The Table Video

Array Array, Eric L. Johnson, Rebekah Lyons & Gregg Ten Elshof

Freefalling to Fly: Flourishing in Mind and Spirit - Panel Discussion

Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Author / Co-Founder, Q Ideas
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
November 28, 2013

Author Rebekah Lyons and psychologists Drs. Eric Johnson and Elizabeth Hall give a panel discussion on the correlation between psychology and spiritual flourishing. The panel opens for Q&A and takes a closer look at some of the more difficult issues at hand.

Transcript:

So we have three big themes in front of us, the role of suffering, the role of contemplative prayer, and imaginative or in imaginative meditation and the place of suffering. And so this now is the point in the program where I’m hoping we can just sort of eavesdrop on the three of you as you probe more deeply into the things that have been shared, and then we’ll have a time for Q&A. But maybe I’ll start with a question for the three of you.

And Rebekah, if I could take off on something in your book in chapel and that you alluded to here There’s a in, for me anyway, the climactic point in your book was this moment that you described in chapel this morning where you were in the middle of the grip of a panic attack, and you and you eked out the prayer deliver me, and this was your moment of surrender and it was a miraculous, the way it comes to me in your description, it was a miraculous, instantaneous point of deliverance from these things that you’d suffered under.

So there’s this, so that’s something sort of at a point in a moment. To hear Liz and Eric talk and to hear some of the other themes that come up in your book, there’s a description of a process something that isn’t gonna happen instantaneously, in a moment, as a response to a particular kind of prayer. So I wonder if the three of you could talk a little bit about the relationship between instantaneous, momentary miraculous kinds of things and process kinds of things in the path to flourishing.

Well, back scratch 18 months, that was the process. Like that desperate cry came on the heels of a lot of lament and a lot of wrestling with God and asking tough questions and why is there rescue and there’s not? And what does healing look like? And I watched my dad had his first panic attack when I was 15.

And I watched him suffer chronic depression for 30 years and then go into assisted living at age 70. So, and he’s on nine different psychiatric meds, so I understand the longevity of suffering. And I saw myself actually entering into that. So there was a very real awareness that this could be the new normal. And that is the despair, I mean, that is the belief that we will never actually change, that we are born into this, or that there’s the genetic disposition and that might just kind of be the trajectory of our lives.

So that, I can’t give language or explanation for why deliver me meant that a physical oppression broke. It doesn’t mean that I’m scot-free and I don’t have struggle. It surfaces in other ways, but it has given me a sensitivity to the beauty and the longevity of suffering and what it does in all the ways that you just described earlier.

Gregg: Yeah, good, thank you.

I’m not sure that process and abrupt change are in opposition to each other. I think sometimes in our Christian view, especially of sanctification, we tend to phrase it that way. So plan A is that God’s gonna intervene miraculously, something’s gonna snap, and whatever it is that we’re struggling with or wanting to change is just gonna change.

And God does that sometimes. I mean, we could all tell stories probably of people we know of or have heard of who have just, God has intervened in some really incredible ways. But I don’t think it’s any less incredible when God intervenes in our life in kind of the slow, methodical, collaborative, systematic ways that are outlined so clearly for us and what he wants from us in the pursuing holiness in the New Testament.

And the psychological research is just, I mean, just beautifully kind of mirrors that so change, if you think about change in any area, change cycle in psychological health, it often takes the form, it’s often discontinuous. So you’re maybe doing the same things trying to achieve the same goals, and then all of a sudden something clicks and, boom, there’s a big change that happens.

And so some of the terms that you find in the psychological literature are things like quantum change, where it’s not the slow process. It’s something abrupt or tipping points is kind of a popularizing of some psychological concepts around this, but the process is there. It’s just not as flashy or noticeable. But the quantum change or the tipping point wouldn’t have happened if there weren’t all the slow, methodical work that is going on along the way. So I think the two really work glove in hand with each other.

Kevin VanHooser wrote a real influential book on me called “The Drama of Doctrine.” And one of the things that he says is that part of what the Christian life is about is the weaving of Christ’s story into our story over time. And when I hear Rebekah’s story, as I understand it, it’s a story of resurrection and death for a while, a long while, scary death, and then a time of resurrection.

