Wounded healer? Or truth zinger?

Wounded Healer

Photo Credit: ASU

She shared how her dad chastised her for not praying enough, listening to daily sermons, considering her ‘witness’ as she dressed each morning, among others. She was struggling with her self-worth and couldn’t find firm footing in her new faith. My dad has always been perfect and I spent four years drinking and partying and throwing myself at men—and he continually reminds me of how shameful my past is, she wrote.

Her dad told her that she really needed to clean up her act for any man to ever be able to overlook her past.  In college, the campus minister’s wife took the place of her father, pinpointing every area of ‘sin’—from low-cut shirts to boys she talked to all the way down to Facebook photos that might compromise her witness.  

She confessed: “I have felt more shame about my past and my personhood since becoming a Christian and dating a Christian than ever before. And the thing is, I know I need to grow, but I continually fall short of their rules. Isn’t Christ enough to cover my past and give me a fresh start? What about grace?”

It’s unfortunately commonplace where organizations and churches and ministry leaders create a laundry list of rules and sayings that keep people on an endless road to performance, rather than on an expansive one to experience grace more fully.

Her email brought back the deep-seeded inadequacy that plagued me when I was a part of a mission’s organization. I felt like a constant failure. I checked endless boxes, stressed if I wasn’t prepared to share my faith at a moment’s notice, was called a ‘stumbling block’ no matter how carefully I dressed.

It can feel like becoming a Christian is about other people micromanaging every aspect of our lives, instead of allowing the spirit to transform our hearts.

But if Jesus really lives inside us, isn’t He powerful enough to guide our lives without added performance pressure from overzealous Christians? When Jesus encountered people, did they leave with a list of rules to follow? Did he send them away with impossible shame? Did He condemn them?

The women caught in adultery met Jesus a condemned, shamed woman and she left with a second chance, righteous. The woman bleeding for 12 years met Jesus as an outcast because of her disease and she left healed and free. I could name hundreds of stories with the ending always that people left their time with Jesus feeling healed, set free. Shame lifted. And sometimes dancing.

The church is often known not as wounded healers, but as wounders of those who need healing .

But here’s an interesting twist. The most rigorous condemners of other’s behavior were typically once on the other side, feeling hurt and confused and inadequate where most of us have been. We are bludgeoned with truth and bludgeon people, zinged with tough love but then turn around and become harsh zingers ourselves. We can be overly concerned about people’s shortcomings and sins and flaws.

In my experience, we focus on micromanaging others’ behavior when we lose sight of our own inconsistencies and the magnanimous grace we’ve been given.

What if we change the way outsiders see the Church, starting with our own understanding of grace?

What if people to said we love well and offer our wounds as healing for others? What would it be like for people to know they can call us if they need someone to be present in the confusion, the heartbreak, the times they don’t want to keep breathing?

It’s a shallow existence to be known for an ability to quote scripture, have a perfect track record, and zing the wounded with truth.

When Jesus engaged with people, he stepped into their lives and cast away shame. People left not condemned, but loved radically. They changed, not because someone slammed them with a list of rules, but because they saw Jesus. They saw the depth of their own sin and the magnanimous gift of forgiveness offered.

He didn’t say their sins were ok and that’s not what I’m suggesting. We are supposed to fight our sins and speak the truth in love to other believers that they might repent. But if that’s all we’re doing, all we’re concerned with—we might be making a point, but will we ever make a difference?

If a Christian or the church is making you feel shame, they are acting against the teachings of Jesus.

There is always a place for speaking truth. But enough with the endless rules, dogmatic principles, condemnation, modesty obsession, and slamming people with our Bibles.

For truly, it’s diluting the gospel of Grace.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Brennan Manning from The Furious Longing of God:

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers. . . This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.”

Have you been on the receiving end of some harsh truth? What about the giving end?

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5 Responses to “Wounded healer? Or truth zinger?”
  1. angela says:

    I spent a lot of time in Christian church and para-church organizations being told constantly “I wasn’t enough . . . I didn’t do enough. . . ” I remember one time being told I needed to forgive someone. I did, to the best of my ability at the time. However, my emotional and spiritual struggles didn’t change. Rather than asking God what they, the counselors, might have missed they accused me of lying that I had forgiven this person.

    Years later I met a Christian therapist and then a pastor who ministered out of a place of grace. It was through grace and deep listening that I finally began to find healing. Interestingly, the road was a long one, not the instant miracle others insisted it had to be.

    Grace is the only way I know to healing. Grace, marked with truth spoken in love. Lots of showing and being the grace of Jesus. Now I try to live by their example and often fall short but keep trying by remembering where grace led me.

  2. Steph says:

    I completely and utterly agree with you, Ruthie!! Thanks for sharing. But what with the many rules Jesus actually does tell us (on the mountain, “cut your arm”, ten commandments etc.)? Even though I know they are a response of God loving us first and also showing us how much grace is needed, I still stumble across those bits in the Bible…

  3. Karen T says:

    Ruthie, I completely agree with this post. However, I am wondering what happens when one person comes from a place a grace and speaks the truth to another believer and the other believer still feels shame? I can look back and think of a few circumstances where I spoke the truth in love to dear friends, and as much as I tried to point them to the cross through my words, they still felt shame for their actions. I believe that, as christians, we can only do so much in carrying out verses like Ephesians 4:15 (“speak the truth in love”) and Galatians 6:1 (“if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness”) and how others accept our words may fall on Jesus-took-care-of-this-completely, shame-free ears, or it may fall on the ears of someone who is struggling with the realities of the gospel in their own heart and therefore shame-filled ears.

