Friday, February 13, 2015

NBA #13: And No Cliques or Bandwagons Either

New Believer Advice #13:  Be on the lookout not only for pedestals but for “righteous cliques” and bandwagons, too. 
            Throughout your walk, there will be times when a flashy bandwagon full of confident, wise-sounding Christians rolls past you, spouting off (in a self-righteous, “Pharisee” kind of way) about spiritual things, about other people’s sins, and about how “good Christians” should live.  Yet they will lack compassion and humility and be all about rules and about putting themselves above others, about pointing fingers and making judgmental proclamations.
            And you will be tempted to jump on board because they seem so impressive and righteous.  You will think that they must know what they are talking about because they sound so confident.  Plus, deep down inside, you will want to be on the finger-pointer’s side and not the one being pointed at.  You will want to side with the spiritual bullies and not the ones being bullied.  You will want to sound righteous, too, like you are one of them.
            Be careful about this.  It is all-too-easy to start mimicking each other, making proclamations against others, gossiping about others “out of godly concern,” and to forget that you are talking about real people with real feelings and real struggles who need real compassion.

            And it’s all-too-easy to forget that you are one of them – one of those real people with real struggles and real sins, too.  (And from my experience, things that you say about others or criticize them for have a way of coming back around to you.  And eventually, you will find yourself in their shoes.  It might just be God’s way of humbling us.  So watch what you say about others and always think, That could be me someday.)
            So whenever you notice other believers starting to jump on the judgmental, condemning bandwagon, pause and notice what’s going on and listen to what God is speaking to your heart before you jump on, too.  Is what they are saying godly and in line with Scripture?  Is it loving and compassionate?  Is it humble?  Is it constructive, for the good of others, and to build them up?  Is it necessary?   
            You may have to be the one that pulls them back down to reality and humility and compassion by refusing to jump on board. 
            So when the clique is pointing fingers and shaking their heads in smug judgmental-ism at “those sinners,” don’t be afraid to say something like, “Yeah, I see what you mean, but I can totally understand what they are going through because I have struggled with that, too.”  Or, “Instead of talking about them, let’s pray for them.”  (And then pray with compassion and without judgmental smugness.)  This will generally bring the judgmental train to a screeching halt and – if they are not too prideful – they will  be convicted and change their tune. 
            “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  (Ephesians 4:29) 
            “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  (Philippians 2:3-4)
            And if you are the one who has been pointing fingers and someone else has called you on it, don’t get defensive.  Just apologize and admit your mistake.  Nothing good comes out of digging a deeper hole just because you are embarrassed or afraid to admit that you were wrong and someone else was right. 
            We will all have to do this at some point – admit we were wrong.  And it’s not as hard as we make it out to be.  Seven short, simple words:  “I was wrong and I am sorry.”  Learn them!  Practice them until they roll off your tongue easily and stop getting stuck in your throat.  They will come in handy because there will be many times that you will have to use them.  And we will all have to use them many times, which is why we should all be compassionate and understanding when it’s someone else’s turn to say them.