And it sounds like it was pretty momentous, and that’s really cool when we can have those really momentous breakthroughs of resurrection. But yeah, we can’t, I don’t know, I wish we could guarantee that. I wish there was some way you could purchase it at church somehow. [audience laughing] But it seems to be more.

Resurrection package. Vending machine, chk, chk, chk, chk.

It seems to be more that for most of us, most of the time, it is a sort of methodical day-in day-out putting my foot one foot in front of another, whatever. So what I like to think of is, one of my mottoes is life is therapy. It’s like we’re, it’s we’re always on the therapeutic journey of becoming more whole and seeking more of divine flourishing.

And so my goal is like every day, can I have just a little bit of resurrection today, you know? And I think our devotion time is like it’s really cool if that happens. And when I think of maybe a therapy time, in an hour, if we can have one moment of resurrection where there’s an experiential shift from the experience of death, whatever the death is of that week, and they see, oh, but God’s in this or there is hope or whatever that encourages us to take the next step.

You know, when I hear you talk about that, it actually makes me think that there might be a fourth pathway from suffering to flourishing, one that I don’t think, especially in our evangelical Christian circles, we have much of a grasp on. But when you mentioned the story intertwining with Jesus’ story, of course there’s those very mysterious passages that talk about identification with Christ’s suffering.

And in one part, Paul talks about completing the suffering of Christ for the sake of the people that he’s writing to. And you know, I’m not sure that we have any real depth of understanding of what that means, but something about Christ’s likeness being formed in us through the pathway of suffering, like you were talking about with interweaving that we couldn’t do in any other way because Christ did have to suffer.

I talk about this a lot when we, when I was sharing earlier about why, oh why is there a rescue and there’s not. Well. if we looked at Christ’s lament in the garden, and if God in that moment on Good Friday said, “Okay, I’ll take this cup and you’re off the hook.” I mean, would that be the story of transformation for all mankind that we’d still be talking about today? Perhaps, but that waiting, that three-day, we don’t know God’s timing on what healing looks like. Three days to us might be three decades or you know?

When I really started to go if I’m gonna share in the sufferings of Christ, then I need to know that this could go on for awhile. And if this brings me in closer union with him in the midst of it, then that is, isn’t that the point? That we would love to sit at his feet and receive his comfort and his embrace in that suffering?

And then with that on the other side, so will we also share in that resurrection. And to me, that is what the union of like, that has been such a formative part of my faith and has brought me just in a way much more intimately with him to understand, like, I wanna share in this with you on this side and on this side. And I don’t have to know the time span of what that looks like in between.

So I can think of two very different kinds of people that might be resistant to some of what we’re saying here about suffering and the path to flourishing. One is the person who is in the midst of great suffering and is not experiencing deliverance.

Surrender isn’t happening in the way that it’s being described, or at least it’s not happening in a way that can be noticed by the person in process, and it’s very hard from that perspective to hear powerful stories of deliverance and rescue when you when you’ve eked out that prayer and nothing comes of it. And then there’s the person whose life hasn’t included much suffering at all, and that person might be thinking, well surely, suffering isn’t the only way. Is there a way for those of us who haven’t yet suffered to make it into flourishing without all this profound suffering? Can you speak to those, one or both of those two people?

One thought that comes to mind with the person who hasn’t suffered much is given the example of Jesus where he left behind this pretty incredible life that he had with his father and the Spirit in order to embrace suffering, that being some sort of a model for us, that maybe if we weren’t handed suffering by the family of origin that we were part of or something biological that we have to deal with or whatever, then maybe we have to go out and look for it. Maybe we have to bring it into our lives. And of course, it’s easy for me to say that and challenge others to do that. I got plenty of my own suffering I’m dealing with now.

He’s got some to share.

For any other. Yeah, let me share it with you.

Now, Eric, how would you distinguish that from masochism? ‘Cause I mean, there are some traditions, some religious traditions that seek out suffering for the purpose of you know, I mean, flagellation and crawling on your knees to do pilgrimages. And we don’t necessarily endorse that kind of thing in Christian circles so can you kind of clarify there?

