What Message Are We Sending?

southern_ocean_storm_000.jpgThis life is often difficult.

Maybe that is why I have always identified with the people in the church and community who at times just find life to be tough.  I get a little suspicious of people who seem to have everything all figured out.  You know these people.  Their marriages are just right.  Their kids are just right.  Their work?  Why it is the perfect job!  School?  They are loving all of their classes. 

Meanwhile, I think life is often difficult.  Marriage is sometimes very difficult.  My wife and I have a good marriage.  But — at times our marriage has been difficult.  Rearing children is sometimes very challenging.  I love my children, but at times it has been extraordinarily difficult to be a parent.  I am a minister.  I love being a minister and the work I have been called to do.  Yet, it can be very difficult.

What makes it difficult to live in reality?  Here are a few obstacles:

1.  Being with people who pretend that it is very spiritual to talk as if everything, all of the time, is just absolutely wonderful.  These people can create environments where those who struggle begin to think they must not be very spiritual because their lives are not like that.  There are people who suffer and live with excruciating pain.  I think of the woman in our church whose pain was so intense during our worship service recently that she went to her car and laid down in the back seat.

2.  Being with people who see themselves as some of the very, very few who "get it."  They have a way of being very condescending to those who they perceive as not really getting it.  These people can spend much time and energy evaluating and critiquing others in the body of Christ.  What happens as a result?  People in the churches learn not to say anything about their real thoughts, their real feelings, and their real doubts.  After all, who wants to be critiqued, evaluated, and talked to with that condescending tone?

3.  Being with people who are so busy with their own lives, their meetings, their schedules, and their concerns that they aren’t fully present with other people.  (Been there.  Been guilty of this one!)

I don’t want to be any of these people.  I want to be a person who can be a friend to someone who finds life difficult.  However, such a friendship and presence needs to come out of my own life with God.

I like what Randy Harris says in a chapter entitled "Spirituality for the Busy, Frantic, and Overwhelmed."

Glenn Hinson argues that what the church needs most are saints — people who have truly placed their lives under God’s will and control.  We don’t just need leaders with greater skill, we need leaders who are deep people.  Do you hear the call to lead out of your own deep spiritual life?

If we learn to pray the way Jesus prayed, read the Bible in a transforming way, practice God’s presence in the everyday routine of life, and catch the vision of the God who works in all things, we can be the deep leaders the church needs.  And in the process we will discover that true spirituality is not one more activity to add to overburdened lives but a way of living that drives our drivenness away.  Then we discover the blessedness to lead without guilt and that the promise of Jesus rings true — the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

(Harris in Like a Shepherd Lead Us, p. 31)

Why is it that some of us go to great lengths to convince one another that our lives are almost perfect, without struggle?  What is our fear?  What impact do we have on those who are really struggling with life when we communicate that our lives are very near perfect and without struggle?

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

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16 thoughts on “What Message Are We Sending?

  1. Jim, I think you’re really banging away at desperately important truth.  Thomas Merton wrote that "pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real."  I grew up in a church where everyone seemed to have it all together.  I was convinced, by the time I was 17 or 18, that I must be a warped, vulger, hopeless sinner.  I was driven to embrace atheism out of disgust for myself (it was just too painful to believe in God)–a sense of self-worth lower than sediment underneath whale poop, a self-image supported by the snobbish judgments of the "church people" who were fighting over whether or not women should wear pants in church while condemning anyone who dared go swimming with members of the opposite sex.  I was in my mid 20’s before I began to learn that I was no worse (and certainly no better) than the pretenders I’d worshipped with in my youth.  Through all my struggle, no one seemed to care (O, how I wish this was an overstatement); no one attempted to connect with me on a deep level.  I vascilated between extremes, moving from unbelief to radicalism–I was a conservative on steroids, becoming a pretender among pretenders.    God sent tenacious people like Bobby Valentine into my life in order to finally break down the walls so that I could find enough freedom to begin to get real with God and myself.  I wonder how many times my story can be duplicated among our churches, and how terribly dangerous our church  "culture" really is?  One of our deepest cries is to know others and be known.  No one is really satisfied when only their false image is loved.  I want you to know me and then to love the real person you discover.  That was never a problem for me in a bar, or on an airplane with 60 other paratroopers, but it seems next to impossible in the place where we should be most real.  Why?  Pride.  So, I think we have to model for others the humility of Jesus, being comfortable enough with God just to be ourselves.  In so doing the Spirit can use us to really liberate the captives; after all, is there a more lonely captivity than to be in prison behind a well-cared for mask? 
    BTW, thanks for the Harris quotes.  In a conversation on the interstate between Columbus, Georgia and Atlanta he gave me wise advice and concrete suggestions;  in a lot of ways, that was the beginning of the end of my purely superficial existance.  Sorry to blab on, Jim.  This just really strikes a string deep in my soul.  Thanks and may God use us all to His glory. 

