And though we love to numb the pain
We come to learn that it’s in vain
Pain is our mother
She makes us recognize each other
— Linford Detweiler
I have long said that stories of brokenness and failure bind a community together much more than stories of success and victory. Not there’s anything wrong with success stories. Church (and all other) communities need them. People are encouraged and excited by them and it helps keep momentum going. But brokenness and failure create community like nobody’s business. If I stand up in church and tell you how awesome I’m doing and how I am one step away from the throne of God, and how God keeps doing one amazing thing after another through me, you will probably think, “Good for him. I wish I could say the same. I guess there’s something wrong with me.” But if I share my struggles with you, if I let you know that in some places in my life the going is slow and very rough, you will identify with that. You will think, “I’m struggling too. I guess this is normal. I guess we’re all in this together.” That is community.
Churches don’t benefit themselves by getting their people to always look and sound like they “have the victory.” The fact is that we spend most of our lives in uncertainty. We can’t see three inches in front of us with most decisions we have to make but after the fact, when everything works out well, we “give God the glory.” C’mon. Let’s be realer than that. How come I have heard so few Christians say, “My child is struggling with X and such, and I’m just really angry at God right now — if there’s even anyone to be angry at.” Pain is our mother, she makes us recognize each other. This means “I see in most of your successes heights I fear I may never reach and you seem to me a stranger. But I see in your struggles depths I have been to many times before and I recognize you as a friend.”
This is true not just in the church, but in every organization. Of course it’s up to leaders to establish healthy guidelines for sharing. Leaders do this by sharing regularly and carefully about themselves. Wise leaders are vulnerable leaders. Wise leaders are real people. Wise leaders learn from their screw-ups and teach others to do the same.
As a pastor, I want the people in my church to lead “victorious” lives. I want them to succeed, and wildly at that. I want them to be happy and to know they are fully loved by God, and to experience that love in our faith community. But the reality is that they will hurt sometimes, and fail sometimes, and sin big sometimes, and more than anything I want my church to be the place where they can admit it and find a community of caring people to grieve with them. Pain is our mother, she makes us recognize each other.