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Pain and Church

16 Sep

church

I saw a friend the other day that I haven’t seen in years. After the initial surface questions and conversation she broke down in tears. She shared about the many difficulties her daughter has had from a lifelong illness and also shared recent difficulties in her marriage. She expressed her exhaustion, her sadness and her hopelessness; she is at the end of her rope. As she was asking me how I was dealing with having cancer again my heart was breaking for her because she looked so defeated. What was more heartbreaking was after sharing her pain she said one of the last places she wanted to go was church; she’s angry with God, she didn’t want to be judged, and she didn’t want to hear any ‘Christian-ese’ talk. Knowing some of my past struggles and now cancer again she looked me straight in the eyes and asked, ‘How can you still have faith in God? How can you not be angry?’ Tough stuff. When did church become ‘unsafe’ for the heartbroken, hopeless, and weary? Why do we sometimes feel like we have to put on our ‘best face’ to go to church? These are just a few of the questions I’ve been asking myself for awhile.img_4188

I have a confession. When I first found out my cancer was back a year ago July, I also didn’t feel like going to church for awhile. Sometimes even now, over a year later, I still feel the same way. ‘With so much effort being poured into church growth, so much press being given to the benefits of faith, and so much flexing of religious muscle in the public square, the poor in spirit have no one but Jesus to call them blessed anymore.’~ Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church. I go to an awesome Christian church with great leaders and great people. I’ve been attending for over 20 years, have volunteered here, was on the worship team, and have gone on mission trips. I love it yet I wanted not to go after I got the news of cancer’s 4th return. Why? I can only speak for myself when I say that I didn’t want to put my happy, ‘God’s got this’ face on at a time when I felt raw, sad, and disappointed. I didn’t want to hear ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ or ‘God only gives you what you can handle.’  Phrases I’ve probably used before. Do we really think about things before we say them? I listened to a great interview with Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist who spoke about this exact thing, watch it here. She says that Christians are so used to these words and phrases (‘Christianese’) that we have stopped thinking, have we? Maybe. These phrases, words, and easy responses sometimes take away from us listening, thinking and loving the people who are hurting. Words have power and when you’re hurting you hear every single word so when you are on the receiving end of these patent phrases that we use all.the.time. you can’t help but want to roll your eyes and think, ‘You have no idea.’ I’m sure it’s all well meaning.

So what was my response to my friend? I hugged her and stayed silent awhile. Then I told her I was so sorry she was in such pain and that I truly had no words. I told her to be gentle with herself, and that it’s ok not to smile. I look back at some of my pictures from the first few months post diagnosis and I’m smiling but my eyes are not. I told her I’m not mad at God and even though I don’t want to go to church sometimes I know that I still have God and more importantly He has me. I told her churches are filled with hurting people regardless of the shine of the facade but vulnerability and authenticity can only happen if we’re willing. I shared my pain and told her that illness and in her case, serious adversity can be lonely because most people can’t know exactly how you’re feeling. I told her that for me, that is the reason I can’t let go of my faith in God. At the end of the day if I don’t have faith that God is real, if I don’t have God to talk to and if I didn’t believe He loved me I would have nothing to hope for after this life and there would be no possibility of joy in crappy circumstances. How do you convince a broken person that God loves her? You start showing God’s love by listening and loving. ‘Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. img_4187Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.’ I LOVE that quote from Morgan Harper Nichols. In my low moments I don’t remember many conversations but I do remember the encouraging notes, those who sit and pray with me, and the many hugs with no words…love. Can we think on our own and not defer to a Christian-ese phrase as a response to someone’s pain? ‘No one leads people to Jesus; He leads people to Himself. All the pressure’s off; just go love everybody without agenda.’~Bob Goff

Today I’m feeling the red lipstick just because. I chose Urban Decay Vice Lipstick in Love Drunk which is a deep red. Love the name, love the color. Cheers!

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2 Responses to “Pain and Church”

  1. Brigid September 18, 2018 at 1:21 pm #

    Anna,
    As usual, you’ve hit the nail on the head and approached a topic with such sensitivity and love! I never didn’t want to go to church; I wanted to go more often because that’s where I felt so “hugged” by God. My least favorite saying from others was “You’ve got this!” My thought was always, “I’ve got nothing, but ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.'” (Philippians 4:13) That was my go-to Bible verse through it all.
    Love you. B

    • Anna September 18, 2018 at 7:57 pm #

      ❤️

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