Christian Platitudes and Spiritual Band-Aids

What do you say when you don’t know what to say?

  • When your neighbor’s husband dies from a heart attack at 32 leaving his wife with four young children.
  • When the retired couple at church have all of their financial savings taken in a scam and are left with nothing.
  • When the cancer comes back for the third time and the hospital bills continue to pile up at our friends house.
  • When the young college grad with a successful job opportunity ahead is unexpectedly killed in a car accident.

What do you say? We want to say something. We want to sound like good Christians and be encouraging. Yet so often our words end up coming out leaving the grieving one feeling hollow and empty.

We hear the grief, the despair, the hopelessness, and pain, and in our anxiety we search our minds for the right words. Then out comes a verse out of context or a platitude that drops like a bomb.

The Bible shares how initially Job’s friends really were helpful in bearing his burden. They came to him and they sat with him. For the first three days they were silent.

Those who are hurting don’t need us to explain away why God allowed this.

  • They need someone there with them in the pain– someone to just be fully present.
  • They need someone to give them hug, to cry with them, or to just listen without judgment.
  • They need someone who will allow them to be wherever they are in the process of pain or grief.

Grief and emotional-pain takes months and sometimes years to work through. Our losses, whatever they maybe, hit each one of us differently. Each step of the process takes a varying amount of time depending on the individual. That is why the spiritual band-aids and Christian platitudes can be so damaging and so hurtful. The things we say may very well be true, but the hearts and minds receiving them may not be at all ready to hear those things.

Sometimes the person enveloped in pain wants to share about what they are going through, whether it be fear or sorrow or even anger. Other times they cannot even form the words, they can’t even begin to think because of their depth of grief. We need to be aware of where they are at, and when we don’t know, just ask. A simple, “Do you want to talk or shall I just sit here with you?”

There just are no easy one-size-fits-all answers. All of our responses need to depend on the individual’s needs.

Our fear of not knowing what to say or do can even make us want to avoid the situation. But that can be hurtful too.

The bottom line is remembering to show love. Isn’t that what we all need all of the time? And we especially need love when we are going through the rough stuff of life.

Next time you are faced with someone near-and-dear to you struggling with what life brings, consider how you can show love and meet them right where they are.

  • Maybe that will mean going and sitting with them.
  • Possibly sending a caring card will be the right thing to do.
  • Maybe sending a note and flowers will show you care.
  • It might be that bringing a simple meal will be just what is needed.
  • Or maybe the Lord will lead you in a totally different way according to His perfect wisdom.

Whatever path of compassion you choose remember you definitely can help them to feel held in your love and presence by reaching out and being there.

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Acceptance and Belonging

Romans 15:7 tells us, “Therefore accept one another just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”

 

Do you long for acceptance and belonging?

I know that I do. We as humans generally want to feel that we are a part of something, we need to know that we have a place. We need loving acceptance to welcome us in relationships. The Lord created us with desire for relationship but finding acceptance and belonging can be a struggle. All of the issues that keep us imprisoned in loneliness leave us without the belonging and acceptance we so desperately need.

Paul tells us in Romans 15:7 that we are to accept one another. And we are to do this because of what Jesus did. He is our perfect example. He accepted us by His grace. He died for us and brought glory to His Father. We too can bring glory to God by living out grace in our lives as Jesus did.

We are called to accept one another even though we recognize many differences among us; different looks, different viewpoints, different beliefs, different perceptions, different ways of understanding and on and on it goes. Even so we are to emulate Jesus in showing patience to each other and in showing forbearance for each other. We are to show the same love that the Lord has showered on us.

The Bible speaks a lot about the importance of unity, and as you probably well know that does not come easily. It is only through the love and acceptance of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can we have unity. Unity is not born out of sameness in background. It is born out of the love that Holy Spirit pours into our hearts, and the grace we learn to share as we come to know Jesus in deeper ways. We all come from different backgrounds and have had many different experiences. The common thread for Christians is the Gospel. And it is as we grow in our faith, we grow in our desire to live out Christ-like love and acceptance to others.

Living out love and acceptance in the church, in the Christian community is what Paul is speaking of. He does not say that it will be easy, but he does make it clear that it is possible as we depend on the Holy Spirit. Paul knew the Truth, he knew the reality of God’s grace. He knew full well how his life had been transformed, how his heart had done a 180 degree turn around. Only in God’s power. The Lord led Paul’s heart to a place of peace, and to a desire for fellowship. Following this miracle in his heart, Paul wanted nothing more that to see the church, the body of Christ to grow in peace and unity.

So, it is as we seek the Lord and depend on the Holy Spirit, He will empower us to develop hearts wiling to accept others with Christ-like love. We desperately need the love of Christ in our hearts, the power of His grace, and the leading of the Holy Spirit to help us develop unity in our churches and to grow places filled with people who want to accept others because they have found acceptance in a loving Savior.

Belonging, acceptance, and community bring about an atmosphere where we are willing to carry one another’s burdens and weaknesses, trials, afflictions, and infirmities. This grows out of hearts filled with love. It is in a community of hearts filled with God’s love that we can begin to feel safe to share in authenticity.