Yeah. [audience laughing] That’s what we needed, a psychological perspective here. You know, it is, there’s a paradox here. There’s an unhealthy kind of seeking of suffering, where we’re maybe punishing ourselves, and it’s destructive to us. And others can see it even if we can’t see it.

And I was thinking, the person who’s relatively healthy-minded and a person who hasn’t suffered and had a pretty healthy family and so on. I think those are the kinds of people that maybe would benefit from and would, from bringing suffering into their lives, and would also be able to give to some suffering individual, perhaps, something that that suffering individual maybe didn’t have, perhaps a father figure or a family life that they didn’t have, for example.

Would you be comfortable with this reframing? It’s not that they’re seeking their personal suffering, but they’re putting themselves in positions where they’re encountering, even secondhand, the suffering of the world.

Yeah.

And there is some.

And there’s, yeah.

There’s some response to that that involves having to kind of digest and do things, but.

Yeah.

Would that be, perhaps?

Well yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s okay to say that it’s okay to choose a life that involves suffering and.

Elizabeth: Maybe you can give some examples.

Well, I mean a missionary does that right? Every missionary has to do that.

 

Well, and another way to frame that might be instead of how can I choose suffering, it’s where is God calling you to risk and what’s holding you back? Because then you’re going towards something that’s unknown, it’s very scary, it’s fearful, but yet you know that he has you there and that he’s gonna walk you through something.

And I think that is usually the route that all of a sudden we find ourselves, for me it was a free fall, but when my firstborn was born with Down syndrome at 26, that didn’t flatline me like New York. And something, there’s two different ways that came. So Cade came out of my womb, I had nothing to do with that. You know, beyond what everyone knows you have to do with that. And then the second part of going to New York, I had everything to do with that. He called us and I resisted for three years and finally said, “Okay, let’s do this.”

And it took a proactive step, like I said earlier in one of those choices because he was calling us to risk, to cast off comfort, to not live a life of familiarity, to be thrust into the unknown, and then you know suffering did entail. It’s not what I was going after, but it but it certainly was something that happened. So, just an example.

It is different, though, I mean, taking a risk, there’s the possibility that you won’t suffer.

Right.

That it’ll go great. And so then it’s an interesting question, then, what your attitude should be. Well, I didn’t get suffering there, I’ve got to go get me some suffering somewhere else. Or is the important thing just the risk, whether or not the suffering comes.

I believe that we live in a fallen, broken world, and we’re desperate people in need of a Savior. So trust me, if you not have not suffered up to this point, I mean, I hate to be Debbie Downer, but it’s gonna happen. [audience laughing] It’s going to happen. This side of the garden and the other side of eternity, it’s going to happen.

And it will look different for everyone. And we categorize suffering like it has to be death or something for it to be suffering. You guys know what suffering looks like in your everyday. You could have been dumped, you could have failed your classes, you could have your parents just disowned you, they’ve never said they love you. I mean, it could go all over the place. So I think it’s probably a farce if we were to all say, “Yeah, I’ve never suffered,” ’cause I just don’t think that’s reality.

The enemy is seeking to steal, kill and destroy so he’s very much at work, and he’s after the ones who are trying to live a wholehearted, holy life. And so if you are one that is embracing, calling, and walking into that, it’s not gonna be easy. There is spiritual warfare and it’s just going to happen so.

And now what about the the person who resists all of this because they’ve tried to think of themselves in a kind of deep process toward flourishing, they’ve eked out the prayer, deliver me, and they’re still where they were seven years ago? What words have we for them?

That reminds me of John Bunyan’s understanding of the Pilgrim’s Progress, it wasn’t really much progress, if you read the whole book. [audience laughing] It was just, it was pretty challenging. And part of that is because, I think, for at least 10 years he struggled with something like OCD. And he knew that there isn’t necessarily quick deliverances. His notion of progress was I’m closer to heaven, I think honestly, so this is a reality. There are people that have suffered for decades as Christians. Those are hard stories to wrap ourselves around.

When Cade was born we told friends that we were praying for him to be whole. And the only conversation I remember from that first year is someone said, “Well, maybe your version of wholeness “and God’s version of wholeness look different.” And that reframed, and they were absolutely right, twelve years later they were absolutely right. Cade is, I don’t stress or fret or fear about him like I do my other two. He is a light, he hugs, and basically, assaults people on the sidewalk with hugs in New York City.

