Is There A Place For Someone Like You?

"You had to have been there."

I appreciate survivors:

  • Those who have experienced cancer and now encourage others who struggle with the disease.
  • Those who have experienced divorce and now encourage those who are going through it.
  • Those who have gone through great difficulties with a child and now have come alongside other parents who are in the midst of great difficulties themselves.
  • Those who have battled depression and now encourage those who are experiencing depression.
  • Those who are recovering alcoholics or drug abusers and now have a ministry with others who are recovering themselves.

I have seen this time and again.  I suspect you have as well.  I have seen God use survivors in powerful ways to encourage others.  God has a way of using such experiences along with God-given gifts to encourage another.

Yet, this is what concerns me.

At times, I have seen those who have never gone through such experiences feel as if they really have nothing to offer.  Some feel as if their gifts are useless unless they have been through a similar experience.  Some may feel as if their story is rather boring and vanilla because they have never gone into the "far country" nor are they a survivor of some sort.

Yet, isn’t there a place in the body of Christ for such people as well as survivors?  While I recognize that survivors can have a significant ministry, could it be that in some way God will also use others in the body who don’t have a similar background?  Could it be that survivors might minister to someone with similar issues while other believers might be used in other very significant ways as God uses their gifts to minister to another?

Again, I thank God that he uses survivors in very significant ways to minister to those with whom they can especially identify.  However, I want to be very, very slow about saying or suggesting that valid ministry requires prior experience with a particular sin or ailment or history.  While Jesus knew temptation, he was perfect in every way.  Yet, I don’t think he was lacking in any way.

What is the point?  I am thinking about ways to encourage all women and men in the body of Christ, in whatever gathering of God’s people, to know that God has gifted his body and can use us all.  One should never feel as if she is lacking in some way simply because she has never committed a particular sin.  God is mighty and is able to use the body of Christ to minister in ways we have not dreamed.  It could be that some of the most significant encouragement that I will ever receive in the body of Christ will come from some of the most unlikely people.  Perhaps this encouragement will come from people in whom I seem to have little or nothing in common.  I have experienced this a number of times.

What do you think?  How can we communicate value to survivors, as well as appreciation for the ministry that might take place through such people?  How do we communicate value for those who have never had such experiences and yet are very much a part of the body that God has gifted for ministry? 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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28 thoughts on “Is There A Place For Someone Like You?

  1. This is so true, Jim! I don’t have to survive a suicide attempt to know that life is a gift from God and encourage someone to hold on to life! Good thoughts today.

  2. I have a friend who is now a very prominant photographer in our area. He has an amazing survivor story. A long time ago he was really high up in hollywood. He was an agent for several big names. When in that world he got involved with all kinds of drugs until finally he hit rock bottom. It took his aunt and uncle finding him and taking a picture of him to get him into rehab. Afterwards he found an extreeme passion and talent for photography. He has done programs at local high schools sharing his story with them. But one of the biggest things that he stresses is that you don’t have to be where he’s been to have what he has. It is always an encouragement to hear everyone’s story.

  3. Jim, this is a thoughtful and provocative question.  I tend to be biased toward those who are survivors in one way or another; these are the ones I search out when I need guidance or a listening ear.  But in considering your question, I think the reason I am biased this direction is my experience with some (definitely not all) of those who aren’t "survivors" don’t see themselves as needing survival or help at all, feel shocked by anything other than Pollyanna stories, etc.  But I have also run into many people who have "vanilla" lives who run high on empathy and don’t spend the time comparing my life to theirs in a way that seems to imply that theirs is better because they have nothing with which to struggle.  These people are so great to me, because they aren’t trite and they see themselves as the same as me even if our stories are so different.  Like I said, Jim, it is a provocative question, and causes me to realize my own reactive pride in my "survivor skills" to those who sometimes seem so naive to me.  It is a humbling realization, and I thank you for it.  You are so right; we all have a place and contribution in the kingdom of God and he plays no favorites.

