With Facebook asking me every time I login “what’s on your mind?” I do believe I am obligated to oblige. It’s time to tell the world about the struggles I have, the lunch I ate, the sins I commit, my mental and physical health issues, and of course the latest person to offend me along with frequent updates as to my location. First thing, I am at home, now you know my location. I had a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch which either addresses my mental health if I am deathly allergic to peanut butter or my physical health if I am not allergic to peanuts (I am not allergic to peanuts). I struggle to pay my bills and I often sin by coveting my neighbour’s hair (I am losing mine). I think I covered it all – oh wait, one more thing – I have “tongue in cheek” disease.
Misery loves company.
My mom often told me that misery loves company. The way she said it was meant to warn us away from bringing others down so that we can all have a pity party. With a small change in wording this saying can go from a warning to instruction. Misery needs company. The main reason I am so open and honest about my life is that people need to know that they are not alone in their pain. I want them to see that there is room to have personal defeats while remaining victorious in Jesus. To see victory in front of you, modeled not by the showboating athlete or fist pumping politician, but by the person imprisoned by the limitations of their body or mind, is to see Jesus at work. When I preach and lead worship/play the keyboard it is a demonstration of victory in the face of physical defeat for those who know the limitations of my health. Being surrounded by my wife, my grown children and my grandchildren is a demonstration of victory in the face of emotional defeat for those who know the effects that abuse and mental health issues related to chronic illness and pain have had on me and subsequently on my family. Just as my misery has needed company, many around me have needed company for their misery, someone who understands that there can be victory in the middle of their personal defeat and is willing to walk with them.
The boundaries of sharing personal struggles/experiences.
Even in this blog I have only revealed what I am willing to open up about. Some of what I say is limited by space while other things just wouldn’t be helpful as a part of this blog. Then there are the things that I am not comfortable sharing or should not share. As someone who makes much of his living preaching, I often use stories that include personal experiences and interactions. I am very aware of the importance of a filter to determine what is appropriate, important and even what is potentially harmful to me or my family if it becomes public. There are three questions that I try to ask myself before I share anything in my blog, a sermon, any small group or individual interactions.
- Am I sharing this because I want help or I want to help? Determining why you are sharing will determine who you share it with. Sharing deep and intimate struggles in search of help is only helpful if you are with someone you trust and who understands that help is what you need.
- Is there someone that will be affected/hurt by others hearing what I am about to share? If you are trying to be the company needed by others who are experiencing misery, make sure that you are not revealing something about someone else that could be embarrassing to them, was told in confidence or was a private moment not intended for the general public. Pastors and bloggers watch out, a true life parable may be a positive life altering illustration for those who learn from it and a negative one for you and those in the story. Get permission!
- What/how much should I share? Apply the Scars, Scabs, and Open Wound principal.
Scars: Struggles/experiences that no longer dominate you – much of the healing has taken place. Like a scar, there is a permanent effect on you but it is highly unlikely to become an open wound again. These are the safest to share.
Scabs: Struggles/experiences that are beginning to heal. Like a scab, if you do not protect yourself it may become an open wound again. Sharing should be limited to trusted friends or church small group.
Open Wounds: Struggles/experiences that are fresh. Like an open wound, the bleeding needs to be stopped or you will be in more trouble. Sharing must be limited to those who can truly help like a spouse, parent, councillor or pastor.
Like any cut, you can have all three stages going on at the same time. As the scar tissue forms on the outside, some of the cut is still in the scab stage and the middle could still be open. When this happens often you can share the general struggle/experience safely with anyone but specifics are reserved for trusted friends and your spouse, parent, councillor or pastor.
Far too often we share our open wounds and scabs because they are the most pressing issues in our lives. We are not always ready to expose our injuries because they need to heal but still we introduced them to elements that could reopen or infect the area in question. Someday there will be a scar to show, a story to share but for now we need to heal.
Scabs and open wounds can become the misery that loves company if we try too soon to be the company that other people’s misery needs.