Real Sunshine & The Chick-Fil-A Drive-Through

{This is an essay from my new book, Love Rules. To spread love this Valentines Day, I’m giving away gift-wrapped copies to anyone who leaves a reivew at Amazon, cph.org, or goodreads. Click HERE for more information. Thank you! }

For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. —Paul in Ephesians 5: 8–10

DAYS I’M FEELING TIRED AND OVERWHELMED are not great days to visit the Chick-fil-A drive-through. I know this, but the cold, sweet cookies-and-cream milkshake calls to me. The sugar rush seems like the perfect pick-me-up on days when life has taken off a layer of my skin. Also, the kids love their nuggets, so I can grab dinner at the same time.

The problem is that everyone seems to feel this way about Chick-fil-A. The drive-through line is always crowded with other people who are trying to heal their grouchiness with milkshakes and nuggets. Everyone is revving their engines to get their fried chicken and ice cream and get out of there.

Last week, on an afternoon just like this, I mindlessly inched in front of another car. The other driver rolled down her window and started yelling at me about cutting her off. “Look, %$&*!” she called. “You are not #$@# ing next!”

I stared at her. And then I started crying. Because, of course, I was already in the yucky mind-set of thinking an ice cream shake would cheer me up. Clearly I couldn’t handle yelling and cussing.

She shook her head and vroomed in front of me. There was a Christian fish on the back of her Suburban. Also, as she drove past, I saw through her window that the rhinestones on her black T-shirt spelled out “Blessed.”
The kids were fascinated; I was angry. After dinner, I told Mike what bugged me the most. Wasn’t it crazy that this woman, who was so hateful and mean, was advertising herself as a Christian? “Maybe she’s just an angry person,” he said. “Or maybe she was having a bad day. Or maybe she’s just disappointed.”

“Disappointed in what?”

“I don’t know. Disappointed in life. Maybe she feels like we all feel sometimes, like she’s kind of failing at everything important.”

Okay, probably so. After all, that’s the way I was feeling, and the reason I was at Chick-fil-A in the first place. My day had been full of broken promises, broken dishes, and a deep brokenness inside me. Maybe hers had been too. Maybe the crowded Chick-fil-A line was it for her.

We both needed more love, more peace, more grace. Maybe that explained her Christian fish and “Blessed” shirt. She was searching for some healing.

Actually, aren’t we all looking for this kind of healing? We know we’re jaundiced, and we set out looking for medicinal vitamin D. This leads us to Christian culture. The Christian culture’s ideas about Christ seem to be exactly what we need. Wear a cross necklace, join church groups, advertise that you belong to Jesus, and call yourself blessed. Done. Totally fulfilled.

Except not really.

What I’m starting to learn is that Christian culture is just the tanning bed. Under this artificial, human-created light, we can still act however we want. Anyone can be Christian if we’re the ones setting the rules. Turn down the heat when it gets too hot, and pull out any body parts you don’t want in the light.

For real encounters with God, He invites us into His bright, brilliant sunshine. This can be so hard. Sitting in that white-hot moment of confession is so, so awful. Finally admitting “I keep getting this wrong, God. And I need Your help” is incredibly painful in the moment.

But God always gives us what we need next. He gives us real forgiveness, love, and grace. Suddenly the sunshine isn’t burning-hot uncomfortable. It’s warm. Medicinal. Comforting.
When we cling only to the idea of Christ, we are sick people offering a sick culture a Jesus we have re-created to be something He’s not. We’ve taken His potent, powerful work on the cross and watered it down to an impotent symbol.

More and more I realize it’s not the Christian tanning-bed life I want. I don’t need fake faith, where everything is designed to make me look good. This kind of vain Christianity offers no real healing.

What would the world look like if all of us who claimed to follow Jesus, who attached His name to our lives, tried to live like He tells us to? What if we believed calling ourselves Christian meant sacrifice and repentance? What if we showed the world that calling ourselves Christian meant allowing our hearts to be changed? What if we had such awe for His name, for crosses and symbols of Him, that we didn’t claim them so lightly?

Could we listen more to the voice of the Holy Spirit? Could we input more of God’s Word in our lives and output less about what good Christians we are?

You and I are ready for this up-close life with Christ. God tells us we are ready to stop merely calling ourselves Christians. We are ready for true healing through Christ and His Word and Sacraments. We are ready for the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to God’s bright and brilliant love.

–Excerpted from pp. 33-34, Love Rules by Christina Hergenrader, Concordia Publishing House, 2015

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