Judson's Legacy

Happy Shiny People

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An unexpected outcome on this journey of loss is that I have been exposed to the brokenness of people’s lives in a manner I would never have been let in before (and likely did not have eyes to see or understand previously).  People are honoring me with the rare opportunity to peek into their pain—I consider it a gift!

But what I am wondering, as I hear the heartache of souls, is how well has the American evangelical Church been helping people deal with the hurts and challenges that exists in their lives.  Have we perpetuated a perception that true faith is void of pain?  In effect, are we leading people to believe that Christianity requires the denial of personal heartache?

To quote the movie The Princess Bride, “Life is pain.”  Of course, we know that life is not all pain, but to deny pain is to deny reality.

We have a friend who grew up in the Church, even studied in college to be a youth pastor, but now describes evangelicals as “happy, shiny” people who are not willing to grapple with the harsh realities of living in this world.  He recalls circumstances where he observed how the external Christian persona of people he has known, clearly did not jive with their bleeding soul beneath.  With this perception, he is, understandably, disillusioned with Christian culture. 

Fortunately, I know many believers who do not even remotely fall into the “happy, shiny” category, but is the Church, in general, somehow fostering a disconnect from our espoused beliefs and our difficult emotions?  Are we not equipping people who embrace the Truth of God (and I do use Truth with a capital “T”) to genuinely feel the many tensions of those Truths that challenge their painful experiences?

If this is the case, then Christianity could become totally unattractive to a broken world crying out for genuine, authentic living.  People are struggling, people are hurting, people are broken, and the Church should be a place of freedom and safety for our difficult emotions, not a place that stifles, squelches, or inadvertently teaches us to hide them.  It appears we may need to do a better job of allowing people to deeply struggle, without feeling it as a threat to genuine faith, and then helping them reconcile the pain in their hearts with the many promises of God.

“Life is pain,” and The Princess Bride quote continues, “And anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”

If believers are actually masking their pains with Christianese or appearing to simply be “happy and shiny” without genuinely engaging their struggles, no wonder we seem to be losing relevance in the world.  Furthermore, if this is the case, people who have been raised in evangelical churches and grown up in the Christian culture may not be getting the tools to connect their faith to the emotional challenges they face, so the storms of life may breed disillusionment.

On my own journey of pain, one of the greatest reasons my faith has survived is the space I have found to wrestle deeply with the very real tensions that exist between God’s promises and my life experience.  I hope Christians can grow in helping hurting people feel the same freedom.

11 Responses to "Happy Shiny People"

  1. Dorci says:

    Christina, this is something I have personally grappled with for the past 5 years. I began to have health issue after health issue, with no answers in sight, and along with the disillusionment I began to have with the medical profession, and an uphill battle with a new perspective of God, I also wrestled with the fact that in the church where I had served in a very large capacity for about 15 years, no one seemed to care. These are people I have been very close with, served with, loved. In the first days and even weeks of my..whatever it is..people asked, people prayed. But as the weeks and then months and now years have passed, the pervading attitude is that I should just get better already. I have gone through degrees of depression, including various levels of contemplating suicide, but I still walk this journey alone, except for my God, of course. My relationship with Him has come out on this side of my trial shining brighter than ever before. And as I have struggled to forgive my friends, I realize that even though many of them are considered mature in their faith, they are still human. I have come to understand that they may not have suffered in a way that would allow them to understand the need for compassion. But I have, and you have. And it’s people like us who need to show them the way of real love. We need to reach out,in the love of Christ, to others who are hurting and show the church how to put feet to their faith – a phrase I seem to be using a lot lately. Yes, there is pressure to be a "happy, shiny person." To put on a smile and not visit your pain on other’s happy lives. But God knows our pain. And He will use it for good. Maybe part of that good is to help put the church back on the path of real, sacrificial others-centered love.
    God bless you!
    Dorci

  2. Lisa says:

    Hi Christina,
    It was good to see you, Drake

  3. 79083 says:

    Since the death of our youngest son, Kevin, 7 years ago, I have spent much time in prayer, reflection and observation of people in America both from a cultural and churched vantage point concerning how we flesh out suffering and pain and typically respond to the pain and suffering of others. And, along the way I have met and interacted with many "happy, shiny people" who appear to know nothing about embracing the pain of loss.

