A few years ago, a friend of mine was caught up in the middle of a mess. Without divulging anything too personal, let’s just say that while her church could have used this as a teachable moment, they instead chose to shame her for it and she eventually after much prayer decided to attend church elsewhere. The whole situation made me so angry and my heart ached for her. It felt like there was no one on her side, no one trying to walk her through it because they were so busy pointing out all her mistakes. In fact, it made me so angry that I actually stormed into that church office and demanded to speak with one of the pastors. I spent the next hour unloading on him about how awful I thought the whole thing was, how horribly my friend had been treated, and asking what kind of church this was to do something like this to one of their own. The arrogant response I got from him just made me even angrier and I left there glad that I got to speak my peace, but also with the realization that likely nothing I said had made any difference and that probably the only thing I accomplished was to have them look down on my friend that much more…not to mention having labeled myself as some sort of crazy person.
While I realize that my response to that situation was very un-Jesus like, my intentions truly were noble. Her church’s response to her situation felt more like damage control than anything remotely close to a loving rebuke. Thankfully she was strong in her faith and used that time to draw closer to Christ. I hate to think of what would have happened if she’d been a new follower of Jesus. We could have had one less sheep in the flock.
I got so deeply involved in that situation because I loved my friend and hated seeing her go through all that. I carried that burden with her, which is I know what we’re supposed to do, but somehow I think I transferred part of that to myself. I allowed what happened to her cause me to be offended on personal level to the point that even after she’d made peace with it in her own heart, I still was quite bitter about it all and for a long time I carried a lot of resentment towards that church because of it. I had taken it upon myself to own her pain because, well…it felt like the right thing to do.
And I’ve noticed that pattern in my behavior. I tend to own other people’s pain. And while I think it’s certainly okay when our hearts hurt for others, we can’t take on their story and we can’t own their pain. (A deep heartfelt thank you to my dear sister MK for being bold enough to point all this out to me yesterday.) I’ve really been mulling over this whole thing and I think I’ve come to a conclusion about it all.
It’s really just all about control. Well, and also lack of trust. Yes, control and lack of trust. See there are so many crappy things that are happening in this world – starving kids, homelessness, wars, diseases – and all that feels so outside of the realms of anything I can change. So much happens in the day that I feel utterly powerless to stop, so when this thing presents itself and it’s close to me and I think that I might be able to get a face to face moment with someone else that could actually change the situation, I latch onto it. Because for a few minutes it makes me believe that I might be able to take something crappy and make it right, and for a few minutes it feels like I can control this one small part of the world even when everything else is completely whacked out. And while all that part sounds good and right, that’s not always the way it happens.
Sometimes the face to face moment with the person or persons responsible for a friend’s pain never presents itself and so then not only am I owning pain that’s not mine, but I’m owning guilt for feeling like there is something I could do to stop the pain but I don’t. The reality of course is that even if I did try to do something to stop that person’s pain, it nearly always won’t turn out as awesome in real life as it does in my mind. Kinda like that time in high school when my best friend was being lead on by this guy and I got sick of seeing him hurt her and I told him off (Again, un-Jesus like. I’m not making excuses here.) and then she got upset with me because he wouldn’t talk to her anymore. Not the turnout I was expecting obviously.
But also there’s the fact that sometimes there’s strength to be found in pain and while we want to stop the pain of those we love, doing so would rob them the good that God is desiring to bring from it. Unless we are the actual causers of the pain (in which case we most certainly should cease and desist!), we aren’t always going to be in a position to stop it and generally our energy is best served in prayer and by listening and loving the one hurting.
On the other hand, sometimes my actions are an issue of trust…lack of trust. When I see those situations that aren’t actually mine and I think somehow I can get in there and do something about it, but my actions are based on anger and vengeance, I’m demonstrating that I don’t trust that God will fight that fight. Basically what I’m saying is that I don’t believe that God will actually do anything about that situation and so I’ll be needing to take that deal into my own hands and square it all away. Or else that God isn’t handling the situation properly, not dishing out enough retribution for the one wronged, and the offender needs to clearly be made aware of their offense and realize just how wrong the thing they did was. (Sounds a bit less noble when I put it that way.)
Now I’m not saying that if you see someone being mistreated – like abused or threatened or something that could be harmful – that you shouldn’t speak up. Heaven forbid. By all means, we must help protect those who can’t or won’t protect themselves.
But I guess what I am saying is that more often than not, if I checked my motives – really got down in there deep to see what the true heart behind my desire to act was – I would probably find out that what’s driving me to “do something” stems from the need to be in control or from a lack of trust in God’s intentions…which is basically the same thing. I must control because deep down I don’t think God will…at least not the way I’d want Him to.
And I guess that’s the clincher really. That God’s ways are not like mine. My ways are wonky and often self-serving. He is full of grace and mercy and His manner of sorting things out is always fair and good and beneficial. There are things that He sees and knows that I could not, even if He and I were staring at the exact same moment together.
I’ve prayed this prayer so many times, but here I pray it again. Lord, please let my knee jerk response always be to love, even in the face of injustice. I again surrender control to You for the millionth time. My heart’s desire is to trust Your intentions, to rest in Your goodness and love.
So today, I am again reminded that I have a lot of growing in Jesus to do and much to learn about how to love others well. And I’m so grateful for a God that doesn’t run out of do-overs.
Good reads along this subject line?
How to Stop the Pain, by Dr. James B. Richards
The Search for Significance, by Robert S. McGee