  4. I’m of the opinion that we are ALL survivors of one type or another and the ones who are helpful to others are the ones who see that in themselves.  One doesn’t have to be divorced or a drug addict or have cancer but we are all sinners saved by God’s grace and we can all be used whether we’ve done "the really bad" sins or not IF we do see the sin in our own lives.

  5. I agree, every Christian has both a right and a responsibility to serve God.  People get the idea that to ‘minister’ is a very formal, pastoral thing and it doesn’t have to be that way.  Using whatever talents God has given to build up others and magnify God’s glory is ministy.  Example: saw a news piece yesterday about an artist who paints beautiful, personal pictures of soldiers who lost their lives in battle, and sends them to the families.  It was stunning, how much comfort and blessing she was giving out, doing something she alone can do.  If we all come to understand that concept, it will change the world.

  6. I am with Lisa, I think every Christian is a survivor. We battled with the world and survived because we had the Lamb of God on our side.
    There is more to wisdom than just experience. There is also knowlege and application. One doesn’t have to experience everything to apply the Word of God –we just have to know it.

  7. We are all wounded in some manner and called to offer healing.  This is dealt with in Henri Nouwen’s book, "The Wounded Healer".  It has helped me see that even though my woundedness may be different than another’s, I can still tap into that to help.

  8. Depending on the Spirit can help any member to minister to any other. That only makes sense. While at the same time encouraging others to connect with those who are on a similar journey, so that God’s comfort given to them in that situation, they might pass on to the other. (Of course I know you know that and more.)

  9. I find myself encouraged most by a Christian who is authentically himself, whatever specifics his life journey may have taken.  Much of my inspiration and encouragement comes from spiritual writers with whom I have little or nothing in common.  (Some of them have even been dead for quite awhile!)  🙂  I just returned from a seminar during which I found great encouragement from a very diverse group of individuals.  Our common interests were the writing of Thomas Merton and the subject of contemplative living.  Other than that, our life stories were probably quite different.  It didn’t matter to me whether they had the same life experiences that I did.  The important thing for me was that this was a group of people serious about living the Chrisitan life in an authentic way.  If our focus is on Him, the rest will all fall into place. 

  10. I might also add that it is my observation that it is not a good idea to surround yourself only with people who have had the same problems and struggles you have had.  We need to come to a place of balance.  Initially, it may be helpful to have a group to support you while you work through a specific issue, but if years after the event you feel like only those who have experienced that particular struggle (divorce, alcoholism, death of a family member, etc) can understand you, then I’d say you may be stuck. We need to find our sense of identity in Christ, not in our wounds and scars.  Just my opinion. 

  11. I came to Christ as a teen and had a dramatic story of how to share. Our 3 children grew up with Christian parents, were homeschooled, and were purposefully given a very different kind of life than my husband and I had. 
    My daughter used to say she wished for some dramatic stuff in her life, because it seemed like the church valued those folks more than it valued people without difficult stories.  
    We tried to encourage them to realize that they could minister without schlepping lots of baggage of survivor experience in their lives by not judging and by listening well.  And by praying, supporting and being honest about their own struggles. 
    We really are all survivors.

  12. Excellent caution, Jim.
    I guess we tend to see the survivors as the eye and those who’ve not experienced drama as the big toe. But both are essential; both are equally important. The body requires all kinds, all sorts of parts, and we have to avoid the mistake of giving greater honor to those who have a survivor story over and against those who have a different yet splendid sort of a story.

  13. Jen,Your comment was helpful.  You express very well what I was trying to say (though I think you express it better!)  You especially were helpful in expressing how those with "vanilla" stories might in fact be very useful in ministry. 

  14. Lisa P.,Very good.  If in fact we all saw our desperate need for God, we might in fact see ourselves as survivors, regardless of our backgrounds.

