I’ve been playing around with this idea… what if our worst days – the ones we would cancel if we had the power or ability to – were, in fact, the most important days?
There’s a growing trend with churches in our area to cancel services on the Sunday following Christmas. One leading church has been doing this for years – they now call it “Volunteer Appreciation Sunday.” I think what they’re saying is: thank you for volunteering all year – our gift to you is a Sunday off.
I’ll be honest. I’m skeptical.
I think the real reason for cancelling services isn’t gratitude. I think it’s avoidance. That Sunday – the one right after Christmas – is probably the hardest one of the year… to get volunteers, to be fully-staffed, to have a decent number of people actually show up for church. It’s painful really. So, why not just cancel it?
In a recent service planning and review meeting with staff members, we had the task of reviewing some recent church services at NWLife. We’d just had a record-breaking Sunday with attendance off-the-charts and gave 500 toys to children. I don’t know for sure, but it might have been our best day of the year. Then, a few days later, we had our Christmas Eve Candlelight services. They were great: the music, the feel, the team serving, the adding-of-chairs because more people showed up than we expected. Another high point for sure.
So we reviewed the Christmas Eve services. The conversation was happy. Praise all around.
But when it was time to talk about December 27th – the dreaded Sunday right after Christmas – the mood shifted in the room. There was frustration, dejection, embarrassment. If something could have gone wrong, it did. We had half the staff, were scrambling to get ushers and greeters, the band was bare bones… and technical difficulties, of course we had some of those.
It was a Sunday we wish we could forget. Is there any way to erase it from the books?
At least for the team sitting in my office, it was the worst Sunday of the year. A real low point. The kind of day you hope to avoid in the future. Like, maybe next year we should just cancel.
As the conversation continued, a few positive things were said about the day… people raised their hands during the closing prayer to “come home to relationship with God.” And there were new guests – people who had never been to our church before. We seemed to be acknowledging an important fact: it’s good that we had church services on December 27th. They were difficult, but we’re glad we did it.
Maybe it’s one of those “faithful with little…” moments.
The extreme swing of BEST DAY OF THE YEAR right into THE WORST DAY reminded me of my 2015. My year felt like an erratic back-and-forth from mountain top to valley of the shadow of death. Not the kind of thing I like… I’m more of a slow-and-steady kind of guy. I prefer boring to this level of “excitement.”
In January last year, my friends threw me a book release party. My first book – a dream some 10+ years in the making – was completed and in print. The party was a celebration of this achievement. They invited my mom to come – and during the party, they asked her to come up to the stage and read a chapter from my book. It was a sweet moment, one I will always cherish. My mom had been battling blood cancer for 5 years… I was so thankful she could be there and celebrate with me. She was very proud of what I had done (I know this because she bought more books than anyone else – sending them off to all her friends and acquaintances).
Needless to say, this was a high point for me – a real mountain top experience. A dream realized. Fulfilling and rewarding. The best of days.
Then in August, when my little family had just returned from a beautiful vacation, I received an early morning phone call. It was my dad. Through tears, he said the paramedics had taken my mom to the hospital. She wasn’t responding.
I told him I would be there in 30 minutes. Before I got out the door there was another call. This one was from a doctor in the emergency room. My mom didn’t make it.
I rushed out the door and drove to the hospital. Once directed to the right place, I hugged my dad and we cried (more) and sat there, in the room with my mom’s body for as long as it took. Eventually my wife and daughter showed up. My dad’s pastor came and prayed with us. And arrangements had to be made with the hospital.
It felt like the longest day of my life. And the worst.
I wish I could have avoided it. I wish it hadn’t happened. Is there any way to erase this day from the books?
If it were up to me, I’d be tempted to cancel the day of my mom’s death. This first Thanksgiving since her death… I felt like cancelling. And Christmas too. But I showed up (really, I didn’t have a choice). These days have been low, difficult, and yet, I’m thinking they might be some of the most important ones.
All I know is this: God is with me on the mountain top and he is with me in the valley of the shadow of death. He’s present in the best of days and he is there on the worst days too.
And maybe, just maybe He is forming me and bringing about something good – especially on the worst days.
I share Joseph’s theology when it comes to God and my pain and suffering. I don’t believe God is causing it, inflicting harm, or bringing me down. But I do believe God takes what was intended for harm, and uses it for good.
“As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil.” —Genesis 50.20
Maybe Joseph’s worst day was his most important one. Maybe my worst days are the most important ones. And maybe your worst days are the most important ones too.
The impulse to cancel is strong. Avoidance feels like a better option. There are many uncertain and unknown things in life, but somethings are known and, in fact, are guaranteed:
We will experience loss, pain, suffering, failure, betrayal… we will experience the worst days.
We crave mountaintop moments. And they will come.
But often, if not always, the mountaintop moments will come out of the valleys, out of our lows. You see, there is no resurrection without death. There is no rise without descent.
We all love the picture in the 23rd Psalm: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I mean, what a picture of success! Talk about upward mobility. The abundant life. Mountaintop moment for the win.
The only problem is, the rise comes after the descent. This part of the 23rd Psalm follows these famous lines: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
I’m beginning to believe that the worst days are the most important ones. And I’m learning that I should not try to cancel my days in the dark.
We can never be lilies in the garden unless we have spent time as bulbs in the dark. —Oswald Chambers