Monday, April 14, 2014
Hiding is part of Satan's Plan
I can say from personal experience, that feeling that need to hide is far more damaging than feeling the freedom to admit what I am dealing with. The fear you live with that someone will find out, the shame you carry, the fact that you can't ask for prayer because you're afraid instead of prayer, you'll get scorn, judgement, and ostracized.
So people internalize it and try to deal with it on their own, and it doesn't work. I am not saying it is impossible for God to help and deliver those who are struggling in silence, but I do believe it is much harder to go it alone.
And when no one knows, it is easier to give into whatever it is that is pulling at you. No one knows anyway, so why not "just do it?"
I can remember when I started hiding. I was in Bible College, and when I came to the horrifying realization that I was dealing with "that", I didn't know what to do. I knew I couldn't tell anyone. I'd be kicked out of college without a shred of mercy. I wouldn't be welcome in my own church, and possibly family.
So I kept it to myself, and suffered in silence. I'd hear the other guys make jokes about the very thing I was dealing with, and felt all the more secluded and different.
And thus began years of struggling, suffering, and a desperation to hide. No one could ever know. I'd be treated like a leper. I got so used to hiding it, I felt like I had two identities. The Mark that went to church regularly, smiled, laughed and joked...... and the Mark that was flawed, alone, and a total mess.
There is no way on God's green earth that I am the only one who has felt this way, who has lived a life of fear. A fear that my secret will be out for everyone to know, and then I'd be shunned and judged.
It is truly a sad commentary on the church that people like me have to hide a struggle in the very place that should be the safest place to find help. Isn't the family of God all about bearing each others burdens? "When one has a heartache, we all share the tears?" Or does that only apply to heartaches and struggles that are acceptable ones?
Imagine for a moment you have a teenaged son. Maybe you don't have to imagine. maybe you do have one. Now imagine he gets hooked on pornography. You don't know. No one knows but him. He knows he needs help, but the general atmosphere of both his home and church make him too fearful to seek help, and besides, no one else in the church deals with that. He'd be labeled a freak and pervert. So he keeps getting further and further into his addiction with no help in sight.
Now imagine a second scenario: take that same teenaged boy. He suddenly realizes he isn't attracted to girls, but to other boys. But his parents are so anti-gay, and the comments he hears at church make him aware of how he'd be looked at if he admitted it, so he doesn't tell anyone. Besides, there isn't anyone else at church that deals with this stuff. There are a few possible outcomes:
1) He kills himself after becoming so depressed and upset about what seems hopeless to him
2) He gets tired of fighting it, and finds other boys who identify as gay, and starts experimenting sexually with other boys
3) He manages to stay away from experimenting, but starts a lifetime of struggling with what feels like an impossible thing to overcome.
And another scenario: you're suffering from severe depression, but the general attitude of Christians you know, is that it is a spiritual problem, and depressed people just need to pray more. Fearful of appearing a bad Christian, you suffer in silence, trying to convince everyone that all is going just wonderful in your life. Besides, no one else at church deals with it.
You know what is wrong with all of my scenarios? The "no one else at church deals with this". And therein lies part of Satan's plan. I am convinced he wants people to keep silent about what they are dealing with for a couple of reasons:
1) It stops people from getting help, and in many cases just keeps the person more bound and mired in their struggle or sin
2) It discourages others dealing with the same issue to come forward, because they figure they are the only person in the church, maybe in all churches, who are dealing with it.
Imagine if the church had a few people who had to deal with same-sex attractions, porn, or depression - or other issues we feel we have to hide - admit to it, and gained victory over it. Then when someone else had to deal with that same issue, they very well might feel more free to admit it, or at least seek out one of those people for help.
Unless you have been there, you cannot imagine what it is like sitting in the church pew carrying a heavy secret. Other people ask for prayer for what they are dealing with, but you can't. If you spoke up and asked for prayer for THAT, it would be comparable to setting off a bomb during the prayer requests. So you slouch down in your seat and die a little more inside.
