Henri Nouwen wrote, “Therefore, healing means, first of all, the creation of an empty but friendly space where those who suffer can tell their story to someone who can listen with real attention.” What a blessing when gatherings encourage conversation and give God space to move and work. After all, it’s when we give God space that healing can begin.
On a recent morning I stopped at a QuikTrip convenience store to fill up the car with gas. The temperature was in the single digits. The wind chill was even lower. There I stood — coat zipped tight, hat and gloves on, yet still freezing – as I refilled my tank. You know the gauge had to be below empty for me to choose to refill in that weather.
As I stood there shivering, huddled over the nozzle, I noticed another car coming in for fuel at the pump next to where I was standing. The condition of this car made me momentarily forget how cold it was. The car windows were covered with ice. I am not talking about frost, I am talking about ice. When I say “ice,” I mean “a thick layer of ice.” I wondered how the driver could possibly see to drive safely.
Then I noticed on the driver’s side of the windshield there was a small section, perhaps 10 inches wide by 8 inches tall, which had been scraped clean. Before I drove away I walked around all sides of this vehicle to make sure I was seeing it correctly. Every window was coated with a thick layer of ice except that very small section of the windshield. The driver had just enough room to peek out through the windshield and see the road right in front of the car.
At first I laughed as I drove away, thinking how the driver had probably prevented frostbite on a finger or two. But the more I thought about it the laughter stopped. It began to dawn on me how dangerous it was to drive with the windows in that condition. As I drove toward my destination, my thoughts turned to living in community.
Truth is, many people go through life like that driver that morning – looking only at what is right in front of them.
They do not look back to learn from their mistakes and failures. They cannot see people in their rear-view mirror who have been affected (positively or negatively) by their interaction. They cannot see people they have encouraged by recent conversation. They cannot see people they have built up and helped through a difficult time. Neither can they see people left reeling after a recent encounter. They don’t see people left hurting and discouraged by careless words.
They cannot see the people to their left and right. They don’t see people who are on the journey with them. The people with whom they might need to merge. The people to whom they might should yield. The people who have a similar destination and might need some help along the way. They are unaware of people who might make a mistake by swerving to the right or left and entering space that should be theirs.
They cannot see all those out in front of them. They are unable to have a clear vision of those who may be moving forward in the same direction but in a different lane. They have no idea whether the people in the next lane are making progress and whether a lane change would be appropriate. They can see only the person who might be directly in front of them. They cannot see road signs ahead that communicate directions, warnings, safety rules, and even location.
The call of God is the call to live in community. That means we need to see more than what is directly in front of us. We are on a journey together. We are not lone rangers or solitary travelers. We live in community. Community means that when we make a decision we do so with the community in mind. Do we realize that our choices and decisions might affect people in front of us, behind us, and beside us? Do we realize that failing to consider the people all around us might lead to a disastrous crash?
So when we are tempted to scrape only a peep hole in the windshield ice, we need to stop, put on some gloves, and take the time to clear all of our windows before hitting the road. The choice is between living in community or living selfishly, which is really a choice between living or not living.
In her article Why Is It Hard to Be Broken in Church? in Relevant Magazine, Anne Jackson says, “Sometimes it’s hard to be honest about yourself in church, but we can change that.”
Sex addiction divides mental health experts by Shari Roan was published in the Los Angeles Times in March of this year. She writes: “Is extreme sexual acting out an obsessive-compulsive disorder, a sign of depression or just bad behavior? ‘If we are looking at a disorder, it’s not clear what that disorder is,’ one expert says.”
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Compared to many people I know, my life has been relatively uneventful. However, throughout the course of my life I have had some difficult days.
I have had burdens to bear.
Sometimes my burdens have resulted from my being caught up in sin. At different times my burdens have been the result of others being caught up in sin.
Sometimes the burdens have been easy enough to manage. At different times the burdens have been heavy, almost unbearable.
At all times God has been faithful.
At all times Christian brothers and sisters have been right there with me to help carry the load.
As I remember those who have walked beside me and helped carry my burdens, I am reminded that others have burdens, too.
Sometimes their burdens are easy to manage. At different times their burdens are heavy, almost unbearable.
Sometimes their burdens are the result of their sin. At different times their burdens are the result of my sin.
At all times God is faithful to them. The question is, am I?
Am I willing to walk alongside someone who is hurting?
Am I willing to help carry their burdens?
As I ponder this passage I realize I have much for which to be thankful. And I regularly have burden carrying opportunities.
What I need to remember, what we all need to remember, is that carrying burdens for each other is exactly how God wants us to live our lives.
