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I’m in Crisis. Will the Church Judge Me?

Have you ever experienced a setback so devastating that all you wanted to do was hide – from family, from friends, from the communities you’re a part of? One of the reasons we become part of church community is the promise of a space where we can be fully ourselves and find support when we need it. That’s the theory, anyway.

As most of us know, however, the reality is a little bit stickier. Ironically, it is precisely in our moments of greatest challenge – those times when we need the support of our friends the most – that we withdraw and isolate ourselves. It could be you’ve relapsed into addictive behavior. Maybe you’ve hurt someone close to you with your words or actions. Or perhaps it’s something that’s hard to explain, like a creeping depression that darkens every waking moment.

Running Away

For my friend Katie, the crisis was divorce. She describes in a recent blog post how she chose to run away from her church community during a time when her marriage had fallen apart. When things came to that point, she wasn’t sure that she could trust her community with her sense of devastating loss. She went looking for a church where no one would know what she had been through. She sought anonymity in a different crowd.

Have you ever experienced a situation like this? Why is it that we so often retreat from those around us at precisely the moment that we need loving care the most?

The Church that Judges Together…

I suspect a lot of it has to do with the fear of being judged. In every community, and Christian communities are no exception, there are certain types of crisis that are more acceptable than others. If my house burns down or I get in a car accident, for example, that’s probably something I’m going to feel comfortable taking to my community. I know they won’t look down on me for something that is outside of my control.

There are other types of trauma that I’ll be less comfortable sharing with others. Divorce, bankruptcy, addiction, criminal behavior, or any other way in which my life may be spinning out of control. It takes real courage to bring these challenges to my community, because there is always the risk that, in addition to all the heartache and shame I already feel, my friends will reject me, too. It can seem safer to avoid that risk altogether, to find a new community where no one knows my past. Or to drop out of community altogether.

Cracking the Shell of Despair

It can be hard to see it in the moment, but often these times of deep crisis are opportunities for the kind of growth that just isn’t possible until our lives are shattered. Just like a seed can only grow by breaking and sprouting, you and I can only experience transformation when our old lives are visibly exploded.

The same is true for our communities. We cannot grow as a people until we embrace our shared brokenness. If there is not room in the church for the expression of darkness and doubt, where could there be? Aren’t we followers, after all, of a man who cried out on the cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? We are brothers and sisters of the crucified savior, the wounded healer, the broken messiah whose new life comes to us through the experience of shame, loss, and defeat.

Judgment-Free Community

What will it take for us to become communities where the hurting, the ashamed, the doubting, the confused – that is to say, each one of us – is welcomed into a space of transformation without human judgment getting in the way?

  • Trust God. In Jesus, God has experienced every pain, temptation, and loss that we have – and then some. We’re not alone, we’re not abandoned, we’re not forgotten. The Spirit is especially present with us when we are at the bottom of the pit. We are lifted up precisely in that moment when we cry out in our pain: Abba, Father!
  • Trust yourself. When you trust God, you have no choice but to trust yourself, too. God created your whole life as a vessel of the Spirit’s life and power. Know that Christ dwells within you, and that his healing love can overcome any challenge, no matter how painful or shameful it may seem at the moment. Stand still and wait for Christ’s power, and he will shine in your heart and show you a path forward, straight and clear. It won’t be an easy, quick fix; but it will be a path that heals and transforms.
  • Trust the community. As a fellowship in Christ, we’re still human. We’re going to make mistakes. Really bad ones, sometimes. Yet, it is through fallible little bands such as ours that God has chosen to carry out the restoration of the world. I still can’t fathom how the Spirit could use people like me to heal the world, but we have learned that God chose that which is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are. God is working in us and through us, even when it seems highly unlikely.

Be the Change

Do you want to be part of a community that is loving, open, and humble enough to welcome those who are facing the deepest struggles of their lives? These kinds of fellowships do exist, but they don’t happen by accident. If we want to be a people who can welcome the brokenhearted, we must first face our own brokenness.

We all know it’s a bad idea to wait until a hurricane hits to begin weather-proofing your house. In the same way, it is important that we develop the habit of sharing our lives with one another – both joy and grief – even when it would be more comfortable to keep things to ourselves. Authentic community is only possible when we are up-front with our whole selves, even those parts that make us uncomfortable.

Everyone can feel the difference between an open and honest community and one where we wear masks. Many groups feel stuffy and closed, like the air hasn’t circulated in a long time. It’s easy to suffocate there. Other communities have opened up the windows of their lives, letting the breeze flow through.

When times are good, it can often make sense to participate in stuffy communities. There are advantages to closed windows, after all. Climate control provides a certain stability. But we all know where we want to be when we’re gasping for air.

If your life began to fall apart, would your community be a place where you would feel safe staying and working through it? What would it look like to encourage the free expression of struggle, doubt, and crisis in your community? Are you ready to open up your life, being transparent in your own struggles?

