Sunday, July 11, 2010

Openness and Sincerity About Suffering Encourages Others

There are other reasons besides fear and insecurity that can lead us to conceal our struggles. Sometimes I am tempted to keep silent about my struggles for fear that I will discourage other Christians. The concern creeps over me that if I share the doubts that are plaguing me or confess how hard a time I'm having with suffering, it will make them doubt too. I think this hesitation misses three crucial benefits of opening up to each other: A) the encouragement and joy others get from helping bear your burdens; B) the encouragement that others get from finding that they are not alone in their struggles and that you wrestle with the same things; and C) combining forces and spurring one another on.

There may be some instances where you are around a person who just really is not ready to hear your doubts or the depth of your suffering, but those situations are usually obvious. When a person is already feeling overwhelmed, you should find someone else to open up to. But most people are not going to go through a crisis just because you tell them honestly that you're having a difficult time, and by concealing how you feel you are preventing the kind of mutual encouragement that helps the church flourish. It is part of our calling as Christians to love and encourage one another and to bear one another's burdens. When you share your struggles with others, you give them the chance to bless you and to experience the joy and satisfaction of helping someone else. If you always keep silent and stay closed up around others, you send a message that they don't have anything helpful to give you. That brings discouragement, but being allowed to help does the opposite.

I also believe that when you open up about your struggles and how you are trying to work through them, you are far more likely to encourage people than discourage them. It is liberating and reassuring to know that other people have the same doubts, fears, disappointments, and pain. The pastors that have blessed me most in dealing with suffering and doubt have been the ones who have freely confessed from the pulpit how they struggle with these things themselves. If this person has struggles like this even after many years of faithful ministry, it reassures me that I'm not a hopeless case just because I am struggling. That openness gives me much-needed hope that I can make valuable contributions even despite my weaknesses. If those pastors had kept silent, the church would be left with the impression that they are just above all those doubts and struggles and that those of us who do struggle are very weak and immature.

Finally, opening up to each other allows us to realize what struggles we have in common and compare notes on how to fight through them. "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. " (Proverbs 27:17). We are supposed to spur one another on in life, and we can do this best if we each know where the other needs encouragement and accountability. Opening up to each other allows us to get doubts and suffering out in the open and attack them together. We are nearly always more confident when we have an ally on our side. When one person is discouraged, the other can be positive and reassure him. (See Eccl. 4:9-10). Christ uses the members of His church body to strengthen one another, so let's not be slow to participate!

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