  15. Neva,I really like what you say regarding wisdom.  You are exactly right.  That is worth exploring more…Thanks! 

  16. Connie,You make a very important point about where we find our identity.  It is very important to find our identity in Jesus and not in our wounds and scars.  I suspect that those who do have wounds and scars but who find their identity in Christ will connect with people very much unlike themselves (on one level) because of their common identity.(Would love to hear more about the Merton seminar.  Sounds like it was very interesting.) 

  17. "One should never feel as if she lacking in some way simply because she has never committed a particular sin."
    I agree completely with this quote. However, as I read the above post (and have come back to it a few times to reread it), I felt like maybe two polar extremes were being looked at (i.e. can non-"survivors" help people OR not?), and that something was being missed in that black and white scenario.
    Like another commenter, I would say that empathy is a key factor in whether or not a person can be a help and a comfort to suffering people, regardless of what they themselves have suffered. And some people are naturally more empathetic than others. But, life in general, has a way of increasing empathy, whether we have a natural bent to it or not.
    Because, whether you have lived a very dramatic life, have experimented or plunged into every sin imaginable, or not, if you live life, you eventually suffer. And suffering, especially, when walked through with Christ, creates connection to the sufferings of others.
     So, while, in theory, I would say that God could use a person who has not been through great suffering, I’m hard put practically to find anyone in my life over the age of 40 who has NOT experienced great suffering in one form or another.
    So, in some ways, it seems like a moot point to me. I’m not putting down the question at all. I think it is a good one. I just think trying to answer it as such leaves something out. 
     Some people are more comforting than others, whether because of a natural gifting or because of personal experience in suffering. But "comfort and encouragement" are not the sum of the way God uses people. I, personally, wouldn’t stress or feel useless to God if I think I haven’t suffered enough to feel of much help to a suffering person, because:
    (1) wait your turn and you will certainly experience your share of opportunities to prove the faithfulness of God in life’s hard situations, and (2) the personality and experiences God has created in and for you have equipped you for the people and ministries He will bring your way. True, you may not be able to comfort as well as someone else. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be any comfort and it definitely doesn’t say anything about the many other areas of service you are designed and able to carry out.

  18. Eclexia,Very good comment.  In particular I like what you say about empathy and what life often does to increase the empathy in us all.The post comes out of almost three decades of hearing some people define themselves almost totally by their experiences (at times it has seemed that these experiences become more identity markers than does Christ).As a result, I am really concerned about some who seem to think they really don’t have a story or can’t really be useful to God because they don’t have what they believe to be significant experiences.Anyway– I like what you said.  Thanks for taking the time to leave this comment. 

  19. Thanks for your response. I hadn’t really thought about the perspective of people who use their survival as an identity badge. But when you talk about that, I agree with you. If that becomes the focus, not Christ, there is a problem. And it does create a scenario where other people can feel "less than".
    I guess that shows that it takes more than just life’s hard knocks to develop empathy. I suppose we make choices all along the way whether or not to allow ourselves to be shaped in ways that help us minister to others (no matter what we have or haven’t faced) or to become more self-centered and self-promoting because of our experiences.

  20. Ben put it just the way I was thinking it as I read your post. Testimony services will often reveal the survivors. Many times they are applauded. When someone who "hasn’t been there and done that" finishes w/their testimony; it is like ‘so what’.
    Interesting subject. Great post and comments. The difference is in the mindset of the body. We must affirm both parties, for all have value.

  21. sista cala,Thanks for your comment.  It would be interesting to explore some of the implications of and reasons for our "so what" response.Thanks, 

  22. I thought of your post again when I read the poem, Debriding the Wound, at
    Here’s the part that struck me:
    …But alreadythe airthe Spiritthe gentle words ofothers who have walkedin woundedness,walked in wholeness.Alldrying outthose weeping wounds…
    To me,  it is a picture of God using woundedness and wholeness as we join together with each other to minister His healing to people hurting all around us.