Sunday, October 19, 2014

I Am One of Your Biggest Failings: An Open, Honest Letter to the Local Church

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. 1  Corinthians 12:18-26

I have read many articles directed at the church, explaining how and why they are losing people – people who were once committed people. I feel like I am slipping away too, losing faith in the local church and losing my desire to be a part of the body of Christ. I am the weak and broken part that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians.

For so many years, I was a part of you. I was involved – an aspiring leader – how I loved teaching God’s Word! Even after tragedy and difficulty hit me repeatedly I dreamed of the ways God would use my suffering to strengthen and encourage others of us who were struggling. I prayed fervently that He would redeem my tears! But somehow, I got lost.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened. It seems like I’ve drifted away a little at a time, trying to stay connected and hoping for the best, but moving farther and farther until every week I was dreading attending church, crying through services, and walking away feeling like no one even noticed … or cared. I tried so hard along this path to tell people – anyone who would listen – how I was feeling and what I needed. I have wanted to believe the best, and give every opportunity for God to restore relationships and heal hurts. I have worked hard to not make demands, to keep an open mind and not be critical, to be patient and remember that each person and family has their own demands, constrictions, and limits, even church leaders. I’ve never expected others to do things FOR me, in fact, I’ve always been very specific in asking for help and accountability to do what I could do for myself and my family. But do you understand that I am, in a lot of ways, alone and very, very broken?

Many times over I thought my request for encouragement and help was heard and understood. We would start on a solution together: teams and volunteers and leaders, who would ask me to do things, and offer to help in ways that they could. I did almost everything requested of me, even when I was concerned about the consequences of some of those choices and how I would manage them, and I was assured that you would be here to help me weather the new challenges. Within a couple of months, every time, the team, volunteer, and leaders lost interest or concern for me. Now I am left with all of the original problems and more, resulting from the life changes I made under advice, and I am trying to navigate them alone. I feel like members and leaders alike avoid me, because my pain is too much and is going on too long – and of course, that must be some fault of my own.

It’s not that I believe that there are actually people who say, “I don’t care.” There are just so many who are too busy to stop and see how real, how consuming my pain is. Many of you offer words trying to encourage, assurances that you are praying, advice … but the words just hurt now, because I know that when I am smelling the burning, broken electrical appliance, sitting in the car that won’t run, and looking at the bank balance that won’t pay for replacements or repairs or even groceries, the only thing I will get when I call for help are more words. I feel like all I ever do is ask for help, and I don't want to still be the one needing help. I know I have so much more to offer and I WANT to offer more. I worry about what will happen when I end up in the hospital. Will someone come into my broken down home and criticize me and call DCF again because I am struggling to keep on top of everything? Will they even ask enough questions to know that I spend every hour working to stay afloat (hours AT work, and needed hours at home), driving kids everywhere they need to go, squeezing in grocery runs and meal preparation and trying fix broken things, all while things around me are running down, piling up, and overwhelming me more?

I know it sounds like I’m only worried about myself, but that’s not true. I’m frustrated and worried and even angry because I see my children who have also been abandoned – first by their father, and now by their church family – until they also have lost interest in the very things that could have given them hope and the skills to be men of God. This wasn't what I planned or wanted for them! I have done what I can do for them, but again I tell you: I am not a man. I don’t know how to be a man, and so I don’t have “man-skills” to pass on to them, spiritually or practically. Most days I’m tired and overwhelmed and trying to get a few more things done before I collapse in exhaustion. The strength to teach manly skills and tackle projects is beyond me. I wonder how you will feel about them, and me, when they marry your daughters and struggle as godly husbands and fathers. I am trying. They are trying. But we need help. My heart is breaking for them!

