One of my great temptations is to compartmentalize my life — to separate the holy from the everyday. I remember doing this when I was a kid, riding the tractor around the field in the monotony of cutting grass or raking hay. I would sing songs as I went, making sure that for every secular tune I sang, I would sing a religious one. There is nothing wrong with this practice, but the problem was that I began to give God parts of my time instead of recognizing all my time came from and therefore belonged to him.

I’ve found that this tendency to compartmentalize is common to Christians; and I fear that church culture actually encourages it. People have their church clothes and their normal clothes. People have a church vocabulary and they have their common vocabulary. People have their church friends and their other friends. Separation of the secular from the sacred betrays the fact that we are reserving part of our life for ourselves. We can justify this practice by drawing comfort from the fact that at least our church life is sacred.

In his unique style, Frederick Buechner helps us see the folly in this. He writes:

A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time.

Generally speaking, Protestants have two official sacraments (the Lord’s Supper, Baptism) and Roman Catholics these two plus five others (Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ordination, and Matrimony). In other words, at such milestone moments as seeing a baby baptized or being baptized yourself, confessing your sins, getting married, dying, you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.

Needless to say, church isn’t the only place where the holy happens. Sacramental moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody. Watching something get born. Making love. A high-school graduation. Somebody coming to see you when you’re sick. A meal with people you love. Looking into a stranger’s eyes and finding out he’s not a stranger.

If we weren’t blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental. (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London: Collins, 1973, p.82-83.)

I think if we could take off the bat-eyes, and see with an eye toward eternity, we could overcome this tendency to separate our lives into Christian and secular events. Then we could really say, with Paul, For me, to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21).


1 thought on “Decompartmentalization…

  1. Precisely why I rail against “religion” and the way we “do” church, Steve. It leads to this dualistic mindset and some disillusion with Christianiity and church, amongst other negative results. Is anything really more “spiritual” than anything else? Is it less spiritual to spend time with my family than to spend all my time in church this coming easter? Is it less spiritual to work a secular job than to be in “full time ministry?” Just because it is church endorsed, does that make it better? Good post. Thanks.

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