Imagine three priests in a bar. No, this isn’t some sort of bad joke but an actual experience I had a couple of years ago with two priest friends of mine. We had all just finished attending the annual gathering of our religious community, and most of the other priests and lay brothers had already left to catch their flights to their homes across the country. Each of us wasn’t due to leave till the next morning so we decided to get together for dinner. We spent several hours late into the evening sharing stories, laughing, and encouraging one other. My two friends each had a couple drinks and a cigar! It was a great time and we had a lot of fun.
Fun isn’t something most people associate with Christianity or spirituality in general. I often joke that people think,” if it’s a miserable experience, it must be a Christian one.” Sadly, that is the perspective many people have of the Christian faith. For some of you the idea of fun and God going together is so contrary in your mind that you will struggle with the ideas presented in this article more than you would regarding some hot topics in Christian theology.
I served for a time as a chaplain at a Christian camp and conference center. During the intensive months of summer with hundreds of campers and dozens of residential staff, fun was always a part of what we did. I would organize ice cream parties and movie nights, and built a reputation for hiding rubber chickens in the most unusual of locations to give people a good shock. Healthy spirituality is not always about somber faces and serious conversations, it is also characterized by a playfulness that comes from worshipping the God of Joy. The divine perspective encompasses life and death issues, but it also encompasses the idea of enjoying the life God has given us. At a parish I once served, there is a little phrase painted on the door that leads into the youth room: “God’s Will Be Fun.” That is an accurate theological statement. If you’re still wondering whether enjoying life is legal for the Christian, let’s consider the source of the Christian faith Himself, Jesus.
Jesus was a bar hopper. Not in the sense that you and I sometimes think of barhopping because Jesus wasn’t looking for a romantic partner, to get drunk, or anything along those lines. He was looking to be around people, regular people, like you and me. As a traveling teacher with a growing following, Jesus easily could have decided to teach and heal only in religious settings. Yet, during His earthly life Jesus almost always preferred to teach in everyday places as opposed to “churchy” places. He would meet with people at parties in their homes, in what we might call shopping plazas or malls today, and on the street corner. He met people where they worked, where they cried, and where they played. The first recorded miracle that Jesus performed was not at church but at a wedding party. That says something about Christian faith and Christian living. It’s not all about misery, it can and should be about celebration.
Jesus and His disciples would labor for hours or even days teaching, healing, and listening to people’s problems, but then they would go off by themselves for quiet prayer and rest. Christian living has often been described using the metaphor of a life long race that leads to being with God in heaven. The Christian life is a pilgrimage with Christ toward Christ. This world is not our ultimate home. Nevertheless, our goal shouldn’t be to run straight through it without stopping. God is in complete favor of you and me taking pit stops to re-charge our spiritual cell phones and reflect upon our experiences. In fact, as I often remind people, especially church leaders and mothers, “Getting rest is a commandment!” In the biblical book of Genesis God creates the earth in six days and then rests on the seventh.
If the God of the universe took a rest on the seventh day and has commanded that you and I are to take a rest, who are we to think we know better? All work and no play makes for an unhealthy spirituality which if left unchecked can grow toxic. Our souls are like the rich soil of a farmer’s field. If you continue to work the soil season after season with no rest, the soil will eventually loose its vitality and bear little in the way of crops. Like the field, our souls need to be tended, tilled, and at times left fallow so that they can rest and be restored by God’s healing rain.