And he says hi and he will not stop unless you acknowledge him. And that’s really like kind of taken some New Yorkers back which has been beautiful. So I think even our view of suffering, or what we think is broken, it’s not to minimize that we feel pain because I definitely did in those early days, but I think he actually reorders our vision of what flourishing looks like, and the flourishing comes from the broken. So that’s the beauty I guess.

Yeah, Rebekah talked about the arc of the story, and I think an important part of our task as Christians is to narrate our stories in better ways. I mean, that’s where the meaning-making comes in, you know? When we are able to look at whatever situation we’re in the middle of and think about what the story is here and think about it in redemptive ways, then I think that’s the trick. Now having said that, I’m not sure, I mean, I’m thinking of people coming into my office as a therapist. If they’re in the middle of something like that, my job as a fellow Christian and as a therapist is not to tell them, “Hey, buck up. “There’s transformation at the end of this “if you just hang in long enough.” [audience laughing]

My job as a Christian is to be there with them. you know? It’s to, as much as is possible, psychologically for me to crawl down in there with them and just be beside them so that they’re not alone in that place. And I wonder if we were able to do that better as a Christian community for each other whether there would be less of those people that are despairing in those places alone, you know?

Because we have so much of a narrative in Christian circles of you just snap out of it, you pray, you read your Bible, and boom, you know, you be better in 10 easy steps, that I think it’s really hard to construct good narratives, good meaning-making systems when the suffering just goes on and on.

Part of our challenge is reframing what the church is about where we are people who are suffering are not felt, like, somehow excluded from the victorious Christian life. And this is a real challenge because God does, he does promise us resurrection. But we have to somehow balance that carrying our cross is a part of what’s down here so when people are suffering, we all are like a therapist, and we can’t all be therapists, licensed therapists, but in the sense of being someone who walks with another, so that when I meet someone like that or when maybe all of us in church meet someone like that, maybe we’re called to have at least one friend who is in that place and we meet with them as a friend periodically.

Thank you. So with y’all’s permission can I invite the rest of the group into conversation through some Q&A? So let me remind you, if you haven’t already, we have some tweets coming in. You can tweet your question at CCT. What is it, Evan? Biola CC, @BiolaCCT#Freefalltofly. So if you’d like to tweet a question, you can do that. This one’s from Abby. What sort of advice do you have for young women in the seeking meaning through surrender? This for the panel. [audience laughing]

We’ll say these two. [audience laughing]

It is women, so you’re opting out, right? Well, I think it kind of goes into what does the surrendered life look like? What are the rhythms of surrender, what are the practices, what are the ways that we can flourish in that posture? I think it really is, surrender is just nothing more than our posture towards God.

And so in that we just ask him, what is it that you have for me or for us or for this time? And I think he just wants to remind us that he is for us in this day and the life we’re born into and the family and the story that we’ve walked and the broken and the wounding that we’ve carried, that that doesn’t define who we are today. And that he is about making all things new. And so I think there’s a lot of asking and then there’s a lot of waiting. And being okay in the waiting.

And it got to a one point where my prayer was nothing more than like, show me the steps to take, give me the people to meet, give me the words to say. You’re in charge here. And it just became this whispered prayer that would kind of just echo through the day and the night. You order my steps, please, oh Lord. Just do what you will. And that was kind of a posture that walked into the scales being you know lifted and starting to see kind of where his hand was already moving, and I said just let me join in with what you’re already doing.

Can I jump in with a follow-up question because I thought it was interesting that Abby asked the question as a young woman. Now what you just said, I think, would probably be true of human experience, in general. So I wonder if there are some ways in which you see some challenges in particular that women have to face in doing that?

Well, you probably have great–

Well, I want you to start. I’ll jump in.

Your the expert on this. For women, I think we’re in a new day, especially in the church. We tend to kind of have conversations about 30 years behind culture so here we are. And I think there is a gurgling that I’m sensing that women want to be deployed, that we want to get our hands dirty, that we wanna roll up our sleeves, that we want to be activated towards calling. This isn’t, power is not gender specific. Authority is not gender specific beyond, when it comes to flourishing and living and walking and calling and living in your gifts.

