by Gami Ortiz
Last week, I had the opportunity to engage in some spiritual renewal. I spent dedicated time in prayer and worship – by myself and with others. I also sat under some teaching for church leaders on developing churches in which people find healing – healing from pain, depression, addiction, anxiety, etc. One of the keys in healing is connection with others and connection with the local body of believers. When we have an infected part of our physical bodies, we don’t cut it off until it gets better. It is that part's connection to the body that provides it what it needs in order to heal. It’s a great analogy for how it works with us as well. Unfortunately, more often than not, people tend to isolate themselves when they’re hurting. This tends to drive us further into shame and guilt, perpetuating the problem or cycle.
At the same time, we don’t promote the freedom to be honest about where we’re really at, because there are unspoken expectations of needing to have everything together, being holy, a “good Christian”, or however we choose to frame it. And if we’re not a church that heals, then nobody’s admitting to something being wrong, even though the reality is that something is wrong. At one point in the seminar, the speaker said, “If you want a diagnostic test to see if you are hurting or in need of healing, check to see if you have a belly-button. If you’ve got one, you suffer from hurt and need healing. It’s part of the fallen human condition.” The reality is that in our church circles, we don’t always act like that. We often act like our redemption through Christ has eliminated every earthly hurt and we should no longer struggle with anything.
In Luke 13:6-9 (ESV), we find this parable of Jesus:
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Notice that the vinedresser asks for time so that he can dig and fertilize the tree to see if it’ll produce fruit. Rather than the condemnation of the vineyard owner, this man steps in as an advocate. And he offers to do what the tree can’t do for itself. He’s going to help provide what’s needed for growth. When we’re hurting, typically we can’t produce what’s needed for our own growth from within ourselves. We need people around us who are willing to pour into us to allow for that growth to happen that will produce good fruit.
Sometimes, this help takes the shape of an accountability relationship. These relationships are well-intended in helping someone out of a slump. It’s a wonderful vehicle for that to happen – if approached with the right outlook. But if we approach the idea of holding someone accountable as nothing more than reinforcing or highlighting their mess-ups/hurts/wrongs and reminding them to change, we inadvertently paint a picture of the legal system. Even the old covenant was unable to produce change in the Israelites. It only dispensed judgment for their shortcomings and reinforced the fact that they needed a Savior! Humanity needed to have a grace imparted on us in order to reach the law’s standards - enter the Advocate, Jesus Christ. That’s what we need in relationships that come around those that are hurting: those that are willing to help dig around to find the true cause of the hurt and fertilizing by administering the grace of God in its various forms.
In our family, we strive to have as many meals together as possible. With people going in multiple directions, we’re in a season that it’s not always possible. But when we do, we have developed a habit of sharing “highs and lows” or “thank yous” for the day. Everyone shares – no exceptions. If someone doesn’t share, the rest of the family reinforces the norm. “Hey, what’s up? I didn’t hear you talk about your day...” As a body of Christ, we need to be in settings where groups can enforce this kind of norm, which is part of our connectedness. We need to build and/or foster a church culture that is a safe place for people to be in this kind of need state. Healthy people move towards relationships, but hurting people often avoid them. Let’s not let those folks fall through the cracks. Let’s be the kind of church that not only cares for our own in this way, but also one that others come to for healing.