What does it look like to live a good story? Am I living a good story? Why does it matter? I’m blogging as a part of a series today for Prodigal Magazine on what it looks like to live a good story. You can catch the rest of the writers HERE.
When I was in graduate school, my wife and I joined a small group. Small groups are supposed to be a place of safety, and trust, and growth and encouragement. A place where you form relationships that help you make sense out of life, pursue Jesus together, and enjoy friendship. That’s the bill we were sold, and we bought it. Every Sunday night, we’d trek across town, 35 minutes south, reading our small group study on the way to group (don’t judge us), praying we weren’t the first to be called on to answer a question. Praying we weren’t asked to sign a sheet of paper that said, “I read all of this week’s lesson…before I got in the car to come over here.”
For a season, everything was great. My wife and I were both in seminary, so getting ourselves out of the academic classroom was refreshing for us. As we focused on applying the Scriptures to our lives, we found the Bible coming alive once again.
When things go sideways
But then we had to miss group for 3 weeks in a row. We had to be out of town for various (and might I add, legitimate) reasons, and couldn’t make it to group. The moment I got back in town, our group leader called me, and said, “Ben, I noticed you and Laura have been absent from group for a while now…” and he just kind of let it hang out there, hoping that I would pour out my heart in confession. But I didn’t. I just made things more awkward, letting the silence hang, creating a thick air of tension. My main reason for the silence was because I had no idea what he was driving towards. He pointed out that Laura and I had been absent for a few weeks, questioning our commitment to the group and our integrity as individuals. He said that because of our spotty attendance, there were people in the group who didn’t trust us anymore.
“Because we missed 3 weeks?” I said.
“Yep.” he confidently returned.
He began to unpack his thoughts, calling my integrity into question because, “I just think you’re holding stuff back from the group, Ben…because when we share prayer requests, you don’t cry.”
I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrated I was…we thought we were committed to the group! “Ok…I get it. This is a joke, right? Joke’s on me! I almost fell for it,” I said. But as I dug a little deeper, I found that there was a family in the group gossiping about us. They’d pull the leader to the side and plant little thoughts into our leader’s head, calling Laura and me into question. And as far as my lack of crying goes…I’m just not a cryer. Not that there’s anything wrong with guys crying…I make fun of those guys, but there’s nothing wrong with it. (that’s a joke…if you’re offended by that, then cry about it and I’ll make fun of you. ) I’m not trying to be uber-tough, it’s just not my personality. But it was the personality of some of the guys in the group, and so, because nobody talked with me about this, space was created for people to think I was masking some deep pain. I wasn’t.
Over time, the leader began to believe the lies. Something that was absolutely benign, that could’ve been handled with one conversation, grew to a point where my wife and I were ready to be done with community. We were soon to move anyway, so we were just ready to check out of small groups altogether. Forever.
So we did. We walked away from this great gift God has given his people.
Until I got a call 2 years later from Grace Community Church to be their small groups pastor. Suddenly, this gift was placed back in my lap, and I had to wrestle through the risk of stepping back in, making myself vulnerable once again. I had to figure out whether I believed that biblical community was a gift…or a weapon. I had to discern if God was calling me to help others experience this weapon-gift or not.
4.5 years later, I can tell you with great certainty that I’ve found an area of life and ministry that I’ll give the rest of my life to promote. “Community” is a value that I hold in high regard. It was through frustration, though, that I found it. Had I not experienced the dark side of community, I wouldn’t value healthy, authentic, biblical community like I do.
Isn’t it funny how God works?
Isn’t it funny how God uses pain and frustration to shape who you’re becoming? How He uses an event or a relationship or a season of life to shake us to our core, and cause us to question so many things. And through that, mold us into who He created us to be.
I’m quick to pray the prayer, “God, please remove this suffering…I don’t like it.” But I have found that prayer, in my life, to be a reflection of an immature side of my faith. Instead, I’ve learned to pray, “God, through this suffering, give me eyes to see what you’re up to.” I wish I could say that my knee-jerk reaction to anything difficult in life is this prayer. Alas, I’m a work in progress.
It’s not wrong to ask God to remove pain. But through pain, don’t miss what God’s teaching you. Don’t miss the bigger picture that He’s up to, and how He’s ready and willing to use your pain to help others. (2 Corinthians 1:3-11)
Don’t waste your pain. Let God use it.
What pain, that you’re experiencing right now, might God be using to shape you into who He created you to be?
What pain, that you’re experiencing right now, might God use to change someone else’s view of life, difficulties, and Jesus?