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Friday, March 18, 2005

Vulnerability and the Love of the Body of Christ

About three months ago, my wife and I attended our church retreat where we were challenged to be authentic in our faith.

Specifically, we were challenged to love.

Our pastor opened the retreat by re-iterating the importance of the greatest two commandments:

He said that the most important thing we Christians must "get" are the Greatest Two Commandments - to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds and all our strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Then he divided us all into small groups to share and challenged us to go "deep" with each other - to be vulnerable. My wife and I decided to open up ourselves to the group.

I posted a little about this right after the retreat, that we told them how we felt we were misunderstood in the church and how we were hurting. We told them about our perceptions of the reactions that people had to us when we began to share our hurts, that it seemed like they were too busy with their nice successful "The OC" type lifestyle that they did not like to deal with our brokenness. But we were willing to come back and to open ourselves to our brothers and sisters because we wanted to let God work through us all.

The preacher for the weekend preached from Mark 12:30:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
He unpacked the verse and using Dallas Willard's ideas from Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, he explained how we are to love God and each other.

He showed that embedded in the idea of loving God is loving one another. This is just in line with the teaching from I John, especially chapter 4. For instance, I John 4:20 says:
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
As I posted before, my wife and I came away from the retreat with one resolve. We decided to take God at His Word , and intentionally love His people, our brothers and sisters.

For us that meant to open up to our brothers and sisters and to be vulnerable before them. We decided to be intentional about community life, and about transparency, about giving and receiving love, and to seek opportunities to practice koinonia - deep spiritual intimacy. We trusted God the Holy Spirit to work through our brothers and sisters, our community however messed up, however unwilling, however perceptively unloving, and seemingly aloof other Christians were. We decided to see Jesus in them and let His Spirit draw us closer to one another, as He intends for the community.

You see before the retreat, we had gone through almost a whole year of relatively painful isolation from the rest of the body. Although we went weekly to the services, we weren't connecting with anyone.

We were pretty much by ourselves, our own little island of self-pity, dissociation and silent anguish. We had rationalized within ourselves that these folks were just too comfortable with their own lifestyle, and did not understand what we were going through.

We felt that we could not share our anguish with them for we might disrupt their happy little lives. We were withdrawn and hurting in a soul-sapping and gradual-life-draining sort of way in the midst of a vibrant church among an affluent middle to upper-middle-class neighborhood.

Yet, after the retreat, we decided to take positive steps to go deeper with our friends at church. When they asked us how we were, we stopped to tell them.

Initially it was uncomfortable. For both parties, sometimes. But the more we were intentional on our commitment to them as brothers and sisters, the more we begin to see the responses from our brothers and sisters.

Sure, there were those who thought we were giving too much information, and there were those who just wanted to hear the "Great!" in response. We refrained from judgment, and we refrained from self-pity but decided that our responsibility to love our brothers and sisters was to drop our masks and open up to them and share deeply with them.

We also sought out a small group. The small group leaders initially were forgetful and did not contact us after telling us they would. We persisted and sought them out week after week, until we got invited and we attended. We went into their comfortable small group and decided to go deep with them from day one.

The results have been amazing.

Rather than meeting folks who were too busy with their own hustle bustle of life, we find Christians responding in love, prayer support, compassion and koinonia. The very people whom we thought were not caring and were too comfortable with their own lives, were reaching out and praying with us.

We have learned our lesson. Sometimes when we are downcast and depressed, our antennae get distorted, and we misinterpret other people's compassion. Our own self-pity and self-centeredness misguided us into thinking that we ought not bother our brothers and sisters with our problems. We think that this is due to our own humility, but really it is nothing but pride.

When we decided to humble ourselves and decided to be vulnerable to our own fellow Christians, we give them a chance to love and to live out the koinonia community that Christ wants to foster among us.

So, we learned that to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not only to seek those who are hurting to share Christ's love, peace and healing with them, but also if we are the ones who are experiencing pain and suffering, that we are to be willing to go to the body and let the body do the work of Christ and receive their love, without judgment, without self-pity and with open arms and hearts.