So I would say that what I just said earlier about God will order my steps is not gender specific either. I just think that there are women, who for awhile, just haven’t asked those questions or prayed those prayers because for some reason, I think we thought we got a free pass, and that the men were the ones that were just going to bear that mantle. And while that is biblical, we women have a very active role and so I think we’re in a day where we’re just claiming that and we’re rising to that so.

What else?

Surrender sometimes feels in opposition to control, and so I think one of the ways that we try to control is to make sure we do the right thing next. And often what’s tempting in the Christian life in all kinds of ways is to figure out what’s the box that I need to fit into? What’s the behavior that I need to do next that will be the right thing?

And I think that there’s some tension between that vision of living the Christian life and, which Paul calls legalism, and what Paul often contrasts that with, which is living in the Spirit. And so when I hear surrender, I hear living in the Spirit, which is taking responsibility for my life not in the sense of controlling it and trying to fit into the next box that people tell me I need to fit into, but asking the personalized question of who have you created me to be?

And what’s the step that you want me to do right now? And you know, there’s some downfalls to that. If we were living 200 years ago our range of freedom would be very narrow. We’d have pretty prescribed lives, all of us men and women. But we don’t live two or 500 years ago. We live in an era where there are lots of options in front of us, and that could be really terrifying sometimes, and so then the boxes become even more appealing.

But since we do live in this era that requires of us that we take very seriously our options and our freedom and be very serious before God of asking what is my calling, who have you created me to be, what are the good works you’ve set, you’ve prepared beforehand for me to step into?

 

And is that, Liz, for you, is that a remark especially pertinent for women so that women, more than men, tend to be confined by the boxes that culture gives to them? Or do you think it’s just different boxes? Men have their boxes.

Different boxes. Different boxes, yeah, different boxes, yeah.

But also nature, I think, does bestow upon women, there is a kind of calling there. It’s not exclusive to men, of course, or to, you know, it doesn’t exclude men, fatherhood, but that is a part of the call, I think, for those who have, who bear children.

Yeah, I think parenting needs to be taken very seriously. What is interesting, though, is I mean, how much can we attribute to biology? So if you look at conceptions of motherhood across the ages, if you look at ways in which, we call this motherhood ideologies, it turns out that biology certainly plays a role, but it, we can’t attribute everything in the package that we have put on our plates of motherhood. we can’t tie all of that down to biology because–

Eric: There’s cultural construction.

There’s cultural constructions of that, and I think in the current day and age in evangelicalism, the motherhood ideologies we’ve constructed are kind of crazy making, yeah.

I concur. I think there’s something, we’re having a conversation in a month, our first Q Women and Calling event, and we’re having a panel of men talking about two callings under one roof. And what that has really brought up in our home and in a lot of our friends in the city is what does co-parenting look like?

And what part of fatherhood is not calling and part of motherhood is? And actually how, what is that incremental shift that really honors family, honors parenting, honors calling, honors stewardship of the time that we’ve been entrusted with our children, as well as like sons and daughters of the king who we are called to steward those gifts, as well. So I, you know, in a lot of ways, it’s exciting because I think it’s not trying to switch, it’s not trying to rebel as a feminist that says, “Yeah, just forget it all. “I just wanna go work 80 hours a week.” It’s no, how can I hold these things in tension and not forsake one for the other because he’s called me to both, and do I trust that his grace is big enough and his provision is enough to cover all of this?

And when I’m in union with my husband, and we are equally just cheering one another on, for example, Gabe is doing the heavy lifting this week ’cause I’m gone for five days, that’s not normal, but that happens to be this week. I mean, the kids are well cared for. They are having a blast, way more fun than when I’m at home. So they welcome this on occasion, trust me.

And I just think that’s a dynamic that’s really healthy for our two boys to just have time with just dad. It’s very healthy for Kennedy to feel like dad’s taking her on a date and she wants to go get sushi and she just thinks she is like the queen. This is a beautiful thing. And I love to sit back and watch the dynamic of what he’s instilling in them that I’m completely not able to do, so.

Well, we may have some questions for the floor. There are mics roaming around, but I can’t see any of you, so let me just see is there a question over here somewhere? Or a question over here somewhere? Oh, now we’re getting some house lights good.

