In this social media driven world, we know all too well the temptation to sanitize our respective life experiences and stories. Even the cloistered folk who refuse any social media will often not give you a straight answer when asked the sincere question, “How are you doing?” “Fine” is not an acceptable answer, in my book. The reason I say we need to be more honest in our responses and presentations to one another is:
Hiding large swaths of our lives and stories from others is not the path to spiritual wellness, emotional healing, and personal peace. However, owning our internal struggles through embracing weakness, humility, vulnerability, and faith opens to us the way of grace.
Far too often you and I have ongoing struggles within because we don’t own them. We struggle because we don’t struggle. I’m the expert on stuffing feelings. I learned it well early in my life. Yet, feelings never evaporate just because we ignore them. Just the opposite, like a forgotten half-carton of cottage cheese in the back of the fridge, our feelings only gather moldy bacteria and crust over with nastiness. We need to understand that feelings really do have an expiration date to them. If not openly confronted and dealt with, they’ll fester into bitterness. It’s much better to get down and dirty with our present struggles instead of living with the wishful thinking that they’ll just go away.
Holy Scripture and 2,000 years of church history have given us a path to wholeness. Lent is the season which draws out grand themes of the Christian life from the Bible. Prominent is our need for confession, repentance, faith, humble prayer, and forgiveness. Spiritual disciplines exist to put us in a position to confront our deepest struggles – even ones we didn’t know we had.
There are 52 references to “one another” in the Bible. “Love one another” (John 13:34-35); “Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32); “Show hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9); “Forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13); “Encourage one another” (Hebrews 3:13); and “Bear the burdens of one another” (Galatians 6:2); are just a few of the exhortations Scripture gives us to “spur one another on” (Hebrews 10:24) toward spiritual well-being and healthy community relationships.
Nowhere in Holy Scripture will you find references to hide from one another, pester one another, or put up a false front toward one another. Some folks live as if the author of Hebrews said, “Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting together for worship and edification, so just let them go, slackers they are. Forget about that encouragement thing, especially since Jesus is coming soon anyway.” Here is what the verse says, for real:
“Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer”. (Hebrews 10:25, CEV)
There were confessing believers in the ancient church who drifted away and dropped out. They had legitimate internal and external struggles with outward persecution and inner doubt. What they needed most was an infusion of faith and perseverance, which would only come if they owned their struggle through sharing it with others. Like a charcoal briquette which falls off the pile and loses its fire, so there were individual Christians who separated themselves from the warmth of genuine fellowship and lost their faith.
The ancient believers had some of the same struggles we had. They just couldn’t make sense of why things in the world were so bad. The people had little money, no respect from government authorities, and, most of all, family who were telling them they were crazy for following Jesus. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Rather than embrace the struggle and work through it, they just sat in the back of the fridge, I mean in the back pew of the church, and slowly gathered mold. Doing nothing is usually a bad idea. If you try and fail, there is grace. But if you do nothing, there is only nothing.
Freighted within the definition of biblical faith is risk. Faith is stepping out and taking a chance on love, encouragement, help, support, comfort, and kindness. No risk it, no biscuit.
“Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards. Learn to be patient, so that you will please God and be given what he has promised. As the Scriptures say, ‘God is coming soon! It won’t be very long. The people God accepts will live because of their faith. But he isn’t pleased with anyone who turns back.’ We are not like those people who turn back and get destroyed. We will keep on having faith until we are saved.” (Hebrews 10:35-39, CEV)
God desires you and me to take a risk on betting the farm on Jesus. Embracing Christ involves owning our struggles, to him and to one another. Yes, you may argue that it isn’t helpful to wear your feelings on your sleeve. But I’m not talking about emotional diarrhea; I’m talking about something far worse: emotional prostitution, where we sell ourselves to others in a cheap façade of who we really are and how we are really doing. We want to be liked and we want to be loved, and we mistakenly believe that keeping up false appearances will get us what we long for.
You might fail? Join the club. I’m willing to wager that I’ve been fired or let go from more jobs than you’ve even had in your life. I’ve some wild ministry successes, and I have had some spectacular failures. I have been at the lowest of the low in a major depression, and I’ve been at the top of the mountain where every prayer gets answered. I have had God be silent for months on end, with me having no clue as to why. I’ve had literally no money to my name, and I’ve had plenty in multiple accounts.
So, here’s the humble observation: It doesn’t matter whether your circumstances are to your liking or not, whether you have all you feel you need, or don’t ever seem to have enough, whether you have well-behaved kids and family, or wayward children and messed up uncles and cousins. What matters is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6). It takes risk to have faith. It takes two (or more) to have love.
Own your struggle. Don’t live in denial. Grab it and face it squarely. Face it with God. Face it with others. If you’re mad as hell at God, tell him so; he’s big enough to take it (please go to the psalms and pray them as your own). If you need prayer and/or help, ask for it. Don’t just expect someone to read your mind or your emotions. If someone asks you to pray, stop what you’re doing and get on your knees with that person and pray like there’s no tomorrow.
Life is too short to sleepwalk through it with a constellation of emotions that need dealing with. Being overwhelmed is common to the human condition. “How are you?” “Busy!” Tell me something I don’t know. It takes no relational effort to give a pat answer. Let’s get down to why you feel you constantly need to express how busy you are, even when you’re not really all that busy.
I think you get the idea. Scripture doesn’t call us to hide, but to love one another enough to both give and receive God’s grace. Maybe you don’t need to let it all out on social media, but there is a place and a context for you to bring your struggles before God and others. Take advantage of the privilege and the opportunity which has been provided for you through the cross of Jesus Christ.