    It seems to me that before the Church/Body of Jesus Christ can truly understand and care about the pain of others, one must suffer and embrace the pain of loss for themselves. And, in embracing the pain, one must also receive a measure of God’s unfailing love, mercy, comfort, hope and encouragement before the comfort of others can truly be accepted and realized.

    I have come to believe that until the members of the Body of Christ, the Church, personally walk down the Villa de la Rosa (the way of suffering) themselves and experience the real presence of Christ within the suffering, how can anyone truly understand or be transformed into the likeness of Christ, the One who is true comfort, hope and encouragement AND who "gives beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that we might be called, trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that He might be glorified." Isaiah 61:3

    Many Christians today want to be and strive to be "happy, shiny people" because they perhaps don’t want to give the wrong impression about God and His saving grace. But, that’s just so sad and disturbing, because we know that "in our weakness, He is strong" and so who ultimately gets the glory when we just live our lives as "happy, shiny people" without substance or our own story of comfort and grace to share with others who might need to hear from us.

    I have found that unless mercy and comfort are ministered to us, how can we minister these gifts of the Holy Spirit within the Church? Some within our Churches gave their lives to Jesus because of their pain and brokenness, others want "fire insurance" to keep them from Hell, and too many want to be justified and sanctified without having to experience the "refiners fire." And, haven’t we been taught since Sunday School – – that "if we’re happy and we know it – show it?" But, how many of us know the difference between happiness and true joy that only comes from God, because of His GREAT EXCHANGE!" Isaiah 61:3

    I’m not very hard on the organized Church, because I have realized that we cannot teach others what they have not yet experienced. We can raise the level of awareness, but it is only by and through the Holy Spirit that people’s hearts and lives are transformed. Since Kevin’s death, I am more understanding and less judgmental than I once was, because I have suffered and received God’s mercy, comfort and grace in a profound way, and now I believe I better understand that is fear that keeps people from embracing others pain and suffering – brings them too close to their own suffering and pain or too close to the fear that they be next on God’s agenda.

    If God isn’t pleased with the "happy, shiny people" in His Church, surely He will rock the foundations and stir the spiritual pot – – these are definitely His responsibilities and He’s sooo good at refinement. May God continue to enlighten, refine and transform us, as He ministers His unfailing love, mercy and comfort – – I’m certainly not one of those "happy, shiny people" anymore, but I’m hoping He will minister His joy to me in such a way that I will shine with His love and that light will be a beacon for others who have suffered and accepted His GREAT EXCHANGE! Now, that’s something to really be happy about! And, may our armors be shiny and clean, too! There’s a new idea of what it might mean to be "happy, shiny people" of God!
    Love in Christ, Angie
    Love in Christ, Angie

  4. jen says:

    Our pastor spoke on basically this same subject a couple of weeks ago…Wow! I do, very much, agree with you dear friend. I have seen way to many people who have "grown up" in the church only to have left once they have experienced deep hurt/pain/heartache/etc., which sometimes leads to doubt. Suffering and doubt are often viewed as taboo by many in the church. We have been scorned b/c of our suffering and doubt by fellow believers (fortunately we have since found a church family that is more supportive). It is comforting to remember that doubt is not the opposite of faith. They work together.
    From what I have noticed through my journey of suffering is that most "Christians" do not know how to respond when someone else is hurting if they have not experienced some form of suffering themselves. Funny though, the people who seemed to be the most supportive were those not having a relationship with God or those who had experienced suffering. It does, if fact, say something very profound about the American evangelical church…and I’m afraid it’s not good.

  5. Marilyn says:

    WHOA!!! AMEN FOR TELLING IT LIKE IT IS! CERTAINLY NOT 100% BUT SADLY CLOSE ๐Ÿ™ AND AWESOME WELL EXPRESSED COMMENTS!!!

