I guess it’s finally time to put something Jesus related on the blog since I actually put that category into the website with the intention of using it one day. And while Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and I could put up a message about being grateful, I feel there are plenty of those messages circulating right now. No, I want to write about something maybe not so upbeat as most of us prepare to gather with friends and family around a big table of food.
Tomorrow millions of Americans will greet their family and friends with a hug, smile, kiss or all of the above. That means a lot of catching up as people share what they’ve been up to since they last saw their loved ones. And I’d be willing to bet most, if not all of the stories and updates shared will be happy ones. I suspect few people will sit down at the dinner table and say, “Actually, life hasn’t been so great. I’ve been really hurting with _______.” Who’d want to bum out the festivities? So, instead of confessing shared struggles with loved ones who are more likely than anyone to listen, care, and be in a position to help, millions will just tuck those problems away and throw up the infamous guarded smile.
Showing weakness at the top
The modern Church has a real problem with showing weakness and humanity because, for some reason, we’re just not comfortable being vulnerable, even with a family whose sole function is to provide love in a sometimes heartless world. There are too many leaders who don’t admit their struggles. Reasons can be varied. Perhaps they feel others won’t trust them to lead anymore if they show weakness. Maybe there’s a toxic combination of shame and pride with admitting fault.
Perhaps the most tragic effect of a leader who doesn’t display weakness is that filters down to the rest of us. If a minister, elder, deacon, etc. always appears perfect with a smile on their face, what does that show the rest of us? A few things, possibly. Maybe that leader doesn’t trust their congregation enough to reveal their shortcomings. Perhaps they don’t believe they have any real shortcomings, which would be the most dangerous possibility. But the most common thing this behavior shows us is there’s no real place for confession or sharing of our life’s issues.
Think about it. The church is supposed to be a safe place for people to reveal their broken souls, lay bare what keeps them up at night crying. But if a leader of that church doesn’t share their own misgivings, why should they expect their congregation to? It just makes people feel alone with their problems and exacerbates the overall issue.
I’ll give you an example of sharing pain done right. I used to attend the West Side Church of Christ in Russellville, Arkansas while growing up. Sometimes I still drop by when I’m in town. Our lead pastor at the time was a man by the name of Dan Lightfoot. Nowadays, I understand he spends his time preaching at a different congregation the West Side folks simply call 5th and Greenwich.
One morning after asking others to come forward and present their problems or sins so elders could pray for them, Dan did something remarkable. He himself had a confession that was eating at his soul. There was an individual that Dan had been working with, I don’t remember exactly the nature of their relationship. But I think Dan had been doing some Bible studies with them or counseling them. Well, that weekend this individual had called Dan seeking help, and because it was late, the minister either declined or missed that phone call. I don’t recall which. As fate would have it, Dan’s friend died that night, and he learned about it later.
Dan was crushed, beyond crushed. He told us he felt as though he should have gotten that phone call. And he wished he could go back in time and pick up. Overcome with guilt and sorrow, Dan started crying right there in the pulpit, and some people from the church stepped forward to comfort him. That’ll always stick with me, because that was a rare instance, in which, a church leader showed their hand, revealed exactly what they were dealing with. And I just wish more people would be like Dan in that regard today.
The ultimate example
Jesus showed his grief in an example most probably remember because it’s the shortest Bible verse in existence (and therefore one of the first read aloud at Bible memory verse competitions in youth groups across the nation). It’s found in John 11:35, and it merely says, “Jesus wept.”
The Son of God had the ability to heal any disease, and one of his friends Lazarus was deeply ill. Lazarus eventually succumbed to his illness and was sealed in a tomb before Jesus arrived on the scene. Jesus’ intention had been to show everyone he had power over Death to resurrect people. But when he got to Bethany where Lazarus died, he was taken to the tomb. It’s there he became overwhelmed with emotion. I can’t say what he felt. Was it pain because he saw what Lazarus and his loved ones had gone through in order for this future miracle to take place? Was there a little guilt over not arriving sooner? Who can say?
