiped? Does he not want our sincere emotions, our total concentration, and our gathered bodies? It was in this mindset that I was "trying really hard" to work through my own narcissism at church, so that I could "really worship".
But God spoke to me, "your struggle is your worship." It was God's reminder that we are asking the wrong questions. Obviously God wants to be worshiped, but we are not the ones who are capable of accomplishing that. It is not like God is less worshiped now that he was before. If worship was up to us, we would make a pretty mess of it, even without COVID. I was reminded in that moment that Christ is our worship. The whole reason Jesus died was because our worship is not what it should be. We need him to worship for us.
Our part in worship is not to find resolution to our problems and be released into "true" worship. Our role is to join Christ in his perfect worship (Hebrews 2, 10, 12...) and be embraced by God through him. I will never conquer my narcissistic skeletons this side of heaven, whether I am on social media or not. But I can bring them with me to God. See, in Jesus' blood, there is even room for my skeletons to come to worship. Jesus does not want my worship only when I have resolved all of my insecurities. Jesus wants me to come struggle with him.
"Being able to worship in any circumstance" has taken on a deeper meaning. It is not, "I can feel or think the right way in any circumstance". Rather, it is "Christ is still worshiping on my behalf in every season". So even when my narcissistic skeletons are standing next to me as I lead congregational singing and the camera lenses whisper quiet distain, Jesus is right there with me, worshiping, and I get to join him. This year, Christ has invited me into worship in a new way, and he is inviting you too.
More about Daniel Snoke HERE.