When we are stuck holding our shame inside, walls are constructed that keep us separated. But when we are free to share our struggles, confess our sins, and be honest regarding our suffering, we open the doors to the possibility of finding community. We need to know God’s grace in our hearts in order for us to share His acceptance.

When we know the magnitude of God’s love and grace towards us, we learn of the freedom to come to Him just as we are. And knowing His love and grace deep in our hearts leads us to sharing that same kind of grace with others.

I find that people who have found the vast ocean of God’s grace are the ones who can share that same grace from their hearts with others.

The Lord desires the church to be a place of belonging. He created us with longing for belonging. He wants us to be in communion with Him. He wants us to live in community with others through sharing His grace.

The thing about belonging is when we truly belong we no longer need to hide, we can be real and authentic about where we are at in life. We don’t have to be chameleons or people-pleasers.

When we can be honest about who we are and where we are at, and not have to try to be someone we are not, we can feel at home, and truly feel loved.

So finding acceptance and belonging begins in our hearts when our hearts are firm in the knowledge and experience of God’s grace and love towards us.

Take time today to examine the reality to which you know God’s grace. Seek to know it more so that it overflows as you meet others. Acceptance starts with knowing Jesus and the fullness of His grace. Acceptance grows as we allow His grace and love to flood our hearts. We can make a difference. Our Christian communities can be places of acceptance and belonging. How will you begin to make this happen in your life?

 

It has been a number of weeks since I have been able to publish a post because of having to help with my mom’s care. I have felt the Lord’s grace in my life as I saw the Lord work through the prayers of others. I so appreciate those who so kindly prayed for my mom. She has been in and out of the hospital a couple of times in the past few weeks as well as in rehab. She is finally gaining strength and able to sit in a chair. Thank you so very much for your faithful prayers. 

Loneliness

Do you wrestle with loneliness?

You are not alone.

Loneliness is experienced by many people, but few admit it. Admitting to feeling lonely is difficult because we worry no one will understand.

We find the subject of loneliness in the Psalms. David shares openly of his struggle with feeling lonely. David takes his neediness to the Lord, wanting Him to be aware of his pain and to help him with it. Here are two verses where we find the Psalmist crying out.

Psalm 25:16 “Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely…”

Psalm 142:4  “Look to my right and see, no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge, no one cares for my life.’

Can you relate?

There have been times in my life when I have felt lonely. I remember feeling as though there was no one I could share my present reality with. No one that I could share my feelings about all that was happening in my life. And I wanted to talk with someone.

There are many different reasons for loneliness. Loneliness can be circumstantial. It may be because of moving away to a new town, or having an empty-nest. It could be that there has been a misunderstanding between friends or within your family. Loneliness also occurs when there is a loss of a spouse or close friend through death or divorce, or a separation of some kind.

Loneliness can be because of personal fear of sharing, putting up walls of self-protection. We sometimes choose to isolate ourselves because of fear of others criticism, judgment, or their reaction. We stuff our feelings because it seems as if no one will accept us if we share with them.

I know my depression stemmed from stuffing deep grief from childhood. I felt abandoned in my grief but didn’t feel heard when I tried to express it, so I crammed it deep inside. I chose to be busy and independent as I grew up. I ran away from the painful feelings as much as possible, until at one unexpected moment much later in life all of my pain poured out in sobs. I had walled off that part of me– and chose not to feel it or look at it. But then came the time when there no longer was a choice. I had to get to the bottom of it all.

Loneliness can come about out of shame too. A choice we or a family member made, one that seemed like the only way out at the time, leaving us now feeling alone and afraid to share. What will people say? What will they think? How will they look at me if they knew? These are all questions that may go through our minds. We wonder how could I tell them about my abortion, my drug abusing teen, my affair, my alcoholic spouse, my father in prison–what will they say?

These feelings of shame can be further magnified in the community of believers. We look at those around us in the chairs or pews in our churches and they look as if their lives are perfect. We wonder how could they ever relate to what we are going through? The feelings of “I don’t belong” scream in our heads and rip apart our hearts. We need each other. We need someone to talk to. But who is safe?  Who will even want to be around us? We feel like the lepers in the Bible– isolated and surely to be ostracized.

Again I ask, can you relate?

Loneliness is a problem in all of society. The rich, the poor, and in each and every race. We all need Jesus and we all need the community of others to support us throughout life.

As believers we want to think that we can find that community, that family, in our churches. But that is not always the case. It seems that our churches are often places filled with plastic smiles and rote replies where many hearts are dying of loneliness.

So what is the answer, how do we find a better way? How do we find the connection we so desperately need? Well, the first and most important answer is to seek the Lord in prayer. I know that I have prayed at different times in my life for the Lord to provide me with community, safe-sisters, and He has in amazing and unexpected ways. I have found that He knows exactly what my heart needs.

Many deep safe friendships take years to form, but with God, He can develop depth of years in a few months. He wants us to have heart-to-heart friendships. Friendships filled with love, sharing and accountability. It is in the sharing of our hurts, our struggles, our pain, our missteps, and in our freedom to confess the reality of what life is really like, that we find community. Community is what we need to help us lift our load.

