I have spent much of my faith journey traveling alone and didn’t realize it. And, I am now realizing how harmful that has been in limiting my spiritual growth. I know, it doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but let me explain a bit more.
For those of you who have been with us for a while, you know that I have been a life-long believer in Jesus Christ. I really don’t remember a time when I didn’t know him or believe in him. I have always been a member of a church and usually very active, with ebbs and flows depending on my life circumstances. I also grew up in the upper Midwest, an area of the country settled primarily by Protestant and Catholic Germanic and Scandanavian ethnic groups. Settling on the prairie at the turn of the 19th century required a heartiness of character, which included hard work, doing what is right, independence, and grit. Personal responsibility and stoic determination were part of the ethos and were transferred through the generations. These ideals also found their way into the ethos of the churches I grew up in and there are still remnants of them in the church I go to now.
The result of this ethos is that most people in the church walk through their struggles without the support and love of the body of Christ. We might let people know about a struggle, a diagnosis of cancer or the continued struggle of addiction in a loved one’s life. We might even ask for prayer. However, rarely, do we let people inside to see true depth of pain. Why might that be? We feel we mustn’t be a burden on others. We should be able to deal with life and its struggles stoically and with grace. And, the honest truth is that most of us don’t want to get our hands dirty at church and I think everyone knows it. We will pray for others but we really don’t want to know the details of the struggle. We will raise money for those in need but we won’t go to them and be with them in their struggle. When we see someone struggling because of sin, we don’t want to confront them because it might cause conflict or, worse yet, force us to confront our own sin.
We have also bought into the idea that all we need is Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Word to grow. Don’t get me wrong, those are the main ingredients, but we miss a big piece of the puzzle when we fail to recognize the body of Christ and relationship in the equation. We need each other to grow, to become more disciplined in our faith. Cloud and Townsend (2001) said that “self-discipline is always the fruit of ‘other-discipline'” (p. 125). Others provide us with discipline, structure, accountability, grace and forgiveness, and support (Cloud & Townsend, 2001). The process helps us to die to self and be reborn as a new creation in Christ.
Fortunately for me, over the years, I have found a few places to connect and be vulnerable. I regularly attend a 12-step support group for family members of alcoholics, Al-Anon. While Al-anon isn’t a community of believers the way a church might be, I have found that what goes on in an Al-anon meeting is usually far more genuine and real, more honest and confronting than most of what goes on in churches. The other place I have recently found a space to be real is in a bible study with my Mom and sisters. I think perhaps part of the reason for the ability to be real is that these are the people who know me the best. I really can’t pull one over on them. The other is that I know without doubt that they can look at my ugly and still love me.
I believe that these types of relationships exist in churches and can definitely be cultivated in churches. I just haven’t had the opportunity to experience them myself. I have come to realize recently that I have some church wounds that may be keeping me from experiencing this type of relationship within my church and I plan to write a series on church wounds over the next month or so, as I explore this issue for myself.
Contributed by Liz Hunt
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2001). How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals About Personal Growth. Zondervan.