Thursday, July 31, 2008

Everybody Doesn't Need To Be a Doctor

I think Rubel Shelly had it right when he first said that our churches should not be country clubs -- they are to be battleships and hospitals. There is especially a contrast with that last image. I was a part of a young adults Bible discussion on Tuesday where we discussed Rob Bell's first Nooma video on "Rain." In a country club church sub-culture, we bottle up our hurt & pretend it doesn't exist -- that everything in our lives is "good" or "fine." But in a hospital church sub-culture, we deal with our hurts.

That said, there can be something reckless & painful about a church hospital sub-culture if we're not careful.

I have some friends in ministry named Carlos & Gina. They're a married couple, and Carlos is a youth minister. When my Mom died, Carlos & Gina went to extraordinary lengths to show love and compassion to myself and my sister. However, while Gina was trying to go the extra mile, my sister began to feel like her feelings were being invaded. I had to go have a conversation with Gina about 6-8 weeks ago about this issue -- to ask her to back off of Katie just a little bit -- and here's how I explained it to her:

You know, it's like if you've got this big wound right up underneath your shirt -- a sensitive area on your body. And, with everyone knowing about this wound, its like everyone you're around wants to pull up your shirt and say, "Well, let me check on this wound today. How're we doing?"

That can feel invasive.

You know, one of the things about hospitals that people really hate are how impersonal they can be. Doctors, nurses, and technicians can come in to treat a wound or to check whatever it is they have to check, but in treating the wound they forget about the person.

Ironically, as it were, Gina lost her mother just a few weeks ago to cancer. I haven't had much of a chance to talk with her, but I'd imagine that she's had a rough go of it. I've talked with her husband Carlos, who was there when I explained to Gina about Katie & about the analogy. I asked him if they understood now, and he said, "Bro... totally."

Carlos went on to tell me how Gina felt like she wanted to sneak into church a little late & duck out before the closing prayer so she wouldn't be overwhelmed. What does that say about church if when we're hurting that is one of the last places we want to be?

We don't all have to try to play doctor with hurting people. That's sort of what Job's friends were trying to do when they explained to him how he just needed to repent. They really had it right when they spent that first week with him in silence. We do well when we just focus on loving on hurting people -- calling them up (if only for a couple minutes to relieve their loneliness), bringing the occasional gift (if only a small token), or whatever we do to love those around us.

A few months ago, I already shared the wisdom of John Mark Hicks with you about "How to Comfort the Suffering." This is sort of an expansion of that last thought where he said "Don't Pry." Sometimes, there's something about constantly bringing up a hurtful issue that folks begin to feel like a project. And nobody wants to be a project.

If hurt people knew they were going to get more hugs & less questions when they came to church, I think they'd be there in a heartbeat. I think that's the kind of people we ought to be.


Anonymous said...

"If hurt people knew they were going to get more hugs & less questions when they came to church, I think they'd be there in a heartbeat."

I couldn't think of a better summary line. Plus, hugs are just great.

Dan said...

I definitely agree with your thoughts, Philip. We have a lot of work crews come in to help with Katrina work, and sometimes they will give devos, and sometimes they talk about how Katrina. And even though we all know they mean well, nobody wants to hear about Katrina anymore, no matter what the context. Sometimes you just want to move on.

Often, I will intentionally not ask people at church about bad things that happen to them, just so that I don't re-expose the wound. But, I always wonder if they know I'm concerned. I guess I'd rather just show concern by doing something nice for someone, rather than mining for details.

Anonymous said...

I know the feeling. Concerned people calling the house over and over again just to say they are thinking about you. You love that they love you and are concerned but you don't want to have to answer the phone and re-explain just how bad it hurts for the 500th time.

III said...

Thanks for your thoughts. Its interesting to consider how often we make this mistake.

Obviously, I think a large part of this is that we just don't know how to be compassionate with hurting people. I know that my suffering has made me a better minister, and I'm just trying to share some of my lessons learned as I go along.

And I don't want to forget these lessons I have learned -- the reflections that I've recognized. Sometimes I think we just don't really try to think when we approach a hurting person; either that or we don't know what its like to hurt, and we step all over folks' toes.

And its just so simple: its just learning how to love on people. Its Gary Chapman's five love languages: acts of kindness, and spending time, and on & on. We don't have to play doctor and try to force somebody into a spiritual operation room all the time.

Dan said...

Philip, your "spiritual operation room" imagery makes me think about Ephesians: there is a time for happiness and a time to mourn. I get the feeling we in large part are so eager to "fix" people who are hurting, that we don't let people mourn properly. Maybe we need to be more comfortable with letting people mourn, on their own time?