  6. Marissa says:

    Sent you an email ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Audrey Lacanienta says:

    Christina,
    Truly this is a well-stated behavior of the Church and believers. Being real with sorrows and pain, bringing our broken selves before the Lord, non-judgmentally allowing other hurting believers to work out their faith with supportive love, and just being able to wrestle like Jacob with our faith, is part of the maturing process. You so beautifully teach me with your words and your example.
    Love in Jesus,
    Audrey

  8. Rebecca says:

    Dear Christina,

    A sweet friend at home on furlough sent me a link to your blog when she learned I had lost our baby at 19 weeks.

    I have had many offers and referrals to talk to someone or read something but the day I read your thoughts I felt a kindredness to you.

    I too have found an unexpected gift in this loss and in a marriage that is deeply troubled. As I have shared my story, others have revealed theirs and the blessing of true community has been found. Oddly, the depth of relationship I have longed for did not come from what I had to offer, but in receiving. However, I could only do that by being transparent.

    Thank you for your transparency. For being honest. It is refreshing and healing and hopeful and real and it brings true life to the body of Christ.

    Rebecca

  9. General Crumbs says:

    As a person who grew up in the church and studied to be a youth pastor I too have grappled with the unfortunate reality that Church goers tend to foster a "everything is great" persona. Happy Shiny People holding hands. For years this made me angry, because it is not what I experienced. I often questioned my "Christianity" because I didn’t "feel" what I was being presented with….MASKS!

    However, I have acknowledged and come to accept that Christian or not, we cannot go around "bleeding" all over the place. People do not know how to handle this AND it opens the door to our weaknesses, which some people will use for their advantage. So masks, unfortunately, are necessary thereby creating the Happy Shiny effect.

    As a side note, I think this "covering up" who we are, is an interesting phenomena. What is it about people, Christian or not, that compel them to cover up the broken parts of who they are and or the pain they may be experiencing?

    Anyway, the frustrating part about "masks," especially in the church, is that there doesn’t seem to be enough opportunities for us to remove them. Unfortunately, I have experienced masks in both small groups and in one-on-one situations. We are so good at wearing our masks that we forget when to take them off. We are guilty of wearing our masks more than we should. Where are the safe places?

    Most Christians can admit they are sinners, but ask a Christian to actually witness their friend in the middle of sinning…. it just doesn’t go over very well. Many Christians do not know how to handle this situation; we do not have the proper tools. So what do we do? From what I’ve experienced, usually something that is less than helpful. So, naturally people put on masks to save themselves from having to experience these unhelpful moments. Interestingly enough, like someone else shared, many non-Christians seem to handle these situations better. Something is getting inappropriately taught to us Christians! Where, Why and How?!

    Christians need a refresher course on the plain fact that we are broken people and should expect to see brokenness. We need constant reminders that our fellow brothers and sisters are going to…. well, sin. We need taught how to handle these situations. Sure, encourage each other to greater things, but let?s not be surprised when we see our fellow believers do things they shouldn’t. Isn’t this why Jesus died for us?

    Despite the fact that we cannot go around "bleeding" all over the place, the Church should at least be a place where we can show our wounds. In the meantime, I will work on my judgmental attitude of those Happy Shiny people, for they know not what they do. ๐Ÿ˜›

  10. debbie mceachern says:

    Amen and Amen ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Laura says:

    Hi there:

    I have been reading your blog after seeing a movie about your son Judson. I am sure you miss that precious boy every day. My prayers go out to you and your family. Children are precious.

    I wanted to comment on what you said about happy faces. I guess that is the reason why I don’t attend church very much anymore. I just felt that I had to wear a mask there when what I really wanted to do was poor out my heart and ask for God’s peace and among other like-minded believers who could relate. I do find time to pray and ask for guidance from the Lord. I just found your words hit my heart strings. I couldn’t quite put in words what you did, refering to being a Christian and not experiencing loss and pain. I too have experienced this in different ways, but still have felt alone many times because there was no one in the Christian realm to talk to. I guess that is when you see God show Himself all the more. ๐Ÿ™‚ He understands.

    Anyways, I was really blessed by your story and your little girl is very precious. I see Judson in her smile and she has a certain look that is just like his. You are very brave and strong and I thank the Lord that I was able to see this tonight.

    Believe me, what you are doing here is making a difference.

    God Bless you,

    Laura

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