When Church Hurts

I know most of my readers are church folks.  And anyone who’s been a part of a church for very long knows that eventually hurtful things happen in a place that is assumed safe and caring.  Why?  Because everyone in the church is flawed, broken and in need of the same transformation as you and me.

As a pastor’s wife of 40 years I have experienced what one man calls both “the beauty and the brokenness of the church.”  Sometimes the brokenness comes for the unexpected reason that we Christians too often and too quickly think we get things “right.”

You can read more of my story here.

It’s an honest story.  A sad story.  But a story where I hope you’ll see redemption and hope.

Because my story, like yours, includes God.

I would love to hear your feedback on this one.

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Why June Cleaver Isn’t the Model for Godly Womanhood

Over at Redeemer Church we’re doing a series on Compassionate Complementarianism.  My first post in the series (that defines what that long word means for those who aren’t familiar) is below.  Today Jake talks about a couple of myths and misconceptions about this issue, including the truth that June Cleaver isn’t my role model.  Whew.

If you don’t know who June is that means you’re way younger than me. But suffice to say, she was a perky mom who always dressed nice (including pearls even when she cleaned and cooked) and had perfect hair, a perfect house and cooked perfect meals.  Oh, and really obedient sons.

You can read more about her – and other misconceptions about God’s call on men and women –  here.

Compassionate Complementarianism: Or Who Should Take out the Trash?

Male female graphicAs Christians, we want to embrace biblical truth and make it “look right” in our homes, friendship and workplaces.  But what happens when gender roles become the focus rather than compassionate, humble love?

Over at Redeemer Church we’re starting a new blog series today that talks about stuff like this.  You can read my first post here.

Enjoy your day!

Sheree

I’m Finally Popular!

Relationships have always been important to me.  Sometimes too important.  Honestly, there have been times in my life that people have been far more important to me than God.  Can you relate?

Visit me over at Redeemer Church to hear more of my story.

Why Can’t My Phone Understand Me????

I’m over at Redeemer Church today talking about a miscommunication between me and my phone.

I was so excited when I found out that I could press a button, talk into my phone, and have it type for me! What an amazing convenience!

I quickly learned, though, that my phone isn’t all that “smart.” How in the world could it think I would actually send someone a text that said, “I’m hey you to pick her up so reassure key lock is hopping for me” when I told it to type, “I’m heading out to pick her up so can you make sure Kayla is looking out for me?”

Wow.  If this can happen between me and a phone it’s no surprise that it also happens between me and real people.

Join me here to see if you know what I mean.

Lessons from a Smart Phone

I was so excited when I found out that I could speak into my phone and have it type for me!      What an amazing convenience!

I quickly learned, though, that my phone isn’t all that “smart.” How in the world could it think I would actually send someone a text that said, “I’m hey you to pick her up so reassure key lock is hopping for me” when I told it to type, “I’m heading out to pick her up so can you make sure Kayla is looking out for me?”

The hilarious thing is that I pushed send before I read the text. When Jaime sent a return “huh???” text I was confused.

Until I read what my silly phone heard me say!

Relationships are kinda like using a smart phone. Sometimes what we clearly communicated was heard quite differently by our listener.

  • We attempt to encourage a friend for growth in an area and she interprets our words as a back door opportunity to communicate, “Wow, you were really weak in this area and thank God you’re making progress!”
  • A marital conflict escalates — neither of us realize until later that it started because one of us completely misunderstood something that was said early in the conversation. (This happened a few days ago with Benny and me!)
  • A young teen reacts angrily because he or she heard Mom or Dad’s “No, you can’t go” as “Stop trying to grow up…and don’t think you’re gonna start running around everywhere like some of your friends do!”
  • Emotion-laced words are shared through email or text that should be communicated in person. Hiding behind a phone or computer is an understandable temptation when the heat rises in a relationship…but a dicey misunderstanding is pretty much a given.

There’s no way to avoid our words being misinterpreted. We live in a fallen world. We’re not perfect communicators and neither is anyone we know. We all hear things with a trail of experiences, struggles, former relational conflicts and “there they go again”‘s behind us. It’s just plain hard to talk to people and not be misunderstood — especially when heart issues are involved.

