My heart is aching today. If I’m completely honest, my heart has been aching for several months as events have taken place that have cut down incredible people I care deeply about, that have told them that their perspectives are invalid, that have effectively pushed them away from community that was designed to be a support.
I am an empath by nature, and the pain of others often manifests itself in my own heart. The tendency is to avoid it, then, to avoid feeling the hurt by distancing myself from the people. But I'm learning more and more to allow it to sink in and affect me anyways, and use it as a springboard for change. I'm learning what it means to lament, and how to do this in healthy ways.
God has been teaching me about lament this year, through many different circumstances. We don't lament in our culture anymore, and I think it's a great loss that we have experienced. Lament still happens in other parts of the world, when people grieve in community about the things that are causing them pain. They confront their grief and process it openly rather than pretending that it doesn't exist. I have learned that it is important to lament the things we know grieve the heart of God, and to mourn with those who mourn. We need to grieve broken relationships and let the hard things affect us if we are to move towards restoration and healing. This is one such lament.
It hurts to be asked for an opinion only to be told that it doesn’t matter. It hurts to know that others have been talking behind your back. And it hurts to discover that the ones who are supposed to lead well, are willfully ignorant. I’ve been on the receiving end of this, and I’ve seen so many people I love experience this too.
Our experiences are not universal, and so neither are our perspectives. This is what makes community hard. Because the reality is that we get uncomfortable when we realize that other people do not understand life or faith or politics in the same way that we do. There is room in community for wrestling through issues together, but we cannot forsake love and grace in the process. If we are to be in community that reflects the goodness of our Creator, we have to be so conscious that we do not become bitter and harsh in our treatment of others. We need to be aware of our own insecurities and shortcomings and how they affect our perspectives on the people around us.
There is a time and a place to deal with conflict, and it is at the intersection of truth and love. It is the place where we can tell one another what is really going on, what is shifting around under the surface and causing us pain. It is the place where we are reminded who we are – that is, whose we are – and that our worth is not determined by the things we feel about ourselves or the mistakes that we have made.
The intersection of truth and love is a place where we are called to actively listen to the people around us, with the goal of understanding and learning how we can better build one another up. It is NOT meant to serve as a religious Big Brother in calling each other out on every detail that we disagree with. It is meant to challenge us to become more like Christ as we work out this life in community.
As soon as our motives for disagreement shift to reinforcing our own image and protecting our status rather than pointing people to Christ, we have crossed a dangerous line. We need to constantly be checking our hearts to see if our discomfort at difference comes from genuine concern for someone’s well-being, or whether we are simply projecting our own insecurities onto someone else.
Nobody should ever be so deeply hurt that they feel they have no other choice than to walk away from a ministry. But it happens all the time; people value different things, prioritize certain details over others, and suddenly it turns into a sort of sick competition. We decide that we are going to try to solve problems by shouting louder than everyone else.
We can do so much damage with our words. We must be so careful how we talk to, and about other people. This is especially important in a ministry setting, where we need to function with the love of Christ in addition to professional courtesy.
Just because someone does or believes something that makes us uncomfortable does not make them wrong by default. I firmly believe that stepping out of our comfort zones is the only way we can grow and learn. Obviously, we have to proceed through life with wisdom, but we also shouldn’t dismiss everything that we don’t understand as being invalid. There is much to learn from the voices of others, from the experiences that have shaped them into the people that stand before us.
I say all this not to make people feel bad, but rather as a reminder that we have a responsibility to love each other well. We need to listen to the voices of those around us, especially when those voices are weak with hurt.
When someone says that we have hurt them, we do not get to decide that we didn’t, and tell them that the pain is all in their head. When someone says that we have hurt them, the only correct response is to take responsibility for our actions and apologize. We cannot throw it back at them, tell them “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or speak condescension when we should be speaking life. That is a fast track to broken relationships.
I find myself in lament in this season, for the ways I have seen stubborn pride prioritize image over relationship. I lament the brokenness that is created when we choose legalism over love. I lament the ways in which we choose to see diversity as a threat rather than a strength.
But true lament always returns to the fact that God can see the bigger picture, and despite all we feel He is still good. He is still sovereign. He still caused the sun to rise this morning, and He will again tomorrow. His joy is still present in the midst of heartache. And I am clinging to that today.
In the meantime, let’s meet at the intersection of truth and love. Let’s talk about hard things. Let’s support one another through the messy bits.
My door is always open.