This week has been a hard week of watching one unkind thing after another, mostly on Facebook or the news. I would love to say that I can rise above it all but I can’t simply because of one thing: the dang Christians.
I have been a Christian my whole life and I know, and have experienced, Christians making terrible mistakes and doing incredibly stupid things. I have been blessed not to have been deeply damaged by those ‘stupid things’ but that’s mostly because I had very loving and kind parents who provided me with plenty of love-based Christian teachings that countered all the judgmental, ‘holier-than-thou’ crap that I experienced at the hands of others.
Nothing beats good parenting when it comes to overcoming the slings and arrows of growing up in the Church.
And then…I became a pastor.
After I began doing ministry, I began to understand at a much deeper level the immense damage that Christian leaders can do to the community with judgmental words, with words of condemnation, and with the way that they dismiss the experiences of others they deem ‘not Christian’ or ‘not truly Christian’, thus rendering those realities and the people that experienced them insignificant.
What in God’s name are we doing?
Over and over again I am confronted with horrible words posted on Facebook by church leaders and pastors who supposedly preach the love of Christ while condemning anyone who doesn’t believe and behave like they do. Some of them even condone violence!
Over and over again I am assaulted by news reports of another church leader or pastor arrested for horrifying crimes…some financial, some sexual, some for crimes against children. I could swear that I remember Jesus saying that it would be better to tie a millstone around your neck and drown yourself in the sea than to lead a little one astray.
I’m getting the feeling that we’ll be able to build a pier with all the Christians tied to millstones that we’re going to find, if you know what I mean!
One of my clients brought up another incident in session the other day, and I guess the look on my face shocked her. She said that I looked like I was going to cry…and she wasn’t far from the truth. I have come to the point where my heart actually aches and cries out to God when I hear reports of cruel and unloving Christian behavior, especially when that behavior comes from a pastor—the very people that God called to lead His children, to guide them in the way that leads to peace. How can we tear apart the very people we were called to shepherd? How can we not see the carnage we leave behind and the people we destroy?
My reaction shocked my client. I guess she didn’t realize just how deeply her words would affect me. She started to apologize for upsetting me and I told her that she had done nothing wrong. I had simply come in contact with another example of what is wrong with the Church.
You see, we are all broken people. We come into the world whole, but then circumstance and losses and the failures of the people who are supposed to love us start the cracks forming…little cracks that over time can develop into huge broken areas in our souls. And as life goes on, losses become tragedies that define our lives, events we can neither escape nor undo, and our own choices add to the sorrows that break us. Sometimes our choices become the tragedies that we cannot escape and we become our own worst enemies.
At some point in our journey in this life, the world itself starts to tear us apart one chunk at a time, labeling us ‘Not Good Enough’ or ‘Worthless’ or ‘Ugly’ or ‘Stupid’ or (insert racial epithet here) or (insert gender based insult here) or (insert sexual orientation based insult here)… It goes on and on, and each negative label tears us apart a little more.
In the end, we end up broken and torn, un-whole and aching, wondering what we did to deserve what life has dealt us.
The funny thing is that our lack of wholeness isn’t really that problematic if we will simply own our broken and torn places and then seek out the healing places.
I’ll try to explain what I mean, but I need you to be patient for a moment.
Most of us are aware that Alcoholics Anonymous groups use the 12 Steps to guide recovery from addiction. What you may not know is that there are also 12 Promises that they count on as they recover, and I have found one of those promises to be crucial to my own sense of wellbeing.
“#10 Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.”
At first you may think “What does that have to do with this post?” More importantly, what does this have to do with our broken and torn souls?
Well, when you read the fuller text of the 12 Promises, it tells you that you no longer have to fear people and economic security because really, what you are fearing is not having enough…not enough friends, not enough money, not enough acceptance, not enough stuff, not enough wisdom, not enough information. Promise #10 is that we will no longer have to fear all the things that people and money can bring or deny us. WHY? Because…within the group (in the case of the 10th Promise, they are referring to the 12 Step group) we will find everything we need. Essentially, the promise is that within the group, we have everything we need. Do you need a truck so that you can move? Ask the people in your group. Do you need someone to help you sort through some feelings? Ask the people in your group. Do you need to borrow a mixer so that you can bake your child a homemade birthday cake? Ask the people in your group. Do you need comfort because you’ve realized the magnitude of your brokenness? Reach out to the people in your group.
Within the group, we have everything we need.
In our lives, we group together with friends, family, Church members, coworkers, colleagues, neighbors, even with something as simple as the folks in our yoga class. We have tons of groups we participate in. And each member of every group is broken and torn. Some are broken and torn in the same way that we are, and some are broken and torn in different ways. The people that are broken and torn in the same way truly understand how we feel, and the people who are broken and torn in different ways are often strong exactly where we are weak and they can offer us someone to lean on. Do you see? Within the group, we have everything we need!
I think that this is why Christ founded the Church.
The Church is supposed to be a place where you take your wounded, broken soul and find peace, healing, and love. You are supposed to find unconditional acceptance inside the Church and people who will walk with you along the path to finding a relationship with God and a deeper love for yourself; one that reflects the abundant love that God has for you. When you love yourself in the right ways it’s so much easier to love everyone else in the right ways. Christ wanted us to be able to turn to the Church to find our group…the people who understand us perfectly because they are familiar with our particular brokenness, and the people who can help us understand what things might look like if we weren’t broken or torn in that specific place—people who can be strong while we wait on our healing, while we discover what love can do.
This is why it breaks my heart and hurts so much when pastors use their position and power to judge, to condemn, to be the force in the world that breaks and tears and stomps and does damage. We have enough sickness in the world to do that already and we don’t need the people of God to help the sickness and hatefulness along, you know?
If you are one of the people who has been broken and torn by the very people who were supposed to love and nurture you, by the Christians who were supposed to help you find your path to God, please accept my heartfelt apology. It was never supposed to be this way, and you have no idea how much it hurts me to know that the Church failed you. Let me encourage you, however, not to give up…because God has way more up His sleeve than you can imagine and there are many wonderful people in the world, both inside and outside the doors of the Church. Look for your group—the one that will love you for the broken, torn, beautiful creation of God that you are—and then set about becoming part of what makes it possible for the group to have everything you (and the rest of the group) needs. Don’t just take, because no matter how broken you are, God has not failed to fill you with good things that have been kept hidden just for a moment like this. The fantastic stuff that is you cannot be destroyed by the world. It can be broken, and it can be torn, but it cannot be destroyed and God delights in making treasures out of the brokenness that we bring Him…and it works best when we do that with a group of people who are willing to be a living expression of God’s love to us while we wait on our healing. This applies as much to pastors as it does to everyone else: find your group and let yourself be healed in the most wonderful ways. And don’t be surprised if the group you find is inside the Church, because there are just as many wonderful people in the Church as there are holy terrors.
If you are one of the pastors who is doing the breaking and tearing, know that I cry for all you were called to be and have abandoned. You have bought into the lies of the Enemy, who tells you that your power and your false righteousness are impressive to God. Trust me: you and I cannot impress the God who created the entire universe, and God has no faith in our ‘righteousness.’ If he did, He never would have sent Jesus. The proof that your ‘righteousness’ is worthless is hanging on the cross, bleeding and dying for all the damage you’ve done. It’s not too late. Abandon your righteousness and own your brokenness and you can be healed…or admit that you love the blood on the edge of the blade of your self-righteous words far more than you love the man on the cross.