Galatians 6:2 tells us, “Carry each others burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Benson Commentary explains that this verse is telling us to “sympathize with and assist each other in all our weaknesses, grievances, trials.” Matthew Henry’s Concise commentary says that “The better we know our own hearts and way, the less we shall despise others and the more be disposed to help them under infirmities and afflictions.” And Barnes Notes on the Bible  explains that we are to “bear with each other; help each other in the divine life. The sense is that every man has special temptations and easily besetting sins, which constitute a heavy burden. We should aid each other in regard to these, and help one another to overcome them.”

The law of Christ is all about loving one another and love is the antidote to loneliness. Christ-like love. When we read the Word of God we see that Jesus mostly condemned the pious, proud, self-reliant people and befriended the suffering and the sinners.

I am so blessed to be a part of a church that is full of love and honesty regarding struggles, but I know that is not the norm. And it makes me incredibly sad to see so many going through life lonely and isolated because there is no place for honest sharing and confession.

We need to be the change-agents. We need to open our hearts, confess our struggles, and welcome the neediness of others. This can start with just acknowledging the emotions of another or a struggle heard in prayer. it can be followed up with a caring phone call. Or asking one to join you for coffee or for a Bible study or a book study. It takes being aware, and a willingness to be open and available. Reaching out involves risk but when connection occurs it brings great blessing. It’s helpful to remember that people have varying levels of comfort with depth of sharing, so we have to move forward carefully.

We all need acceptance and belonging in our lives and my post will delve into that topic next week. I hope that you will join me again.

We Need the Lord and Each Other

If someone asked you to describe the Lord and your experience of Him, What would you say?

How does that influence your interactions with others and how you respond to pain and difficulties?

Shadows are the result of something blocking the light. There are many things in life that cast a shadow on our faith and make us question the Lord’s goodness, His power, His timing, or His wisdom. Roman’s 8:38-39 tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Yet, Satan wants us to live in the dark places, and to have shadows cast on God’s love and faithfulness so our faith is shaken and we question God. Satan wants us to tremble with fear and feel very alone.

The Lord desires us to fully know His love and to share that love and build community. He wants us to be empathetic, authentic, transparent, and real about what we feel and need. He wants His love to touch our pain and to help us grow. He wants us to grow to know Him and His love more deeply. He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him (Psalms 62:8).  He also wants us to make confession of our sin to one another (James 5:16).  He desires us to live in a community of love.

When we as Christians are limited in our experience of knowing the reality and magnitude of God’s love, we fail to share and express it. We all need the Lord, the blessings of His love and grace, and we need each other, but how should this flow and work in life? And, more importantly, is it happening to the extent and in the way the Lord desires, or do some changes need to take place?

The Word of God is filled with people struggling with sin, pain, and fear in real life issues. We read about people who cry out to the Lord in desperation like Elijah (1 Kings 17-19), Ezra, and the Israelites (Ezra 10), and David (Psalms 42, 43, 69). People who authentically confessed their weakness, sin, and neediness. It is in those places in the Bible, in those places of authenticity and transparency, that I feel safe and not alone. I feel a level of community with them because they share their hurt,  and raw emotions with the Lord and with others.

We know that we are a sinful, rebellious people living in a world filled with pain, sickness, evil, and trouble. We know there is a cavernous emptiness within. It is in Jesus that we find grace and acceptance.

Yet, there are so many lonely Christians with dark secrets that they fear sharing. So many afraid to step into our churches because, more than being preached at or judged, they need to feel love and acceptance. There are so many hurting people; deeply wounded by abandonment, rejection, lies, betrayal, loss, grief, death, living in depression, or with another mental illnesses. There are many whose stories are walled off within because of fear, they live in self-protection. People who see plastered on smiles and hear “I’m fine” and wonder, “what’s wrong with me?” People who hear verses handed out like prescriptions, spiritual Band Aids slapped ineffectively on gaping wounds. People who hear Christian platitudes; the way it should be, but know that this isn’t their experience in life or their experience of God. These are people who desperately need to feel and know the love of Jesus in real, practical ways, but they are not finding it.

These are issues I want to discuss, issues I want to look at. You see, I have been on both sides of this problem. I have been the needy, desperate one feeling totally alone and misunderstood, as I felt when I was deep in my depression and people questioned my faith. And I have been that Christian, who has shared an unhelpful Christian platitude and walked away not hearing the pain of another. I think that most of us can probably say we have experienced both sides.

Many of us have been needy and desperate at some time. We have needed empathy, understanding, or a listening ear from a caring person, or maybe something more tangible. Yet we may have struggled to feel safe in asking to have that need met, and so have been left alone in our pain. We fear sharing the reality of our neediness, we question the safety in being fully seen and heard just as we are. Many of us know the pain of loneliness, neediness, or just wanting to know acceptance and have belonging. We feel left out, not good enough or just separate and different.

And many of us also have given out a verse when a listening ear was needed.

What can we as people and we as a part of the “Christian community” do? The change begins in us as individuals.

My next three posts will focus on loneliness, acceptance, belonging, Christian platitudes, and spiritual Band-Aids. I hope you will join me each week.