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Published Summer 2010T
Good Counsel

House of Love, or What?

 

Gerry Goertzen
ChristianWeek Columnist

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@riverbendcounselling.ca


Is it safe to go to God with my failures? The dilemma is that God is Holy and we are people of sin. Our distance from God seems compounded when our choices have led us to dark places with hard consequences and deep shame. Making our way back to God can be a frightening experience. “What will God do with me, knowing how bad I’ve been?”

Some people are asking another question: Is it safe to go to the people of God, the Church, with my failures? It’s true that the church struggles at being safe. I have the privilege of hearing stories of great joy and stories of great sadness in relationship to how people felt treated in the church they attend.

A middle age woman sought prayer for her depression multiple times in church, but when her health did not turn for the better she experienced significant relational drift from the people. Soon she was looking for another place of worship. I know a pastor who’s son was told (by the elders) to leave church until his issues in court were settled. Wikipedia calls these types of experiences “excommunication”. Needless to say, that pastor didn’t stick around either.

 


 

 

Just when people need the greatest support, the church can fumble and mess up. The saddest thing is that this makes it seem that God is as safe as the church is (or isn’t). But perhaps referring to the “church” as a whole isn’t fair. It’s more accurate to see that it is individuals in the church that cause the heart break? Therefore it is realistic to seriously discern who will or will not be a safe person to trust with your brokenness. Here are a few things you might want to consider:

First, ask yourself “who can I count on in a time of need?” For example, who could I call at 2 am and not feel like I am a bother to them? This may or may not be someone in a leadership position. Keep in mind that a name tag doesn’t automatically mean the person is “safe”.

Secondly, ask “can I trust this person to carry my troubles and failure with great care and wisdom?” No one is perfect at this, but here’s something I’ve learned that helps recognize a true care-giver from a counterfeit. Listen and observe their personal level of vulnerability and transparency. For example, has that person ever shared their own faults, failures or troubles? Not just issues like a speeding ticket, but deeper life imperfections. If the person is your pastor or elder, think back to the messages he or she has preached; does this leader personally disclose at a level that helps you feel confident in them, or do they keep things on the surface?


Thirdly, is this person humble? I look for little things such as the persons ability to say “I’m sorry” when they make a mistake. Also, take an honest look at the person’s attitude about themselves. Do they come across as the big kahuna – the expert with clear-cut answers, or do they see themselves in a realistic measure – “with a grain of salt”?

Another tool is to test the waters by disclosing something that takes a bit of risk, but doesn’t risk it all. After the conversation ask yourself two questions: Does he or she really understand my struggle? And, did I get to know something about this person that helps build trust between us?

It’s my desire to be realistic about the church while maintaining unwavering support for it. When we are broken and battered by the high waves on the seas of life, including failures by our own making, we need more than ever a place to meet God and invite Him into our journey of recovery. We need a safe harbour! Can the church be that? Yes it can, and it does. Realistically though, there are some in the church who need help in learning to become safe people, and it may be best not to be their guinea pig.

I have no doubt that God has chosen the church, as broken a vessel it is, to be His agent of reconciliation. I like the words in the song by Tina McBride, “Love is the only house big enough to heal all the pain in the world.”

Gerry Goertzen MA

RIVERBEND COUNSELLING & WELLNESS
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