Please share in the comments below:

  • What has been your experience of facing crisis in community?
  • Do you feel like your fellowship has a culture of embracing struggle, or burying it?
  • What steps could you take to encourage raw authenticity and spiritual/emotional hospitality in your life?
  • BicycleThief II

    What community? I was raised a Methodist, it was a thriving church in the 70s but now it’s congregation is literally dying and no children attend with any regularity. Most of the communal gatherings, non-religious, that I have attended in the recent past have been at the local Friends’ Meeting House and I do believe that ‘Quakerism’ is one of the few authentically Christian groups. However, I have always felt uncomfortable with the silence during a meeting as a new attendee but was very comfortable with the after meeting chats. Attendence is low and ageing in their case too.

    The most popular church groups today seem to be Evangelical/Pentecostal and Spiritualist. I think these deomninations are very dangerous and would probably use the openness you call for as a way of controlling the person with fear!

    • Hey BicycleThief,

      Excellent question. I’m writing out of my own particular location, of course, as part of a network of missional communities – the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. So, part of my goal is to encourage our folks to embrace others and facilitate the emergence of non-judgmental spaces where people can get to know what life in the kingdom of God looks like.

      At the same time, I love to hear about how other individuals and their communities are engaging with these issues. I know that there are lots of groups out there that have different experiences – and perhaps different underlying objectives – than we do.

      I hope you get the chance to attend a Friends of Jesus gathering sometime. It would be great to have you with us!

      PS: What’s your name, by the way? You’ve been faithfully reading and commenting for years, and I’d love to know! 🙂

      • BicycleThief II

        My name is Duncan. I first came across you when Occupy Wall Street started I was following it on uStream and posting in the forums. That was until Occupy Plymouth UK started and I was a regular visitor there. In the first few weeks I really believe that there was an authentically Christian ethos being practised although it wasn’t associated with any religion. It was like the parable of the sheep and goats moment for me because the camp attracted every kind of person and they were all clothed, sheltered and fed with lots of support from many businesses and other local donations.

        Unfortunately, as is so often the case, a hierarchy arose, people were turned away and it lost its authenticity.

        I carried on following your blog because I think you are on the right path basically.

        • Nice to make your acquaintance, Duncan.

          I had the same experience with Occupy in the US. The first few weeks were pretty awe-inspiring, but I’m not sure it was meant to last longer than that, at least in that form.

          I’m glad you’re following this blog. Your comments definitely add to what I’m doing here. Glad to be in conversation with you!

  • Bob_from_Reno

    According to an article published by Rev. Richard York,[1] Jesus Christ was considered to be existemi – mentally ill – by many of his neighbors and relatives, including his mother Mary, and gives Mark 3:19b-21, 31-35[2] as his source. Could it be that the Christian churches have strayed so far from the intent of Christ that people no longer consider them as relevant? The petty view of God that some
    religious leaders demand is the only possible view of God has turned many away from religion, as has the failure of religious leaders to overcome petty little differences, some appearing to maintaining that they have sole ownership of the one true God. For those who claim Christianity – or any religion- is superior to all others, a review of Adlerian Psychology which claims superiority is achieved by cooperating with others instead of competing with them, may be in order.

    [1] The Journal
    Vol. 3 No. 4, 1992 RELIGIOUS OUTREACH, Something Discarded; by
    Rev.Richard York

    [2] and they went into an house.[20] And the multitude cometh together
    again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.[21] And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.
    [31]There came then his brethren and his mother, and,standing without, sent unto him, calling him. [32] And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him,
    Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. [33] And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? [34] And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! [35] For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and
    mother. [Mark3:19b-21, 31-35 – King James Version]

    • Thanks, Bob. It’s really easy to exclude Jesus from our community, if we’re not careful!

  • Shasta4737

    In some Quaker communities people are completely ignored unless they highly successful and outgoing. It’s sad but true. It just seems to be the way it is.

    • That’s really too bad, Shasta. I think that Katie’s story is really a reminder that we as faith communities need to be more proactive in reaching out and caring for those around us. Sometimes I wonder whether we give one another too much “space” when what we really need is relationship!

      • Shasta4737

        Thank you, Micah. I don’t give up; I’m looking for a meeting. My mother is 91 and has been a Quaker all of her life. Her ancestors were also Quakers. I’ll always be a Friend at heart. We’re both rather shy and that adds to the problem. We really like reading your articles.

        • Thanks, Shasta! I’m so glad you’re reading!

  • Yelena Tower

    I recently moved to a new area, and it’s been a struggle to open up to people. My husband and I attended the local Meeting for about two months. I sat there thinking about how I needed to reach out more, and how hard it was to reach out, and I talked a little bit with a few people about that (mostly acknowledging how hard it was). But things like requesting to talk to people about spiritual difficulties? Anxiety and depression and uncertainty about what to believe? In a new place, I didn’t know where to start, and I still don’t. Theoretically, I understand; you get to know people and, well, talk to them. The practical matter of who to approach and when to speak and what to say, though — that’s got me paralyzed.

    I talked with some fellow members/attenders of the Meeting where I’m a member, and that helped, but I still have the pressing feeling that I’m taking too much of an individual road.