Man: Hi, my question is how would someone who suffered from permanent psychological damage that affects their frame of mind and like the way that they perceive the world because of that damage, find flourishing through that event?

Wow. Flourishing, that’s a big word.

I’m having lots of options or envisioning that coming in mind and I’m finding that my thoughts are kind of particular, and I think of someone with Down syndrome, that’s a genetic condition, that it’s their whole life, and then I think of somebody who has you know car, a traumatic brain injury because of a car accident that’s a whole different ball of wax and so it’s kind of hard to answer in the abstract. I mean, this gets to notions of, this gets to notions of understanding deeply who we are as, you know, this weird combination of souls and bodies, you know?

And God created these things to be just intricately intertwined so that’s very difficult to know where the soul ends and the body begins. But I think the cases that become clearest are when there is some serious damage to the body part of it, you know, to the way that the brain is functioning or that kind of thing. And so I’m not sure exactly how to answer your question because, I mean, this side of heaven, the flourishing, at least from our perspective might be limited.

Part of it might go back to what Rebekah was saying earlier, wholeness from whose perspective, right? And maybe there are some cases where what we’re talking about is just having a really strong eschatological vision of recognizing that some things aren’t gonna be fixed until Christ comes back and things are made whole again. I’m not sure.

Yeah. What we’re touching on here at a few times is that flourishing is case-specific. And sometimes we talk, I mean, I think we all think, naturally, that there’s generic flourishing and this is like real deep happiness and fulfillment and all that. But some of us are have harder lives than other people and if we’re talking some kind of severe damage, that’s probably woven into our brains and is a part of our daily experience, that’s, yeah, that’s not gonna be, that’s gonna be a different kind of flourishing.

And I even kinds wanna use the word maybe in quotation marks ’cause it just sounds a little grandiose to say that that’s flourishing, but I think if we think case specific, I really like Paul’s notion of weakness in 2 Corinthians, and I found a lot of help in that. The whole letter is kind of Paul’s defending his apostleship against people that have criticized him for being so weak and saying he’s not much of an apostle.

And he turns it upside down and says you know, it’s because of my weakness that my calling is actually being demonstrated, and he’s got that beautiful little passage about we’re just these jars of clay and the glory of the gospel of God is displayed through these little kind of jars of clay. If I understand the analogy, it’s like if you’ve been in the museums, these little clay lamps that you drop it and it’s very fragile, I mean, and yet God’s, the glory of God shines specifically through our weaknesses in a way that it doesn’t through the well-functioning kind of person that we kind of typify as a flourishing life.

So another tweet, this is from Stacy who asks about suffering induced by our own sin. How does that relate to the redemptive sharing in Christ’s sufferings?

I don’t know that it does because Christ’s suffering wasn’t from that place.

He didn’t suffer that way.

He didn’t suffer as a consequence of his own sin, so I don’t know how that’s being shared. It doesn’t mean that there’s not beauty in the suffering of consequences, I just don’t understand, or at least I’m not seeing the correlation between that being shared with Christ in the root of it so you could speak into that.

Yeah, ’cause I think of Jesus. I do this a lot myself and sometimes with counselees where they’re really suffering and maybe they’ve really sinned and they feel really bad about it or whatever, and I just say close your eyes and picture Jesus on the cross looking down at you and what does he wanna say to you right now in that place?

And one of the things he would say is I took that, okay? I’m taking that guilt and shame off of you. Would you surrender it to me? That would be one way to sense a connection, but it’s different than.

Sure.

Yeah, one possibility is you’ve got somebody who’s suffering as a result of their sin, but they don’t recognize it as such. And maybe they’re not in a place where they can recognize it as such, so there’s still the possibility of inviting them into this identification with Christ and his suffering even though you know, though they don’t, that this comes as a result of their sin. So is that a misstep? Should we not invite identification with Christ in this suffering if we know it to be a consequence of their sin?

Christ’s death was a consequence of my sin, right?

I find myself hesitant to say that we should encourage them to do that because it might lead to kind of a glorification of their suffering. I mean, this is a little bit different than the scenario we were talking about, but I think about maybe people who are, just go out there and preach the gospel in really obnoxious ways and then they get persecuted, not because of the gospel but because of their obnoxiousness. [audience laughing]

And then they count it as suffering for Christ, and there’s just something about me that says, let’s not glorify that, ya know? So I’m not sure if that’s exactly the same category, but I’m not sure that we want to go there, you know?

