Abandon All Fear

What nobody else seems to be saying…

[Churchianity] Is Someone Nearby Hurting?

Posted by Lex Fear on July 29, 2006

It may not be obvious that someone we know is hurting. When a person now feels they cannot share their struggle, it is buried inside and then becomes a seed for doubt, mistrust, fear, discontent and feelings of failure.

“How’s it going?”
“Good, thanks.”
“Great… OK catch you later”
“Yeah, see ya.”

Does this short passing exchange sound familiar to you? Chances are if you’ve ever stayed for coffee after a Sunday morning service, attended a church event or visited with a house-group that you’ve had a conversation like this. On the surface, it simply sounds like one individual showing genuine concern for another. But how would this conversation go if the second person was to respond in a different way?

“Not well, I’m still struggling with these issues, I’m really having trouble keeping my faith through this difficulty…”

I would guess that there are many of us who have wanted to respond with a similar line at some point. For those of us that have, how many times have we heard one of the next lines?:

  • “That’s too bad, I hope you manage to work through it.”
  • “Well, you’ve just got to remember what I told you last time…”
  • “Just keep giving it to Jesus.”
  • “I’d really like to talk to you about it but I’m busy just lately…”
  • “I’ll pray for you.”

Invariably followed by “OK, catch you later”.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all done it. We’re not really interested in how our Christian brother or sister is doing, we’re just being pleasant. The truth is we’re saying the right rehearsed lines, and if someone departs from the script then they’ve made a faux pas.

Our natural automatic response is to try and show sympathy, whilst getting back onto the script and finishing the conversation as fast as possible. Some people are so skilled at this that on a Sunday morning they skim through the crowd passing with “Hi, how are you?” and not even waiting for a response.

But what becomes of those people who have a genuine reason not to be alright?

Not wanting to make a faux pas, they continue to bear their pain. Perhaps they have already shared the problem, perhaps someone has even been willing to spare 15 minutes discussing it with them. Once that 15 minutes is over, it’s their duty to now get over it. Usually, such is the finality of the solution given (i.e. “Just keep giving it to Jesus”), the person who is suffering no longer feels adequate to share that they are still having the same problem next time round.

A while ago I was in a discussion about people who are recovering from a spiritual fall or difficulty. Many of the points and questions were centered around how to treat the person “on the stretcher”. The discussion then moved on to people who were having difficulty in their faith, difficulty overcoming or getting past an event. Someone asked:

“If you’ve got a friend who is like that, they’re not moving on or having trouble getting over it, how long do you stay with them before moving on?”

I don’t believe a true friend would ask this kind of question. Unfortunately this is the attitude appears to be prevalent in our Christian ghettos, and it precisely the reason that people to fear bring up the same issues, even if they genuinely can’t ‘move forward’. So instead they bury it down deep “Yeah, everything’s fine now thanks.. I’m working through it.” When in reality they have no idea where to start, they may not even want to move on.

There may be many reasons someone can’t move on. Could it be they didn’t read the bible passage as instructed, they haven’t prayed enough, they don’t understand what they’ve been told? Or is it that their problem may be more complex and prolonged and a simple 15 minute ‘good talk’ on a Sunday morning is not going to solve it?

This is why I am asking the question, it’s a question for us all… is someone nearby hurting?

It may not be obvious that someone we know is hurting. When a person now feels they cannot share their struggle, it is buried inside and then becomes a seed for doubt, mistrust, fear, discontent and feelings of failure. This in turn manifests itself in negative ways, which tend to be looked down upon by, what I term, the Mafia (the self-affirming, anti-negative, speech-checkers).

When someone who has a deep issue has been treated in a superficial way, which leads them to feel alone in their struggle, they will usually start to display some of the following characteristics:

  • Withdrawal from the group/Church life
  • Cynicism about Church, individuals (usually a leader or leaders), any projects the Church is undertaking
  • Unwillingness to discuss their life
  • Negative attitude
  • Not giving full attention to important matters

What is our response to such a person? Based on our misconceptions of the characteristics above we may start to treat them differently. I have seen or experienced these reactions to people who are discontented:

  • Blank or stop inviting them to social events
  • Treating with contempt and talking down to them
  • Withholding information or lying about ministry opportunities
  • Talking about them (gossip) with leaders or influential people

All of these reactions constitute a general ‘freezing out’ of the person in question. Now, you may ask why it is that talking about a person with a leader can be seen as gossip? Surely it makes sense and is biblical to discuss with a leader if you think someone is ‘falling away’ from the fellowship? Well, it does if the reason for bringing this to the attention of a leader is out of sincere concern for the individual: seeking advice or that the leader would approach the person concerned. Yet how many times has it simply been to discuss that persons attitude, our disapproval of their attitude and to get unspoken consent to begin the process of ‘freezing out’? Note that when I say ‘influential people’, these are not necessarily people who are positional leaders.

How does Jesus finds our reactions above to people who are discontented, withdrawing, becoming cynical, unwilling and/or negative, due to the hurting inside? The bible has a lot to say about this, for a start let’s look at examples of people in the bible. Moses, Elijah, Job, Solomon, Jonah and many of the prophets were all characters who went through doubt, withdrawal and cynicism. Sometimes these are referred to as wilderness times, but there is no doubt that God used them. So we know that God can and does use people who are prone to negative attitudes and dissent. David practically surrounded himself with people like this. These people were not successful because of their attitudes, they were successful because God used them in spite of their attitudes- even using them to communicate his message!

Finally, When someone reveals to us their discontent or seem to be in a prolonged struggle, the bible is very clear on our duties to those who are weaker in the faith:

“Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. Stop criticizing others, or it will all come back on you. If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. If you give, you will receive. Your
gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving–large or small–it will be used to measure what is given back to you.” – Luke 6:37-38 NLT

“Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.” – Romans 2:1-2 The Message

“So be careful not to jump to conclusions before the Lord returns as to whether or not someone is faithful. When the Lord comes, he will bring our deepest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. And then God will give to everyone whatever praise is due.” – 1 Corinthians 4:5 NLT

“Finally, all of you should be of one mind, full of sympathy toward each other, loving one another with tender hearts and humble minds. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it.” – 1 Peter 3:8-9 NLT

If you are interested in reading this topic further, or you are suffering from a hurt or prolonged difficulty, here are some further resources:

SAFE: Love and support for those hurt by church
Monday Morning Insight: Giving Your Church’s Dissenters a Voice
The Hurting Church: Why we get hurt and hurt others in the church
Christianity Today: When You’re Hurt by the Church


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