Anger, Pain, Cliques and Pettiness, and AGAPE
Where I ended up in writing my last post was a very long place from where I started. Where I started was in a very big funk that started from two small incidents of being deliberately left out by people that I very much wanted to consider me friends and include me, but whom -- for whatever reason -- are willing to deal with me as a person in their church environment but not willing to act like actual friends. The incidents, in and of themselves, were basically laughable as reasons to be moved from a good mood to an angry, pouty, "poor-me" mood. But they were drops in a bucket that was full of similar incidents, and from people that believe themselves to be dedicated to our church and to God's purposes there, and also from people whom I've made an active effort to pursue in friendship and in mutual efforts toward God's purposes in our church -- so there I was, unable to do anything more than endure the situation until I could get enough privacy to cry my eyes out.
So later I found the privacy I needed and spent time on just dealing with my emotions alone with God. He will hold me while I cry, when that's what I need -- and He is able to soothe that part of me and comfort me so much more effectively than even Mom could when I was a little little girl -- and a thousand times better than any friend or lover in my life since then.
And the next day the feelings of pain and anger were past-tense, but my understanding that I had something real to deal with was still right there. I didn't know what I had to do to deal with it, but my emotional reaction from the night before was unmistakable evidence that there was something real there, and that just processing my emotions wasn't sufficient. The only problem was that I didn't know what was needed, really. I did know that I needed God to work to fix things, and that my first responsibility in that was prayer and listening. And that I needed to refrain from any action -- whether confrontation with people or whether venting here or elsewhere -- until I'd heard God's word on it all to me.
I sent an email to a friend whom I felt had caught some of the flack from my funk right after the recent incidents, explaining a very little and asking for prayer. Whoops! I was supposed to pray and listen -- I forgot! And so I got to deal with trouble I caused in that friendship, mixed in with everything else I was processing. But God seems to have used that as part of the mix to help me sort out my side and everyone else's side sufficiently enough to have figured out the general picture of what I was neglecting and what I needed to change and what I needed to do.
We are all still just children, aren't we? We may be 40 or 50 or 60 or older, but the way we behave socially is often no different than what I see happen with my 5-year-old or with my 14-year-old or with my 22-year old. And the worst part of it is that I always think I'm right, and you always think you're right, and we haven't really learned what "listening" is. It's no wonder we need all the varieties of counselors that we employ to "get you to hear my side" or to "be able to stop feeling so guilty or depressed or angry". (And I think there's legitimate value in all of that, and that many therapists are very useful to God in what He wants to do in the lives of people brave enough to go there and beyond.)
But in our churches and lives, we need to go beyond a surface show of "a welcoming environment" and "brotherly love". We need to actually pursue AGAPE, which Jesus told us is the main characteristic of the KINGDOM that will be visible to the world around us. And we're such children play-acting with our playmates when it comes to the reality of that!
So that's where I came to on Friday, when I wrote my post on "Heroes Close at Hand". I am not an orphan! Not only do I have the Holy Spirit (which Jesus sent so that we would not be left as orphans without Him physically present with us today), but I have my parents and the other people in my life who model the kind of discipleship that assumes the role of "adult". As Henri Nouwen talks about in his book on the prodigal, I can stop just filling the role of "prodigal" and of "the good son", and I can become the "adult" in the story, allowing Him to use me to love my brothers and sisters with real agape in the middle of the real pettiness and silliness of human interaction.
The starting point to that, of course, is that I have received our Triune God's healing and reconciliation and agape, and that I keep receiving it each day -- even the days where I am feeling like a child rejected by her peers. The second part to that is found in the same community where I keep getting hurt: I focus on the people who don't hurt me, but instead surround me and love me and deliberately nurture me in their particular ways. And the last part is found in just being willing to GROW UP!
The pain I was experiencing was rooted in the expectation of being loved and nurtured and accepted by the people who take on the role of being leaders of one sort or another in our community. I should be able to expect that, shouldn't I? . . . . hmmmm . . .
It was also rooted in the expectation of those same people acting like the Christians they claim to be, and of them living out love for me and for the others in our community that they find hard to love -- for whatever reason. I should be able to expect that, too, shouldn't I?
But, guess what? We are all still in need of nurture and acceptance, and we are all still broken and not always able to live out the things we claim to believe. Me too!
So we pray "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" and then do the mental gymnastics that make us believe we've actually forgiven them . . . when the reality is we've stamped a label on them and treat them according to whichever label their sin or failure gave them in our minds -- and then we create our cliques and our friendships and our ministry teams, and think that's all okay . . . but it's NOT!
I am called to be an adult -- to be THE adult -- and to consider where real forgiveness and agape calls for simple tolerance, to consider where it calls for a renewed effort at friendship or at least a more effective "working relationship" as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to consider where it requires actual confrontation and a call for understanding and change. I cannot do any of those things properly from the emotional place that is needy -- so I need to receive first the healing and love I need, from God-in-Three-Persons, from my intimate friends, and from my "heroes close at hand". But then, out of that place of healing and fullness, I am called to extend real AGAPE.
We cannot effectively minister together if we are ministering as a team that doesn't possess all the needed skills for the game to which we are called -- that's what Paul talked about so often in his words about the church as a body with all its uniquely talented members. We focus on those words as a call to see our own unique giftedness and to exercise that giftedness -- but that wasn't primarily what Paul was saying! He was saying not to "dis" (disrespect) the other members of the body! We need each other -- even that annoying man who doesn't just exercise his giftedness but gets in the way of me exercising mine, and even that annoying woman who likes to exercise her ability to "punish" socially anyone who doesn't fit her agenda. (And you may actually really need me as part of your community, too, to see God do everything He could do through all of us together -- despite all the things about me that are so clearly broken and deserve a label and your relief if I find other friends and a different circle to minister in.)
So, through the course of the next few years, as we deal with all the "political" stuff of a pastoral transition and a denominational crisis, and as we keep walking out the "service" side of our mutual Christian calling, and as we grow together and individually in our worship and individual times of prayer and study: May we look for all the ways we are called to minister to each other each time we are together in any way!
I will not allow myself to "label" you and move into a different sub-group of our community, but will make sure that -- as much as it lies with me -- I truly am at peace with YOU. And my prayer is that each of you will do the same with me and with each other -- in all the petty little things!