That day when you get up and you move past the memories of reality for the day, telling yourself, “I’m okay. I’ve just got to get some coffee and I’ll feel better.” Or the day when anxiety sets in and you aren’t sure how you are going to get through the day with all the people who “need” things from you, be it small children, people at work, or close friends and family. Yah, that kind of day. I’m not sure what to call those days, but it seems that, if you were to “sit” in those feelings of pain and anxiety, you may not make it, so you move on, functionally at least, but like all the popular shows these days with zombies, you’re a walking dead person, numb to life, with limbs (figuratively speaking) falling off your body, “But you’re okay, because you’re functional, not like that one person from church who has fallen a part and needs a support group to survive.” You’re a functional mess.
I’ve been a pastor for almost 7 years, and I was a Young Life leader for 10 years in central Phoenix. Most of the years that I have served in ministry, I have been a functional mess, feeling like “I’m okay”, because “I’m not like that guy who I just met with. Poor guy, he’s really got to get his act together.” But inside the whole time, I knew I was just as messy, I was just better at playing the “I’m okay script” than he was.
I am very aware that this observation may just be mine, from my small world of experiences, and I know full well that there are totally different experiences, but indulge with me for a moment in this observation from life. There’s seems to be an unwritten code in many “Christian” circles that having seasons of honesty about the complete mess you’re in, often results in a Christian responding in one of these ways:
Panic and fear over what you’re going through, because you’ve been the “strong one”;
Words of encouragement to pull you “out of the pit” and left with an Old Testament verse that claims a promise that was given to exiles in Israel, then a follow up call the next day or two to see if the verse worked;
Being dodged and not addressing the pain or suffering that has caused the messy season;
Superficial engagement that acts like you never mentioned anything messy, and many people wanting you to just move on and get better. I know there are more, but these seem to be what I’ve observed in over 17 years of ministry alongside other Christians.
Now, I say these without a harsh tone, but still with an honest one, with an honest pursuit of wanting unpack the reason why it seems that many Christians (myself included on many points over the last 17 years) seem to be worse at walking through deep pain and suffering than friends that many people have who aren’t Christians. I say that comment, because it has been true many times in my experience, as well as having heard this from many a people from the inside. There seems to be confusion on what it means to truly grieve and feel pain so that you can process it, work through your junk, and really get healthy, and what it means to claim the promises of God that you are a new creation.
Maybe it’s that many of us feel that if we let on that we are really the mess that we feel we are on the inside, then our peers and those we lead might “think” we don’t believe God’s promises, or that we might be giving room for the enemy to come in and deceive us, after all, “We are children of God, brothers in the line of Jesus, co-heirs to the kingdom of heaven. With that title, I’m not supposed to feel this way.” This is all true, so in fear of acting like we don’t believe it, we pretend, we numb, we quote Scripture, but the functional mess continues and we never seem to get over the messy hump.
I guess the purpose of this blog is two-fold. One is confessional. I am confessing that I’m a functional mess and am cutting back all areas of life. I’ve gone too hard, trying to build God’s kingdom, and although I believe God has used me in many ways, I often try to build more than God’s given me the grace to build. My wife and I have also had an usually difficult season of life circumstances that have happened, and we are making changes in our life to cope, grieve, and heal in a healthy way, one of those ways, being this blog; transparency about where we are.
The second purpose of this post is to give someone who may read this, the freedom to feel again. My wife and I have been given the freedom by some friends to feel, even to the point of being uglier than we wanted to be, but none the less, we didn’t run from the reality. We didn’t anesthetize ourselves from the reality of our pain or suffering. This has brought much freedom and healing into our lives.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” This means yes, freedom to be free from sin, shame, condemnation, but free from pain and suffering? I don’t think that’s what Paul was saying here. Freedom to feel. Freedom to confess sin. Freedom to say, “I’m a mess!”, yet know that you’re radically accepted and loved. Freedom to sit with others in their pain and agony. Freedom to trip and fall. Freedom to doubt and ask questions. Freedom to say, “I don’t know what I’m doing or who I am.”
It’s my conviction that it’s at this place of honesty, when the Lord shows up in real, tangible ways, and Scripture goes from memorized, therapeutic verses that we hope work, to life changing truths that bring the presence of God Himself into the situation that we are in. This is the hope; “the presence of God in the face of Jesus”. I pray that some of you may receive this kind freedom and joy that comes from this kind of honesty. Until then, I am in the struggle with you, learning to find joy and peace in the midst of the mess.