Have you ever taken a long, hard look at yourself or your past? Have you ever uncovered stones in your life or the lives around you? In the process, did your heart not hurt?
Today was the most beautiful day for one of our Swallowtail Butterflies to come out of its chrysalis. It was an unusually warm day, perfect for this beautiful girl to go and find a flower and a mate and create new life for the spring. This day was not all perfect, however.
When our last two Swallowtail caterpillars were found, there was one that was a little off. It’s horn would not stay inside of its body (usually only displayed when threatened). When it mounted itself to a stick to start the chrysalis process, there was silk spun everywhere, not forming a correct harness for the chrysalis to hang. Given this history, I was not surprised to see the butterfly this morning with wings that had not dried properly, and one that was torn completely.
How often in life are we like that poor butterfly? Maybe there is something in our life that is just a little “off.” Maybe there was abuse or neglect in our childhood. Maybe there was some trauma. Maybe, later in life, we dealt with caring for ailing parents or found ourselves in loveless marriages. Maybe we have been tasked to raise a special needs child.
I have found myself, mid-life, addressing many hard issues within my own life. I’ve read somewhere, and had some close friends reiterate the sentiment, “there is no sense looking back on the hurt. You can’t change it. It is what it is.” However, unless we look back, how are we to know we can go on? How do we know how to go on? If we don’t understand our own nuances and neuroses, how will we know how to better address life’s issues?
Raising my children has inspired me to be a better parent than my parents (as I’ve heard my mom say over and over she wanted to be better than hers as well), and looking at my aging parents reminds me that I’m running out of time to do it.
I’ve written time and time again about the need for us to care for one another. To lean on one another. For far too long the Christian community has had a double life. They expose to the world that they are perfect Christians when in the background they deal with sin no different from the non-Christian (think of sexually abusive priests and pastors, money hoarding television evangelists and so many other ways in which the church has been part of spiritual and emotional abuse to its members). Because the leaders of the church behave this way, the congregation was only going to follow. Carrying our hurts alone hides the fact that we aren’t perfect… and we certainly wouldn’t want the other perfect people in our church to know that we aren’t perfect. So there we are also, with our double life.
It is only through sharing, and vulnerability, that we can share in Christ’s love. When we share our dark times with others and receive love back, we are receiving the love of God. There is no question about that.
… if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. – 1 John 1:7-8
In a most fantastic book I just finished called, “Secrets of Your Family Tree,” there is a chapter about religious shame. The author writes:
… religious shame keeps many Christians from getting help for their problems and keeps them isolated from others, bearing all alone terrible hurts and secrets. When they do come in for therapy, they must struggle through issues of religious shame before they can begin to deal with the immediate problems that made them seek help.
If we are carrying a bunch of shame around inside of us, we won’t experience grace or forgiveness the way God intended. We cannot feel it, because we haven’t released our shame. We cannot release our shame until we feel safe enough to discuss our sinful parts.
Back to the butterfly…
There the butterfly sat on the carpet, flapping its broken wings that would never take that beautiful girl to flight. I couldn’t decide how to handle it. I knew if I put her outside she’d be a quick meal for a bird or a larger insect. I also knew that if i kept her inside, she’d only have a sheltered life, never at all experiencing what her life was intended to experience. She made the answer for us as she walked toward the sliding glass door. She wanted to go outside. I let her crawl on my hand and placed her on the mat outside the door. Half an hour later I walked by and noticed she hadn’t moved. She was still alive, yes, but there she sat incapable of doing much more.
I quickly boiled up a dish of sugar-water, hoping she would eat a little something. I put the dish out there but due to the gusts of wind, she was not able to stabilize herself while also taking drinks. I put her back on the mat, and I spilled some sugar-water on the mat for her to drink from there. Not too much later she was gone.
So many times in life those wind gusts are beating us down when our body is incapable of doing much more than stabilizing the hits. I could have yelled at the butterfly to fly, but with the wings folded over, it could not. It was no use. Why can’t we extend the same grace to ourselves and our brothers and sisters? When they hurt, we need to be like Aaron and Hur physically supporting Moses.
So many people in our lives are hurting, and they may not be getting the support they need from their home, their family, or their church family. They need us. They don’t need us barking from the sidelines like Job’s “friends” treated him. They need love and support. They don’t need to be told that they need to pray harder or pray differently. They don’t need to be told that they need to change churches. They don’t need to be told that they are doing something wrong. They need to be assured that they are doing something right in sharing their sins and their pain.
Support groups for people coping with life’s problems are great because they reach OUT, not down. They stand shoulder to shoulder, holding each other accountable and love on each other through the pain and relapses and all of life’s issues. Christian communities should take a lesson. We are supposed to be a model of love and life and too often we’d rather stand on the sidelines projecting an image of perfection rather than reality.
Jesus gave us two commandments to live by. The first was to love God with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds. The second was to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). So, the question is, how are we supposed to live? What is expected of us? Are we to front to our communities how perfect our lives are or are we to be authentic and share in others’ pain?