The important point is Jesus was distraught, moved by the pain all around him his friends had endured. And sure, he could have just gotten on with the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, but that’s not who Jesus was. Jesus was human, and he felt true sorrow. The importance of having the verse “Jesus wept” included in John’s retelling of this event is to show Jesus wasn’t afraid of displaying grief, which some today might consider a weakness.
If the Son of God can openly weep before his followers, church leaders should have no problems revealing their humanity to the congregation. It builds trust, deepens humility, and fosters a loving and safe environment the church is supposed to be. Paul made it pretty clear how the church is to react to downfall in 1 Corinthians 12:26 “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” From the elders on down to the people in the back pew who show up five minutes late to service every week, the church needs to do a better job of showing AND comforting people in their human moments.
We’re all broken
But let’s leave church leaders and get back to the ordinary folk. Like the title says, everyone is broken. I don’t care if you’ve got a successful marriage, great job, loving kids, a big house, fluffy dog, two vehicles, and all the money you need. I know a guy who has all that, and guess what? He’s broken too. It’s not my place to spill his weaknesses, but they’re there.
Some people struggle with drugs, others alcohol, mental illness, overeating, getting close to anyone, and the list just goes on and on. But perhaps the most broken people are the ones who don’t believe they’re broken. I touched on that a little above. There’s some folks out there who are dead convinced they’ve got it all together. And more so than the homeless man on the side of the street, that individual who thinks they have no chinks in their armor is broken like the rest of us.
The bottom line is we need to be better are revealing just how broken we are. And we must never allow ourselves to think our flaws are lesser than someone else’s, putting us above them. This is especially a problem for people who don’t think they’re broken because that makes it easier to judge those who are. Paul warns against that in Romans 2:1 writing, “No matter who you are, if you judge anyone, you have no excuse. When you judge another person, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things.”
There’s no sliding scale for broken where people can go, well I’m just a little broken, but that person over there? They’re REALLY broken. The inherent truth I keep pointing to is that we’re all broken. And we all have been since Original Sin. If you know you’re broken, share your burdens with someone you trust. If you don’t know you’re broken, ask for help. I bet you’ll find something sooner or later.
Of course, what a hypocrite I’d be after spending 1,400 words telling you, the reader, to be more open about your flaws if I didn’t share my own. Like Paul wrote to Timothy in his first letter, chapter four, verse 12, “. . . make your speech, behavior, love, faith, and purity an example for other believers.”
As of late, I’ve struggled to find God’s meaning and purpose for my life. I have a great life, make no doubt. But I’m broken, directionless, and unsure of what God wants me to do. I am ready for orders, but I fail to hear what those orders are, in spite of praying every night for direction and guidance. This leads to being bummed because as Lumiere sang, “Life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving. He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon.”
Those wiser than I have pointed out my lack of studying God’s Word regularly is likely to blame. For this where we find God. I try to read a few verses every night before bed, but this is no substitution for study.
I know they’re right, but I find it a struggle to study the Bible unless it’s for a purpose. You know when I used to really spend time buried in God’s Word? When I taught Sunday morning Bible classes at West Side. I spent hours reading the Word, being in God’s presence, and making lesson plans to share with others. I spent years doing it after being asked to help fill in for a brilliant man with an addiction to maps on Wednesday nights. His name is Keith Klemmer, and he lives in Washington, D.C., now. But he got me started teaching, and it was off to the races.
I haven’t taught class in years, and I truly miss that opportunity. Alas, the church I attend now, which I love being apart of, has no Bible classes, per se. So I’ve lost that opportunity, and I miss it something awful. I have no interest in leaving my church, but I’m starved for the opportunity to teach again. I’ve prayed for opportunities to appear, but so far. . . like God’s instructions, I’ve got nadda.
There you have my biggest struggle as of late. I’m broken like the rest of you. And I’d encourage you. As families go around the table saying what they’re thankful for, maybe find some time to speak to them about what you struggle with. If that opportunity doesn’t exist, make it. Find someone you trust and talk to them about your struggles. That’s how we all get stronger together.