Are you a fixer or a changer? I have already shared in previous posts about the current situation my partner and I save with regard to finding more appointments in the Methodist Church. I have not shared everything because we live under a discipline that prevents full disclosure and because the system is set up in a way that means we are not privy to what goes on in the room where the crucial decisions are taken.
As we have gone through each ‘round’ of matching people and places, and come away empty-handed, quite a number of our Methodist friends have shared their disbelief and distress about the way we have been treated. It is striking how many, witnessing our disappointment or frustration, quickly move to suggest possible solutions. Don’t get me wrong, it has been lovely to hear from across the Connexion and beyond that people want to do something about our pain. But, at another level, it has also revealed our need to ‘fix’ things when we see them go wrong.
My MBTI personality type is ENTP and I am a natural ‘fixer’. Over the years, therefore, I have had to learn not to listen to my natural instincts in pastoral conversations and think that I am being asked for a solution. I love coming up with solutions and I am arrogant enough to think that, if only people took my advice, then they would be so much better off. But I have come to see that, in sharing painful experiences, individuals are seeking empathy, in the first instance, and recognition in the second.
Many of us in the Church live with unreal expectations, especially when it comes to other Christians. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter; but occasionally, it causes us more pain than it ought. When Christians do things to hurt us, we not only experience the initial offence but also the additional pain that comes from believing that Christians shouldn’t do that sort of thing. It is that belief that sometimes leads us to doubt our own response and hence the need to check it out with trusted friends or pastors. We need to know what we are feeling is genuine and appropriate, especially if it includes those emotions that Christians find difficult, like anger, disappointment or betrayal. Our expectations say: This can’t be right because it shouldn’t be happening.
Our discomfort with the expressions of hurt or anger leads us to try to fix things as quickly as possible. We rationalise the situation either as an anomaly or the work of God; in neither case is anyone at fault. Despite the learning we have gleaned from working with the bereaved and survivors of abuse, there is still an urge to ‘make it all better’, and I want to suggest that urge, at least in part is for our own benefit.
What if we sat with the pain and allowed ourselves to feel it too? What would it do to us and to our own expectations and theologies? If the desire to fix things is also about maintaining a picture of the Church as overwhelmingly benign, fair or just, then sitting with the hurt might open up the possibility of the need for change. In feeling compassion, might we allow some of that suffering to seep into our bones and souls to such an extent that it begins to burn within us and forces us to speak and to act? Thus the experiences of pain and hurt become, not things to be done away with by any means necessary, but the fuel by which systems and societies are reshaped and transformed.
It is for this reason that I can sit with my own feelings of hurt and frustration, not because I am a masochist, but because they witness to the need for change. I am profoundly grateful to those who have shared their own experiences of hurt and rejection and the many others who have expressed their fears about how they might be treated in the future. In these experiences, I find hope and continue to draw huge inspiration from the words of 2 Cor 4:8-11:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.