Monday, January 31, 2011

Fresh Wind



There is a fresh wind blowing through the musty, hallowed halls of Christendom.

It smells like freedom.

It is blowing off the painted masks we wear, rumpling up our fancy church clothes, and disheveling our perfectly coiffed hair.

It sounds like truth.

It is blasting us out of our comfortable pews, and onto our knees.

It feels like rescue.


It is time.


We pretend too much.

We pretend that we’re okay.  We pretend that our families are great. We pretend that life is working for us. We pretend that our interior lives are as together as the exteriors appear to be.

We pretend not to battle isolation or depression or anger or addiction or perversion or jealousy or judgmentalism or fear. We cover over scars from the past, and tell ourselves they’ve healed.

We pretend not to hurt. Not to be afraid. Not to be desperate.

Christians are worse than anybody about this. Because we are supposed to be grateful, joyful, and victorious.  All. The. Time. So we pile guilt on top of the other ugly stuff, put on our masks, and show up at church with our smiley faces. We should win Academy Award nominations for the flawless performances. I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m fine. I’m great.

It’s sad, because if there’s any place on earth where we ought to be able to strip down to our authentic selves, it is within Christ’s body.

We fear judgment. We forget the old adage that the church is supposed to be a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints.

No one’s willing to go first along the path to freedom and truth.

But one person’s candor and transparency can open up the window of freedom for the rest of us who hold back in fear.

Anne Jackson calls it “the gift of going second.”

Sharing my struggles gives you the gift of being able to say, “Me, too. I battle that, too. I thought I was the only one.”

You’re not the only one.

I’m not the only one.

All of us have our secret sins, weaknesses, and wounds. The Bible suggests a simple cure: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

But, paradoxically, it is often among fellow believers that we feel the least able to bare our souls and expose our faults. Because we’re supposed to know better.

Sometimes it is easier to speak openly to friends who have belief systems unlike our own. Where there’s no Christian Baggage. No judgment under the guise of “accountability.” No easy platitudes.

And that’s a shame.

Really. Shameful.

But I am optimistic.

That fresh wind that’s blowing is gathering velocity.

It is reflected in the words of authentic new voices that might not have been granted exposure a decade or two ago.

I began my spiritual journey (in earnest) in the mid ‘80’s. If you went into a Christian bookstore at that time, you would find Bibles, commentaries, classic devotionals, a few inspirational real-life stories, some insipid “Christian Fiction,” fish stickers, and How-To books.

How-To Experience More Joy. How-To Overcome Fear. How-To Increase Your Faith. How-To Pray More Powerfully. How-To Combat Spiritual Warfare. How-To Witness. How-To Receive Healing…

Many of those books were very helpful to me.

But, here’s the thing:

What if you followed the directions of How-To to the very best of your human ability, and you still didn’t receive the promised result? What if you still struggled with fear after the Fear Book?

Who screwed up?

You?

Or God?

Of course, in my mind, it was always, always me.

(Well, Kim, of course you are not experiencing total joy, freedom, and victory

 because you are not

disciplined…
faithful…
consistent…

enough.)

Although much of the Christian literature of that genre was wonderful and instructive, some seemed to be more of a curse than a blessing. Much of it was overly simplistic and hygienic. (Don’t even get me started on “Christian Fiction.”) So, it was with great astonishment that I experienced the writing of Anne Lamott for the first time. Traveling Mercies. Around 1999, I think. A gift from my husband.

Anne is a mess. And a half. On the surface, she appears to be my antithesis.

She has dreadlocks that look as if they’ve been unwashed for decades. She is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. She gave birth to a child out of wedlock. She hates Republicans to death.

But she loves Jesus.

So we are related.

The brilliantly written story of her very imperfect “lurch towards faith” was a radical departure from any quote unquote Christian literature I’d ever read. I don’t agree with everything Anne says and believes, but I appreciate her self-effacing honesty and her searing humor.

Reading Traveling Mercies made me feel better about myself. It gave me permission to go second. To admit that I’m a work in progress, and God still has quite a bit of work left to do on me.

Since then, there have been an increasing number of voices crying in the stagnant spiritual wilderness of Christian Perfectionism. Imperfect people telling their imperfect stories, transmitting freedom and grace to the rest of us struggling sinners. Recently, there’s been a whirlwind.

