i have a theory about healing: most of us need it, a lot of us want it, and many of our church experiences have taught us some things that make it harder to get.
this makes me sad, mainly because church is supposed to be a place of healing, the safest place on earth to be transformed, a sacred space to experience God’s love & the love of people and be renewed over and over again. i have come to believe that those of us who have a strong evangelical/fundamentalist background have the hardest time with believing in the deep places of our hearts that we are worthy, valued, and loved by God and others. accepting our acceptance is really the root of most of our healing issues!
recently, when i was leaving our wednesday place of healing, a lovely group of men & women learning how to do healthier relationships, i was reminded how freaking hard it is to change painful patterns in our lives. it doesn’t come cheap, it doesn’t come easy. and one of the things that give some of us the most trouble is that we haven’t been taught this reality in church.
we have been infused with a false idea that if we just “believed enough, prayed enough, immersed ourselves in God’s truth enough, humbled ourselves enough, did x-y-z enough” that we’d be instantly transformed.
i don’t think many churches realize the amount of ongoing damage these messages about healing cause for people. they leave a lot of us with a “there must be something wrong with me because i am still struggling.” it’s still wild for me, how strong that pull is even after all these years of a radically different experience. i will leave certain interactions with believers who sound so strong & certain & “well” that i immediately go to a place of “i must be doing something wrong that i am still struggling.” it’s so jacked up–and i know better–but makes me realize just how deeply embedded some of that thinking is into the fabric of my christian experience.
a lot of us have been taught false notions about healing in church. we’ve been lead to believe that:
1. healing is fast. there’s a very low tolerance in many communities for ongoing struggle. we like victory stories, not “well they are still struggling with that.” our timeline on change is often months instead of the years and years that deeper healing requires.
2. healing is simple. with the right combination of God & scripture & doing-this-or-doing-that-or-reading-this-or-reading-that, that we can get our marriages back on track, kick that nasty addiction, and be transformed. we want it to be less complex than it really is. sometimes when people intersect with the refuge they have this feeling like the pain there is too great and it must mean that somehow people aren’t letting Jesus work in our lives. that couldn’t be further from the truth! but because it looks and feels messy, there’s an inclination to want to “clean it up.”
3. healing is linear. so many of these things fit together, but the thought that healing is like climbing a ladder, one rung at a time, the past behind us, moving forward, can deeply harm us. transformation is much more like a spiral, and we will hit our same stuff over and over again, thankfully always at a different place. i have to catch myself all the time on this when i am talking, yet again, about my struggles and that little naggy voice says that i shouldn’t anymore.
4. “needing” is bad. the church’s message “you just need God and God alone” has really damaged a lot of us. to make God uninvolved with us through people is not a biblical concept. the much bigger story is the body of Christ being a tangible reflection of God. the early churches’ “need” for each other was truly a matter of life and death. the reality is that it still is, but life and death just looks different now. i am supposed to need you and you’re supposed to need me. we are supposed to be needy, but we have often been sent a message that we’re not.
5. healing is just a “heart issue”. in other words, if we can get our hearts right, then everything will flow out of that. i can’t tell you how many years i tried to get my heart right and never could. what did start to transform me, though, was when i started taking practical active steps in a new direction while my heart was still a big hot mess. that’s why going to recovery meetings, healing groups, whatever-different-way-that-might-look, is so important–our actions often precede our beliefs and we aren’t going to wake up one day with our hearts in exactly the right place for something to happen. yes healing is spiritual, but people are complicated and every area needs attention.
i know some of these are generalizations, but i also know that some of you have been on the receiving end of them in a huge way and it has messed with your head. it’s one of the reasons so many people have had to leave church in order to get healthy. i respect that even though it makes me so sad.
i also know that most church’s heart are to be a place of healing. the problem is that the realities of healing does not “sell” because we have misinterpreted what it’s supposed to look like and are disappointed when it doesn’t meet our criteria.
healing is never simple, fast, linear or possible alone.
in reality, it is messy, ugly, long, weird, uncomfortable.
healing requires not just a humble month or two when things get extra-hard but a humble way of living and seeing ourselves & God & others.
no wonder why it’s so hard.
and no wonder why it’s so good.
ps: i didn’t post here last week, been extra busy diving into the new year, but did have two other posts up:
- at sheloves magazine, january is “hope” and it is definitely dangerous - down we go: a dangerous way to live
- at the refuge blog, which i write for here and there - an invitation, a blessing, and a new year together (i love our invitation to community that we created this fall and read at the beginning of our gatherings)