Three places the church may leave you stranded.
- After Summer Camp
- After graduating from a Bible College or other religious institution of learning
- After getting married.
These are all pinnacle moments. After they are completed, we assume the people are okay and full of joy. They must be! They had the pinnacle moment! They survived a summer camp! They found and wooed a partner! They studied the Bible at the college level. How could someone who does these things NOT be okay?
People are not always okay. We have problems. We get in trouble, we get unhappy, we get stuck on things. We sin. We do unhealthy things.
You might think that this is obvious, except that it’s not. We see someone open fire in a school and we recognize, “Oh yeah! THAT guy has problems,” while some part of us breathes a sigh of relief at the thought of, “Well, I’m not that bad so I must be okay.”
I observe that culture builds off this trend, especially Christian culture. We recognize saintly healthy living(the pastor, the missionary, the youth leader, the singer/songwriter, the woman who comes to morning prayers every morning) and we recognize the not-okay-sinner(the prostitute, the unwed mother, the adulterous husband, the porn addict, the drug addict, the “unbeliever,” the worldling) but we don’t allow for any space in the middle. We don’t allow for people who believe in Jesus on most days but doubt Him on some days. People who want to live rightly but who get tired and discouraged. People recovering from past addictions, past addictions, past traumas. The one who had an abusive father and is struggling to identify with “Father God.”
You are either okay, in love with Jesus, enjoying “rich times in the Word” every day and absolutely sure of what you believe and what you believe is completely in line with the group around you,
You’re an apostate, a heretic, backslider or unrepentant and active in sin.
Two extremes. No middle ground. No place for people to be growing or wrestling with hard questions.
And even if a person with doubts is welcome in a church, there is no specific strategy to engage the person, care for their heart, or listen to their story.
People with doubts are either ignored because they assumption is they’ll figure themselves out on their own and repent
They’re targeted and preached at and have people trying to execute spiritual interventions on them.
But I observe that people in the middle have not always sinned. They don’t really have anything to repent of. Most often, these people with struggles are asking good honest questions after living a real life in the real world.
I think most people can figure out their doubts. By the grace of God, with their own mind, with support from others. Sometimes all they need is a safe place to verbalize their journey.
This is a problem with church culture. A safe space is not cultivated in which to have doubts and questions. We church folk don’t always recognize the ways we do damage to people, intentional or otherwise. We usually don’t recognize specific ways we can improve or make changes.
Sometimes we do…sometimes we recognize where we are lacking and change our patterns and structure. I’m hoping this will happen more often.
These words come out of conversations I’ve had with people “in the middle.” Friends who have been through church, Bible college, summer camp, marriage and still don’t feel okay. People who “did all the right things” but still feel like they’re searching or discouraged or lonely or misunderstood.
People who have seen that life is not pretty and perfect, but are still expected to smile and lift their hands on Sunday morning and act like everything is okay…when everything is not okay.
I want to see a safe space made for people like my friends who are brave enough to say what they’re really thinking and feeling and believing. A space created by more listening than talking, and more questions and fewer simplistic answers.
This is my challenge to my reader.
This is my commitment to my reader, my friend, my sister and my brother. I aspire to make a safe space for people to be, no matter where I am.
In the end, I believe God will find His people who seek Him. But most of the time, that journey is long and twisted, questions and doubts, and takes us through dark places. We have to be okay with that. We have to support each other. In turn, we must believe that God will be found by anyone who honestly seeks Him, no matter how far out of the way their journey may take them.