(New stuff for this post.  From the "Is Depression a Sin?" post, February 2016.)
            I ran across a situation like this recently.  I was sitting with a group of women when one of them said that a Christian leader had read off a list of sins and that “depression” was on that list.  And she asked us if we thought depression was a sin.
            As someone who has struggled a lot with depression (maybe not clinical depression, but at least really dark, discouraging, sorry-for-myself feelings), I was curious to hear what others would say.  But as I listened, I got the sense that there was a strong inclination to mimic the Christian leader, to want to appear as “wise and godly” as him by agreeing with him.
            Now, when I was a happy, shiny, exuberant, young Christian, we talked about this kind of thing once.  And I basically thought the same thing, that depression was a sin, of sorts.  Because you were not “having joy in the Lord” like a “good Christian” is supposed to.  And you were choosing to look at all the negatives about yourself and your life instead of focusing on Christ’s love for you and on your trust in Him to carry you through life.  You were more focused on yourself than on God, making your pain and heartache an idol.  And that is sin.  A kind of pride, acting like your view of yourself has more weight than God’s view of you.
            I’m not saying that I now think that view is wrong.  There is a lot of Bible truth in it.  But as I have gotten older and experienced more losses and heartache, I have come to realize that it’s not as simple as that.  It’s not a black-and-white issue.  And it is irresponsible, insensitive, and uncompassionate to simply say “depression is a sin,” as though it’s in the same realm as other sins people commit and can stop anytime, such as stealing, lying, cheating, having an affair, etc.  (And it doesn’t take into account hormonal or chemical imbalances, a history of family mental illness, different personalities, broken families and broken hearts, and what people might be doing to work through it.)
            Oftentimes, depression isn’t something you choose to do; it’s something that happens to you, even though you don’t want it and maybe did nothing to cause it.  And it takes a lot more than “stop being depressed and be joyful instead” to work through it.
            To me, that is exactly the kind of “pat answer” or simplistic, judgmental Christian notion that I have been shedding over the years as God has broken me in many ways, stripped me of my own cocky, confident wisdom and ideas of how everything “should be.” 
            It’s the kind of thing someone would say who has never struggled with real gut-wrenching depression but who is passing judgment on someone who has.  Or someone who has successfully gotten through it and is looking down smugly on those who are having a harder time getting through it.  (In fact, maybe we could add “uncompassionate, simplistic judgmentalism” to that list of sins.  Because even though those words are not in the Bible, the idea is there, especially when you look at the Pharisees.)
            The way I see it (remember this is just my opinion and you don’t have to agree) is that we cannot simply say “depression is a sin.”  It needs to be explored and unpacked more.  What do we mean when we say “depression”?  What is the depressed person doing in response to the depression?  Are they fighting against it in godly ways or wallowing in it, clinging to it as part of their identity so they can have an excuse for why they are the way they are?  It’s not the “being heartbroken” part that is a sin; it’s the “what are you doing in response to the depression” part that makes all the difference.
            My point here is that it is all-too-easy to fall in line with other people who are making proclamations about what others are going through.  It is too easy to point fingers and give pat answers and make simplistic judgments about other people’s struggles.  And it’s especially tempting to do this when it makes us look more godly or like we are siding with the “smart, godly people.”
            While I was sitting with those women, I could hear the bandwagon rolling by and see hands reaching out to pull others aboard.  I could feel the pull to jump on and mimic the Christian leader's simplistic denouncement of "depression."  And I felt compelled to speak up and disagree. 
            And so I said, “I struggle with depression often, and it takes a lot to work through it every day.  Joy doesn’t come easily to me.  I have to scrape through dried-up, parched ground with my bare hands to find every little bit of joy that I can find, and then I have to cling to it for dear life.”
            And when I went home that night, I thought, Oh no!  Did I just share that out-loud?  What are they going to think of me?  I have just ruined any chance at real friendships with them because they are going to see me as faulty and a risk.  They are going to view me differently now.  And I have worked so hard to seem godly, wise, and pulled-together.  Why did I share that out loud?
            But as I thought about it, I guess I shared with them honestly because I wanted to put a stop to that bandwagon, the finger-pointing.  I know that when someone calls something a “sin,” it’s easy to fall in line.  It’s easy to agree because no one wants to look like they don’t recognize sin, like they are somehow disagreeing and calling something “not sin” that others clearly call “sin.”  Like Job’s friends in the Bible, it’s easy to spout off and sound so godly and wise about things we haven’t struggle through before, to pass judgment on how well other Christians are doing in their struggles when we haven’t been in their shoes, especially when we are talking about vague ideas that don’t have a face attached to them.
            But I really believe this issue is more complex than that.  And I guess I wanted to swim upstream, to put a person’s face on “depression,” to cause them to stop and think before jumping on board and making blanket-statements like “depression is sin.”  This is not a clear-cut issue, nor does the Bible ever say “depression and extreme sadness are sins.” 
            That’s why I spoke up.  To take a stand for the hurting and depressed people (like myself) who don’t need “godly, wise” Christians shaming them further and making them feel worse.  (And for the record, there are a lot of areas where it is clear in the Bible whether it is sin or not.  But this is not one of those areas!)
            Be careful of bandwagons and cliques, where “wise, godly” Christians point their fingers at everyone else, making simplistic judgments and giving pat answers and agreeing with each other to gain some favor or admiration.  Be the one to swim upstream, showing a little compassion and having a little grace for the person they are pointing at.