    I don’t want to come across as the judgmental, casting-stones type at all here, please understand that. I am just thinking over my past and can point to a few circumstances when my believing friends (maybe due to gospel smallness in their lives at the time, maybe due to just going through a season where they don’t feel the love of God like they want to, etc) chose (or rather, maybe, couldn’t help it) to look at themselves and therefore shame rather than the cross, despite my every attempt to walk with them and help point their eyes to it.

    When I see a sister in christ caught up in, say, destructive sin, I prayerfully consider approaching them about it, out of obedience to the verses I listed and others. However, I have just seen that no matter how much grace or how much love I extend to them, not all will see their sin upon the cross. Some will choose shame instead. In fact, one time I approached a friend, after months and months of praying about it, about her sexual promiscuity and just general interactions with men, and I did everything I could to lovingly help her stand on her feet again by helping her see Jesus. She and I were very best friends. My heart was crying inside for my friend to choose the freedom of Jesus rather than to keep being enslaved to always getting in those situations with men. However, upon sitting her down and lovingly, humbly, graciously talking to her about what was going on in her heart that was leading her to keep choosing those sins, she responded by throwing the “you’re judging me” card and that I had only made her shame about the situation worse (she admitted that what she was doing was wrong and that she had already felt shame about it).

    Reflecting upon that situation, I can only believe that sometimes we, because we’re sinners, play the shame card, because it is just another avenue to keep doing what we were doing before–not looking at Jesus. The shame card for my friend, in my opinion, was just a scapegoat for her truly addressing what was going on inside her heart.

    So, all that being said: I absolutely believe the church has done a terrible job of shaming people into morality, but I also believe that that same church can throw the shame card out as a means to keep choosing sin. I like to think of it as instead of looking in the mirror and addressing our sin between God and ourselves( figuratively the cross), sometimes (because we’re all guilty of this) we try our absolute hardest to keep finding things to distract us from doing so, whether it be the shame card, that same sin, etc.

    Maybe this is something I will understand more with age, maybe this is something I haven’t seen the big, redemption picture in yet, but I am just wondering your thoughts on this, as I’m sure you’ve gotten into many conversations with women about their struggles. Have you found that many/any use the shame card (or any other excuses really) as a means to justify continuing in their sin?

    • Steven says:

      I agree with your sentiments! Hurt is at times an inevitable cost of facing our deficiencies. To shame someone is inexcusable, but at the same time to base their feeling of shame as the judging tool as to whether or not the church has erred is a fallacy all in itself. Case and point is a hypocrite. There is no hypocrite on this earth who would not become defensive and/or offended if you were to expose their hypocrisy. Does this make the exposition wrong if it’s done prudently and in charity and true concern? I contend that it does not. Sin is sin and as fellow peers we bear a responsibility to one another. As a sinner, I felt and bore shame for my sin when I saw my Savior dying on a cross for my inadequacies and short-comings. It was shame that brought me to my knees and begged for forgiveness and a new heart. The catalyst for my endeavor came through the shame I felt from those Christians that were in my life and were by example showing me a higher way of conduct and lovingly rebuked my wayward actions. It was in fact through their kind prodding and witness that shamed me. To blanket shame as unjust and shameful is to encapsulate something that was designed by God to prompt us to change our ways. This world would be in a much better and glorifying state if more people felt shame for their actions. The pivotal point, however, is that this shame is done in love, but to say that someone who makes you feel shameful is inconsiderate is to say that Jesus Christ should be rebuked for hanging exposed and bloody on a cross because that image makes me feel bad about the way I dress, conduct my life, speak, etc. Shame, self-loathing, and the like are all necessities to propel us to a more perfect and Christ-like walk. God’s children are His hand tools and it is often through material creatures or events that He speaks to hearts. We seem to live in a society that is only tolerant of “yes” and cringe at the thought that someone not only has the right, but more so the responsibility to say “no” and call something how they see it. If the church abandoned rules, setting standards of conduct, etc. what would Biblically prevent me from attending church naked? After all, isn’t it your problem if you look at my body with lust and not my fault you can’t deal with it? Rules and standards exist for a reason, we are our brother’s keeper. I apologize for the extremes this post may suggest, but it is merely to point out that blanketing statements such as “But enough with the endless rules, dogmatic principles, condemnation, modesty obsession, and slamming people with our Bibles,” has the potential for some very open-ended debate. Some standard and rule must be established to bar would be Christians from dressing, acting, speaking, etc. in whatever manner they find profitable just because their heart has not yet yielded to the spirit of the Gospel.

  4. mark says:

    Another excellent post, Ruthie. Unless we experience the overwhelming love of God for us, we are not transformed. My experience in pastoring people is that they are pretty good at judging themselves and focusing on their sins. What they’re not very good at is believing God loves them. They think they need to get to some level of performance before they can have a relationship with God and be loved by Him. When they reach the point where they really believe God loves them no matter what, they can trust Him enough to let Him transform their hearts and actions.

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