And when a relationship is already tense or there’s a growing history of hearing things wrongly (on our part or theirs), it makes communication all the more tangled.

I would be surprised if you aren’t experiencing struggles in communication with at least one person right now. Just typing that sentence brought three people I love to mind as those I get anxious about talking to these days. Even if I carefully choose my words, will I still be misunderstood (again)? Is a big part of the problem in our relationship my own inability to listen without bringing past hurts or conflicts into mind? Can we have a meaningful conversation without one or both of us feeling judged, belittled or frustrated (even if we don’t show it)?

Ugh. It’s just easier to keep conversations light and superficial something, isn’t it? And there are times perhaps we should avoid potentially thorny topics with someone because the relationship just can’t handle it right now. But we can’t give up. If we do, we’ll drift into the bitterness, withdrawal and fear that characterizes people who are unwilling to take the risk of being hurt again when what we say isn’t heard the way we meant it.

Off to text Jaime to see when Kayla is coming to do Thursday morning schoolwork with Granma. Hopefully “eta?” will come out right.

Loving the Light

Aside

Last night a group of ladies gathered at my home for a second book study meeting. I love preparing my heart and home for most any reason that involves a crowd — but knowing they were coming made my prep especially enjoyable. Our first meeting was characterized by rich fellowship, even though a few of us were meeting one another for the first time. I was anticipating another sweet time together.

I wasn’t disappointed.

As the room filled my heart warmed at the diversity in the group. There was a college aged cutie; several single adults; married women without kids; a first-time expectant mom about to deliver any day; two moms with little ones in their laps; a middle-aged wife with no children; and a couple of Granma’s like me. In a culture where segregating people by age or season of life is common and often preferred, I’m grateful that having a new little church means everything we do is necessarily…together.

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

After our first meeting two weeks ago one of the gals contacted me to ask if she could share her testimony at the next meeting. The warmth and safety she experienced at the first meeting as she listened to ladies open up about their struggles, coupled with beginning to read the book we are studying together, was opening her heart to some painful things in her life. The Lord stirred her to write down her thoughts and she felt compelled to share her musings with the group.

I was deeply affected by this desire. Why would a young woman who had met most of those in the room at our meeting for the first time want to open up painful, tender things about her life? God was clearly at work in ways I couldn’t and didn’t need to understand.

I opened the meeting last night with the plan: we would share how we were being affected by the book, pray for one another, and then hear a testimony of one of the ladies in the group. After I finished, my new friend sheepishly said, “Sheree, I’m not sure if I can do this. I just don’t know….I want to. But I don’t know if I can.”

I assured her she didn’t have to share and that just knowing she was willing to was a wonderful demonstration of God’s grace in her life. If she decided not to open up such tender parts of her life, that was completely fine.

However, as the meeting winded down she said, “No. I want to do this. I need to do this.”

The rest of our meeting was filled with holy moments. The vulnerability and humility we all witnessed was compelling. As she read her words through tears, many of us cried along with her. The pain, shame and suffering she described touched areas in our own hearts. All of us could relate to her story in some way. We all know what it’s like to fail and to be hurt by others. She was in the company of fellow broken, weak and flawed women.

And when she was done something wonderful happened. Woman after woman thanked and commended her. The risk she took to share her life with us was met with compassion and care. The gospel was on display and we were all honored to have been entrusted with such a precious gift: the gift of disclosure that wasn’t treated as exposure. (A wonderful distinction I’ve learned from friends at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.)

Her testimony ended with a recognition that the painful things through which she has walked, even those that were the consequences of sinful choices she made along the way, have all been used by a faithful God for good in her life. She even said that she isn’t afraid of future hardships and suffering because of all God has done through the dark times in her life.

Yes, we were on holy ground.

Do you have someone with whom you can share your story? We are all like my friend who opened her heart last night: people who have sinned, been sinned against (sometimes in vile ways) and who live in a fallen world with the resulting consequences of pain, shame, disappointment and discouragement. When we keep our “secrets” in the dark, they grow and often haunt us. When we, however, find a safe person or people to whom we can disclosure things hidden or tucked away, the light dispels the darkness and we see with new eyes.

