A little more than 5 years ago I was afflicted with a disease that causes constant pain. The skin on my feet, hands, and parts of my legs hardens and constricts the muscles and joints. The constricted tension causes the nerves around those areas to become inflamed. This disease also causes sinus blisters in my nose that sometimes restrict breathing and cause relatively frequent migraines. In short – this disease thing stinks. Sometimes I have a limp, sometimes I can’t see straight, sometimes I just hurt, but it is always present with me. A silent thorn digging into my body with extreme patience and fury.
Like most people, I don’t like to admit weakness. I can be a proud man and want to be strong. So I seldom let people know that when I am in pain. I’ll smile and push through the pain, letting people forget that I am the way I am. I’ll try to hide my slight limp. I’ll squint my eyes or look down at the ground in order to keep the bright lights from hurting my head. I know that I’m not the only one who does this. Many people hide their pain from those they love. Whether it is physical pain or emotional, people don’t like to show real pain. But why? Why hide it? Perhaps, if they forget I have this affliction, maybe I can forget too? Maybe if they can’t see it, it will hurt a little less? Maybe I am afraid to burden them with my own trails? I know not why we hide our afflictions from the people we love, only that we do. So here are three things that result when we try to hide our brokenness and three things you can do to change that.
Results of Hiding:
- When we hide our affliction, we are robbing ourselves of grace. The grace of God covers us and His grace is, indeed, enough. However, in His infinite mercy, God has given us a tremendous support system to dispense grace in this life. The community of the faithful is to be a group in which we can bear our burdens out in the strength of a group that share a common love for one another. So, to hide our pain is to forego this benefit from the community of faith.
- When we hide our pain, we deny others the freedom to express their own pain. No individual thinks that they are perfect. No matter how arrogant a person may be, there is not a person who genuinely believes they are perfect. The problem is that people often think other people are perfect. Sin has taught us to think that other people are better off than we are. Sin causes us to think that other people are perfect and we need to be perfect as well. But, people need to know that you are not perfect. People need to know that it is ok to be broken. They need to see it modeled. When you share your brokenness with the community, you are granting the community permission to not be perfect. They will follow your lead.
- When we hide our failures, we fail to grant grace to others who are struggling as well. Being a perfect person helps no one. They will not see Jesus if you are perfect. Rather, they will see Jesus if you are broken. The reality is that: when you are perfect, you are passively sending a message to those around you. You are telling them that they cannot be imperfect. Yet, when you are being redeemed by the working of the Holy Spirit in your life, then people can see the victory over the failures. They can see that broken people can be rescued. Sometimes the best thing you can do is prove that you aren’t good enough.
What to Do:
- Admit your frailties one to another. It is not earth-shattering to know that if you will admit your struggles, others will too. But be prepared. Honesty also brings criticism. You must be prepared to grant grace to those who will not grant it to you. Perhaps they’ve not yet learned to give up perfection. Be honest about your pain. Sure, no one can hurt or think less of you if they don’t know. But no one can help you or encourage you either. Further, you may find out that you are a source of strength to others because of your brokenness.
- Live in open and honest community with others. This is basically a restatement from number 1, but a necessary one. You need other people. Introvert, extrovert, or whatever. You need people. God designed us this way and you must take advantage of it! Living in honesty community with others is difficult. It means when you ask someone, “how are you?” you really want the answer. When someone asks you, you are honest in your response. Brothers and sisters should not leave things to lay unanswered. Instead, believers seek reconciliation, restoration, and love with one another. This is honest community. Sometimes it is frustrating and difficult because we hurt each other, but it is always grace giving and the result is always love.
- Submit to the wisdom of others. When I was first afflicted with my disease, it was rough. I often had to use a cane to walk and found it difficult to accomplish tasks that I was assigned. I was working on a house for a missions group with a team of about 20 and my foot was essentially useless. On my crew were two students who knew my stubbornness and knew my own weakness. They insisted that I sit when I was limping, and that I stopped working when they saw I was hurting. After the trip I spoke with a doctor who told me that they probably saved me some severe nerve damage because they forced me to sit. Since then I have learned to trust those who know me. They know my weaknesses better than I do, so when they address something, I listen.
Maybe you don’t have a disease or struggle with something that causes you physical pain. There are still struggles you deal with. Depression, anxiety, dark feelings, and the like are all too common among believers. Yet, I believe if we are honest with one another, we will often find victory over the darkness. Though the struggles will not necessarily disappear, you can find greater victory by engaging in the community of faith.
Are there any tips you would add? How do you deal with struggles?