The shocking thing about suffering is not that it happens, but that we are shocked when it happens. The suffering can of course take many forms: bereavements, illness, chronic sickness, depression, pain, cold and flu, to name but a few!
Although there is a place for time alone, space to think and pray, why is it, that in many Christian churches, people feel the need to absent themselves from the life of God’s people? Why do so many think that a theatrical withdrawal is what biblical faith is all about? Why do we feel that when we do go to church we get tired of explaining about our illness, whilst on the other hand, when we do withdraw, we lament that nobody cares or calls.
It is a fact that what is often presented in our lives is not the reality of either us or our situation. A man who lost a father at the age of five, will likely have profoundly complex and yet dysfunctional emotions and expectations in later life when a relative dies. In this sense, people can be very ego-centric in grief and suffering – and that is not to minimalise the suffering, merely to unmask the complexity of emotion and feelings underneath.
If sickness determined whether we continue with church and/or God, then surely God would have no lovers and all churches would be empty! But no! Church is full of repentant sinners, broken people, unhealed, chronically sick and often desperate….but they are there, with God’s people, together, worshipping God for God’s own sake, for God’s sake! Those who theatrically withdraw forget that other people are living their lives too, and in their egocentrism, they neither see nor care. In fact, this not seeing nor caring, is a form of robbery – robbing God of what they were called to be within the community; denying the gift of themselves to others among the people of God; and all because of an egocentrism that is ring-fenced from genuine biblical scrutiny, Holy Spirit healing & trust, and Christian fellowship.
Is it a type of super-spiritual sulking? I think it can be, though it may not be. And this sulking can and often is a smokescreen for the real reality behind the perceived or egocentrically managed (false) reality.
In his book, Games People Play, Eric Berne suggests that in groups, which of course include churches, there is a whole range of ‘gameplaying’ going on; something false about most people or groups, and for anyone inclined pastorally, the greatest freedom can be found in recognising the script, seeing what is false, refusing to play to their script and speak prophetic biblical truth, life and health into all situations.
And that speaking might mean withdrawing from that dysfunctional dynamic, remaining silent, praying for people whilst refusing to be played by their scripts. Some may accuse you of not caring or not loving, of not being a proper pastor. They would, because they haven’t yet seen the dysfuntion of their script, because they are waiting for a particular response that is becoming of a theatrical withdrawal. All the while they think it is about their present situation or illness, but it rarely is. It is often about what is unresolved from their past, and the pastor’s role is to disclose this undisclosed menace, and pray the Holy Spirit is there in it all, bringing healing and wholeness.