Saturday, July 10, 2010

Don't Just Put on a Happy Face

I said recently that your most painful or troubling times may be your best testimony to the power of the Gospel and the treasure of knowing Christ. When we suffer but remain hopeful, continuing to affirm that God is good and faithful, we show that our trust in God is real and not just the result of a fortunately happy life.

The next thought that followed in my mind, however, was that we must avoid the pressure to just "put on a happy face" and pretend everything is fine. There can be a strong temptation in Christian company to want to act positive and cheerful all the time so that people won't think you're a negative or immature Christian. In my experience, this is destructive. Genuine Christians ought to be able to be open with each other and to bear one another's burdens. (Galatians 6:2). Paul tells us to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15), clearly implying it's right for people to know you're mourning.

We have to avoid creating an environment where people feel uncomfortable admitting they are struggling or doubting because they think they'll be judged. No church and no group of Christians should be like that. People need to be free to talk about how they really feel, or else they can't be helped and encouraged by their fellow believers. We are to show mercy to those who doubt (Jude 22), and we are supposed to comfort one another (2 Cor. 13:11; 2 Cor. 1:3-7) just as God comforts us. That can't happen if people don't feel embraced and supported when they admit their struggles. It is a mark of immaturity for a Christian to look down on any other person for struggling or doubting. Instead, we should be moved with compassion and seek to encourage each other.

The first step in creating the kind of Christian community described above is for you to commit to being supportive of people when they struggle. The second step is to be willing to defy the temptation to keep your own struggles hidden. Our fears that people will lose respect for us if we confess to doubts or discouragement are often imagined. Sometimes the whole group is keeping silent with the same imagined fear. When you open up to others, it sends the message that it's okay to talk about this. That makes it easy for them to do the same.

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