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Monday, January 9, 2017

Getting Comfortable

 I'm coming to realize something about us...something that is true in the most sad and frighteningly way: we're not comfortable with each other. In fact, sometimes we're just downright afraid of one another. But not always in the sense that we don't want to get along or be together...we're afraid of each other's broken. We're terrified of what might happen if we let each other see the cracked places and empty spaces of our hearts; we want to hide our secrets and keep one another from seeing the other's faults and flaws. And it's killing us...it's making us die inside because we're missing the point - we're missing what grace is really all about. 
 As someone who receives a lot of questions and comments via social media about personal and emotional struggles, I run across many people who have been deeply hurt because they were given the message by others that to be "fixed" was more important than to be loved. These people left churches because healing wasn't offered; they walked away from the faith because hope was never given; they disconnected from relationships with others because judgment overshadowed care. While many of the folks in question probably didn't intend to wound, words cut too sharply. "Solutions" were offered instead of shared tears and hugs. The hurting were left to bleed...and to feel more alone than ever. Instead of receiving the love of some good Samaritan, they received the condemnation of the Pharisees passing by. 
 I'm beginning to really notice and be frustrated by the lack of discernment within our circles of faith today. So many wander in, just looking for a ray of hope and a shoulder to lean on. Simply wanting an understanding heart, a listening ear. But we're going too fast. We're so focused on "being right" about all things Christian that we're missing opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the broken. Worse yet, we don't realize the extent to which we're broken, and thus we can't meet people where they're at. It's like we are afraid of the sin of others. We are uncomfortable with talking about neediness. We don't like to get involved with others' messy. 
 We become uneasy when a homosexual person walks into our church because we know their sin but we don't know how to act around them. Instead of realizing that, just maybe, God is calling them out of that sin into a new life of holiness, we think, "they can't be here. It's against God's law. They've got to get 'cleaned up' before they can fellowship with us." We reject a potential opportunity God may be providing for us to help them journey into the forgiveness of God, not seeing that He may have led that person into our midst for a reason. 
 We don't know how to treat the young teenage couple that has found themselves expecting a child and trying to figure out how to correct past mistakes. We notice "what's wrong with them" while maybe by-passing the fact that they are seeking God's answers as to what to do. They probably wish they could un-do their errors. And maybe they are genuinely desiring to get it right for the future going forward. But we avoid them. Or if we do interact at all, it's to let them know that they need to get involved with a support group right away so they can learn what the Bible says about such things so they can get "fixed" and then be made right for fellowship with us. 
 We grow completely uncomfortable with the suicidal person who comes along our way. All we feel we can do is to tell them, "don't take your life," but we don't know realize that they're most likely at such a point of despair as to maybe not listen to that reason anymore. Perhaps a simple, "I love you" would say more. Maybe a calming spirit of "you matter to me in this world" would cause them to re-think. 
 These are just a few examples of how we've gotten it wrong. We either seem too tolerant because we don't say things out of our fear of offending, or we say things too strongly and end up hurting those who are desperate for truth and grace. We don't understand our Master's example...and that's where we get off-track. 
 Over the summer of last year, I spent a lot of time searching the Gospels and noting how Jesus interacted with hurting people. One constant was that He always began with relationship first. Of course, being an all-knowing God, he already was aware of the person's brokenness before they came to Him, but He never failed to meet them where they were at. His gentleness drew them in. Whether it was the woman at the well (John 4:4-26), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), or the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus always took the time to build a personal connection with the person before He directly addressed their need. Often, we're so concerned with the person's sin that we don't communicate our love to them first. We speak the truth, but sometimes the truth ends up coming across as judgmental and condemning. It's as though we're the perfect ones telling the imperfect how much they need Jesus. And then they feel rejected. And they're driven away from the Savior because they think His followers don't care.
 As referenced in Tim Keller's book, "Walking With God Through Pain And Suffering," author Don Carson writes:

"There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals. This is not the fault of theology and theological arguments; it is the fault of the 'miserable comforter' who fastens on an inappropriate fragment of truth, or whose timing is off, or whose attitude is condescending, or whose application is insensitive, or whose truth theology is couched in such culture-laden cliches that they grate rather than comfort."

 I've ended up having to see (and in the past, experience) this sad fact about our church circles way too often. And it needs to stop. Too many people are being kept away from the Source of hope and healing because we're not willing to enter the pain with them. We're disregarding our own brokenness and neediness, so we can't come to them in a spirit of shared vulnerability. 
If God is the starting point of our interaction with others, we will want to be an extension of Him to those around us. If we are his genuine followers, we will desire to reflect Him to a fallen world to the best of our feeble ability. We will want to live our lives in the spirit of the disciple, Philip, who found Nathaniel and brought him to Jesus saying, "we have found the One..." (John 1:43-44). If leading others to Him who can make all things right is our goal, then perhaps we'll stop trying so hard to do the "fixing" ourselves. It's like broken things trying to mend broken things. Only the work of God can help us all to see each other for who we really are. 
 I know this post is a bit out of character for me, but I felt this must be said since I'm running into this issue more often than I care to admit. And so, I want to leave you with this word of advice (and I'm speaking to myself here mostly): whenever you encounter a broken life, remind yourself where you once were. Ask God to help you remember what pain feels like and to bring to your recollection those caring souls along the way who maybe helped you in an hour of need and gave you a shoulder to cry on. Most importantly, seek His daily fixing of your own broken places. Then, and only then, will you be able to sit next to a hurting heart and say, "I hear you. I see you. I know you. I am you." Just maybe, by your willingness to not run from their pain, God will use you to be the conduit for His love that sets that broken life free.