Beautifully Broken. A testimony shared in word and book form. The story of Elisa Morgan, former president of MOPS International. The telling of a teenage daughter pregnant, the shame of the thing, of the realization that we are all a mess, and this is a truth. A friend and I ventured from home to attend the “I Am Loved, One Strand” Event featuring Elisa. An evening of challenge to a church crammed packed with ladies. Will I hide my brokenness, or will I take the risk and be a mess, for Jesus Sake. As the evening hours came to a close, half dozen pastors and elders waited up front to offer a prayer for anyone who could use it. Just as I Am keeping time, verse after verse and out of the hundreds of women attending, no one came forward. Verses repeated. Still no one. Then a couple of the pastors facilitating the event came forward to be prayed for. As if to say “This is how it’s done”.
We had been dismissed, the church mostly emptied, a few pray-ers still at post when I asked my friend if she wanted to go together for prayer. Pray for our marriages. For our kids. For our own personal struggles. My friend is no ordinary friend. She is one of those heroes who lives her faith despite depth of pain. Sunday mornings, despite hostility at doing so, dresses herself and her children and slips off to church alone, shaking inside but holding it together, always holding it together. The only Christian in her family. A mentally unstable husband who swings from kind to damaging. Having to scoop up children and leave her home for days, fly away, until the storm passes. She is a mother who is doing everything she can to give her kids what they need, her husband what he needs, works full time, is a loving adult daughter of aging parents, a loving friend to me and many others. All this amidst a blast that comes and goes, sometimes nearly crashed upon the rocks, when once again God comes through, and she holds steady again.
We have so much in common, her and I, and you too, I’m guessing. Our lives are full and beautiful and messy and painful. We have the unexpected that tares at us. Every time the calm comes, on it’s heels is destruction. Willing again and again to be a mess for Jesus sake, as it would be so much easier to pretend all is well, easier to dust ourselves of the messes that disrupt our hoped for lives, but we’ve decided to refuse to give up. And there we were, she and I doing the very thing the evening had lauded. Praying not for the superficial, but for what needed praying for.
Pastor woman, kind eyes, nice prayers she offers up. The flowing kind of prayers, until tears flow from depths of those she prayed for. Immediately friend and I feel the change. Pastor Woman holds steady cold eyes on the one with tears and steps back. Starts lecturing. Shrouded in Christian-ese, she with smile and sneer eyes, she offers up a lecture of indignant setting straight. Arrogance and irritation. Distance. Rejection. Parental eyes. As real as if she had said the words, “We don’t do messy here.”
Shame, it hit hard. Feeling sick. Needing to find a hiding place, a bathroom, tears they showered pant-leg beneath the eyes. And as shame flooded in, I remembered words I had heard hours before in a training I had attended. Fight, flight and freeze occurs when comfort has not been extended. Fight, flight, freeze. The body’s reaction to not trusting. An unsafe place to be a mess.
The church is realizing how important authenticity is, and vulnerability. Elisa Morgan has written “Beautifully Broken”. Ann Voskamp’s latest book reiterates the same idea in “The Broken Way”. Brene Brown has written extensively about vulnerability and authenticity, and about becoming a wholehearted person. And many are speaking out on these issues, including God. The Holy Bible is packed with raw stories of real people. And still the church isn’t prepared for what it’s asking for.
We better not ask for real if we have not done the due diligence of placing front and center only those who have done their own raw and messy work. If my healthy vulnerability frightens you, as culturally Christian as I am, you won’t at all be comfortable with folks with a criminal record, an abortion never spoken of, same sex attraction shame, cut scars that run deep behind long sleeves, a porn addiction, shoplifting, the pain of life as a stripper, hidden heroine, purging, on the run. Christian servants are not prepared unless we have intentionally peered into the toxic morass of our own less than lovely lives. The grace of Jesus administered to shame makes worthy and safe my ears to hear your wound, and your secrets. Professional pretenders have no place at the front line of the body of Christ. This interaction was uncomfortable for me, but I’m not harmed. I’m surrounded by healthy people who give me all the love and support I need. Someone else might not have what I have. One considering Christianity. One who has risk it all to try once again to reach for Jesus.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
Of course we don’t want pastors and leaders functioning as out-of-control messes. This pastor offering prayer has either never come face to face with her own lacking, or had experienced the discomfort of letting a judgmental person in on her own disgrace, which is why she reacted the way she did to ours. How can a pastor be honest with themselves and others when we marginalize them for owning their weaknesses? Pastors are human beings. They have a past, a present. Arrogant Saul was only safe to serve when struck down by Jesus, made blind and dependent, and a mess. Peter was only safe when he faced the ugliness and rejection of his distancing behavior. We are only safe when we see who we are, and let God’s Grace pick us up again. A pastor able to admit and speak about his or her own messiness becomes safe to love another. And not before.
I’ve written on this topic more than once, and will continue to write on it. The front lines call for the real deal. No pretenders. Our Christian Culture must stop rewarding leaders and pastors for pretending, and punishing for honesty. The route from death to life is across a cravat that separates Hateland of Pretend from The Loveland of Known. From the Hiding, fight, flight and freeze (Adam, where are you?) place to a place of being seen, loved and forgiven. Christians can’t stand on both grounds. Authenticity is attractive to the hurting who don’t know Jesus, because isn’t this what we all want most of all? To be known AND loved. We can’t pretend to be authentic as a way of extending a hand. The call for authenticity has already been sent out. Front line Christian’s, time is now to step across.