I hurt also for you, because I could do so much for the church. Some of you are on the verge of facing some very hard places in life. I know what that is like, and I know how to walk with God through it. I know what it is like to walk through flaming wilderness, to cling to God in the middle of what seems like an eternal fire, to fall on your face begging God for help because there is no other place to go in pain. I know how to do it day in and day out for year after endless year. In spite of what we publicize, there isn’t always complete or immediate healing. Sometimes the wilderness really is 40 years and you feel like quitting. I’ve been there, and have kept going when I was close to ending it, and I want to use what I’ve learned to encourage others, but for now I'm still there, and lately I can’t seem to be able to heal enough to be functional. Every time I feel like I’m getting back on my feet and connecting again, I get hurt, rejected, or forgotten, and fall back to feeling abandoned, unwanted, and hopeless. The enemies lies kick in and play in my head and there are too few people in my life speaking truth and helping me fight the lies. Isn’t it in your best interest to invest in helping me heal so I can be useful again?

Others in the sin-broken world around us need what I have too. Because my struggle is so real, and so common in the fallen world, I draw others struggling to me in shared pain. I so long to bring them to you to minister to, so they can find healing and hope … but how can I, when I can’t even find that? How can I tell someone that Jesus loves them and wants to heal them and that He will use His church to help, when I know that all they might find is a place where they don’t fit in and aren’t noticed unless they have time, money, and resources to give back? I’m broken. They are broken. Am I too much of a liability for you? Because if I am, how will you take care of the lost who are even more broken and without hope than I am? You say you want them, but are you willing to bear the cost? Because I long to bring them to you, so we can care for them together!

The worst thing is that your negligence and lack of real sacrificial concern has even pushed me to doubt God. I hurt and hurt and hurt … and you do so little, and it seems so many days like He does nothing … because wouldn’t He use you? Is the problem that He’s not really speaking to you, or that you don’t listen, or that I just really don’t matter to Him or to you? …. I just don’t know. I know how you are flourishing. I see how you dress, and vacation, and build on what you have. Trust me, I don’t want to take any of that from you. I just don’t understand why God continues to take more and more from me all the while telling me He loves me, while you are blessed with more than plenty. I am haunted by accusations that it is because of something I’ve done, or not done, and then assaulted by reminders that it is all grace, but oh! How this grace hurts!

If I seem angry, even edging into bitterness, I know this is true. I’m trying not to let it go there … I know I have been spared so much! I'm trying to take responsibility for the things in my life that I can change, but I am so buried under years of neglect I don't even know where to start, and quickly become overwhelmed by all the demands. I work hard to be grateful for what God IS doing, what He is giving … but I want to be loved and pursued and desired. I know in my head that He has all of these things for me, and that He alone is enough, but you are a part of Him and I want you too! I want you to love and desire me. I want you to cry with me, and get angry with me, and laugh and rejoice with me too! And in case you are saying that I need to connect more to find these things, remember: I am the drowning swimmer in the ocean. I’m almost out of strength, so I can’t even see you most days, much less swim to you. Isn’t there any of you who are willing to throw me a life preserver … again and again if need be … until I am safe on board the ship?

If you hear nothing else in this letter, please hear this: I don’t want this to be the last thing I say on the church. You have been there getting me through many hard things. I’ve lost so much, and was kept afloat by you. I miss you! I am hopeful that I can be a part of you again, I just don’t see that happening now, and I’m almost out of strength. Do you want me? Do you love our Lord enough to show the world His love? Because that is what I want the world to see in our church. I believe with all my heart that our love for each other will draw unbelievers to us like no ad campaign we can dream up. I believe that sacrificially caring for each other will silence our critics and will generate the resources we long to have to minister to the lost. I believe that our skeptical generation will be curious when they see us loving each other in deeds, not just words. I believe this because it is what God has said. It is what I want, not just selfishly, but righteously. Do you want this too?

I’m waiting to see. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Because the Opposite of Love Isn't Always Hate ...

Often I can handle it when people hate (or dislike) me. I can usually "get inside their heads" enough to understand what thinking fuels their contempt of me. It still can hurt ... still can reopen those wounded places and expose the lies I battle daily ... but I can understand those people and can usually fight their disapproval easier with truth.

