As a worship leader of Homestead Mennonite Church, I try to discern the best ways to help my congregation worship God and connect with each other.
One way is in the arena of praying for and with each other.
I challenge us to be open with our struggles in life, our vices, the areas in which we may feel weak or filled with doubt.
Privacy is important, and I understand that we as Humans may not want to share the messy parts of ourselves with others. We’d rather sweep all the dust into a closet and lock it up tight, securely away from public scrutiny. Still I ask us to talk about the surgeries we’re going to undertake, or the friend struggling through a breakup, or the stress eating that we want to stop doing. I don’t ask us to share because I delight in uncovering each other’s issues. I do it because we are a body, and God has not designed us to handle these issues alone. Rather than holding our dust tight and letting it clog us,
I say we should air it out. Our openness can help us, help the people around us, and help the people beyond our sight, in more ways than one.
For example, being open with our struggles opens up opportunities of relatability. Sometimes, we feel alone in our struggles, as if we are the only who’ve ever gone through a problem. Maybe someone habitually lies. They know it’s a problem, they do it on impulse, but they don’t own up to it because they’re afraid people will stop trusting them. Maybe someone has chronic neck pain, but refuses to speak of it because they don’t want to be seen as weak. They know other people have pain far worse than their own, so they believe they should be content to suffer in silence.
We are the body of Christ. We are meant to hold each other up, to bear each other’s burdens. People have pain and know how distracting, even debilitating, it can be. People have lied and know the sense of guilt or the mad scramble to save face, able to understand how shaming it can seem. This touch of empathy could be just what the struggling person needs to face their pain one more day or to know that they are still loved even if they fall short of the mark. People can relate to us, and we can relate to other people, since our struggles have commonality. We can find comfort in the midst of our suffering.
Openness about struggles can also help us do better with them. When we are honest about our struggles and let people know where we need prayer or guidance, we give them an avenue to help keep us accountable. Maybe that habitual liar needs someone to check on them and ask if they’ve maintained their resolution of honesty. We do not have to bear burdens with our own strength. We can hold each other up to meet the standards we believe will honor God. And when we fall short, there’s the comfort in knowing that we don’t face these challenges alone, because everyone struggles.
And everyone does struggle. People are fallible. We may sometimes forget that, looking from the outside in, seeing only the facade that people erect. The suburban mother with two honor roll children may be imagined basking at her pool; the teenager with the football scholarship has his robe and gown and a grin.
But dig deeper, and so often we’ll find the depression, alcoholism, abuse, the diabetes or cancer, the jealousies and anger issues. And so often we seem surprised by the findings.
The people looked perfect, life seemed wonderful; how could they have hidden such glaring issues for so long?
Christians are no strangers to such facades. We sometimes try to look as presentable as possible, practically glowing with purity. Pastors stand as the models of society, congregants wear their Sunday best and keep their gloves whitewashed. As the body of Christ, however, I believe this facade is untenable. It isn’t reality, and comparing ourselves to this fantasy can be unhealthy. It is better to remember that people have struggles, people have vices. We are called to love each other and strengthen each other even with these challenges.
Rather than condemning each other when the walls fall, we need to remember that we’ve all fallen short and that we are God’s children struggling to grow our relationships with him. When we remember that none of us are perfect, we are in a better position to accept the fallibilities. We feel chronic pain which God has yet to heal, and we question why we suffer. We lie to each other for petty reasons, and we can’t seem to stop serving ourselves over God’s desires. We really do have dust in our closets.
Does that make us failures? Not really. And as incongruent as it may sound on the surface, by being open about our fallibilities, our suffering, and our struggles, we can improve our witness to the world. Stories of inspiration are not often about perfect people (Jesus may be the one exception). Rather, our imperfections can help highlight how God has and continues to help us, how we strive above adversity, how we trust even in the midst of suffering. When others see how we can stand in our struggles, they may be more inclined to do the same. When they see us love each other as the true body of Christ, they will see God moving amongst us. They may decide that they want such a relationship. Our actions can be our witness, pulling others closer to God.
Now, privacy can be important, and there may be some things that we don’t want aired to everybody. But on the whole, I believe those things really are few and far between. With our openness, we can gain comfort and comfort others. We gain accountability and can hold others accountable. We gain mercy by embracing the fact that everyone is fallible, and can also be shown mercy from a body that understands everyone falls short. And we can show the world that our struggles do not destroy us.
In this way, I see our openness as an act of worship, trusting God to use all of ourselves—even the dusty parts—to bring him glory.
In spite of all I see that favours openness with the body, I will admit that there are some areas of my life I still keep locked up. There are some struggles that only God sees, and while I do cast my burden upon him, it acts as only a part of the equation. I don’t have the accountability of a support partner for these things, nor the comfort of a consolatory touch. I refuse to let the body hold me up.
I don’t think this is the healthiest way to handle these struggles, or the way that best honors God, and so I might be a hypocrite for it. But I don’t despair. This is merely a part of my own imperfection. I work towards the day when I can find the voice needed to unlock that closet and let all the dust out. I pray that we all may do the same.