One Answer Fits All?
March 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
I am so done with easy answers.
Not only do I dislike hearing “one size fits all” answers because they seem very impersonal and more comforting to the other person, therefore making me feel like they are not listening to what I am saying, but also because these answers tend to invalidate or not give the appropriate weight to the pain people feel.
Everyone knows those cliché Christian phrases we say to people who are hurting that actually provide more eye rolls than they do comfort.
God just needed another angel in heaven.
You know, God won’t give you more than you can bear.
Everything happens for a reason.
Just because God didn’t answer doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.
We are usually quick to whip out a cheesy Christian answer or our favorite Bible verse whenever someone comes to us in pain and suffering. These cover all, blanket answers that do not fit every person’s life usually do not take into consideration the pains that people go through because of injustice in the world.
Someone said to me recently, “What is spiritual comfort for others may not be for you…and that’s ok”
That was really freeing for me. Too often we say what we think is comforting without thinking through how it can potentially be damaging for someone else. What we usually do not take into account is the ways in which Scripture has been misinterpreted and skewed to manipulate or harm others. We may know that this happens, but if it has not happened to you or if it is not your intention, it can be easy to forget to apply this knowledge and act as if it is a rare occasion and therefore should not change how we say things. If we have rarely experienced the hurt and mistreatment that many of the people around us have, we may not be able to see how certain Christian phrases or ideas may be translated through the lens of someone who has been abused, neglected, mistreated, or oppressed. This inability to see through their lens may cause us to become too defensive when encountering people who are angry with God or frustrated with the Bible.
An example of this would be the idea of God as a protector. Someone may be able to back that up with Scripture. But how do you think that comes across to someone who was abused their whole life and stripped of any ability to protect themselves, and no one, not even the person they were supposed to trust most, protected them? How do you think that messes with someone’s head who cried out to God to protect them and nothing happened?
And don’t even get me started on all the cliche phrases of Christian purity culture…..Ok, here I go.
How do you think it sounds to a girl, who was repeatedly raped, that “good Christian guys only want virgins?” I was in a service one time where I was listening to a lady go on about how you decrease your value every time you give a piece of yourself to a guy. Not only was I fuming inside because this message of guilt and shame and control is exactly the opposite of the freedom and redemption that Christ offers, not to mention it teaches unhealthy interpersonal relationships (can you tell I have a lot to say about this?), but I was also looking over at a girl who I knew was repeatedly raped as a child and wondering how in hell she was supposed to feel hope and empowerment from this “sermon”.
Obviously, if someone is preaching a gospel other than the grace of Jesus, and if someone is using the Scriptures to manipulate and harm, they should stop.But I think the harder challenge is in situations when we believe in something and are not intentionally trying to be harmful with what we’re saying. In those cases, are we still willing to lay down what we personally believe or find comfort in so that others pain can be dealt with? Are we willing to take the time to listen to people’s stories so we can have some sort of an understanding of how they need us to respond? Are we willing to lay down our knee jerk reactions, our magic wands, our innate desire for black and white answers and everything to be easy, our justifications of why we preach what we preach, in order to honestly deal with our own messes and the messes around us?
Let what is a comfort to you be a comfort to you. Be encouraged by people who find them comforting as well. But don’t exclude those who do not. Don’t jump to conclusions because someone does not respond the way that you do to aspects of God. Don’t assume someone does not enjoy worship just because they do not worship the way that you do. And don’t assume that someone is not passionate about sharing Jesus just because they are uncomfortable with typical evangelism tactics.
I have found that those who were raised in the church typically struggle with and find comfort in the same things as others who grew up around Christianity. For those who became Christians later in life, they sometimes do not understand as well what it is like to grow up in Christian culture. For them, Christianity saved them. For Christian culture people, they felt they had no other choice. As someone who grew up in the church, I find that people who did not may not be able to speak into or understand certain doubts, questions or experiences I have had. But many times these same people remind me of the joy of being a Christian. Their passion and excitement remind me why I continue to choose to be a follower of Jesus.
No story or person is better than the other and when we step back from judgment and exclusion, we can get to know the person. And we may find that the fact that they even showed up to church that day, with the brokenness, pain, doubts and baggage they carry, is a miracle in and of itself. That is how I have been recently viewing the church. A miracle of people in the midst of all their hurts and struggles, still standing and following Christ.
But sadly we tend to think that it is weakness to let other people affect what we think or believe. I can write out a whole email or Facebook comment of what I think, of frustrations that I have and I could send it to someone without a thought of how it may affect them. But typically when I am face to face with that person, my words and my tone are so much nicer and I am more pleased with how I handled the situation rather than calling them out from behind a computer screen. That is why I struggle with the idea of a blog. It is almost as if I have to picture people the whole time I am writing rather than use the distance to say things I would not say to a person’s face. Because being face to face forces me to remember that I am dealing with a human being who has hurts and emotions just like I do.
I find that people always want preachers to be stricter in their teaching, more “bold”, more firm and definitive. But most preachers try to be really careful with what they are firm on, not because they are weak or cowards, but because most preachers are also pastors.
The gospel brings hope and life and peace and freedom. Oh yes it does. And some have had the glorious opportunity to hear that message untainted, as clear and beautiful as it was meant to be said. They heard it in their darkest place and it called them out. But for some, this ideal is not always a reality. For some, this same message was used to keep people in bondage, in submission, in oppression and others have controlled this message to get what they want. And the people affected by this are sitting in our churches, in our communities, just crying out to hear that Jesus is not who their oppressors said he was. There are people in our churches who cannot bear to hear another cliche Christian phrase and it is our responsibility to each other to validate each other’s pain and doubts without taking it personally or trying to find an answer to all of their problems. I find that listening and walking with people in their pain is usually the response most people are looking for.