House of Pain

by Kim on June 10, 2011

It is hard to escape the conclusion that God does not do his work in us apart from the experience of suffering and pain….

If this is true, then churches will need to be places where such trials and tribulations can be openly admitted, dealt with and learnt from, rather than avoided and shoved under the carpet. Too often we expect church to be a place of harmony, peace and cooperation, and we are surprised when it is not. We also expect Christian life to be plain sailing and trouble free and think that God has abandoned us or doesn’t like us when we hit sickness, bereavement, failure or disappointment.

A church that is serious about becoming a centre of real spiritual fitness and health will not try to hide difficult experiences. Nor will it depict Christian life as always characterized by triumph and success. That only leads to struggling Christians feeling inadequate and far from the centre of God’s purposes in the world. I remember in my early years as a Christian leader talking to a woman in our church who had struggled with depression. I suggested that coming to church might help. “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that — it would be much too difficult,” she said. “When I get over it, then I’ll be able to face church.” I could understand her reluctance to face crowds of people, yet something about that didn’t sound right. Whatever “church” was in her mind, it was not somewhere you could take your difficulties. It was instead a place for people who coped with life.

Church needs to be the opposite: a place for people who cannot cope with life…. As the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world … Only that fellowship which faces such disillusioment, with its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it … A communiity which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which isists on keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.”

Graham Tomlin, Spiritual Fitness: Christian Character in a Consumer Culture (London / New York: Continuum, 2006), pp. 125-27.

{ 1 trackback }

Faith, Folk and Charity
06.11.11 at 6:27 am

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1

PamBG 06.10.11 at 11:16 am

Excellent. Thank you for that.

2

Pamela 06.11.11 at 12:10 am

Utopia church. This writer doesn’t know a whole lot about depression.
Or maybe both writers.

3

PamBG 06.11.11 at 12:33 am

I totally don’t get that comment, Pamela.

You think a church for depressed people should aid and abet people in sweeping their problems under the rug and not permit troubles to be spoken of?

4

Pamela 06.11.11 at 12:43 am

I actually prefer to be called Pam.

Depression Fact Sheet for Connexions:
(I’m using ’she’ but of course it could be ‘he’):

She’s argumentative. She’s depressed.
She’s sensitive. She’s depressed.
She doesn’t agree with you. She’s depressed.
You ‘totally don’t get her comment’. She’s depressed.

5

PamBG 06.11.11 at 12:47 am

Wow. Sorry for speaking. (sarcasm)

6

Pamela 06.11.11 at 1:25 am

Apology accepted. (no sarcasm).

7

Pamela 06.11.11 at 2:54 am

Before I get booed off the stage some thoughts about ‘depression’.
We all know, I think, that depression is a serious and debilitating mental illness. As with any mental illness, symptoms can range in severity, people don’t always present in textbook fashion and sometimes it takes a highly skilled medical professional many months to sort someone out to become a functioning human being again. It’s not always “reluctance to face crowds of people” but a “reluctance to face oneself”. In severe depression, getting up out of bed in the morning can be a huge achievement, without worrying about “taking your difficulties to church”.
Small steps, gentle people, dare I say it, lack of sarcasm, and quite often leaving them be to just sit and enjoy the music or whatever can sometimes be really effective.
In cases of illness, like depression, let God work through highly skilled professionals like psychiatrists and psychologists and just accept them. My advice would be listen, really listen and don’t push your own agenda.
Rant finished.

8

PamBG 06.11.11 at 1:45 pm

Pam, please hear this in a gentle voice.

I am completely puzzled. I agree with what you say about depression. In my personal opinion, the original post is 100% congruent with what you’re saying but your response suggests that the post is diminishing depression and the roles of professionals in dealing with depression. I have no idea where you’re getting that.

To me, a summary of the post would be “Let’s stop pretending in church that everything is always fine and let’s stop giving facile, glib answers to people who are hurting”.

I do take depression seriously. I have a friend who came very near to taking their own life. But I honestly don’t think that being depressed means that everyone else has to pussy-foot around you because you might explode at any minute. You are, of course, welcome to explode in anger, but I’m not going to apologize for liking the post or making a logical, pertinent remark about it. I will give you my best wishes for recovery and acknowledge that this is a difficult challenge.

9

Pamela 06.12.11 at 12:40 am

Pam BG,
At least there’s no sarcasm going on with that response. :)
My experience in church since my health issues has been mostly a positive one - thanks to two friends in particular and, generally, the congregation did not give “facile, glib answers to someone who was hurting”. It took me a long time to trust my minister at the time but due largely to his persistence it worked - he never betrayed a confidence and put up with my anger pretty well. His interpretation of scripture was different from mine, but the respect was mutual.

You don’t have to pussy-foot around me, but a gentle voice would be appreciated. And I’ll try to do likewise. Deal or No Deal?

10

PamBG 06.12.11 at 1:07 am

Pam, I’m happy to speak with a gentle voice. My problem here is that when I said that I didn’t understand your interpretation of the original post, it was not intended as ungentle or nasty or anything of the kind.

I’m glad you’ve had a good experience of church. I know a number of people who stayed away for months after a crisis because people couldn’t resist giving them all sorts of unwanted advice in an effort to fend away their grief / misfortune.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>