  2. Jim,
    I really appreciate your words.  And, you raise a very good question at the end of your article.
    Why do we go through such pains to convince others that everything is fine?  My thoughts are that we are afraid of being rejected!  I am sure you are familiar with the song "Stained-Glass Masquerade" by Casting Crowns.  If not, the follow words apply so well to your thoughts for today. 
    Is there anyone who’s been there?  Are there any hands to raise?  Am I the only one who’s traded in the altar for a stage?The performance is convincing and we know every line by heart.  Only when no one is watching can we really fall apart.But would it set me free if I dared to let you see the truth behind the person that you imagine me to be?Would your arms be open or would you walk away?  Would love of Jesus be enough to make you stay?
    Those are my thoughts.   Again, thanks for your words. 

  3. Ben,I am so grateful for what you said.  Can I ever identity with your past experiences.I can recall sitting on the back row of a church building as a college student.  EVERYONE seemed to have everything in place.  No temptation.  No sin.  No doubt.  No struggle.  Meanwhile, I could not figure how in the world life worked.The life of a pretender moves a person farther and farther away from reality.  Either I know who I really am and just don’t want anyone else to know or see (pride–as you said), or I begin to believe I really am together.  I begin to believe that I "get it" and it is too bad that others aren’t like me.Ben, what really woke me up were:1) Becoming aware of my own life which began to take on some characteristics of a pretender.2) Attending some AA meetings as a guest and seeing the honest, candor, and reality that was there.I’m thankful to God for the wake up.  Thanks for your very honest note, Ben. 

  4. Wow, Ben.  You really said it.  My oldest son is in the midst of a scenario much as you described you once went through.  My husband and I have tried to help him, but he has really been hurt by others in the same way you have talked about.  It sure would be nice if people could drop the fear of their humanity and join hands in the struggle just to keep walking with God.  The litmus test for acceptance into the church "good guy" group seems to be who has the most beautiful mask, and never lets it ‘slip,’

  5. Wendy,I really like the way you phrased this: "It would be nice if people could drop the fear of their humanity and join hands in the struggle to just keep walking with God."  You are exactly right.At times, those of us in churches will speak of what it is like to be on "the outside and looking in."  We sometimes use that phrase to refer to people who have no friends in the congregation or who have just never connected.It struck me that an ever more serious and intense form of being on "the outside looking in" might be a person who has to live alone with his/her sins.  Far too often those of us in churches leave the impression that this is the group of people who have got life down.  In reality, it may be that we have just learned how to wear the most beautiful masks.   

  6. Chris,Thanks for the lines of that wonderful song.  I had heard but forgotten those lines.  I suspect you are right.  We often fear being rejected by others.  Thanks very much, Chris.

  7. Wow, Jim.  Thank you for this post.  And thanks for being such a good example of what it looks like when real Christianity meets up with blogging.  I really appreciate the quality, both the mind and the spirit, of what you’re doing here.

  8. I have enjoyed your blog even the quote from Ben saying “I am a work in progress”. The week you were gone there was a headline in the Waco Tribune Herald that stated “Putting the C Back in the YMCA”. Most people just called it the “Y”… Thanks Jim for putting the C in the lives of so many people including mine.

