For the second half of this year, I have been writing quite a bit on the importance of community. Authenticity and accountability are two essential ingredients for the community of God’s people to support, spur and speak truths into each other’s lives. I would like to write my last perspective for the year to reinforce some of these truths even as we strive to build the community within True Way.
Gracie is suffering from depression. Henry is out of job, yet again. Joseph and Mary are struggling in their marriage – they have frequent fights. Fanny recently discovered that she has 3rd stage breast cancer. Rita’s son did very badly in his PSLE. Andrew’s teenage daughter is pregnant. Josh is fighting pornography addiction. Sarah is struggling with same sex attraction. Jason is trying very hard to make ends meet. John is estranged from her daughter. Jim and Jessica are empty nesters contemplating divorce. Philip feels jaded concerning his service in church. Jesse still harbours resentment against Tim for something he said eons ago. Victor is too embarrassed to come to church because all his children have fallen out of church. Kingsley has a Down syndrome son and chooses to stay away from church so as to avoid the stares. The people I have just mentioned are given fictitious names but this montage of characters are not too far off from what a church would look like. Very often the other members of the community do not know that these people are struggling. If they do know, they may either go away feeling disillusioned or they are not surprised at all because they know that no one is perfect, not on this side of heaven. We are still work in progress. How then should we conduct ourselves if we do identify with any of the above examples?
We recognise that we are sinners saved by grace and we are still sinners being saved by grace. Struggles are normal; they should be expected. Jesus said: ‘In this world you will have trouble.’ (John 16.33) We should not be surprised by the troubles that we are experiencing. We should also not feel embarrassed or even ashamed of them. Otherwise, we will only keep these troubles to ourselves and pretend everything is fine when we come to church or when we attend DG. We will try and convince ourselves that our struggle is a trivial matter and therefore there is no need to share with anyone else; we don’t want to attract any undue attention. Perhaps on the pretext of us being a very private person, we aren’t keen to display our dirty linens in public. Moreover, we don’t think it is something that another person can empathise with us, much less help to make any difference. Maybe if we are willing to be honest, the bottom line is our pride or the safeguarding of our face. So we decide to zip our mouth and only give pleasantries to the tune of ‘I’m OK’. We will rather wear masks that conceal our struggles. Is this behaviour biblical?
We are instructed by Paul that we ought to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6.2), that we should mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12.15), that we should confess our sins to another and pray for one another (James 5.16), that we should build one another up in the Lord (1Thessalonians 5.11) and that when one part of the body is hurting, the whole body will be hurting (1 Corinthians 12.26). How can we obey these commandments if people in the same family of God refuse to speak up and just keep everything to themselves? I don’t expect you to broadcast your struggle to the whole church. But there should be a group of people whom you are close enough to be able to pour out your sorrow, a group who can say to you ‘it’s Ok not to be OK’, a group who can provide a safe space for you to let your guard down, to be yourself, to cry freely and maybe even to rant a little because you are really frustrated about your situation. I really hope that this group of people are those from the church community. I will really be sad if you say that you cannot find anyone in church who can journey with you through all your ups and downs.
For those who have the privilege to listen in on the heartaches of fellow pilgrims, we must remember never to judge. Sometimes, as we listen to someone shares his struggles we tend to be very critical. We may not verbalise our thoughts but don’t be surprise the criticism is conveyed through our body language. Other times, we may not be criticising but we are busy formulating solutions in our heads. That again means that we are not listening. Don’t be too quick to adopt the stance of Job’s three friends. The most useful part they played were the first 7 days they were with Job where they did not utter a word. Once they opened their mouth, they got everything wrong! Likewise, be generous with the time we offer to those who are willing to share. Listen intently; listen with empathy; listen without being too quick to offer solutions. These sufferers need a listening ear not a talking mouth. Often, when we speak too much, folly will not be far away.
For those who have the privilege to listen in on the heartaches of fellow pilgrims, please also ensure confidentiality to the highest degree. The information should never become the latest talking point in town. It should never be shared with other people in the name of garnering more prayer support. It should never be uttered for the sake of boosting our own ego because we have been so well informed. Even if there is a very good reason why the information should be passed along, e.g. for greater pastoral attention, permission should still be sought from the person involved. Only in such an environment would people be more willing to open up. If such trust is betrayed, the hurt might even be worse than that caused by the original struggle.
We are family. For those who are going through a difficult time, it’s OK for you to share with your family; it’s Ok for you to tell other family members that you are not OK. For the rest, be quick to listen, slow to judge, and never to gossip. At the present moment, we may be the listeners but there will come a time where we too will need a pair of listening ears. When that time comes, we should also have the same attitude that it’s OK not to be OK.
Rev Lee Kien Seng
December 4, 2016