Your much-loved, much-lauded, beautiful son finally marries the love of his life, but despite your pride and delight, you can’t brag on him or his new partner to any of your friends at church. Because the love of his life is actually a man. What do you do?
Your daughter moves out into her own place just a few weeks after she graduates high school. She’s bought a new car with her own money, and has a great job she can support herself on. But despite the fact you raised her to be independent and she made it happen all on her own, you can’t tell anyone, because she’s now living with her boyfriend and they have no intention of getting married. What do you do?
Your husband is an alcoholic, and despite desperately needing support and advice, you can’t share with your pastor about it, because he preaches so often about how a real Christian man should be able to “hold his alcohol”. What do you do?
You had an abortion fifteen years ago, but you can’t tell your counsellor because her husband is an elder in your church. Nobody can know what you did. What do you do?
You have to take your daughter to get a pregnancy test in the next town, because the pathology collector is also the church secretary. Everybody wants to know why you need the day off from work. What do you do?
Four years ago, your third child was stillborn. You know you need to talk about it, but you’re so incredibly tired of hearing people tell you, “That’s so awful, but you know, God is in control!”. You can’t face being fobbed off with cliche’s any more. What do you do with your pain?
The first time you had cancer, everyone prayed and it went away and you all thanked God for your healing and you were their own little walking miracle. But now the cancer is back. What do you do?
Despite your distress, your pastor insists the only way to be free from your drug addiction is to forgive the man who sexually molested you when you were a child, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t do it. What do you do?
It’s at this point you realise you just can’t hide any more, and you see this pain and the lies will never go away until you do something about it. You decide it stops here.
So you commit suicide.
These are real stories. These are people I know. And some of these are my own story.
But listen, I know – this isn’t your church. No way – we don’t make people feel like that. I know nothing I say can convince you the Body of Christ could ever advertently or inadvertently cause someone hide their pain and their truth.
But it is your church. This is you. And this is me. On both sides.
We do this.
These are the women – and yes, the men – in your church. These are their lives, their burdens, their hurts and their histories.
These are also their nows.
These people are us.
We create this system of silence, lies and hiding whenever we promote a culture of perfection and shame. When we say the only true and authentic expression of the Christian life is a successful life, an abundant life, a life where nobody gets sick or hears voices, or dies or divorces, where nobody is anything but English-speaking, employed, middle-class and heterosexual, where nobody is addicted or abused or bitter or angry, or could possibly have ever been hurt, offended or abused by us, then we tell A Great Lie. Great Lies force people underground, into the dark, and sometimes that darkness is within ourselves. We force people to turn away from their pain and their truth, we make them split themselves in two, and sometimes into even more little pieces. And folks learn they can only ever show us one kind of face, tell us one kind of story. The perfect face. The story with the happy ending.
But these happy, perfect stories and faces are not what Jesus came to heal.
If people feel they cannot bring into church what Jesus came to heal them of, then what the hell are we doing, Church?
Our churches may look great from the outside, but if they do, we have nothing to brag about. Most of our churches look great not because they’re populated with the whole, the helped and the healed, but because they’re filled with hurting and heartbroken people who have learned how to hide.
Our quest for perfection works against Gods greatest gift to us – His grace.
We must cease from this creation of perfection-centred cultures, and promote love without condition, without pretext, and without agenda.
Just love ‘em.
I pray our eyes and our ears will be opened to the reality of the vulnerable amongst us - the we, not the them – who must lie, hide, repress, forget and otherwise numb themselves simply so they can hold their heads up in our presence. May we repent from our culture of perfection, and embrace the raw, salty, bloody wound we all carry: the shame of not being All Fixed Up and All Right Now – the authenticity of having lived and tried and failed and fallen in this, The Real World, the world You came to heal and make whole. Amen.
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