I am grateful to traditional Christian publishing houses like Zondervan and Thomas Nelson for taking the risk to allow these voices to be heard.

I got an Amazon gift card for Christmas, so I’ve been binge-reading ever since. Young writers with fresh perspectives: Tony Woodlief (Somewhere More Holy), Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet), Anne Jackson (Permission to Speak Freely). And, finally, I’ve just begun the long-awaited One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

These people are real. Bravely have they shared their stories of sin and redemption. Of doubt and flickering faith. Of their ongoing human-ness.

They have made public confessions. Not just to things like “inconsistency” or “lack of spiritual discipline,” but to things like porn addiction. Adultery. Alcohol abuse. Eating disorders. Clinical depression. Anger at God. Petty jealousy.

And none of them write as if they’ve got it all figured out now. As if they don’t still struggle.

I have been blessed by the telling of these stories. And I have been challenged.

Why are we so afraid to share our true stories? To admit our failings so that our sisters and brothers can pray for us? So that we may receive healing?

If I’m honest, I must admit that much of it stems from pride. I don’t want people to think badly of me.

But pride is the deadliest sin of all.

It leads to spiritual death.


And I want a more authentic, abundant, fear-free life.

***************

 Father, I pray that these honest stories will continue to challenge me to fearlessly share my own. I pray for a fresh wind of truth and love to blow through your family. I pray for more compassion and less judgment. Give us your unconditional love and acceptance for each other. Open our eyes to the planks they carry, rather than to the specks in the eyes of others. Destroy our pride, and deliver us from the need to look good. Make our relationships safe places, and our hearts your true home. Amen and amen.

***************

Anne Jackson asked the question: “What is the one thing you can’t talk about in church?” She was flooded with thousands of responses.

How would you answer that question? Why do you think there is not more freedom in the church universal? What can we do to change things? 

(Graphic by LeentheGraphicsQueen)

18 comments:

jmb77vol said...

I, too, have just discovered several of these authors (thanks to Donald Miller), and I love their transparency and honesty. (It also doesn't hurt that they are excellent writers.) Thanks for plugging them!

And please keep up your own "story sharing." Your blog is such an encouragement to me!!

The Retarded Mother said...

You brave woman, you.
Wow! Whoa. Thank you.

Mary Walsh said...

Awesome Kim! That post went straight to my heart!

Donna said...

Oh, dear Lord, I am on my knees thanking you for this dear woman Kim, whom I have never met, who knows me, my thoughts, my secrets, my short-comings, she knows it all, and can write about it in her blog! Thank you Kim, such a powerful courageous post!!!!!

Allison said...

thank you. thank you. thank you:)

Laurel said...

I believe, in all sincerity, that the only people at church who will judge you by your struggles are people with way bigger problems than yours.

Anonymous said...

I feel that I can't talk about the fact that I anesthetize my pain with alcohol.

I know the truth. I love Jesus with all of my heart. But I can't stop dealing with my pain in this artificial way.

That makes me feel like a fraud.

I would love to think of the church as a safe place where I could share my weaknesses and failings without fear of judgment, but I can't. I grew up in such a legalistic church, it is almost impossible for me to believe that I could share the truth about myself without feeling judged and condemned.

Please pray for me... and for the other invisible sufferers in the church.

Sally Baker said...

I introduced my high schoolers today to Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird. Glad to know you are a fan! Me too!

farmbaby said...

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I live in a perfect world with only perfect people in it. It is hard being the only wreck but I can't imagine having to keep up their constant walls. I need my tears, knee time and sometimes just a pity party with the Lord. Thank you again for your honest thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Yes!! Woohoo! You go girl! This post might be my favorite ever. We are SO ashamed and SO guilty of our sins, shortcomings, let downs, failings that we let them cripple and enslave us. Isn't that where Satan wants us? I love that verse in the Bible that says sin hates the light. Well, lets all just bring it right on out there! We are not boasting in our sin, but rather boasting in Him who has forgiven it. I think this is an especially big problem in the South where women (and Christians) are supposed to be a certain way. There are certain topics even in my own family that are off limits to not only talk about, but off limits to even struggle with. How then are we to live? The pretending to "have it all together" is exhausting!!! Thank you for putting this post online. I loved it, and I love you (never "met" you though!!)
Blair

Anonymous said...

