A few weeks ago a homeless drunk man yelled at me for preaching at Community Night. I was speaking on Jeremiah 29:11 and how the Lord uses bad situations for our own good. When I said how God can turn around terrible situations like drugs, divorce, mental illness, depression, and homelessness – that’s when this man went on a rage. ‘You don’t know what it’s like! You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ he yelled standing up right in front of me (although in more explicit terms). I rarely ever see such abrasiveness in a service. Thankfully Pastor Bill was sitting next to him and promptly escorted him out. I don’t know what I would have done else wise.
I want to focus more on what this drunk man said. For I believe he illustrates an example of the human condition. It’s a story I hear time and time again by listening to others. It’s the story of how we are longing to be understood by others.
If there’s ever a powerful scene to demonstrate the need to be understood, its this clip in the movie Zootopia. Basically the whole movie is about an outcast (fox) who is trying to be prove that not all of his kind are bad people (predators). But the actions of his police partner (bunny) lead him to believe that even she cannot be trusted. ‘Probably best if you don’t have a “predator” as a partner’ the fox says in resignation. You could replace this scene with any life situation where people have let you down.
You see, I believe we are created in the image of God to be in relationship with others. To be loved, cherished, valued, is a basic currency of life. Even the triune God is in community within itself. The Father loves the son (John 3:35), the son loves the father (John 14:31), the Holy Spirit is God, who is also love (Augustine even said the Holy Spirit is the love that glues the Father and Son!).
With this desire for love, comes the desire to be understood. To be with those who can sympathize and relate to; when we look at our social circles to tend to gravitate toward those who share in our passions and lifestyles. We tend to talk in a way to gain the approval of others. We like to post selfies to draw attention to ourselves. Even writing this blog I wonder whether or not the point will get across. And I think this emulates that basic truth – that we long to be understood. We long to be loved!
For me, I have been one who has experienced deep wounds, within my family and in the church. The latter has been difficult, especially to see close friends abandon the ministry, leave church for personal grudges, become totally apathetic of their walk, or even worse abandon their faith. There has been great victories, but also great defeats. This consistent pattern throughout 20+ years as a believer has left a part of me jaded about ministry. Thankfully, Christ’s love covers over a multiple of sins. But I have always longed for someone my age who could identify with these hurts but have not found one. At least not in way that I had desired.
But what I did find were older Christians who had gone through far worse in the ministry, yet endured and remained faithful. Many of them I can say truly listened to me and did not throw condemnation. When they said, ‘I don’t really know what that’s like, but I’m listening’, I really felt they really cared. At the roughest of times, I want people to listen and not try to fix. Listening is really the heart of pastoring.
I hope you can identify with some of these words. I think we are all hurting people, longing for deep, God-centered relationships. But being misunderstood is a cross we must all carry. Suffering is a part of a Christian’s identity (John 16:33). The bible never guaranteed that we would find someone on this earth that would totally understand our situation. Rather, it guarantees that we can cast our anxieties to Jesus and he would empathize with us (1 Peter 5:7). If anyone who was been misunderstood the most it was Jesus of Nazareth. By his friends, parents, disciples, and all the way to the cross. Yet still, one of his final words were, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing’. He was so seeped in the Father’s acceptance that he did not lash out. What self-control!
As you long to be understood, may the Holy Spirit guide you by faith to believe that God fully understands and accepts you for who you are. Warts and all. Blessings.
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