When I sit in church sometimes, I sometimes listen to people talk about things like adversity, trials, and sorrows, about the times when we are at our lowest--and I think, can we get real? Can anyone here talk about what it's really like to be in distress? Can we admit the truth, that reading the scriptures and praying when you are facing a true trial--often doesn't help? Can we admit that there are moments when we doubt that God is real, that Christ died for us, that there is truth to the gospel at all? Or am I the only one who is living a life that isn't fixed by platitudes and pretty slogans?
When I analyze this tendency, I realize that one of the problems is that I feel like most of us don't want to admit how bad we are in church. We don't want to tell people how messy our houses are at their worst, how we sometimes yell at our children even if we know we shouldn't, that we might be tempted--and follow through on temptations--to commit sin? Of course, this makes sense on some level. We don't want to look bad in the community of people whose opinions we most care about. We don't want to be the example that gets held up in next week's lesson as the person no one wants to be like. But this pretense that we've got it all together is a perpetual cycle that can't end until we all get a little more real about where we are.
If you're at the doctor and she asks why you're there, you can't just say you're fine, that nothing's wrong. If you do, how are you going to get any help? The same is true with our spiritual well-being. We can't start working on improvement until we admit the problems. And we all have problems. The more we can be real with them, the more we actually connect with each other. Even if you're not looking for a solution to a problem, because honestly there are few problems that can be solved by a mere platitude, church is a place where we go to be seen as we really are and to be loved that way. Or at least, I think it should be.
While I don't see anything wrong with lesson manuals or guidelines for instructions, with using scriptures as a prompt or following up on a talk that a member of the church leadership has given, if all we are doing is pasting a bandaid over a giant wound because we don't want to admit we are hurting, we are denying ourselves and those who are listening to us the chance to really connect with us.
Get real. Tell your own story. If you raise your hand to comment, give something of yourself that is real and true and painful. Share your own problems. Talk about what you've learned about yourself. And resist the impulse to only talk about trouble once it has past and it's no longer bothering you. Talk about a trial in the moment, when you don't know the answer. This is truly sharing your spirit with your church community.
I think we all have the impulse to believe someone else has the answers. Or that there are answers. You go to church to listen to people who are spiritually stronger than you are, right? So they can tell us how to get better? Isn't that what Christ is for us all, an example of how we can become more godly ourselves?
But think of the apostles. We also have stories of their mistakes in the scriptures, and not just Christ's perfection. We learn of Peter denying Christ three times on the night of Christ's worst trial. We learn of Paul, who participated in the stoning of an apostle, before he was called himself to take up the cross of discipleship. We read about the problems of the saints in Corinth, who were subject to divisions, and we hear Paul's beautiful sermon to them on the need for unity and charity. Without hearing about these problems, we wouldn't have that sermon. And does anyone think that Paul's sermon immediately fixed the problem and that it simply didn't happen anymore? Of course not. We humans are mortals and we continually struggle with the same problems, sometimes for the rest of our lives.
I have found through this column and repeatedly in church that the more that I am honest about my mistakes and vulnerabilities, the more people thank me for being so honest -- because so many of us are facing the same things. Even if others don't go through depression and doubt, they still appreciate my experience because they know someone else who is feeling something similar and I help them understand and connect. Isn't connection and empathy two of the main purposes of church? Well, I think it is.
Some people may think that they will be seen to be "complaining" about their trials if they talk honestly about them. While it can be a danger to only talk about problems and to go on and on without ever doing the hard work to find a solution, I prefer some real whining about the difficulty of life to perpetually seeing only perfect examples. If you tell me that you've never doubted, I'm going to feel judged and excluded rather than invited to be one with you. If you tell me that your kids never do anything wrong, I'm going to think you're either lying or that you're blind to the truth. Get real with me and I'll feel real love for you.