Great post. Two other great books "O Me of Little Faith" by Jason boyett and "Evolving in Monkey Town" by Rachel Held Evans. Keep singing your song.

Karen said...

Kim, I have loved every blog you have written but this one is my all time favorite. Thank you. This message is what will set the captives free.

Keep writing from your heart. We need you.

Anonymous said...

We can certainly talk about anything within our churches - we simply can't own it as our own.

We talk about others who struggle with their sin so that we can "lift them up in prayer", but all we are is as the Pharisee who prayed "thank God I'm not like them" and then we judge - that's the challenge that exists in our churches is judgement of one another rather than love.

Francis Frangipane describes "cold love" as saying all the right things but holding people at arms length. It may not seem like they have become cold—they may still attend church, sing and look "Christian"—but inside they have become hard and separated from others. They have withdrawn from love. Instead, we need to be gentle, compassionate, sensitive, open and persistent.

Divine love is reaching out in our own vulnerabilities and risking the sharing of our own stories - just as you do in each of your blogs! It's living our lives in complete openness and honesty.

Even as I write this, I fall so far short, which is why we need people, like you, who walk along beside us and encourage us and remind us and challenge us to open our hearts to one another!

I want to say to this dear precious sister who responded earlier about anesthetizing your pain with alcohol - I love you! Sending love, hugs and and prayers to you today!! You will remain on my heart and in my prayers!!

Praying God's peace and love!
L

becky said...

Love it, love it - didn't Jesus say the truth WILL set you free?! More grace, more grace, more grace - that is our biggest deficit and what our heavenly Father offers us in abundance. I am going to send it to all my heart and soul friends who let me bare it all and still LOVE me, just like the King. Thank you Kim for the beautiful reminder.
Becky
Falls Church, Virginia

L (& L) said...

thank you.

Anonymous said...

I had a very very very unfake grandmother who was a preacher's wife in a very conservative denomination. Everyone LOVED her. She was brilliant, hilarious and she loved Jesus. She and her husband were on TV and the RADIO!(used to be a big deal) ha ha

However, she was in so much internal agony that she abused prescription drugs. She lied to hide her addiction. When she was getting older she would sometimes live with relatives, sometimes on her own but often in a mental hospital.

Did I say I LOVED her? I still do and I can't wait to see her again. She wasn't fake, she could be real and get others to share what was really going on but she still suffered. She never, ever "got it all together". I miss her so much and i'm so glad she's in heaven where all is well now. That's the ONLY place we get to have everything all right. In heaven.

For the woman on this blog who suffers with alcoholism, you are LOVED. and you are not alone. You are in good company of many many other saints who suffered with painful addictions. Jesus is not put off by your sin or anyone else's sins on this blog. Nothing we have done or will do ever shocks him.

Please everyone, get in a small group of honest Jesus loving people. We can't expect sunday morning church to meet all our needs. if we all showed up every week ready to share all our baggage with a thousand people we'd never leave. Sunday morning church is what it is. Small groups and close friends are what we need to keep us rooted in Jesus and out of "fake world". great post Kim!
Love, Michelle

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Shame ... it is a powerful tool ... to keep us/me down. It is very complex especially when sexual abuse is involved. The fight to keep everything hidden (from my mom, brothers ... even myself) was and continues to be immense. So to share openly was beyond imagination.
After many years of therapy I am thankful to God to be moving in that direction.
Transparency was a life line that I just couldn't seem to grab hold of though desperately wanting to ... oh, to be seen, known by someone ... maybe someone who could help. That was deeper than I could articulate for so long.
I remember reading Henri Nouwen years ago and thinking ... ah, he understands deep pain ... something I knew was there but didn't "know" why for the "hiding from myself" was still in place. Then to read about the "great sadness" in The Shack ... I thought ... that is it, that is me, what I experience ...
Anyway, for many of us transparency is a desire that can feel beyond our reach ... but I encourage hanging in "there" ... finally the cloud is breaking.