Choosing the “right” person or people is really important. At times I have unwisely opened my heart and life to people because it felt like the right thing to do and ended up regretting my decision when their responses made me realize I spoke prematurely. Gratefully, though, God has put a few people in my life to whom I can pour out the good, bad and ugly of my past and present struggles.

The light can be a little blinding at times. We all know the feeling of needing to allow our eyes to adjust when we leave a dark room. But the warmth and clarity that only the light can bring are needed and welcomed when God provides a safe and caring place to be honest.

I’m glad my new friend found that place. And I’m glad I was there on a front row seat watching God’s amazing work in her life.

I love the light.

Looking…in All the Wrong Places

As I’ve been talking about sadness this week, several people have contacted me saying the thing that most tempts them to be sad is trouble in their relationships:

  • Marital strife, disappointment or shame due to a spouse’s sin
  • Lonely years of unplanned singleness
  • Spiritually passive teens
  • Misunderstanding in a friendship; or no close friendships at all
  • Unresolved extended family tension or unmet expectations
  • In-law challenges
  • Hurtful words or actions from co-workers
  • Spiteful adult siblings

I agree with author Paul Tripp who calls relationships “a mess….”

In my life, the problem is when I think the solution is for someone else to change. Take this morning, for instance. Benny and I had a tif over a decision he made some months ago that has affected me in ways he didn’t anticipate. As the consequences of that decision have become clearer to us both, and especially to me, the temptation is to think, “If he had only listened to me. My goodness. He needs to stop/start…(fill in the blank).” My default reaction to challenges between us is to blame him and/or consider how things would be better between us if he would just change. (Ha…I’m sure he probably thinks the same thing!)

Paul Tripp says, “The fatal flaw of human wisdom is that it promises that you can change your relationships without needing to change yourself.” Ouch. I’ve been taught the wonderful principle that the only person I can help to change is myself — and that real change can only come by the work of God in my and others hearts. But in the moment (you know that “moment”) when the hurt or anger of relational disappointment happens, I all too quickly rush to how he needs to stop doing this or start doing that.

The season of sadness through which I’ve been walking in teaching me so much, mostly about God but also about myself. I’ve been investigating scripture, getting counsel from a friend and praying for God to change me. But this morning all that went out the window and during my interaction with Benny there was no talk of how need to change!

The fact is Mr Tripp is so right, relationships are a mess — but a mess worth making.  (You can take a look at his and Tim Lane’s helpful book by that title here.)

When I’m tempted to give up or curl into a ball of unbelief and hopelessness that things will change, I’m reminded that difficult relationships are just a reminder that the only Person who will never betray, disappoint, gossip about, reject or otherwise sin against me is God. People — including me! — are flawed, broken, weak and in need of change. There will never be a husband or child or friend or sibling or parent or boss that won’t do and say things that cause us pain. But God will always and only be good, loving, faithful and patient.

He will never turn away from me when I sin.

He will always be there for me; never too busy or distracted or pre-occupied to listen to and help me.

He will never betray or abandon or reject me.

And every time someone important to me does any of these things (and more) He will empower me to run to a throne of grace where He stands eager to help, comfort and sustain me.

Why, then, do I look to people for what I already have from Him? Why am I surprised when sinners like me don’t understand what their words and actions to do my weak heart? Why am I more eager for others to change than I am for me to change?

People weren’t meant to give me safety, comfort and security. If I found these things in them, would I know I need God?

Who’s With You in the Mess?

Yesterday I talked about how much I hate being sad. Several women contacted me to say they were grateful that what is often the silent trial of sadness was brought into the light. They, too, are sad about unplanned singleness, relational challenges, distance from family, martial strife or ongoing struggles with weight.

It made me wonder why we’re sometimes afraid to admit we’re sad.

Is is because we will be perceived as ungrateful? Whiny? Discontent? Do we fear others will quickly point out all the things and people in our lives for which we should be thankful? Does being sad mean we are automatically ungrateful or discontent?