I don’t know. I want to advocate for it. My darkness coming out. [audience laughing] I sin. But I read a wonderful book this summer by a great Christian philosopher where she spends a whole chapter on Samson. It’s a book on suffering, though, it’s a philosophical treatment of suffering and a whole book on Samson.

And she tries to show how Samson’s suffering was redemptive. And it blew me away because I kind of don’t wanna go there either because it’s like, it’s bad, sin is bad. There’s nothing good that can come of sin, right? But she shows how Samson was subtly, not a whole lot, we have to admit, but somewhat transformed by being captured, you know, the consequences and at the end he surrendered to God. And then in Hebrews 11 he is some kind of hero of the faith. Bizarre.

I mean the piece that I strongly would agree with is that suffering because of our own sin can lead to positive changes.

Repentance.

So I don’t want to minimize that.

Of course, and I don’t wanna glorify sin, so touche.

Common ground. I think we have time for one more from the audience. Is there a question in the audience?

Woman: I’ve been. I’ve been. We can hear you.

Woman: Okay, I’ve recently been looking at some resources like DBSA and NAMI, the National Association for Mental Illness and just different groups, and I was, and I’ve been to several of these different kind of meetings and what struck me was that there’s really very little out there by Christians.

And as I go to some of these meetings for various mental illnesses and diagnoses, people are so desperate. And in so many ways it’s like what Jesus describes as like the broken and the needy, and yet, we’re not there as believers. And as somebody who has a recent diagnosis as well, I was like, wow, where’s the church in this? I really struggled like, where’s my church, where’s my people? I’ve recently, I go to these places I’m like, wow, these are my people now. This speed addict, this woman next to me who is bulimic or this, you know, ’cause like, with a lot of mental illnesses there’s a lot of comorbid, I’m sorry, comorbidities, and I go to these places and look at the table and I think, wow, there’s so much need and why aren’t we here?

And I don’t know if you can comment on that or you can say where what the CCT is doing. Or give me some hope because I’m like, I go to church and I hear this great preaching about how we’re gonna reach the lost and we’re supposed to love our neighbor and human flourishing and all this stuff, but then I can’t even tell people at my church what I’m going through. And then I go and hang out with speed addicts and alcoholics and bulimics and go out to lunch with them, and I feel so much more at home with these people. I find it like, really strange, like a lot of cognitive dissonance.

Thank you for sharing, by the way, thank you.

That’s a tremendously involved question.

Yeah.

I think.

Thank you.

I think Eric was alluding to that a little bit before, you know what do we think the church is? And so there’s, I’m trying to think where do I go here? Historical currents, you know, that kind of thing, but I think the bottom line is that, I think that we’re at a real turning point in our conceptualization now of church and how we do things.

Where for so long it has been church is where you go to show how together you are and to have kind of superficial conversations, to kind of put in your whatever it is, you know, you slide your card or whatever you do these days to show that you’ve you showed up and done your thing and then real life is lived elsewhere and that’s not the type of transformative communities that we’re called to be. I think that there’s some hope just in recent events.

Rebekah: Yes, yes.

Where there’s some more openness to being willing to walk alongside people in their struggles. We could throw in here churches that are striving to become more open and welcoming to people who struggle with same-sex addiction. We can talk here about prominent Christian leaders who have lost a child to suicide and that’s hit the news and all of a sudden it’s an eye-opener and people are paying attention to this.

I just think there’s a lot of currents now that are, hopefully, leading to a place where we can be more open. Here’s part of the challenge. I think that people want the, what they can offer to be something that’s gonna make huge changes. They want to be able to sit down with somebody, pray with somebody, offer comfort and have that–

Rebekah: Measurable.

Yeah, enough. And so we don’t know how to walk alongside people with chronic struggles or even struggles that are gonna last two or three years. We just don’t know how to do that. And so when what we’re doing doesn’t work, the two or three times that we try to do it, then we move on to things that might give, you know, kind of a quicker payoff or something. So there’s something about just our microwave culture that I think feeds into that as well.

