Friday, May 27, 2011


 {picture by Werachai Sookruay via Mary Swenson}

"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."

- James 5:16

There are things in this life that are too heavy for me to bear. Divorce. Depression. Anxiety. Disorders and diseases. Broken relationships. Grief.

My heart becomes weary when I think of just how terribly we have messed up the plan. When friends call and tell us how they're hurting, I feel inadequate and incapable of meeting their needs, of healing their wounds. I don't know what to do, and I fail to comprehend the Father, what He must think about it all, what He would say if He were here in the flesh.

I don't know how to make people better. Instead, I listen, offer the same advice I think my parents would give me. I'm quiet. I write emails or say prayers.

But the whole time, I am thinking: What did this to you? Who made you this way?

This is not what God intended.

And I am not enough.

Who is, though?

As my friend cries, or when I hear about another divorce or an affair or a friend fighting with depression, I wonder: Who is supposed to handle this?

And aside from the obvious answer -- the Father -- I think: the Church.

Christ's body on earth is supposed to handle this.

The brokenness, the weariness. The people suffering and struggling.

Where are they supposed to turn?

And what happens when the place they are meant to go turns a blind eye?

I cried to Jordan as I confessed that I didn't know what I was supposed to say to a hurting friend. It was too much for me, too heavy for me, and I lamented that the Church had messed up.

My friend should have been comfortable enough to confess his brokenness at church: a church closer to his physical community. A church more equipped with counselors and teachers and shepherds available for prayer.

Jordan looked at me and told me I was right. That a Church should be open and loving and authentic. That hurt and broken and depressed and downtrodden people should be able to confess and get the help and the prayers that they need. But for whatever reason, my friend's church didn't offer that.

Instead, Jordan said, I was my friend's church that day. Over the phone, miles away, I was acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Jordan was right, of course.

And I know that as a member of Christ's body, I'm called to listen. To be patient. To offer love and support and forgiveness.

But it pains me that the Church as a whole doesn't always offer that. It bothers me that confession appears to be dead in the Church.

Depressed? Don't want to know.

Struggling with adultery or pornography? Keep it to yourself.

Husband hitting you or yelling at you or even quietly controlling you and calling you names? Take that problem somewhere else.

Or worse, come forward, confess, and then we'll forget all about you.

Several years ago, Jordan and I attended a church in our college town that we absolutely loved.

My heart still aches a little bit for it.

And one Sunday, a man in his 50s walked to the front.

This was a congregation where all kinds walked forward: to confess, to ask for prayers, to state weaknesses, to celebrate good news.

I loved it.

But this man looked broken, weary. And as his friends and family joined him at the front, he confessed: He'd made a mistake. Read an email he shouldn't have read, then forwarded it around at work. It cost him his job. Hurt his family. His reputation.

And the church wept. And supported. And asked for members to be on the lookout for job opportunities.

And I thought: This. This is what I want.

A body that knows it is weak. But that in Him we are strong. A congregation that values and respects confession.

We can't get better until we acknowledge we are sick.

Yet we think we're doing the world a service by pretending we're all well.

Christ's body doesn't hurt. Isn't weak.

We're fine.

Can't you see our masks? They're smiling. We're smiling.

We're okay.

We don't need healing.

You might, but we don't.

Don't we see that there's a problem with this? That confession and accountability are good things, powerful things, things that defeat the pride that comes from Satan?

I value authenticity in the people I meet. Why wouldn't I want it in the church I attend or in the body I'm a part of?

Remember when MTV's Real World was all the rage? That show had this slogan: "When people stop being polite... and start getting real."

I'm not advocating MTV or the Real World.

But I am advocating authenticity in Christ's church.

I wonder what would happen if we started being real.

If couples struggling with abuse and divorce could come forward and ask for help without fear of gossip or callousness or, perhaps worst of all, indifference.(Because I've seen one too many churches watch as a hurting man or woman came forward, prayed for them, and then sent them on their way. That's it? Seriously? That's ministry? I don't think so.)

Perhaps churches believe that authenticity would make us look like the messes that we really are. Maybe pride gets in the way. Maybe our intentions are good (we have to look strong!), but the result is a church that sits on its hands and ignores hurts and pains that result in more hurt and pain.

I want to continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I want to go to my friends with my needs and hurts, and I want them to come to me.

But I also long for a church that would serve that same purpose, that would function in a similar way.

An authentic body consumed with forgiveness and confession and healing.

That might just get people's attention.


Lex C. said...

You are a wonderful writer and your love for people and Jesus Christ is so obvious even in the way you write. The people who know you in life are incredibly blessed.

Anonymous said...

Try Catholicism!

our home to yours said...

Wow, that is a strong, and needed, message. Thanks for making me re-think my part in His church.

our home to yours said...

I just wanted to share your blog with others, so your blog link is the first post on our personal faith blog (which is linked to our business blog). I hope you don't mind.

Anonymous said...


monster cakes said...

This was powerful, Annie. Last weekend, I went to a young wives retreat. I was so longing to open up about a very serious issue that haunts my marriage, but my husband is the worship leader at the church, so I feared his and our reputation. As the retreat went on, I realized that all the women plastered fake smiles on their faces, and no one opened up about a single real issue beyond the stress in parenting. I knew I wouldn't be able to say a word, and my heart sank. True, part of the problem was my staying silent, but I think you are right in that part of the problem is the church shying away from confession and openness to help. It's so sad.

Annie said...

amen, amen, amen.

i've often felt this way - too often we close ourselves away, afraid to let anyone see past the façades we put up and maintain so carefully. but we're called to carry each other's burdens, and we can't do that if we don't share what those burdens are.

Natalie said...

I know the frustration of feeling like things aren't being carried out the way God intends them to be. Not to assume you are looking for a new church but if you are... Where do you live? The church I attend really is the real deal. People are real with one another and are encouraged to get together on a regular basis and be open about their lives. And the people are really living out the scriptures. We have sister churches I could recommend.

Thanks for such a real post!

Joyeful said...

Oh I love this SOOO MUCH!!

Anonymous said...

I've just found your blog and I love it and you already. I'm in this position and you honestly you probably have no idea how hard it really is. I've stopped talking to anyone about it. No one in my family knows and the 3 girlfriends I told over the years have all turned their backs. They say it's my problem and until I'm willing to get a divorce nothing is going to change. But I don't think divorce is the answer. We have a child. I just wish I had a friend.

"Husband hitting you or yelling at you or even quietly controlling you and calling you names? Take that problem somewhere else."