In this two part blog, me and my dear friend Gry Apeland have looked into the mysteries behind the hidden topics within church and wider society. We want to share our thoughts on why, as church, we shy away from talking about so many of the struggles we see around us and, most of all, what we’re missing out on in the meantime.
Here in part one, I look into some of the reasons we’ve noticed as to why this has come about and how we can get over it.
I’m the kind of person, like a few of you I’m sure, who has had issues and problems that have shaped who I am. However, I’d say I find it difficult to relate to someone who would say that their struggles have crippled them at times or consumed their life for a while, or even continue to do so.
The world is full of experiences and struggles that can be overwhelmingly isolating. Abuse, mental health, toxic relationships, life controlling habits – if you can’t say you’ve experienced these, they can seem a world away and almost impossible to begin to talk about, let alone to apply biblical truths to.
For me it seems that too many people are like myself and are fearful of addressing these elephants we find in the rooms of life.
I’m scared I’ll come across as completely out of my depth, or offend those who have first hand knowledge of these struggles because I sound like I’m patronising or speaking outside of my authority. Despite my passion to see the love of Jesus poured out over these people, I feel unequipped and useless. But let’s not make this about me.
Whether we have no experience of abuse (for example) or even consider our exposure to be insignificant when (unhelpfully) compared to others, I believe there are many eager ears that want to hear the messier, trickier subjects of life talked about, in conversation, across the coffee table, and through the microphone. I think the key for someone like me is to acknowledge my lack of experience, but to understand that my compassion gives me authority. I once read this great quote:
“You will never have any authority over what you do not love. God gives us authority to connect to people when we let his love have authority in our own hearts.” – Shawn Bolz
This is the first of the key barriers I’ve noticed in the church when it comes to talking on topics such as abuse, health or relationships: there is a fear amongst some of us to talk about what we haven’t directly experienced ourselves – despite the need for the church to shine a light on these incredibly real issues.
The second of these barriers I think can be found in the hearts of those who have direct experience of trauma or hurt from something we treat with a tabooish timidity: shame and unworthiness still cripple the authority of those who wish to speak out, from experience, about the reality of these issues and the reality of God’s saving grace.
From those I’ve spoken to it seems that no matter how many of us presume someone is ‘on the other side’ of one of these journeys, there can still remain a lack of permission for them to speak out, or a lacking in confidence that they are possibly the most powerful to do so.
This feeling of guilt and shame will not go away unless we authentically welcome the broken into our churches and say ‘your problems are my problems, and as a family we refuse to let your past define you and refuse to ignore what has been such a large impact on your life’. When we come together as a family to encourage testimonies and vulnerability, I am certain we will be blown away by the healing power of God in the heart of those that have hidden in the shadows, right under our noses, for so long. Ephesians 5:13 reads:
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
Thirdly, I’d say a helpful realisation I’ve had is that we as a church can never profess to be a hospital for the broken if we refuse to occasionally perform open heart surgery.
If we are reluctant to push through the uncomfortable, perhaps even the risky, we will never discover the overflowing mercy, healing and freedom which awaits us. When we let go of what we know and embrace all God has for us as a broken family, he’ll be sure to knock us off our feet in wonder. Though the struggles which grip many lives on this earth may seem scary or controversial, we must acknowledge that these are overcome by Jesus and it is our task to boldly welcome that victory and heavenly order here on earth.
Let us not allow fear or shame to hold back from us what our Heavenly Father wants us to have so freely. I’d say that the devil may like it a lot when the church feels out of its depth, but he loves it when that’s where they choose to stop – on the brink of life-giving risk and restoration. When we choose to avoid a topic in our conversation, sermon series or small group studies, but know that it’s something people need to hear, we are letting down our brothers and sisters. Our silence isolates them and often the chasm isn’t stationary, I’d say it’s ever increasing. The silence misleads us to think it’s irrelevant to our congregation, when in fact we need to open this conversation now more than ever.
If you find yourself resonating with someone who has experienced abuse or harmful relationships etc. I want to encourage you that it is not too big of you to expect your church’s support in your situation, and that the silence around certain topics in church is not how it should be and can change. I want to tell you that you can expect more from your church, you can expect to receive support when you ask for it and you can expect to change the agenda when you bring these relevant issues to the table. I want to tell you that your church still loves you and the avoidance of these topics isn’t a reflection of their care about you or a reflection of the relevance of it to the congregation. Talks in mental health for instance, and an understanding of how to support mental unwellness is needed now more than ever.
I want to also say to you that you are not defined by what you have struggled with, and that you can be the one leading this change and beginning the conversations that are needed – you could be the most powerful communicator of Jesus’ love and grace in the most difficult of situations.
If like me, you find yourself resonating with the compassionate person, I want to urge you to fearlessly begin those conversations on the areas you know you church is keeping in the shadows; ask your church to talk on these issues, or seek advice and support on tackling them. I want to remind you that when you start a church wide discussion in these neglected areas you’ll be surprised by how many people it is relevant to, and just how many people that can be blessed by beginning a process of healing.
Some of you when reading this may even feel convicted that your church doesn’t even seem to tackle the tamer subjects of health, money or sex in general (let alone addiction or abuse), but don’t be discouraged. That uneasiness you may feel is a stirring I believe – a stirring for the church to become so relevant to the world’s needs that it becomes the first port of call for the broken and the home for the unloved and the place of restoration.
In part 2 of this series, as I mentioned earlier, Gry is going to talk personally about what beautiful things can be unlocked once we open up a church to be a place of healing; a place of release from the chains of this world that bind so many of us, the relationships that keep pulling us back, the shame that never seems to leave or the addictions that try to cripple us. Why is it worth all the bother and what could we be missing out on by avoiding the elephants in the room?