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Inward, Not Outward
by Mary Elder-Criss
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Inward, Not Outward
© Mary Elder-Criss
July 2003

I hung my head in shame, as my son shuffled in the sanctuary , late as usual, and his clothes!! Baggy shorts with a hole ripped in the back pocket where he had caught it on the car door, an equally holy shirt, turned inside out, rationalized by his way of thinking, in order to hide stains on the front. Sandals that had definitely seen better days. And this was Sunday morning wear.

As he slid into our row of seats during the opening song for worship, I suddenly had the urge to strangle him. Separated by my husband and one of my daughters, I waited until the song was over, when our pastor encouraged us to move about the sanctuary and greet each other, to approach him and comment on his choice of “Sunday best.”

“What is wrong with you, Jonathan?” I whispered furiously in his ear, while plastering a smile on my face, for appearances sake. I was greeted with a blank stare, and a “Huh?” in response. “Your clothes, for crying out loud!!” I hissed back. “Nice to see you too, Sharon” I replied with a charming smile, as a member inserted themselves temporarily for a handshake. Turning back to my son, and the debasing at hand, I heard him respond, “What about em?” as if he was standing before me in a suit and tie. “You look like a bum!!” I retorted, still trying to keep my whispered shout to a minimum. “Surely you could have found something better than that to wear, for Heaven’s sake.” His nonchalant shrug angered me further, as well as his explanation. “I was running late.”

As if running late gives one the excuse to look as if they had just crawled out of a homeless shelter somewhere. “You are an embarrassment to me, coming in here dressed that way,” I shot back venomously, just as the pastor asked us all to regain our seats.

I sat back down in my seat, but not before I captured the look of hurt on my son’s face. Feeling slightly uneasy, I glanced at him again out of the corner of my eye, just in time to see a shuttered look slide down over his eyes.

Battling feelings of guilt for snapping at him that way, and feelings of righteous anger for him appearing in church dressed that way to begin with, I bowed my head for the opening prayer. Sorting things out in my mind, I only half listened as Pastor began to pray for the Holy Spirit to move in this place. Things had been a little difficult with my 19 year old son lately, and I was not really happy about what I perceived to be his less than enthusiastic desire to be in church recently.

Formerly a bass guitarist for our Praise and Worship group, Jon had decided to quit the band, after his friend, the drummer, left to attend another church. Beforehand, Jon had always presented a well turned appearance, while playing, as all male members were required to meet a certain dress code. Since stepping down, Jon’s selection of apparel seemed to worsen a bit each time he appeared.

A new youth pastor had been hired at our church, and although my son seemed to like him, he wasn’t really interested in joining the youth activities anymore. He seemed to be distancing himself from most of the other young people, and it was a battle to even get him up in time to attend Morning Worship, no more Sunday School.

Perhaps some of it was my fault as well, since my son worked at a pizza joint that kept late hours on Saturday nights. Usually Jon didn’t stagger in from work until around 3 a.m., when he closed on Saturday, and so I didn’t push him a lot to get out of bed in time to make it for the 9:30 a.m. Sunday school class. I usually just gave up after one or two attempts and woke him on our way out, to request that he make it for Worship service at 10:30.

Well, he had made it today, alright, but good heavens, would it have hurt him to actually try to present a decent appearance?

And then suddenly, it hit me. My worry over my son’s desire to attend church, and to move back into a closer walk with the Lord, had suddenly turned into a “Me” thing. I was more concerned over how others would view his physical appearance, and how it reflected back on me as his mother, than his spiritual state. He had made an effort to get to church, and to hear God’s Word being preached, something I had been praying for, and yet here I was, harassing him over his choice of clothing.

Reflecting further, I began to consider how I would react if a stranger had appeared in our church, dressed as my son. Would I approach them in disgust, focusing on their outward appearance, and ask them what in the world they thought they were doing coming to church dressed that way? No, if it was a visitor, I would think nothing of their clothing, but would instead welcome them with open arms, and a genuine smile, and tell them how happy I was that they had decided to visit.

Too many times, people hold the belief that they must first clean themselves up in order to present an appearance worthy of being accepted by Christ. This is an impossibility, as the only thing that can clean us from our sinful state is Christ's shed blood. He didn't look at me as I am now, nicely dressed, and presenting a clean outward appearance, composed and serene, and say "O.k., she appears acceptable, I'll die for her." Instead, he looked at me when I was mired in sin, and completely encased in the filth of the world, and made the decision to die for me. Clothed in muck, and disgrace, He loved me enough in that state, to shed His blood.

Feeling my cheeks burn in shame, and remembering the shuttered look that had appeared over my son’s eyes, I realized I had some apologizing to do. I owed my son an apology, yes, most definitely, but Christ needed to hear a prayer of apology and repentance as well. I had reflected upon outward appearances, and forgotten to focus on the heart.

Lord, forgive me when my focus is in the wrong area. Forgive me for failing my son, Lord, when He needs to see me as a strong Christian, and a role model, and instead is presented with a hypocritical woman who is only focused on the outside. Lord, today, I ask that you would burn away that dross in my life, Lord, and help me to be an accurate reflection of You. Trim away those parts of me that do not bring You glory, Lord, but pain. Help me to be a supportive, Godly mother, and a Servant worthy of bearing the title of “Christian.” Help me to remember that it is not the outside that you focus on, but the heart, instead, and guide my son back to Your presence. Help me to be a mother that is thankful for my son’s good points, and bridle my tongue when I am tempted to point out his bad ones. Today Lord, I ask that Your Holy Spirit would dwell within me, and help me to be more of You, less of Me. In Your Sweet and Holy Name I pray. Amen.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Debra L. McKeen Sparks 28 Jul 2003
This is so totally true. Having come to the Lord during the huge sweep of "Jesus People" in the early 1970's I saw so many fall by the wayside because of "Christian" judgementalism and censor -- they had come in joy to praise the lord, their hair flying, their clothing whatever they were and many of them in barefeet - they came not to sit in the back but to sit crosslegged in front of the pulpit itself and unfortunately, many were judged and many, many fell victim to that judgement by those who were suppose to love the Lord and each other. This is a great article - thanks for the reminder! Debbie
Deborah Porter  28 Jul 2003
Excellent Mary! Your honesty in this is appreciated enormously and I hope that it will cause some to stop and think about some of their reactions. With love, Deb


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