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Not comfortable, but comforted

Church shouldn't be a place where hurting people feel they must put on a mask to be accepted, says counseling ministry director.

Today I’m struggling.

Sometimes it seems like tragedy has overtaken us. Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, mass shootings. People dying. People losing their homes. People enduring unthinkable pain.

Mary Jo Cochrum

These are huge, tragic, scary events. We can often feel overwhelmed or even traumatized from just hearing about it all.

But today I’m not struggling with these tragedies. I’m struggling with our inability as believers to sit in someone else’s pain.

You see, we are usually really good at taking action when tragic events take place. We are quick to take up a special contribution to aid in recovery. We will gladly send supplies to people in need or travel to help in cleanup efforts.

As long as we feel like we are doing something to ease someone’s pain, we feel good.

But what about the times when we can’t do anything about the trauma and pain, when nothing we say or do will make things better, when we are completely helpless to fix things, when all our resources are useless in making a situation better?

So often in these types of situations, we tend to withdraw or run away. We soothe ourselves by telling ourselves that there’s nothing we can do, so we do nothing.

I often tell my clients that I can’t fix things for them, but I can walk with them through it. I can sit with them in their pain. I can hear their story and have compassion and empathy. I can acknowledge that they are suffering. I can be their hope when they have no hope left. I can be silent in their presence and allow them to simply be.

“I have come to the conclusion that church is not a place to feel comfortable. It is a place to feel comforted. It is a place to feel loved. It is a place to feel accepted, even with all our struggles and pain.”

I regularly hear from people how they see church as a place where they must put on their mask so they can be accepted and loved. We hide things like drug or alcohol addiction, domestic abuse, sexual sin, depression, anxiety, financial troubles, marriage struggles, parenting struggles. We hide the things that we believe will make us unacceptable and unlovable.

For many years I believed that church needs to be a place where we feel comfortable. However, I have come to the conclusion that church is not a place to feel comfortable. It is a place to feel comforted. It is a place to feel loved. It is a place to feel accepted, even with all our struggles and pain.

Can it be difficult and scary to be in the presence of such pain? Absolutely. It can overwhelm us when we are relying on our own strength, when we are trying to fix things, when we don’t see the person within the struggle.

But when we are relying on God to be present, when we are seeing through his eyes of love, when we are dependent upon his provision in the situation, then we can be empathetic and compassionate, then we love the way he loves, then we can be present for those in pain. And sometimes, that’s all we need to do for each other.

Mary Jo Cochrum, a Licensed Professional Counselor, is director of the counseling ministry of the Woodland West Church of Christ in Arlington, Texas, where she has served on staff since 2009.

Filed under: Features Opinion Top Stories Views #metoo abuse addiction hope pain sexual assault Voices

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