  9. Being with People who pretend that everything is great, that they know it all and overpower others or that they are too busy to care about people (because they are too busy pretending).
    I have been guilty of and have experienced all of these things at some point in my life. Why are these themes a common thread among believers? We all have the same enemy who is trying to isolate every believer.  He is the master deceiver that roams the earth looking to kill, steal and destroy us.  We should not be surprised then when he actually does this (or at least attempts to) in our lives. If Satan can get believers far away from fellowship with each other, far away from authentic life sharing, far away from being vulnerable with God and others and get us into a neutral state of existing, then he is winning. 
    You have hit on 3 major offensive attacks that our enemy comes at us with. My experience in being "on foot: in battle" with this enemy can testify to it (like others have). This is not reserved for strangers in our lives either. This attack is at the closest people we do care about. I had lunch with guy in my fellowship group today and he was sharing with me how Satan was attacking him bringing doubt into his mind that our friendship was real. He wanted to "pretend that everything" is alright. I had to drill through the answers of, "everything is good," to get to the real heart issue. 
    I think we succumb to these attacks, not always willingly, because we all carry some level of insecurity about our ability to;
    be real (we want to be accepted); be taught (we want to be esteemed); be loved (we want to be cared for).
    And we look for these answers, these validations in others instead of Christ. We fear that if people really knew our insecurities then they won’t accept, esteem or care for us.
    Just my ramblings…….

  10. Sometimes I think people pretend that everything is wonderful because they don’t want to see their own pain.  Pain is so incredibly hard, and yet so shaping.  But I think many don’t want to be molded by this experience, that they don’t want to identify with pain that they might have in their life.  That’s one reason why it becomes difficult to view others pain; it is just a reminder that I too have it.  I was really blessed by this today; thanks for all the thoughts.  

  11. I’ve read all the responses to the "What Message Are We Sending Post" and I can’t help but think what a toxic atmosphere we church folks live in.  The toxic levels inside and outside the church are about the same to me – pride, greed, lust, and the rest of the 7 deadlies!!  What should make our church environment attractive and compelling (John 13:34-35) for the "saints" is transparency that we just can’t have that spending an hour or three a week in a church building.  We need to help people "morph" into real people (spiritually speaking) who lower the masks we all wear.  I’ve seen that happen over the course of the last 3 years in a small group setting of people from our church.  It began as a trial of the small group model (the small group model didn’t go over too big at church – we’re much too institutional for that) and has really blossomed into a place where masks have only begun to be lowered.  And guess what?  There’s only one main ingredient that’s needed – TIME!!  To me, it’s the discipline of taking the weekly Thursday night out of a normally frantic schedule, to gather, study the Bible, pray, worship, and share.  I don’t always want to go (because I’m sinful), but I do the music and invariably I usually always get a blessing.  What happens when Christians really take the time to do this?  All the things we read about in Scripture and testimonies of others – confession, love, real relationships, and real life.  Praise God, He did it!!  I had nothing to do with setting this up, only the disipline in responding.  It’s been an amazing time for all of us 8 couples.  All so different – it’s a little bit of the Kingdom on earth.  It’s my prayer that everybody will experience this some time.  And no, I’m not the whacky, radical type, just a regular family guy who has been a regular church attender for many moons and had only what I’d call the institutional church spiritual experience.  This, I believe, is the road to true discipleship.  Taking the TIME it takes to participate in and experience true discipleship.  And what is my responsibility to do with this experience?  Take it back into the institution and share it with others.  Sounds a bit like Scripture, huh?

  12. Mike,Some very good thoughts.  You express these well.  I think you are very much on target in what you say regarding "isolation."Thanks! 

  13. Jen–I think you are on to something regarding our desire to avoid our pain.  That avoidance does have some real implications.

  14. George,Thanks for your affirmation of the importance of small groups and even more so—the experience of the kind of discipleship that can occur in such a community.