When I took my first call in ministry, I was not prepared for people to think of me as a respected member of the clergy right away. I figured I would have to earn my stripes and build some credibility, and therefore have some time to grow into it, but…no.
Some folks just jumped right in to tell me about intimate relationship issues, family members involved in illegal activity, illnesses they were concealing and pasts that they were hiding. All things they did not teach me about in seminary.
I am not a skilled poker player, but I do have an excellent poker face.
Not being shocked and/or appalled when someone trusts you enough to tell you something about themselves they believe to be shocking and appalling is a wonderful gift to give. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite things about being a pastor. Accepting people just the way they are and seeing how that acceptance transforms their life.
The best is when people tell me something that they have thought or done or said that they are sure is the most awful thing anyone has ever thought or done or said, and I can assure them that not only is forgiveness available to them, but that they are in good company. They are definitely not alone in their awfulness.
One of the the things I’ve wished for the people in the churches I have served is that they could know about one another what I know about each of them.
If the two people who clashed over just about everything could only know that they share the same childhood trauma, perhaps their relationship would be different.
If the lady who playfully pestered a couple about when they were going to have kids only knew that they had been trying for years and already suffered through two miscarriages, she would stop.
If the two men who thought they had zero in common both knew that each had dealt with a mentally ill and substance abusing sibling, they might have become friends–or at least allies.
If everyone who had a relative in jail, a relationship wrecked by infidelity or a struggle with depression knew how many other people in the community were dealing with the same things, they wouldn’t feel so alone or strange or “other.”
Everyone thinks his or her life is so much messier than everyone else’s, but the truth is we’re all a mess at some time or another–some of us just hide it better than others. Trust me. No one has it together all the time.
That’s why we need community. When we forge real community, we can shed our shame and share our stories. We realize that we are not alone. Others have been where we are and lived to tell the tale. Others are going through the same thing and can be great traveling companions through the struggle.
Think you’re a mess? You’re not alone…in so many ways.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer is an online, inclusive and progressive Christian community. Follow us on Facebook and get emails to keep up with all that is happening.