I wish the Church could learn from the counseling world. Although the body of Christ ought to be the place where we can share our deepest struggles and our most embarrassing weaknesses, too often we show up on Sunday with a smile on our face and a report on God’s blessings, with maybe an obscure reference to “personal sin” thrown in for a few seconds.
I say this with all the love in the world for the universal Church. In a lot of ways, it’s doing so much right. I think the Church is excellent at meeting people’s physical and spiritual needs. Where it often fails, however, is addressing people’s emotional needs. It is easy for me to fall back into thinking America’s Christian culture’s rhythms and language are normal. That is, until I talked with a woman who has gone to counseling, and then I pulled her out of the church business meeting so we could keep talking, because it was intoxicating.
In counseling, you lead with your weakness. Whether in individual or group therapy, everyone there knows that everyone else is messed up. You listen to stories thinking about the underlying questions: “What was he feeling that made him do that? Who in her life has hurt her to cause her to put up those walls?” There isn’t blame, just an understanding that life is hard and we all make dumb decisions as we try to protect ourselves.
In church, you lead with your strength. I fell into this trap so quickly. I want to speak well, have the right answers, be just transparent enough to impress people with my transparency. I want to shove aside my jealousy, my doubt, my loneliness. I didn’t realize that I didn’t feel safe broaching these topics until I talked with the aforementioned woman. Within five minutes of our conversation, I immediately knew I could share my pain and frustrations with her. I knew she wouldn’t judge me. I knew she wouldn’t fix me. I knew she would listen, understand, and share something of herself in return.
As we were winding up our conversation, she said, “You’re very highly spoken of here, and I….I never knew if I could talk to you.”
I HATE THIS. I’ve spent a huge amount of my life trying very hard to be the “good girl” who everyone respects and looks up to. And I am very often validated for doing so by other people who try very hard to be “good.” But my perfectionism alienates me from others, and I know that, but still. I want people to think I’m perfect.
My hope is that the Church will slowly grow into a place where people can lead with their weakness and know that they will find acceptance for doing so. Jesus saw people’s sins, he saw their fear, he saw their history, and he loved them. He ate with them, drank with them, and talked with them. Very rarely did he confront them. Why? Because he knew that people sin out of hurt and fear. And he knew that when love replaces that hurt and fear, the sins fall away. That is why God loves us, loves us, loves us, and asks us to love him back. When our life is based in love, we don’t have to pretend or hide.
As God loves us, so should we love others.
So often I do not trust the love of others, but I want to. I want to risk vulnerability in order to experience a love that transforms. With one beautiful conversation, I got to taste that kind of love, and it was good. I want to experience it again, and offer it to others.