Geri was dying of cancer. The mass that had formed on her left breast was found about three months ago and was far too late in the process for effective treatment. “A few months…maybe,” the doctors told her. To make matters worse, Geri lived alone. Her husband had died twelve years previously from a heart attack. They were faithful at their local church, and she continued to attend even after his death. But now, where could she go for emotional support and care? Geri's sister, who lived in Florida, came to visit three days after the diagnosis. Geri told her sister everything and poured her heart out to her. Her sister, Betty, was shocked by the news. She told Geri that she needed to share this with her closest friends in her hometown. She would need the support of the church family through the process. Geri then turned to her sister and said, “No, don’t tell anyone. I don’t want anyone to know that I’m dying.” Geri lived the rest of her days with the secret that she was sick. She never told anyone outside of her family. When she finally passed, her church family was in shock. They would have loved to be there for their friend. They would have supported her through every valley.
This story is fictitious, but it is also all too common. I can not remember all of the times I have heard the phrase, “Don’t tell anyone” in a church context. Members suffer in silence, and when someone does find out about their pain, there is fear that information will leak out. The person who knows is given a burden they cannot carry alone and unable to ask for help from another. The person suffering is unable to receive the love and support from the church family - this is our culture. I see it all of the time, but what is the reason? Why do so many suffer in silence? There are countless reasons, but here are four that may be at the root.
1. Don’t be exposed
Almost all of us fear anyone knowing about us beyond a surface level. We guard at all costs their most intimate thoughts and feelings. More than likely, someone has taken advantage of your willingness to allow people inside their inner space in the past and now they are reluctant.
2. Don’t be weak
Some Christians believe that true believers should never “struggle.”Despite numerous passages that speak of the suffering of Christ and his people along with the personal testimony of Paul and others describing their struggles, many still believe that struggling is a sin. Unless someone is buying into the “health and wealth” gospel, I suspect that this attitude comes from somewhere other than Scripture. So, from where does this idea come? Struggling implies weakness. In American culture (most cultures?) weakness is seen as a problem to be eliminated. My weaknesses demonstrate that I am not perfect, and if I am not perfect, maybe I am not lovable. The gospel paints a different picture. First, the gospel says that you are not perfect — end of the story. However, not only are you not perfect, but you are loved more than you could ever imagine. Our weakness can become our greatest strength when we know that we are loved. Paul says that “what is sown in weakness is raised in power” (1 Corinthians 15:43).
3. Keep up a happy front
Some grew up in homes where it was considered shameful to expose the world to their own issues. To the outside world, everything needs to seem just fine. When you share your junk out in the world, there is always the threat that some will judge you. Far better to only present to the world our best side. Social media only highlights this phenomenon. We live in a world of positivity out front. If we ever admit our pain and shame to the world, we would undoubtedly be…unfriended.
4. What if they reject me?
What if the church rejects me at my lowest point? What if in my pain there is nothing anyone can do? Far better, some reason, to never share than expose me to the fear of being rejected. I wish I could say that no one would ever deny you when you share your deepest thoughts and feelings. Sadly, some will. However, they are not living out the faith that they claim to possess. Christ calls us to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Be willing to step into one another’s pain and problems. When we open up to fellow believers who are safe, we invite the best kind of support — support that does not dismiss or marginalize our pain and is willing to be impacted by the problems we are facing. What a blessing. If you have been rejected in the past by believers, who did not know what to do with your pain my prayer is that you find mature Christian friends who will be able to handle your “stuff.”
Sharing our most deep-seated issues and pains are not easy. It is a risk. Some may abuse you. However, the benefits and opportunities far outweigh the fears. Be willing to share with those you love most of your struggles. Ask the Lord to bring into your life those who will accept your pain. I hope that I never hear again, “Don’t tell anyone!” Instead, let’s start saying, “I need to share this with mature people who can help me walk through it.”