By Dee Ann Billings
On a recent night I got a glimmer of what a church would be like if Jesus were here in the flesh sitting amongst us. We often refer to Jesus as the giver of freedom—freedom from our sins and freedom from our pain. Unfortunately, the church oftentimes has become the opposite of that.
That night was the first of a six-week Bible study called “In the Middle of the Mess.” We opened the class to the community, knowing there were hurting and struggling women who needed freedom from their pain.
But we didn’t expect a roster of 71 women to sign-up to attend the class. We started with a 20-minute video that clearly communicated we were embarking on an emotional journey. At the conclusion of the video, we broke up into three smaller groups for discussion.
When talking about personal struggles in a church setting, there’s typically an understood invisible line most women won’t cross. I’m talking about the line where if you do cross it and lay it all out there, people start to look at you differently and then you regret having said anything at all.
That wasn’t the case this time. We were in a room full of strangers and women were pouring out their sorrows and deepest, darkest shame. It was almost like they were running—not walking—to the feet of Jesus.
When Jesus walked on this earth, people who were suffering and in pain would run to him and push their way through the crowds in hopes they might be healed of whatever torment they were living in. But that isn’t something we see very often in our churches today. People don’t openly talk about suicidal ideations. People don’t openly talk about abuse and addiction. They don’t talk about battling with pornography. And they certainly don’t express such thoughts as “Does Jesus really love me?” and “I don’t know if I can trust God.” But we had all of that on night one of the Bible study. We had raw, emotional, heart-wrenching brokenness displayed and then laid down unashamed at the mercy of Jesus’ feet.
This is what our churches need to be. Churches need to be free hospitals for the severely sick, not elite clubs where you have to wait outside until someone lets you in if you “meet the cut.” Jesus tells us to bring every single thing to him. He says to cast our sorrows upon him. He tells us he didn’t come for people who are well, but for the sick and brokenhearted. But is that what our churches emulate? Is that what we, as Christians, emulate? We live in a time when churches don’t even want to do biblical counseling—instead, they want to find someone else to whom they can refer their people. We need to be the church God called us to be. We need to be the true representation of Jesus . . . and not our revised rendition.
At our first-night gathering, I got to see something I’ve never seen before. I got to see people in a church, many of them strangers, bravely putting themselves out there and starting their path to healing. And it all started by speaking the truth so they didn’t have to pretend anymore.
My prayer for our churches is that we can all stop pretending, and that we can start living out loud without shame and condemnation. My prayer is that we can embrace the messy, muddy, complicated, in-the-trenches life that God desires us to live. My prayer is that we would be unashamed—that we would make the cross fully and freely available, and not an obstacle course to get through. My prayer is that we become more like Jesus.
Dee Ann Billings is a business owner, wife, mother of four children, and a volunteer outreach coordinator with Copper Creek Christian Church in Maryville, Illinois. This essay is adapted from a Facebook post.