We are surrounded by communities. Our church, our friends, our family, our coworkers. These communities often intersect, and each has the ability to uplift us or destroy us. When we’re going through a difficult time, our communities can serve a vital role in helping us make it through.
So why is it that so often, when people are hurting the most, we shy away from the one community that should have the greatest capacity for seeing us through: the church? What should be our first line of defense against the pain of this world often turns into a battlefield all its own.
Whatever it is we’re facing – an abusive relationship, a pending divorce, the death of a loved one, mental illness or a struggle with addiction, the church can be a place of more hurt than help in our darkest times.
I would posit that every one of our church family has faced at least one serious struggle in their lives, and yet we often stand silent in our grief. We smile and nod to each other in church and we say everything is fine and we’re doing well. It’s truly amazing how many people are “blessed” and “wonderful” when you ask. From outward appearances you’d think pain ceased to exist when we walked through the doors of church. Oh, if only that were the case!
Why do we find it so hard to confide in our church family? For me, it was fear. Fear of being judged instead of loved. Fear of being condemned instead of absolved. Fear of being cast out instead of sheltered from the storm. I had seen it happen too many times before to others in the church, and I feared it happening to me.
So for five years I suffered in silence through a destructive relationship. I tried harder, I prayed more, I attended marriage counseling from a Christian therapist, and all the while I told everyone I was fine, I was wonderful, I was blessed. In reality, I was scared and hurting and I felt so very alone.
When I finally made the decision to divorce, all of the fears that had kept me from confiding in my church family were realized. The unsolicited comments I most often heard from the church community were along the lines of, “Divorce is a sin,” “You should have tried harder to be a better wife,” “You should have prayed more,” “We’ll be praying that you can repair your relationship.”
These comments were almost always from those who knew nothing of the situation. And though they didn’t know the details of what had happened, they also didn’t ask; they just offered judgment in the guise of advice.
I don’t question the concern of these well-meaning individuals, though I do wonder where that concern was truly directed. Was it concern for me or was it concern for the self-preservation of the community? “Another Adventist divorce. It doesn’t look good to the ‘outside world.’ Whatever the problem in a marriage, surely with enough prayer and faith, a true believer would have been capable of working it out.”
It wasn’t until speaking to others who had been through similar situations that I realized just how common this was: the fear of confiding in the church family and the swift and assured condemnation once one does.
Is it any wonder that with this kind of response so many of our lost and broken turn to communities other than the church to help them through? Why is judgment the church’s first response to someone’s pain? Why do we assume their relationship with God is somehow to blame for the pain they are currently facing when we know this is a world full of strife and suffering? We as Christians are not immune from it, and only by uplifting each other can we ever hope to rise above it.
The community that supported me during those dark months and years of divorce proceedings was that of my non-Adventist friends. How difficult it was to realize that it was those outside the church who were most willing to bare their own wounds and hurting souls, and provide solace for others who did the same. What would our church family look like if we were able to do this for each other?
How many lonely, broken people are silently suffering within our church today? How many stand as part of our community and yet are apart from it? My hope is that together as a church, as a family, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can move toward a place of love and understanding in the face of suffering. I look forward to the day when we epitomize the words of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NIV). Will you help me transform our community of loneliness into one of healing?
Alisa Williams is a life-long resident of the Andrews University community. She spent her childhood naming the cows at the dairy, exploring the nature trails that wind around Lemon Creek, and finding adventure in the maze of buildings on campus. Nowadays, you’ll most often find her hunting down antique treasures, writing children’s stories, or being walked by her two 70-lb. rescue dogs.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6223