Toward the end of my church’s Easter Sunday service, as music played in the background, scores of congregants approached the stage bearing posters. The front of the poster displayed a personal trial, sin, grief, pain, or shame through which they had been resurrected by Christ; the back of the poster revealed the corresponding praise and conclusions.
These posters were staggering in the scope of breadth of what they revealed.
Resentment toward God.
Loss of a loved one.
Our pastor informed us that many of these believers had chosen to reveal these struggles on Easter Sunday, having never shared them outside the confidential confines of their small groups. I was staggered. That couple who struggled with infertility and the second child that would never be – I saw them every Sunday smiling and greeting people. The shy girl holding the poster that read suicidal urges is a role model for youth in the church, one of the bright lights of the congregation. The resentment poster belonged to a kindly old man I know; the hatred poster, to a church elder.
I never knew. And it occurred to me how much easier knowing makes it to share our own struggles, sins, habits, and hurts. When you are in a group of people who are openly struggling, it becomes less painful and awkward to share your own. There’s a world of difference when you speak to a room full of people you know can sympathize, who will understand.
I experienced this firsthand in a six-week small group that I joined a year ago. The group was for believers who struggled with anxiety. It was my full expectation to go and to participate in the most shallow of ways. After all, who wants people to think they’re not being faithful enough? Who wants to be chided for not obeying Jesus’ dictate to not worry? Who wants to be given the same set of remedies for fear that you’ve heard a thousand times before: pray more, read the Bible more, trust more?
But in that roomful of people, I was astonished to meet people who struggled with the same seemingly silly things that I did. One of the women had flight anxiety like I do; some men and women there struggled with anxiety that was much more severe than mine. And yet there was a sense in the room that everyone got it. That it was okay to say, out loud, what made you anxious and why. Because of that, the group developed a deep intimacy and affinity, and progress and healing grew from there.
We are, in church, too much concerned with our own image. Most believers I know don’t share the real depth and breadth of their struggles with their brothers and sisters: they share only glimpses behind the curtain, if that, and wait until the other stuff becomes manageable (or too unmanageable) before they reveal it. We do this because we fear doing the opposite is somehow un-Christian. We know that infertility might be part of God’s plan and we should make peace with it, so we grit our teeth and don’t talk about how much we’re hurting or where we’re at the in the process. We believe people will think badly of us if we share that we can’t get through the day without a drink, and so we lie. We know people want to hear that God heals through grief and loss, and so we don’t mention that the death of a love one has becoming a festering sore that leaves us furious and feeling abandoned by God.
We stay silent. And because we stay silent, others do. And because others do, we all show up to church smiling and sharing the same platitudes that cover up whatever our individual issues are (because we all have them), while all the hurt and struggle roils just beneath the surface. Meanwhile, the world looks in at all our seeming perfection and our platitudes and shouts, “hypocrites!” because they can see the dissonance between what exists on the outside and what’s living within.
Seeing the brokenness in my church on Sunday reminded of how much Jesus has done. He’s performing remarkable feats in the lives of believers right next to me and until they shared the story, I had absolutely no idea. But the true extent of the work of God is only revealed when we’re willing to share how very broken we are, and how shattered we’ve been. You can’t marvel at the way Jesus brings someone out of addiction if they never dare to say they were addicted. You can’t watch the love of God work through a family struggling with infertility if they never mention the hurt. You can’t watch a heart change if the heart never admits it needed changing.
Being open about our own brokenness is the only way to truly reveal to others – to the world – the power of the cross. But too often, our own pride and fear and stubbornness keep us from doing it.
Do me a favor.
Right now, even just in your own mind, fill in the blanks:
The sin I can’t seem to get over is __________________.
The habit I can’t seem to break is ___________________.
My biggest failure is __________________.
My greatest fear/sorrow is ___________________.
My biggest resentment is ___________________.
How open are you about these? How much has Christ worked on these with you, or altered the influence of these things in your life? Have you shared it? And if not, why?
Sometimes, as Christians saved by grace, we gloss over the “before” and want to focus on the “after.” But there is no after without a before, and when we hide half a story, we hide the light that grew in that darkness. I’m not saying that you have to stand up in front of your entire church and confess everything you’ve never shared, or even that you have to write it on a poster. But acknowledging, in some meaningful way, your own brokenness publicly – admitting in a meaningful way that you are not perfect, that you have struggled, that you have faltered – can go a long way toward revealing the redemptive transformation of Christ in your life to others who badly need to hear it.