In the wake of Matthew Warren’s death, I wrote a piece for CNN called ” “Let’s Stop Keeping Mental Illness a Secret.” And it was directed at the church. And kind of one of the first things was let’s stop hiding. Let’s stop covering the brokenness in our congregation. And it can start with leadership, it can start from the platform.

I mean there’s so many struggles and addictions that are covered and so those who come and go each week just feel like they’re alone and they don’t even know where to begin. There’s not even any kind of a connection point, any kind of a community that they could even engage with. And the second thing I said is let’s stop connecting mental illness with spiritual weakness. Let’s stop linking and shaming ’cause this is real, and we’re not doing anyone a service by saying that you’re broken because you’re spiritually weak. I mean good grief, if the church can’t welcome the broken who will?

Absolutely.

So I think that there is a slow, I think just comes back to us just wanting to have our act together and wanting to wear a mask and show that we do and yet we know and we’re learning that vulnerability comes, that vulnerability breeds connectivity so that the more that we are open and honest with what is broken, the more that we bring things into the light, they are less powerful. The secrets lose power when they exit the dark.

So let’s lead in that way in the church. Let’s tell the stories of redemption and let’s tell the stories of longing and loss and struggle. There’s no shortage of that in Scripture, so let’s be honest with that. And then I think that becomes an invitation for people to enter in and also deploys people in our churches that say, “Hey you know what, I wanna walk with you.” We sometimes think that it’s our, like the role of the leadership or the role of the elders, to walk with everyone, and they’re like, I don’t have the bandwidth for that. And no, that’s actually shortcutting the gifts of the body. There are people in your pew that have walked through the same struggle that you walked a year ago, and they’d want nothing more than to have empathy and to share in your journey. And so how can we as a church even start to connect those like-minded people that have shared experiences and want to continue to move forward?

So it’s an incredible question, and it’s something that I’m challenged by, something that I advocate for. People said, “Did you have a hard time telling your story “because you run a Christian organization?” And I was like, “Are you serious? “No.” And with me, let’s have a bunch of others come and do the same thing. Like let’s just all just rally and share the underbelly and then let’s see what God might wanna do with that.

You know, one of the most positive things that we have done in our adult Sunday School class, it’s a class of maybe 40, 50 people, and it’s a really nice community but one of the things that we intentionally did, kind of along the lines of this, is we had a couple of marriages that just fell apart, and the people just didn’t even, they just stopped showing up. And in one of the cases we didn’t even know there was anything wrong there before the separation occurred.

And we said we have to do something to be more proactive about this. And so what we did is, there were three couples in the class that took a Sunday each to talk about their serious marital difficulties. One couple had essentially separated and then were able to kind of rebuild their marriage. The other one it was severe mental illness in the woman that caused a lot of conflict in the marriage and how they kind of regrouped. And the other one just kind of the ordinary drifting apart and how they had worked toward that.

And two of those were in leadership in our, two of those couples were in leadership in our Sunday School class. And it was a really powerful thing for just helping people to open up with their ordinary struggles so that we have a climate now where one of the couples came into class last Sunday and they said hey we can only stay for 10 minutes because we’ve decided to do five sessions of counseling with the pastoral couple here during this hour. So pray for us, we’ll be back in five weeks. And they went off to do their marital counseling, which I thought was wonderful to do that in community.

I think we think of giftedness mostly in terms of the gifts that everybody wants, you know. And but if you think, you know, Paul’s body metaphor means that every member has a gift to the church. And if we think of people who have mental disorders of various kinds as gifts to the rest of us, I think it will terribly enrich our lives. I have learned so much from my counselees, for example. I mean, I got my own problems, don’t get me wrong, but there are some counselees that I’ve worked with that have suffered so incredibly, and it’s opened up to me a tragic part of the world that some people have experienced.

And I need the voice of others to speak into me to help enrich me, to help me to flourish. And if, I think if we had that, it would be a more welcoming church community if we could communicate that to those who are more broken than some of the more esteemed members of the congregation.

And I just have to say, can we pray that God will pour out his spirit at this time because something does seem to be happening and may the Lord really do something in the next few years that would revolutionize our church life. [gentle music]

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