On Not Being Perfect

shell-756724_1920

All serious spiritual seekers will carry some version of Jacob’s limp or Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” It is often, but not always, physical, and it will show fully our weakness and humanity, at the same time as a deep well of grace. This is how we each carry the Christ wound.

For this reason alone, we should not look to the veneered teeth glinting in the spray-tanned face, but to the “scum of the earth” apostles (as described in 1 Corinthians 4), who preach God’s love from sickbeds, wheelchairs, poverty, crutches, depression and whilst admitting to their battle with alcohol, anger or jealousy. One of my favourite teachers, Brennan Manning, called us all in our loved imperfection, “ragamuffins.”

Broken preachers, who know their own brokenness well, who are unafraid of it, talk, not of their perfection, nor of how we might emulate them; but of how suffering and living in this hurting world can offer a gateway into knowing God and his unimaginable love. They know that instead of having reached the top of the ladder, they have learned how to stand at the bottom, holding it steady for others.

Jesus told us to “Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48 NIV) but before we gallop off into striving to be flawless, we should know that the word perfect here in the Greek is teleioi/teleios, the sense of which is much more about being mature and whole, literally “fully-developed,” than without fault. It is, as I understand it, an encouragement to be ourselves, to grow into completion, to be the best you or the best me that we can be. We can follow this instruction whilst still carrying an awareness of our sins and a desire to change.

Frequently the cross we each bear is the knowing of our own failings, and the resurrection life that we embody (crucially at the same time) allows God to shine through them. Like the risen Christ before Thomas, we can say, here, see for yourself: “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27 NIV)   My wounds are real, our teachers say with Christ, but even more astonishing is the new life that God has given me through them, and not in spite of them.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

 

On Not Being Happy Clappy

happy clappy

Recently on Facebook I put my status as “Fed up” and added a picture of Grumpy the dwarf from Snow White. What I really wanted to say was that I was feeling heartbroken, depressed, and really missing my parents whom I haven’t seen for six months since they moved to Worcestershire. But social media just isn’t the place for vulnerability, is it? It seems too harsh a place to be real about emotions, as though your heart might just as well be sat on a stainless steel tray under bright lights and prodded by various scalpels wielded by unseen hands. But can we, as Christians, afford to be anything but real? Isn’t time (hasn’t it always been time?) to talk about depression, sickness, mental and physical suffering, poverty, trials and all other kinds of genuine difficulties that many of us face, some of us every day?

It’s not that I’m against a bit of decorum, and we do have to be careful to whom we tell our problems, since not everyone is sympathetic, and words can come out oddly and be taken badly on screen (especially when we are low), it’s just that, well, I wish I could have been a bit more real the other day with my friends. But I genuinely didn’t know how, without looking like I was fishing for sympathy. The truth is, I could have done with some. And maybe the people who would have looked askance at that and passed on by are not really my friends at all.

One of the things I want both Christians and non-Christians to receive from our ministry here at Lakelight is the understanding that living out a life of faith is not all joy and wonder, and that this is okay. A lot of it is, of course, and a lot of that lifting your hands in the air in sheer awe and happiness is perfectly genuine. But we can be in danger of making an idol out of happiness, and also in turn, of making worship all about us, and how it makes us feel.

We can also put ourselves in a position where we are afraid to admit that we are having a bad day, or that we are feeling rubbish, put upon, down, upset, burdened, lonely, weary, or any of the other totally normal human things that we’ve classed as negative. When we do feel those things, there are reasons why. There is absolutely nothing to judge. And yet we do. More often than not, the happy-clappy-let-me-deliver-you-from-the-evil-of-sadness, “turn that frown upside down” brigade exists only in my head and makes me feel guilty for feeling down without any extra help. But when it comes from outside, oh boy does that make me mad!

If you are ever worried that you are not a “good” Christian because you are suffering a bout of depression (whether clinical or not), just take a good look at the Psalms, or the book of Job. It doesn’t get any more heartrendingly real than these writings from centuries ago.

“All night long I flood my bed with weeping     and drench my couch with tears.  My eyes grow weak with sorrow;     they fail because of all my foes.” Psalm 6:6-7

How’s that for a Facebook status? Well, okay, so it’s not wise to share all our woes with lots of people all in one go. Yesterday I shared mine with a dear friend, albeit also over the internet as being housebound means I couldn’t quite get to Vancouver, but it helped a lot. And we really ought to be able to say when we are struggling without fear of reproach. That is absolutely going to be part of our approach here at the Sanctuary. In fact, we will be talking a lot about suffering, because it is such a huge part of both life and faith. And if you are feeling down as you are reading this, or are overwhelmed by one problem or many, you have our empathy and solidarity. You are normal, and you are not alone.

 

Sadly we don’t have the resources to offer one-to-one help. If you need to talk to someone, in the UK please call the Samaritans: 116 123 or go to http://www.samaritans.org

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017  Photo from Pixabay