I just read a really good book, No More Dragons, by Jim Burgen. He pastors a large church, the kind that I used to scoff at the idea of it being spiritual, but what do I know? He relayed a couple of stories of things that happened to him in trying to welcome all people to his church:
1) He was using the urinal at his church when a very large man came out of a bathroom stall, and asked if he was "Pastor Jim". The guy then told him that God was helping him to get free from gay porn and other sexual sins, then wanted to hug him.
2) He had a transgender come up to him who had been a guy and got a sex change. The transgender asked him if they were welcome there, and if they found a man to marry, if Jim would perform the ceremony.
Now can you imagine those scenarios happening at your church? Would "those kind of people" even be welcome? Would they feel welcome?
As I look back over the years of struggling in silence, I find myself wondering, If I had felt free to step forward as a 21 year old guy and admit what I was dealing with, would my life have turned out better? If I hadn't been so afraid of how God's people would react to my secret, would I have doubted His love all of these years?
What if I could have stood up in church, and said what I was dealing with, and how lost, hopeless, and alone I felt...... would I still have lived in the shadows all of these years?
I don't know the answer for sure, but I have to think things would have been so different. And by saying that, I am not blaming anyone for what I have gone through.
The church is going to become irrelevant if we keep turning a blind eye to the hurting in our own congregations. As long as we make people fear to come out of the shadows, our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and others will never receive the help they need from what we call the family of God.
And I haven't been totally alone. There have been a few people over the years, including 2 great pastors, who I have been able to talk to some, but I still had to hide from the majority of people.
I got so tired of pretending I didn't want to get married. Of joking about it. I bought every dating book that came out on the Christian market, hoping for the day I could put what I had read into practice. I can still remember the day I boxed them up to sell them on eBay and sat crying on the floor as I packed up what wasn't just books, but was also hopes and dreams that had died.
No one knows the nights I have cried myself to sleep, sick of being alone, weary of the same old battle and struggle, tired of trying to carry a cross that seemed way too heavy for me, a cross that I would lay down and try to walk away from, only to pick it up again and try to carry it.
No one knows how many times I have flinched inside and hurt as someone else made a joke or mean comment, not knowing they had hurt someone within ear shot. To be sitting in church and have "that" mentioned up front, and have someone lean up to you and say "They need to just round up all of those kind of people and hang them". Is it any wonder I feared coming out of the shadows for so long?
How many others feel like I do? Maybe not the same struggle, but another that they feel they can't share. So they keep hiding it, never letting anyone too close for fear someone would find out, and so they die a little more inside day by day.
God has been helping me immensely this past year. Not just emotionally and spiritually, but He has been helping me to realize it doesn't matter what others think, only what He thinks of me. And it doesn't matter how broken I am, how scarred, how damaged.... nothing matters. He loves me. No exceptions. I can't do anything to cause His love to waver or lessen.
The more I realize that, the less I worry about hiding. No, I am not ready to wear the T shirt or make an announcement to the church, but I am tired hiding. I am tired of lying, of being two different people. I am redeemed, a child of the King, who happens to struggle with a difficult, but not impossible issue.
The day may come when God wants to use me to help others in the same boat I am in, and there are many others in this boat..... and I am willing. But I am not willing to do what the devil wants me to do, what very likely many Christians want me to do - hide. Nope. No more hiding, no more masks.
I pray for the day when all of God's children can step forward and say, "this is me, and this is what I am dealing with. Pray for me, and be my friend", and they receive more love and compassion than they could ever have dreamed or hoped for.
I thank God for those He has brought into my life, who have seen my scars, in whose presence I have been able to pull my mask off, and they haven't run, they haven't cringed, but remained my friend, and prayed for me. May I be that kind of friend to others. That is what the family of God is all about.
***This has been my most personal and open post to date. As I sit here about to hit the "publish" button, I find myself wondering if I should publish it...... but if I don't, then I am going against everything I have said, so I shall post it. Maybe God can use my stumbling words to help someone else, to wake someone up, and maybe have someone make a difference in the life of someone else.