How much is too much?

I’ve been contemplating this tight rope that we walk, as Christians, when we talk about ourselves.

We can focus on the positives.  There’s lots of good reasons to do this.  Jesus should make a change in our lives.  We should not be ashamed of these changes.   When others can see us excelling in a certain area, it gives them something to shoot for and look foreward to.

However, it can also lead to fake, plastic Christians.  It can lead to a culture where everybody says that they are doing “great.” Even when they are not, because many of us walk around with this hidden theology: if we are struggling then it reflects somehow on our walk with Christ.

One of the many reasons that it’s tempting to go this route is that it can be really hard to hear somebody asking “How can you not know that yet?  Why do you still do that?  Why do you struggle with this?   You are a ____________ (father, adult, leader, deacon, elder, teacher, pastor, supposedly mature Christian)  How can you still struggle with this?”

Sometimes it’s appropriate to ask that question.  But it’s never fun to hear it, no matter how gently or lovingly it’s posed.  A person who succesfully hides his challenges does not have to answer those questions.

But the stakes become pretty high when we start to overemphasize our strengths.  It can be easy to work harder and harder at not being found out.  We fear (and for good reason) that we’ll impugn the whole of our testimony if who we really are is found out.

On the other hand, if we over emphasize our struggles, we also wander into a mine field.  It can be legitimate to ask, “Jiust what work is Jesus doing in their life?  What’s the point of becoming a Christian at all?  Look at that dude, how has it helped him?”

Sometimes, I think we can tend to wallow in our weaknesses.  We emergent Christians tend to not have very good boundaries.  Some of us just vomit up all our struggles in the wrong place and time.  A thing I’m trying to navigate– and I’d love your insight on– is this:

How can we discern when discussing our struggles is productive, and when discussing our struggles is just going to emphasize them, enhance them, increase them?

There’s this unspoken belief, that we should talk about everything.

That’s probably true.  But it doesn’t follow that we should talk about everything all the time.  There is a point that we need to put away our sadness, depression, and challenges.  There comes a time when we just make things worse by focusing on them, over and over and over again.

How do we know when that time is?

I think much of these tensions are resolved by recognizing that all “our” accomplishments are through Christ.

If it appears that I have conquered a thing, I don’t deserve any credit.  It’s Christ in me that really accomplished it.  And when I am still struggling with a thing, it’s only Christ in me that will end my struggles.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

4 thoughts on “How much is too much?”

  1. Very good post, and very good questions.
    Christians generally live in groups and work out their salvation together in these groups.
    Some of these groups are generations deep and go even beyond their living members, and so the wisdom and the dynamic of life together in Christ is available to all and transmitted to all in ways that are not even deliberate.
    Others of these groups, however, are relatively rootless, are neither generations deep nor connected to anything or anyone more experienced than themselves, and so they find themselves repeating the same mistakes, facing the same uncertainties, without resolution.
    I think you’ve already got your hands on the answers to many of the questions you’ve asked.
    Just keep asking.

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  2. Thanks, my friend. “Generations Deep” That’s a great phrase.
    I’m slowly transitioning out of a position that gives me some authority around our communities. One of my longest-standing fights in this capacity has been against people who seek to segregate our communites: They’d like a young peoples group, and a retired peoples group, and a married-with kids group, etc., etc.
    This is one of the very few areas in which I have been utterly unwilling to compromise, within the limits of my authority.
    Recognizing that our communities have bounds beyond the living is also a really powerful thing.
    Insights like this are enough to make me hesitate about the transitions in my responsibilities away from our small group. (Well, this is an exageration, but my point is that this is all so true.)

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  3. Thank you for these thoughts. It seems especially confusing the more spiritual “position” (pastor, leader, mentor) one is in. One who is in leadership carries these unbiblical perspectives by those who follow him/her. Finding the right time and the right people for the sake of both being authentic as well as growing the followers is a tight rope at times. Being too authentic to a follower who isn’t quite mature enough to know what to do with such authenticity could trip and stumble the follower away from their own spiritual growth.
    I would say that one, the bible is clear to confess our sins to God first and foremost. Second we are to confess our sins to one another and to listen to one another’s sin, but I find something striking about two major instances these are found in the bible (James 5:16 and Galatians 6:1). They are in a context of people who are spiritually mature and “righteous.” It’s the prayer of a “righteous person” that is effective and powerful. It’s the “spiritual” that is able to help restore someone from their sin with gentleness and wisdom.
    Sharing our faults and struggles in an authentic community must be for the purpose of restoration. Confess to those you know are trustworthy, mature, and deeply caring so that you can be restored. When listening to someone’s confessions, struggles, problems, be willing and able to go the extra mile of gently restoring them (Galatians 6 even gives us some tools and ways to do that). The goal is restoration, not just being authentic (a lesson I’ve learned from past small groups).

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  4. Steve focused in on the confession aspects of what you were posting about. You know that some groups, Catholics and Orthodox for instance, have a formal process called confession, where a person confesses sins to a priest and gets absolved (forgiven). Catholics tend to be mechanistic about it, and their idea about how forgiveness happens and by whose authority seems, to an Orthodox, magical.

    Orthodox can confess to a priest, and should as a matter of discipline, at least a few times a year, but there is no sense of penalty for not doing so, because we are expected to be confessing our sins to God every day. The Orthodox priest also does not magically absolve us of our sins, but prays for the forgiveness of his own sins as well as ours, and then lets us go only after he has reminded us of God’s love and faithfulness to forgive and remit ALL penalties due to us for sin, and then we kiss the book of the gospels. That’s why it isn’t hard for us to confess to another human being, especially to a priest, because we never find blame or punishment there but only mercy.

    Among us Orthodox, too, it is practiced that we confess our sins to one another, as we have need, and all this happens in an almost unconscious and organic way.

    This is the best place to start, to find a friend who can be like an Orthodox priest is to us, kind, supportive, non-judgmental, in short, someone who loves you so much that he or she would rather be blamed along with you for your sin than to stand with any accuser. This is the essential heart of the mysterion (sacrament) of confession, and which renders it totally unmagical, but rather miraculous, for the Christian.

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