Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I feel rather serious

NOTE--If this post offends, hurts, or annoys you, I'm sorry. I do not intend to do so.

Suffering. It is one of the hardest things in the world to talk about, especially when it is our own. In the online Christian world this is especially apparent—in general we do not want to talk about our real life problems. Why? As I see it there are several reasons. (This is not an exhaustive list, merely what I thought of.)

First, our problems are just that--ours. We may be grateful for the support, advice, and consolation we receive, whether from our friends and family, or even those online acquaintances we have, and they may even help us immensely. But in the end our struggles are between us and God and the input of others can only help so much. Sometimes it can even hurt.

That is the most commendable reason. The second is that we are kept from admitting faults because of our pride. “It’s impossible that I should be having this particular problem. Maybe if I ignore it and don’t tell anyone it will just go away.” Our pride may not take this particular form, but it probably still exists. We want to be thought a good Christian and if we were really a good Christian, we would have any problems, would we?

Would we? I happen to think this very muddled thinking. Even a brief examination of the life and writings of some of the holiest people in the history of Christianity show that they felt that they were sinful, even while everyone else recognized the great grace they had been given. A more “Protestant-friendly” example is Corrie TenBoom. In The Hiding Place she tells of the time when, after she had been traveling and lecturing on forgiveness for years, she met a former guard who had been particularly cruel and she felt that she could not forgive them. She did, in the end, through the grace of God, but she struggled with herself mightily before she reached that point.

Another reason, closely related, is that we are afraid. Our sufferings are among the most personal and private things of our lives and it is hard to share any part of them, especially with such a wide audience as you find online. We flinch from exposing wounds that are still raw and sometimes still bleeding. This feeling is understandable—believe me, I have felt it—but I’ll examine a few thoughts on why we should share something (and also why we shouldn’t share everything) in a minute.

The final reason that I see, also closely related, is that there is often an unconscious pressure in Christian circles for us to be perfect, or else appear to be perfect, and for some reason that idea of perfection often includes the idea that we will never have hard times. Again, to my mind this is muddled thinking. Whatever happened to John Donne and “Tribulation is the currency by which we reach our home, which is heaven”? We will have tribulations whether we are Christians or not. We will have tribulations whether we are “good” Christians or not. The “currency” comes in our response which may not be an easy acceptance. There may be times when we honestly don’t feel that God will take care of us and when we therefore have to reach towards him more than at any other moment. We don’t necessarily sin by thinking that God has abandoned us; we sin when we allow that thought to remain and take root in our hearts. The bar is set high. We may be judged. But there will also be others who know our struggle and who we can support and be supported by.

Now why should we talk about whatever troubles we have, especially online? And what should we say exactly?

Well, first of all, pretending that we have no troubles at all usually creates thoughts, not of a perfect being, but of someone pretending to be what they are not. We wear the mask that grins and lies, but should we? I trow not.

Second, it is quite possible that non-Christians are exposed to your thoughts, especially if they are in a public blog setting. A lot of anti-Christian prejudice has occurred over the years because we are too apt to paint ourselves as beings of an entirely different order. Of course in one sense we are. But we are also human beings, striving and living on earth, though longing for the heavenly homeland. If being honest about struggles I have helps someone else to see that Christians are not really the cookie-cutter, shallow people we are often thought to be, then I believe that is reason enough to talk about them.

Third, it can provide support and comfort to other Christians. We do not struggle alone. I know the knowledge that there are other young women out there striving for and struggling with the same things that I strive for and struggle with has been a great encouragement to me.

All of this comes with a disclaimer. I don’t think we ought to be entirely transparent, especially not online and more especially not on a public blog because, quite honestly, we don’t really know who is reading it. We make think that we do, but we could quite easily be wrong. We also ought to beware of the tendency to seek sympathy as sort of boost to our self-esteem. Well, I ought to, at any rate. Perhaps it’s just something I suffer from. And we also ought, I believe, to be delicate about the details we share. Just knowing that you are going through a hard time, without more elaboration, is, in my opinion, quite enough. If you wish to share more, that is your decision. However, as I said, on a public blog that sort of thing can be very tricky, especially if you want to retain any degree of anonymity.

It would be a mistake (and intellectually dishonest) to suppose that any of my thoughts occur in a vacuum. While I have been thinking about this for some time, a discussion on IDD and Natalie’s “Journey” series at YLCF prompted me to write this post at this moment, in this way. Thank you!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you are right in your reasons Maureen, in a lot of cases. I know that for me personally though, often my problems include family members and parents, and I wouldn't say much if anyhting about it becasue I don't wish to dishonor my parents, no matter how tempted I am to unload it all on online friends. But that's just in my case.