What I have a very difficult time battling is indifference. Indifference is when people tell me they love me when they notice me aching, but never  follow up with a call or message when I'm out of sight. Indifference is when people ask how I'm doing, try to bless me with their words, but never touch base in the middle of the week ... never offer tangible help ... never sacrifice to show me they love me. Indifference is when my eyes are desperately searching for someone ... ANYONE ... to see me hurting, but not even getting a look ... or worse having someone say "Hi!" but never stop to see what is behind my desperate eyes. And indifference is aching so badly ... feeling so near tears that I avoid any eye contact ... and the people around me whom I know let me avoid them.

In the middle of drowning depression, indifference cuts into your soul. It echoes and affirms the voices in your head that are already telling you that you really don't matter, and it drags you farther into a cage of isolation.

I can remember week after week of feeling this way, lost and alone in places where I should have been revived, encouraged, and embraced. Admittedly, the indifference sensed by someone like me with an emotional or mental health problem like depression is often perceived, not genuine. I can look back during periods when I'm not depressed and see that most of the people I ran into when I felt this way weren't intentionally trying to ignore me. But because I was already fighting the lies in my head, I was quick to attribute what I perceived as indifference to my worth to others. However in the middle of it, it all feels so real and it is so hard to control the thoughts fueling the isolation and depression.

As I contemplate those dark places where I felt so alone, I can hear myself as well as others asking, "What could be done?" I wish I could just come up with ten steps to relieving the pain and suffering of someone with depression, but I'm pretty sure it's not that easy. I'm not sure that someone who did all the right things would have made me feel any better. However a few things have come to mind - those things I wished and longed for, but rarely saw happen.

  • If you think someone is pulling away, ask a few questions. I know that I told enough people that I was "not connected," "having a hard time with ...," and even more directly "struggling with depression." (By this time, I was fully aware of my battle, and pretty upfront about it.)   
  • Know or review symptoms of depression and listen for them in conversations. Then ask a few more questions and express love and concern.  
  • If you really care about the person, stay in touch. Depression is isolating, and seeing someone pursue you out of loving concern can be a real encouragement when your head is telling you you're worthless.  
  • Spend a little time getting to know what motivates and encourages the person. I'm a hardcore people-pleaser, so when people get involved enough to keep tabs on me, I recharge and get way more done in my life, which in turn makes me feel more in control and better about ... well ... everything. Just stopping by or calling once a week can be a real boost for me. I'm also a very affectionate, touchy person, but I don't get that kind of affection much now that I'm parenting teenage boys, so hugs and embraces make me feel really connected. However not everyone feels better with these expressions of love and concern, so take time ... even ask what helps your friend or loved-one feel loved.  
  • Accept that you can't fix everything for someone else. Remind them that you can't fix it all. But remind them also that you are always there to support and do what you are able to do. Then ask if they have things you might be able to do.   
  • Pray for them! ASK them how you can pray. TELL them you are praying. But most of all PRAY!!! 
  • Gather a team. Caring for someone with ongoing emotional and mental health problems can be exhausting and depleting. Feeling like I'm burdening you doesn't make me feel good. So if possible, put together a team of friends who will help care for the person struggling together.   
  •  Share encouraging scriptures. God's Word is SO powerful, and can break through all obstacles: spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical. I once had a friend mail me a note card with promises or truths on it every few days or week. She would tell me to list the lies that the truth countered and cross them out. Being turned back to God's promises encouraged my heart and kept me going even in one of the hardest times of my life.
  • Don't forget them. Being forgotten makes me feel ... abandoned ... again. It aggravates the sense of being alone. So set up reminders to check back and follow-up.  
  • BUT if you DO forget ... come back and admit it. Everyone is busy, and it's easy to get overloaded and sidetracked. I get that. I also know that if I'm not your wife, child, mom, or other family member, I won't get the kind of priority in your life that they do. Just come back and admit that you dropped the ball and restate your love and commitment to supporting me.

**Please know that the things I say here are said in my humble opinion and out of the things I have felt. I fully understand that no one can "fix" my problems, and I have to make choices and face the consequences of things I have already chosen. I just know that I've also been in close places of harming myself, when I felt like no one cared, and some simple efforts of others would have gone a long way to keep me getting out of bed and making forward progress. Nevertheless, God is gracious, and often steps in when others don't and is always enough, even when you don't feel like He is.