I have a friend who’s going through a rough time right now. She just buried a family member who lost her battle with cancer. She was in her mid-forties and left behind a husband and two small children. My friend also buried another family member this week, after a long illness. This same friend’s husband is dealing with employment difficulties. His hours were cut this week, but the bills, of course, keep coming. After telling a few of us about her struggles and asking for prayer, she went on to state a number of good things that have happened to her this week. I admire her ability to look on the bright side of things, to make lemonade when life serves her lemons, but I have to ask the question, what is wrong with expressing true emotions, like anger, resentment, disappointment?
I belong to a certain Protestant religion and have all of my life. I have come to notice a disturbing fact about my faith and that is that its people are intolerant of life’s pitfalls. In other words, they really don’t want to hear it. In my experience, they want to assume that life is fine and that problems can be fixed with a simple smile or another devotional book. They want to believe that all they need to do is to hold your hand, pray for you, and all will be well. That is not to say that these things don’t help—they do—and that they aren’t welcomed—they are—but so is acknowledging that life is much more complicated than a quick prayer and a smile. Sometimes life requires real support from others and there is healing in knowing that your friends, and especially church friends, have been where you are, accept whatever emotion you have, whether good, bad, or ugly, and will stick by you until the “storm” passes.
Recently, I experienced one of life’s pitfalls. It wasn’t a serious illness or a death in the family but something much less black and white: unemployment. Troubled by this, I mentioned it to a ministry group of which I was a member. Long story short, at one meeting I broke down in tears, and cried on the shoulder of a sympathetic listener. I saw her again the following week. I was embarrassed about my outburst (conditioned to hide my true feelings, you might say) and had no intention of mentioning it again. It turned out to be a good plan, because “my friend” couldn’t get away from me fast enough.
Don’t misunderstand, I love my church and my faith, but I long for a true awakening among its members. Who taught us to act this way? It certainly wasn’t Christ—the man we follow, study, worship—for we know that He had anger without shame towards the money changers in His temple and that he wept openly for Lazarus. We are not the same people we were only a decade ago. Addiction, porn addiction in particular, is rampant. I don’t know that many people in my rather large congregation, but in my small circle of friends, I know of two families whose lives have been wrecked by this and have heard of others. And divorce is no longer a statistic particular to the “unchurched,” but is a reality among active church-going Christians, yet our pulpits, my pulpit remain silent. Why? Why can’t we put aside a sermon on missions and talk candidly about these issues? Many wonderful pastors already do this, like Rick Warren or Andy Stanley, but not my church. Instead, we hear a safe sermon Sunday after Sunday and leave with our innocuous smiles and tell everyone that everything is fine…and what about those Dodgers?
It’s a lot to ask, I know, for us to become more authentic. It’s a century’s old problem and expecting that kind of dramatic change would be like expecting Joe Biden to not stick his foot in his mouth. It just ain’t gonna happen. So what’s the solution? One would be to leave the church and the faith altogether or stay and love the people in spite of their affinity for appearances or make small changes one small group at a time. Perhaps the latter is worth a try for it is a great church, but with Biden as a model, I might do better to bone up on Dodger’s scores.