    My husband and I are exploring other Meetings for various reasons, but I still have a fear of doing more than just showing up. What happens if I get involved and things get difficult? Never mind that I want desperately to be part of a loving community. I still shrink back and keep my distance. It seems to be that our society is so wary of intruding on other people that we have a hard time starting normal relationships. I find myself wishing that we hadn’t moved, and that I wouldn’t have this sense of having to start over in an unfamiliar place.

    Thank you for this blog. I’ve been reading for a while, but this is my first comment. I appreciate your ministry very much.

    • Hi, Yelena! I’m so glad that you’re commenting for the first time. I’m grateful to know you.

      It sounds like a tough transition to a new community and a new Meeting. I hope that you find a few individuals that you can connect with on a deeper level. In my experience, those ordinary human relationships that go beyond the meetinghouse are the key to any healthy community.

      • Yelena Tower

        Thanks, Micah. I’m looking forward to a time when this will all be water under the bridge. In the meantime, I suppose there are lessons to be learned through the transition, too.

  • Abigail Burford

    I met Micah briefly at NYYM Summer Sessions and was deeply impressed with his calm willingness to be a conduit for Spirit. Today, in crisis and adrift, I read his essay and took heart.

    My crisis: my 20-year-old daughter is home for the holidays. She treats me with contempt and abuse, and, in the moments when a capable parent would calmly set and enforce boundaries, I just freeze. The result is a confusing, embarrassing, painful mess. Some Friends have been marvelous to me, taking me in and comforting me. But I don’t feel safe in my Meeting community. I can recognize that I’m broken wide open. I have experienced ego failure in just about every worldly way possible: financial and professional, as a wife, as a daughter, and now as a parent.

    The amazing part is that even as the breakdown continues, I can hear the still, small voice assuring me that God has a purpose for me and that a broken person can serve God magnificently. The sad part is that I cannot share this good news with my Meeting. As soon as I use the word “God,” Friends cast a suspicious glance at me. As soon as I use the word “Christ” and “healing” in the same sentence, Friends want to inquire delicately about my mental health.

    In my frustration with my Meeting, I have inwardly railed against this well-meaning body as risk-averse and dithering. From my perspective, as a broken person, I can see that the love of God is worth the risk, any risk; I can see that endlessly dithering over terminology is one way to ensure that a body remains in a sort of spiritual coma.

    I am grateful for the support my Meeting has offered me; I appreciate the fellowship over the years. But, as a body, my Meeting doesn’t know what to make of, or how to use, a broken person.

    A broken person is wide open to Spirit. A broken person has valuable experience in letting go of ego triumph. A broken person can listen patiently to other broken people. A broken person can facilitate healing.

    And sometimes, a broken person can be risk-averse and dithering! One way forward may be for me to quit dithering over terminology myself, take a risk, let go of my Meeting, step out in faith, and find a community where I can be of service, where I can follow Micah’s good example and be willing to be a conduit of Spirit.

    • Wow, Abigail, thanks so much for this testimony. This is really important.

      I’m sorry that you’re struggling so much with finding the support you need as you seek to walk more faithfully with Christ. I hope that we in the Friends of Jesus community can be a resource for you, and that you’ll find the encouragement you need to continue this journey of courageous vulnerability and trust in the Spirit.

      God is with you in this!

    • charlesburchfield

      abigail i just found micah’s blog & i want you to know that your suffering touches my heart! i have a long history (60+years) of suffering complex abuse starting w/ severe abuse in childhood. only reciently have i come to understand by the holy spirit what a rich experience deep suffering is as i turn it over to god to reach other ppl who are suffering. empathy does not come cheep! but in the lords hands it can become pure gold b/c you and i are not alone in suffering. i think i am partners w/ god by way of staying in constant contact. this is not accomplished by saying the right words! in recovery from trauma and addiction i discovered a way to live in the presents and walk in the spirit. this is the gift my extreamly painful life hqs given me. So a month ago when you posted this you were in crisis how are you now?

      • Abigail Burford

        Thank you, Friends, for your responses. Amen, Charles! Suffering and times of crisis are actually the raw material for transformation. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse… a miracle happened. Was it a miracle, or a radical shift in perspective? Maybe they are the same thing! When I let go of the attempt to impose my will, or “gave up” because the situation had hit bottom, and yielded to God’s will, the whole problem was transformed. All of a sudden, I could see that the years of suffering were a gift to me, that the pain was an opportunity, that I was actually blessed with this struggle rather than cursed with this struggle.

        I could see that the painful mother-daughter relationship had made both of us the people we are today, and had, in an odd way, prepared us for the work ahead of us. Both of us have been able to move forward in our lives, and we can feel love for each other since we have each been able to release the other.

        God works in mysterious and amazing ways.

        • charlesburchfield

          Well that sure is good news! You have just validated what the lord has been showing me at my own struggles. Its not such a glamorous way is it? No wonder ppl reject it & me! But I think the way of the cross, picked up daily and offered up as a question: I did what I did and they did what they did…now what!? Yeah just going to leave it there and wait for more instructions. Anyway it’s good to hear from you and I look forward to reading your posts if you care to write.