For three weeks I’ve been dealing with some eye issues. Without giving too much detail (because you might stop reading), my eye has been itchy, watery, rashy, red, and practically swollen shut each morning. Honestly, I’ve been miserable and have wanted to hide so no one sees me. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option because I was scheduled to take my daughter to college for a two-day registration and information session. So there I was, in an auditorium full of people who didn’t have to be self-conscious because they didn’t have an angry-looking eye. In an uncharacteristic move, I didn’t talk to anyone and simply stood in the back of the room wearing my sunglasses so no one would have to look at me.
While I would love to not be dealing with this, it has given me plenty of time to think about what it might be like for people who are self-conscious because they are dealing with different issues—spiritual or emotional or personal—and how they just want to hide instead of being with a group of people in a church.
They feel past choices will cause people to stare or whisper when they walk into a room. Maybe they believe their struggles will make them stand out in a church full of people who seem to have it all together. If they do brave church, they put on a happy face, hide out in the back, and sneak out before anyone talks to them.
Though these are simple, I’ve come up with a few things we each can do to make our spiritual families feel like a safe place for people with “issues.”
When someone is struggling, speak the truth in love. One morning my husband said, “I love you—and that looks horrible.” I let out a big sigh. Not because I was upset, but because I was relieved. Someone finally told the truth. Until then, I had felt miserable and had been trying to power through.
When we know people who are struggling, it might be easier to pretend everything is okay. Instead, let’s talk about the hard and messy things in their lives, remind them we love them, and—most of all—tell them how much Jesus loves them. That simple acknowledgment will make a world of difference.
Encourage people to keep looking for support. My first two doctors’ appointments didn’t actually give the relief I was hoping for, and some people encouraged me to try a different doctor.
Sometimes first attempts at fitting into a church family don’t work. Maybe people weren’t welcoming, or maybe somebody said the wrong thing. Encourage people to not give up on the church and invite them to not give up on God. Help them look for a spiritual family that shares God’s good news, his hope, his peace, his forgiveness, and his healing.
Realize the power of hope. When I went to a different doctor, both he and the nurse had compassion on me, and he said, “You shouldn’t have been suffering this long. We’ll hit it hard, and you’ll see improvement in 48-72 hours.” I almost cried.
When people are struggling, they can feel hopeless. We get to be the people who say, “I’m sorry for your pain. I’m on your side. We’ll get through this.” This is the way we get to fulfill this Bible passage: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).
One last thing. . . . As you read this, maybe you’re the one who has issues and wants to hide. Please don’t. The church is a beautiful place where we get to hear about Jesus, who gave up the glory of heaven to come for you. He’s the one who says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). He is the one who wipes away your bad choices by giving you the credit for his perfect ones. He is the one who took the punishment for your sins, who gives you his victory over death, who heals you, who encourages you to keep meeting with people who believe in him, who encourages you not to hide.
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who feels sorry that her poor family has had no choice but to look at her every day.
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