Voices: An appeal for honesty in church

The Bible deals honestly with soulful struggle, such as Jacob’s wrestling match with an angel of the Lord. But churches often fail to provide a safe space for spiritual honesty. (“Jacob not let go to an angel struggling with him,” by Alexander Ivanov / CC public domain)

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The truth is life is hard.

Zac Harrel 175Zac HarrelWe will suffer. We will get sick. Our families will be filled more with chaos than with stability. We will lose loved ones and be paralyzed by grief. Life stinks. Our world is broken and our lives are broken.

The sad truth is most of us live with this brokenness, thinking we are alone. We buy into the lie that everyone around us has it all together. We see their perfect pictures on social media. When we see them in public, they assure us everything is great—couldn’t be better. And at church, they are all smiles and hugs. Our brokenness when compared to their seeming happiness makes us feel like something is wrong with us.

Actually, we all are struggling. The pictures we post on social media may have our children smiling and hugging, but what we don’t see is the screaming fit that ensues as soon as we have snapped our beautiful photo. What we don’t see in the smiles and hugs on Sunday morning is the huge fight they just got in with their spouse while trying to get their kids to eat breakfast and get dressed. What we don’t hear when we exchange pleasantries on the street is how much hurt and grief they are carrying around with them.

texas baptist voices right120You are not alone.

We all are in the same boat. All of our lives are broken. Suffering and loss touch all of us. At some point or another, we are all selfish, our spouses are all difficult to live with and our children frustrate us to no end.

The church is the place for broken people, for angry people, for frustrated people, for grieving people, for at-the-end-of-their-rope people.

Our churches should be the place where we can wipe off the fake smile and open up about our hurts. It should be the place where we can take off our religious masks and open up about our doubts and fears. We have to quit trying to be “good Christians” and start being real about what God is doing in our lives. None of us has it all together, not even the one who preaches from the pulpit week-in and week-out. True community can only happen when we realize we are all struggling and hurting.

We have to let go of our idea that the mature in Christ are the ones who don’t doubt or struggle with their faith. The exact opposite almost always is true. Those who have a deep faith in Christ suffer, struggle and doubt. They are honest about their pain. Their deep faith doesn’t make them immune from suffering. It reminds them in the midst of their suffering God is faithful, loving and present.

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One of the most encouraging verses in the Bible is found in Isaiah 42:3: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”

God knows

God knows our struggles. God knows we are bruised, but he will not break us. God knows our faith is a faintly burning wick, but he will not quench it. We bring all we can in this moment, and God will do the rest. It is OK to be bruised; nothing is wrong with you. It is OK to have a faintly burning faith; God will sustain you.

Our churches must be places where we can be honest with one another, where we can say we are bruised and our faith is faintly burning. In those moments, we cannot hide behind a façade of having it all together. When our bruises and our faintly burning faith are hidden, we miss the healing power of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the body of Christ. Find someone to talk to, to pray with. We all need the healing power of honest community.

Church, are you a place where people can open up about their bruises and faintly burning faith?

Jesus calls all of the broken to come to him. Are our churches doing the same? It is time we let go of trying to have it all together. We all are bruised reeds. We all, at some point or another, have a faintly burning wick of faith.

We all are in this together.

Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas.

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