Thank you for providing burden bearers for me.
Forgive me when I burden others by sinning against them.
Forgive me when I am too tired or disinterested to carry burdens not my own.
Empower me to live out your law by bearing burdens.
Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
In the name of Jesus,
“In confession the breakthrough to community takes place….If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother, he will never be alone again, anywhere.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Some relationships are superficial. We talk about the weather. We complain about politicians. We question the opinion leaders. We brag about our favorite teams. But we never get beneath the surface to matters of the heart.
Other relationships begin as superficial — we talk, complain, question, and brag–but grow into deeper relationships where matters of the heart can be safely disclosed.
So how do we transition from superficial relationships to spiritual-community relationships? In addition to talking, complaining, questioning, and bragging, we confess.
Confession often provides the breakthrough needed to take a relationship deeper. When we finally take the risk to open up our hearts and divulge our fears and failures, our secrets and sins, we often discover a safe haven where we can share true fellowship.
Will we settle for superficial, surface relationships?
Will we take the risk to confess?
High risk? Yes, of course.
High reward? Yes. You really have to experience the fellowship of confession to appreciate the security resulting from a breakthrough to community.
In her book, Talking the Walk: Letting Christian Language Live Again, Marva Dawn encourages the church to embrace the rich vocabulary of faith. She laments that many words, once rich and full of meaning, have been neglected or watered down.
On this first day of 2010, I am reflecting on Marva Dawn’s discussion of confession. She quotes (p. 66) two of Cornelius Plantinga’s parodies of contemporary confessions–
“Let us confess our problems with human relational adjustment dynamics, and especially our feebleness in networking.”
“I’d just like to share that we just need to target holiness as a growth area.”
And she contrasts these “confessions” with the following from The Lutheran Book of Worship —
“Almighty God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.”
As I spend time in 2010 with God and God’s people, I want to be more honest in confessing sin. I want to reclaim not only the power of the word “confess,” but also the power of the act of confession.
“If Christians are to function as the body of Christ, we will need to foster stronger and more intimate connections with each other. To do this, we will need to learn to listen. Listening to each other will be greatly facilitated by our no longer viewing each other as threats to our well-being. Within the dominant culture that emphasized self-sufficiency and autonomy, there is little reason for us to listen to each other. Why should I listen to you? I don’t want to hear about the good things that have happened in your life; they just make me more depressed about my own lack of accomplishment. I don’t want to listen to your problems; I have my own. Nor do I care to listen to your advice or admonition; I can take care of my own problems by myself.”
Philip Kenneson from Life on the Vine , p. 149
“We gather for worship to remember who and whose we are. We come to recount the stories that shape our faith, stories that turn us from a collection of individuals into a community with a common source and vision. The church as a worshiping community carries our biblical faith and spiritual tradition down through the ages to each individual. We are joined to that community in Baptism, tutored in faith through the interpretation of scripture in preaching, and nourished at the Lord’s Table as a family of believers. Life in the church teaches us that we are made for a communion not only with God but with one another in Christ.”
–Marjorie J. Thompson in Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, p. 60.
“While a worshipful attitude should permeate one’s entire life, the role of common worship is crucial. We delude ourselves if we imagine we can live the spiritual life in total isolation from Christian community, for it is impossible to be Christian in solitary splendor. To be Christian is to be joined in the Body of Christ. The central and visible way in which the church expresses this reality is by gathering in the Spirit to receive and respond to God’s living Word.”
–Marjorie J. Thompson in Soul Feast An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, p. 60.
“Spiritual friendships provide a shelter in which the consequences of Adam’s fall can be reversed. Spiritual friendships are possible between persons committed to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ, and ascend by degrees until the friends are made one in heart and soul with Christ….Christ is friendship’s pattern, laying down His life for friends. Spiritual friendship is bought by love and won by competition in generosity. Its currency of exchange is counsel in perplexity, consolation in adversity, prayer without ceasing, empathetic identification in grief and shame as much as in honor and joy. Spiritual friendship is grounded in trustworthiness, which allows candor in confession and criticism, and opens a safe place for secrets to be aired. It begins with the good, progresses among the better, is consummated among the perfect. In advanced stages, it crosses over from mere virtue to spiritual zeal, to a resurrection of the spiritual senses, to shared intimacy with God. In the world to come, all friends of Christ will be friends of one another, so that God will be all in all.”
— Marilyn McCord Adams in Christ and Horrors: the coherence of Christology
Thanks to my daughter, Laura, for making me aware of this quote.