In short, is sadness always rooted in sin in our hearts? If not, why do we and others often rush to “fix” the sadness with reminders of God’s blessings?

I’ll be honest.  I often want to “fix” others sadness because I don’t want to face their sadness either!  Recently one of my grandchildren was crying because she had lost a treasured toy. Her sadness threw me into high gear to help her find it! When we couldn’t locate the toy I pulled her onto my lap and attempted to talk her through the disappointment and assure her it would turn up soon. No amount of words helped. She wanted that toy in her little hands…now. After a few minutes of sitting in Granma’s lap she settled down and ran off to play.

When we hurt, others don’t know what to do. They want to fix our hurt or disappointment or sense of loss by helping us to see our sin, seeking to align our thinking with biblical truth or ask us what they can do to make things better.  But sometimes we just need to be held and told that God is with us. Human “fixes” don’t really deal with the pain when what we really need is His comforting presence.

A friend and I were talking last week and I was expressing to her my craving for relief from the sadness in my life.

“What would bring you relief, Sheree?” she asked.

footage.shutterstock.com

footage.shutterstock.com

I paused. The thoughts running through my mind all surrounded a change in my circumstances: better communication between Benny and me; fewer interruptions during the day from my mother-in-law; appreciation and understanding from an in-law with whom I had a recent conflict; etc. When I shared these things with her she listened patiently but even as I talked my words seemed hallow. There was something missing. I knew comfort and hope wouldn’t really be found by God fixing my circumstances but by doing something wonderful in my heart.

My wise and caring friend empathized with my struggles but then lovingly reminded me that the relief I sought wouldn’t be genuinely found by God dealing with the stuff on the list I had just shared with her. While this would be wonderful on one hand, deeper peace would come in enjoying His help and strength in the midst of my challenging circumstances. Because the Christian life is one of various trails and difficulties  (which are, in fact, promised because of our fallen lives and world) I needed to know that the Bible also promises that Someone is with me all the way.

“Sheree, what we all need to understand is that true relief is found in God walking with us through the messes of our broken and flawed lives. That’s why Jesus came into this dark and needy world: to bring His presence here.” She went on to communicate that the temporary relief from Him fixing the current circumstances would tempt me to find my hope in man, not Him.

Over the past week her words have meandered through my thoughts, bringing me hope. I’m a fixer. I find peace in order. I don’t do well in the midst of a mess (unless it’s created by my adorable grandchildren!). My good friend helped me to see that I was looking for relief in all the wrong places.

The source of your and my relief is God Himself. Not God plus an attentive husband or obedient kids or understanding in-laws or more money or less weight or living near family or fewer interruptions in our full days. Those things may happen or they may not. But what is always true no matter what messes we find ourselves in which bring sadness or pain is this: God is with us. He is faithful, good and loving — even when hardships expose our anger, resentment, self-pity, distrust of Him or ungratefulness.

God is with us in the mess and that’s where relief can truly be found.

And here’s another comforting reminder: not only is He with us but He is patient with our wrestlings. He is at work, moving us toward hope that His past faithfulness to carry us through dark times in the past is a pledge of His present and future grace to bring us through yet again.

Cleaning up the mess might seem like the best thing that could happen in our lives right now. But another mess is just down the road because we live in a fallen world with fellow sinners; a world that is literally groaning for Jesus to return and make all things new (Romans 8:22). Our own groanings for relief can be turned to humble cries to God to help us see and experience Him in the mess.

My sadness is still coming and going. But gratefully I am more aware of God’s comforting presence in the midst of it. He is opening my eyes to see that fixing the mess is far less important than experiencing His strength, tender love and comforting guidance in the mess. He is using His word and a dear friend to counsel me and I am finding growing peace even though my circumstances aren’t changing.

There is hope.

More Lessons from Shelly and Deb

Yesterday I introduced you to Shelly and Deb; longtime friends whose relationship was challenged by differences in how they approached being well known by one another. Both were godly women who cherished one another and wanted to enjoy a growing friendship. You can read more about them here.

One of the things Shelly struggled with was assuming anything she shared about her challenges with her husband, Ben, was okay. After all, surely Deb knew Shelly loved Ben, and she certainly needed a friend in whom she could confide, right?

