“This is a place that you never have to say ‘I’m sorry.’ I have been to a lot of different places, and I’ve caught myself saying ‘sorry,’ many many times.”
These two sentences struck me. As a pastor, my first thought was “I wish this woman was talking about a church. I place where you never have to apologize? Sign me up.” My second thought was, “Maybe she is talking about churches? She claims to have been places where she feels the need to apologize all the time.” Oh the pendulum swinging that goes on in my mind.
This woman is not speaking of churches. Elizabeth Sykes is talking about a place where her four-year-old Down Syndrome child can play. The sentences are in an article is about a mom who was tired of having to apologize for her special needs child being special needs. It’s about a mom who was exhausted from having to drive over 45 minutes to a place where both her children can play freely. She is speaking of a place where those with special needs and those without can play and no one has to apologize for being who they are. Elizabeth Sykes launched a gym called “We Rock the Spectrum” in Memphis, Tennessee so she never has to apologize to others for her child’s actions or behavior. The gym is equipped in order to deal with children on any spectrum. Sykes says, “It is a sensory gym, and it caters to all children. It does have 12 pieces of different equipment in here that helps physical motor and helps your fine motor skills.” According to the article, “This inclusive gym also seeks to be a judgment free-zone, where you won’t have to apologize for an outburst.” Apparently this is a “feeling Sykes knows all too well.”
Elizabeth Sykes wanted her children to have a place to play where they could just be who they are. Where they were recognized as being different and special in their unique ways and were allowed the grace to be. A place to be free and safe. A place where children and parents could confidently participate and be without fear of being criticized or given the judgmental eye rolls.
In other words, Elizabeth Sykes wants for her children what all of us, deep down, ultimately desire for ourselves: a place where we are known and loved and allowed to be who we are without fear of condemnation or embarrassment. A place where we don’t have to apologize for being who we are. A place where we believe the surroundings were made for our uniqueness and we were already loved and accepted before we walked into the door.
Perhaps this is a longing that will only be fully realized in the age to come. It’s true. Now we only see through a dim and dark glass. We will, one day, see face to face. But I cannot help but wonder: can a local church culture be like this, now? If a fed up mom can provide an environment for her kids that is a “judgment-free zone,” can’t we do it for one another? If a sensory equipped gym can be constructed that recognizes uniqueness in children, can’t we – as God’s people – have a posture that recognizes and allows for one another’s uniqueness? I wonder what it will take for the church to be a place where we can be confident and safe and secure and free to “play” and let all our unhidden selves be accepted? I am not speaking of a place (people) where we never apologize for sin or wrongdoing. We can and must do that. What I long for is a place where we don’t have to apologize for or hide who we are. Where we are confident that when our brokenness is revealed, we will be truthfully loved in it and through it. Where light lovingly shines in the dark places. A place where the design is set-up to where it comes equipped to deal with our insufficiencies. A place with a cross, bread, a cup, a baptistry, and other sinners saved by grace.
Maybe it’s happening and I just don’t have eyes to see. Maybe I can see it, but I am not looking for it. Maybe the task of testifying to the Gospel of God’s grace has been drowned out by other messages. Maybe Brad East is correct in that the church has focused on finding “superstar” Christians (there is no such thing by the way) over and above the “unsatisfactory” Christians. Or maybe if we consumed ourselves with the reality that God – in His grace – has secured for us a welcome and safe audience with Himself and He has already prepared a perfect place for us to be and play and run and yell and laugh – we would stop with the eyerolls and gladly give each other a turn on the jungle-gym?
Elizabeth Sykes – I don’t know who you are. But thank you. Thank you for loving your children and other families so well. And thank you for giving me yet another glimpse of what I long and hope for in the local church.