I do not believe it is our business as Christians to change the world. We are not capable of accomplishing such a feat, and to imagine that we can is to mistake ourselves for God.
In this series of blogs I am interested in reflecting with you—please leave comments—on the question: What does Christian faithfulness look like for ordinary Christians—like you and me—in our increasingly pluralistic world? In being faithful, I hope that in some small way we can demonstrate the authenticity and attractiveness of historic Christian orthodoxy. So far I have mentioned two things: Our calling, it seems to me from Scripture is to be faithful in the ordinary things of life. How God chooses to use our faithfulness is his concern. And we need to constantly ask ourselves, how can I talk about and live out what Scripture teaches in a way that may cause a watching world to wonder whether the faith has something creative and substantial to say about life. (See the previous blog in this series, dated August 13, 2012.)
Here is another element I am convinced must be part of Christian faithfulness:
Element #3—Create places of safety for broken people like us.
Sadly, Christians are not necessarily known to be safe, but instead have the reputation of being the sort of people who are easily offended, are quick to judge and condemn, and always have an answer even when people are not looking for one. Being safe when someone needs to form their doubts into words, rant at life and God for a loss that has stunned them, challenge some belief or value that they have hitherto assumed, or share some story that has been for too long locked away in darkness. I have needed such safe places, and the friends who provided them gifted me with a rich grace.
One person I have learned from in this regard is Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, where she has spent the last decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. I first heard her speak when a friend suggested I listen to her TED Talks (one on vulnerability and one on shame). I recommend them to you.
“Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story,” Brene Brown says. “It hates having words wrapped around it—it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.” This is just one of the reasons we need safe places, safe people who are willing to listen, and then to listen some more. As Brown goes on to note, however, not every friend is necessarily safe. Some who advertise their safety may not be, and whether they mean well or not, an unsafe person can be worse than no one at all. “If we share our shame story with the wrong person,” Brown points out, “they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.”
Brown describes some of the people who are not safe. “We definitely want to avoid the following,” she says:
“1. The friend who hears the story and actually feels shame for you. She gasps and confirms how horrified you should be. Then there is awkward silence. Then you have to make her feel better.
“2. The friend who responds with sympathy (I feel so sorry for you) rather than empathy (I get it, I feel with you, and I’ve been there). If you want to see a shame cyclone turn deadly, throw one of these at it: ‘Oh, you poor thing.’ Or, the incredibly passive-aggressive southern version of sympathy: ‘Bless your heart.’
“3. The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity. She can’t help because she’s too disappointed in your imperfections. You’ve let her down.
“4. The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds you: ‘How did you let this happen? What were you thinking?’ Or she looks for someone to blame: ‘Who was that guy? We’ll kick his ass.’
“5. The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually be crazy and make terrible choices: ‘You’re exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad. You rock. You’re perfect. Everyone loves you.’
“6. The friend who confuses ‘connection’ with the opportunity to one-up you: ‘That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me one time!’”
And as a Christian I would add one more to Brown’s list. The friend who feels obligated to say something in the misguided belief that being a Christian means always having an answer and always needing to speak.
May we be faithful in providing safe places for people like us who are broken and need to talk. It might make the non-Christians around us begin to wonder if Christian orthodoxy could possibly be a source of human flourishing and healing.
Source: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown p. 11, sent to me in an email by Steve Froehlich—thank you, Steve.