One of the hardest places to work on sobriety is in church.
I say this as a big fan of churches. I absolutely love being part of a community of faith—even with all of it warts and blemishes.
And of those blemishes is that too often, churches do not provide space for people to be genuine, or authentic, or vulnerable. Whether intentional or not, many churches have become a place where we dress up with our clothes (“Wear your Sunday best!”) and our smiles (“Oh, I’m doing just fine!”).
And in a nicely dressed, smiley atmosphere, it is difficult to come just as we are.
I want to emphasize: this may not be intentional. I do not think that most people are blatantly trying to make it hard for people in recovery to attend church. But I think we must understand that our words and our actions create barriers to authenticity. If we are going to allow our churches to become safe spaces for vulnerability, it will take some intentionality on our part.
Several years ago, I was asked to talk about my alcoholism and recovery during the time of communion at our church. I was humbled by the response. But I was also saddened. Because several people—some who were long-time church goers and even church leaders—told me that it was either the first time or one of only a few times they had ever heard someone being vulnerable during worship.
If someone has been attending church for 20, 30, 40 or more years (or even one week, for that matter), they should have heard a LOT of people being vulnerable. They should have been opening up and being vulnerable towards others.
Why are we so afraid to be who we are? Why do we struggle to come just as we are?
We could probably enter a long discussion about all of those reasons. And I hope to address several of them in future posts. But today, I want to make some suggestions. I would like for your church to become a place of vulnerability—a place where people can truly be themselves as they enter into the presence of God and God’s people.
Here are a few simple suggestions:
First, in order to create space for vulnerability, you must be vulnerable. Consider this: do you truly think anyone has it all together all the time? Do you truly think that people around are free from struggle, worry, anxiety, temptation? Do you lose respect for people when they admit they need help?
If the answer to those three questions is no, then why do you think YOU must act as if you have it all together all the time? Why do you think YOU must be free from struggle? Why do you think others will lose respect for you?
Be honest. Share. It doesn’t have to be with everybody. But there need to be people in your life with whom you can open up and talk about those difficulties. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to put on a show for others. If you are sad—be sad! If you are feeling despair—admit that you don’t have answers! If you are happy—smile, laugh, and sing loud so that you can be the voice for the people whose voices are muted that day.
Second, do not audibly gasp when someone admits to having a problem. Again, this may not be intentional. And often, when someone confesses to a sin or a struggle in their lives there is surprise and even disappointment. But when you gasp and tsk and shake your head thinking no one notices…someone is noticing. Maybe not the person sharing—but the person sitting next to you. Or behind you. Or somewhere near you who can see you without you realizing it.
I am not telling you to you should not be surprised. I am not saying you should not feel disappointment. But I am saying if you respond in a way that puts people down, others will be less likely to share when they need to.
There are more suggestions that could help. And there can be (and needs to be) much more conversation on this topic. And more will come. So keep reading!
But what are doing now to help create and promote transparency and vulnerability in your church or other similar type of social setting?