Her pain was becoming too prolonged for friends. She had grieved long-enough, they believed. Of course, no one would have said that, but it was evident in their interactions, exasperation, and avoidance. “Susie” just didn’t feel like she belonged at church anymore. In fact, she feared that her inability to get past the hurt meant she wasn’t a Christian at all. Her church was failing her. She needed them in this season of difficulty. In truth, her church needed her too. The church needs hurting souls to remind us that the world is broken.
We really shouldn’t need this reminder. Evidence of the Fall of creation into sin is all around us. We all experience betrayal, hurt, sickness, and sorrow without searching for it. Yet, particularly in the west, we have found ways to quarantine ourselves from the reality of the world’s brokenness. We can convince ourselves even that this brokenness is more a rarity, a random occurrence in an otherwise comfortable existence. We can convince ourselves in fact that comfortable is the way life is supposed to be, and therefore evidence of the Fall becomes something to avoid. It shatters the illusion we so desperately want: a perfectly comfortable life in this world. Hurting souls, then, can become something of an annoyance to the church.
Within the church we have a number of ways to avoid the reality of life’s brokenness. It comes in the form of the simple formulaic answers we give to pain and trouble. It comes in sermon series titles: Six Ways to Overcome Anxiety; Five Steps to a Better Marriage Today; Grieve No More. It comes in the form of middle class answers to financial debt – unaware of the challenges facing those in poverty. It comes in the form of cliches like “let Go and let God,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” It comes in the form of quick fix solutions: read your Bible more; just trust God; just forgive and forget. It comes in the form of church cultures that suggest we don’t have problems like domestic violence, alcoholism, or adultery at our church. It comes in the form of worship music that doesn’t know how to lament, or sermons that always address sins like they are “out there.” It comes in the form of leaders who don’t counseling and shepherd individuals. We protect ourselves from the fallenness of the world – or at least we try.
We don’t mind someone’s pain and sorrow…for a little while. Eventually, however, we think that “life should go on.” In other words, this is just a blip on the screen of life and normal happiness should return. Those who take longer to process pain, or to grieve, or who must simply live with hurt, they can begin to feel like they don’t belong. They begin to sense that this church is for those who are so close to God that they don’t have problems. But Jesus warns us that “in this life you will have trouble” (John 16:33). How easily we forget this, how quickly we apply it to others. They have trouble, but not me. We ignore Peter’s warning not to be “surprised by the fiery ordeal that has come up on you” (1 Peter 4:12). We often are surprised, and that’s why we need hurting souls among us. They remind us what the world is actually like.
If we are not careful we will become far too comfortable in this world and forget that this is not our home. Walking with others through their pain and grief, even if it takes longer than we think it should, is good for them, but it’s good for us too. We need the reminders that our world is broken. We need the reminder that life is full of pain and grief. We need the help to see things clearly and not believe the illusion. Hurting souls belong among the church because that’s who everyone of us truly is. We are hurting souls easily deceived into thinking this is our “best life now.” Often the Evangelical church is not that different from the prosperity gospel we so frequently ridicule, we just have more “acceptable” versions of the good life. But life is broken and that’s why we need Jesus so desperately. We will never be at home without Him. The evidently hurting among us are stark reminders that we all need Jesus to come and make things right.
If the hurting souls among us are “misfit members” it’s only because we’ve come to believe that life can be perfectly comfortable. We are challenged to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). If the church can’t be company to those who are hurting then we have truly missed the ministry of Christ (Mark 2:17). But their presence among us is not just about them, it’s about all of us. We need the regular wake-up call that life is broken.