[Word count: 1605. Approximate read time: 5-7 minutes]
I’m hearing a familiar voice calmly asking me to “drop my weapons.” I hear you. But I can’t do that yet. I’m sorry. I want to lay them down. They’re heavy and cumbersome. But there’s a conflict. I picked up this weapon after someone I trusted hurt me pretty badly. My guard was down. I didn’t even see it coming. I’m holding this weapon because I have to. Not because I want to. As long as I hold it, they can’t hurt me again. Not like before. And I still haven’t found a safe place to rest yet. Dropping my weapon would be certain death, tantamount to suicide.
Not ready to make nice
This morning, a friend invited me to a bible study and I had a strong reaction inside. I just stared at the text message for a while with squinted, resentful eyes. I didn’t respond for hours. Bible study’s great, but I don’t trust it. Not right now. I don’t trust “them.” The mere thought of attending a church, bible study, or any system of organized religion still puts me very much on edge.
I sustained some course-altering wounds in church. It was a hulking ordeal to break ties with them. The thought of going back makes me want to curl into the fetal position. I used to think of family, friends, and shelter when I thought of church. At the moment, it only calls to mind covert hostility and manipulation. The agitated place I’m speaking from isn’t ideal for me, but I prefer it to the feeling of being shackled again to the culture of a flawed institution.
All churches are not borne of shady televangelists seeking money and power. Not all Christians have ulterior motives either. The sister who sees me distraught and proffers me with prayer legitimately wants me to smile again. The brother who sees me alone and invites me to join service wants to extend me his family. The church’s intent is golden, but some of its by-products are toxic.
Good intention, bad execution
Bad execution often accompanies good intention in religious organizations. People make declarations about others’ situations based on their opinion. They may assert ominously, “this is what God is saying,” but more accurately it’s what God would be telling them to do if they were in the others’ shoes. That may have little to no bearing at all on what God wants from the person facing the dilemma. The bottom line is: when too many people are talking, it’s easy to confuse what man says with what God says.
Some take their rooting for the home team too far. They think the sole solution is to take on the mindset and conduct that their church advocates. “Do what we do!” “Get like us!” No offense, but I’ve already paid my dues serving church culture. I’m not looking to make a lateral career move from one to yet another. I want an upgrade, not a fresh regimen of pseudo-spiritual busywork. I need the real Christ to provide real answers for my life.
Those are innocent mistakes from folks who mean well, but then there’s also plain old shady behavior. Sometimes people say pleasant things about you in person, and not-so-pleasant things to others once you’ve gone. Sometimes you casually hear confidential details about others and get a very strong suspicion your own confidence has been trafficked around similarly. Backbiting and gossip are difficult to avoid in any large group of people, and God’s people are no exception. The worst is when some biblical principle is used to justify it. “I heard she got caught doing [yada-yada-yada], but I’m just letting you know so you can pray about it.” [Insert eye roll, smirk, or other contemptuous gesture.]
I neither need nor want that kind of influence in my life right now. Based on sour experiences like these, I’ve learned to be suspicious. Very suspicious. And probably much too much so.
Pull yourself together
There’s something crippling about remaining in a heightened defensive state over an extended period of time. If today Jesus were to ask me “where are your accusers,” I couldn’t point to an immediate threat. I may be reeling from previous attacks, but it’s been a good while since a bomb fell anywhere near my province.
“Please allow me to ask you to let go of the past although you’ve been hurt before, because if you’re going to win, you must trust once again.” —BeBe & CeCe Winans, “Trust Him”
But I don’t want to trust anymore. I’ve got post traumatic church disorder. If I trust, I become vulnerable. “Charlie” might get the drop on me. I need to stay ready because the next Vietnam could happen at any time.
“Keep your arsenal at bay. Live another day. Pull yourself together. Every war you want to win. There’s nothing to defend. Nothing to surrender… Hey, look high and we look low. We never find our enemy, we never find our enemy. Somehow this war is out of control. We never find our enemy. We’re gunning down whatever breathes.” —Mutemath, “Allies”
I know. I’ve developed an itchy trigger finger. I’m so afraid of getting hurt again by undetected enemies, that I’m starting to fire warning shots at my friends. That’s no good.
“Lay your weapons down. Lay your weapons down. There are no enemies in front of you.”
—Jars of Clay, “Weapons”
That’s God talking through each one of those songs. It’s a unique way he speaks to me. I must have missed earlier cues. The war was probably over long ago. Maybe people told me I could drop my arms, but I didn’t believe them. I’m still bunkered down in a fox hole waiting for the stuff to hit the fan. I’m that guy still tromping around in full battle gear months after the war’s been declared over, having flashbacks and running from an enemy that no longer gives chase.
“The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”
To the extreme
Once someone who looks like a friend turns out to be an enemy, you don’t trust your eyes. Once something you believe to be truth is found to be a lie, you don’t trust your ears. After getting burned by someone you love, you don’t trust anything… not even yourself. That’s how my guard went up and got stuck there.
The problem is, you can never seem to get yourself barricaded in tightly enough to feel as secure as you did before you were violated. So you put up more walls, more defenses, and push people farther and farther away… until you have created for yourself a custom made prison. A tiny, isolated space small enough to suffocate in. I put those walls up as a way to protect myself, but in isolation, they started to close in on me. So I had to tear them down and look for another solution.
A time for peace
Usually, I’m the type to give the benefit of the doubt. Lately, all I’ve had to give is just the doubt. The idea of being wounded by your own teammates really threw me for a loop. I consider myself a good judge of character, but now I’m not sure how to tell the good guys from the bad guys.
Oracle: So, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way.
Neo: You’re not human. Are you?
Oracle: Well it’s tough to get any more obvious than that…
Neo: But if that’s true, that could mean you are a part of this system, another kind of control.
Oracle: Keep going.
Neo: Well I suppose the most obvious question is, “How can I trust you?”
Oracle: Bingo. It is a pickle, no doubt about it. Bad news is there’s no way if you can really know whether I’m here to help you or not. So it’s really up to you. Just have to make up your own damn mind to accept what I’m going to tell you or reject it.
—from The Matrix Reloaded
There is no way to guarantee I won’t be ambushed by an enemy or betrayed by a friend. But as I was writing, I kept hearing “Lay your weapons down. There are no enemies in front of you.”
That doesn’t sound like me. My will is to hold onto my weapons and defenses. Doesn’t sound like Satan either. Satan would be pressing me to lash out at innocent people. It sounds like the voice I remember as God’s. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:5). I may not be able to trust my own instincts today, but I still trust that voice.
Some call it their conscience, some regard it as instinct or intuition. I think it’s the Holy Spirit. He lives and he speaks. I’ve got history with him. I know his voice like I know my mother’s voice. You can imitate my mother, but I know the difference. I think it may be safe to disarm now.
The oft-quoted passage in Ecclesiastes 3 starts with “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” and concludes with “a time for war and a time for peace.” I’ve had to wage a lot of war in the past few months. I’ve fought for a long time. It’s time for something else now.