Deb, however, needed to learn that only saying positive, kind things about someone (in her case, her unfaithful ex-husband) isn’t an automatic anecdote to gossip. How could she receive genuine help and benefit from the compassion and counsel of others if she was unwilling to honestly disclose the pain and temptations to anger that his adultery produced? Could others, including Shelly, enter in to her single motherhood world when she refused to share her worries, frustrations and loneliness?

Ken Sande, author of The Peacmaker, defines gossip as, “To betray a confidence or to discuss unfavorable personal facts about another person with someone who is not part of the problem or its solution. Even if the information you discuss is true, gossip is always sinful and a sign of spiritual immaturity.”

Shelly began to understand that her unbridled comments about Ben were too often motivated by a sinful desire to gain sympathy and a desire to vent her marital frustrations. The Lord surprised her with the self-knowledge that she had rarely invited Deb to be a part of the solution to the problems between she and Ben; therefore, Deb was merely a sounding board, not a solution provider.

But were Shelly’s comments always gossip? God used Deb to assure her friend that while she could see roots of bitterness and gossip in Shelly’s heart, there were times when compassionate affection for Ben came through. She reminded Shelly of times her tears were over the state of Ben’s soul, not just his lack of care for their family.

God is always concerned most about our hearts, and not just our words. The fact is Deb started seeing that her unwillingness to talk about her ex-husband was often motivated by embarrassment (“People will think I’m foolish for falling in love with someone like him“), self-protection (“Talking about this will be too painful so I just need to keep this to myself”), or shame (“It’s probably my fault that he cheated because I wasn’t a good enough wife”). These quiet heart issues could be just as personally destructive as Shelly’s bitterness, sinful anger and complaining. Deb’s heart issues were neatly tucked away. Shelly’s were loud and clear. But both women needed God’s help.

Navigating these kinds of waters requires wisdom that can only come from above. While the Bible is clear that gossip is sin (see ), it isn’t clear on whether a person is gossiping in every situation where concerns or perceptions about someone are shared that reflect negatively on him or her.

Here are some questions I’ve found helpful to ask myself:

  • Would the person I about whom I am about to speak/have spoken be hurt by my words?
  • Do I desire help to work through the difficulties with this person? Or am I simply looking for sympathy?
  • Am I as eager to see the way(s) I have contributed to this breakdown as I am for him/her to see their responsibility?
  • Does the person I am talking to/planning to talk to have the Christian maturity to understand there are two sides to this issue?  Am I willing for my friend to go to the person I’m discussing to ask for their perspective after hearing mine? (Even if talking to the other person is impossible or unwise for any reason, what would I think if it was possible?)
  • Is my motive for talking about this person redemptive?

Please know that there are times when these considerations don’t need to be at the forefront. Abuse, for example, requires open disclosure of another’s sin to a wise and compassionate friend or counselor without concern about putting someone in a bad light. What this week is about is not those situations. Rather, I’m talking about the normal every day stuff of doing life with people who are just as flawed as you and I.

Recently, I talked to a friend who was hurting over a young adult child’s rebellious attitudes and actions. She honestly communicated her frustrations, fears and concerns. She disclosed some painful decisions her child had made and was clearly anxious about what the future may hold. Yet her intense love for her child came through loud and clear. We cried together, then prayed. Did she share some unfavorable things? Yes. Was I aware that her child would likely have a different perspective to share? Yes. Was God’s word dishonored by my friend’s speech? I don’t think so. Her love, care for and eagerness to acknowledge her child’s gifts and strengths came through, too.

Having a hard time figuring all this out? Wishing there was a list of do’s and don’ts you could follow to know when honesty has bled into gossip?

Me, too.

But this good news is this. The Holy Spirit lives inside us and will govern our temptations or convict us of sin. He is faithful and His sheep know His voice. Unless our conscience is seared and we’ve hardened our hearts to the gift of conviction, He will let us know when bitterness or fear of anger bubbles up from out hearts and out of our mouths.

And hopefully we’re well known enough by others to get help along the way. After all, being well known includes our sins.