The Hurting Church: Why we get hurt and hurt others.
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16, NLV)
Have you noticed how perfect people LOOK at church? They seem to have no problems, no messiness. They’re in their nice “Sunday best” clothes with smiles on their faces, and everyone looks perfect regardless of how their week has gone.
On the other hand have you noticed how imperfect you FEEL when you get there? Maybe you just couldn’t find the right clothes to wear or you’re reeling from an argument you just had with your spouse on the way? Maybe your teenager has refused to get out of bed or you’ve had a terrible, awful, bad week? We all arrive at church knowing our inside messiness and seeing only the outside perfectness of everyone else. So we wear a mask in the hopes that it will disguise us enough that people won’t recognize how broken we really are. The mask wearing only leads to isolation and aloneness.
I have to wonder . . . is this what God intended for us to experience in the body of Christ?
I remember vividly the Sunday when I felt the messiest. My seventeen-year-old son had been arrested over the weekend for shoplifting. It was one of the lowest times of my life – I felt like such a failure. As I carefully arranged my mask and stepped into the atrium area of our church on that Sunday after his arrest, I looked around and saw all the “perfect families” with their “perfect children” and it was all I could do to stay where I was and not run screaming from the building.
I wondered if anyone had problems like I had, whether they could see the sorrow in my eyes that I was trying to hide. Did they know I was a failure? Did they even care? What would they say if they found out? What would they think of me? That day it felt as if I had a big scarlet letter on my chest, warning people not to get too close. It was all I could do to act like nothing was wrong and get to my car as fast as I could.
It wasn’t that my church family was insensitive or judgmental; it was my own perception and pride that would not allow me to be transparent. It isolated me from any intrusions into my pain. So why aren’t we more open and transparent? Wouldn’t that really be more attractive to people than trying to prove that we are perfect? James 5:16 (NLV) says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
God calls us to be open, vulnerable and honest about our failings and struggles because He knows that that is the place where we will find healing. When we choose to keep our failures and difficulties to ourselves we move into a place of isolation and loneliness as we forge a path on our own.
And isn’t that just what Satan wants? He wants to keep us all in our own little fortresses “safe from the outside world” where no one can be a witness to our pain and discouragement and where we will be unable to care for and encourage someone else? He doesn’t want us to be what God intended the church body to be to one another.
On that Sunday of my son’s arrest, I ran into a dear friend after church. Knowing the brokenness she had experienced in her own life, I felt free to take off my mask. Through many tears I poured out my heartache to her and experienced no judgment from her, only love and concern. My friend was the church for me that day and I will always remember her love and care when I was in a very difficult and lonely place.
This Sunday, when you walk into your church building, remember that the people around you are not perfect, they might look like they are but they’re not. Ask God to help you to have the courage to take off your mask and be transparent and to open your eyes and allow you to be the church to someone who is hurting and in need.
Father God, It’s so tempting to keep my mask on. Please gently peel the mask out of my hands so that I can truly be part of this community You’ve called me to. Help me to be willing to let others help me. Amen
Question: Are you wearing a mask? Ask God for courage to be transparent or to be open to others who need your help.