An introduction…

As a pastor, I would like to take a moment to plead with my fellow pastors and elders. I would like to plead with you on behalf of someone in your congregation that you have not met yet.

And so I would like to introduce you.

In my introduction, I will use “she”, but be assured that this person you haven’t met could very well be a male.

It is true that you might shake her hand every day.

You have probably done the pastoral visit, if you are of the Reformed persuasion. You have most likely taken an elder or a deacon and sat in their living room and asked questions like this:

  • Do you tithe?
  • Do you attend church regularly?
  • Do you have any issues with the leadership?
  • Do you have any unresolved sins in your life?

And she (or he) gave all of the expected answers and you smiled and nodded and said a prayer and ate a cookie and moved to the next house.

But you didn’t meet her.

She might be involved in every good work. She might be the first to volunteer to bring a meal to the shut-ins. She might be the first to be the meal coordinator and refreshment planner for the congregation.

Or she might be one who sits in the back and leaves the minute the service is over.

She might come sporadically. She might be at every service and every prayer meeting.

You might have known of her and seen her in the pews for 25 years.

And now I would like to introduce you to her. It is about time, don’t you think?

She is carrying in her heart an unspeakable burden, which she has never shared with anyone. And she certainly won’t with you.

  • She won’t tell you of the years that her father snuck into her bedroom at night.
  • She won’t tell you of being terrified of her husband.
  • She won’t tell you that she curls into a tight ball and shakes uncontrollably every night.
  • She won’t tell you about how she walks to her car every night with her keys clenched between her fingers, always on hyper-alert.
  • She won’t tell you about the time that dinner was late and her husband screamed at her for hours; or the time that she cried herself asleep because her husband was out all night again.
  • She won’t tell you about that time when she was so afraid she lay in her bed with her clothes on in case she had to run.
  • She won’t tell you about her grandfather’s roaming hands or what she had to do to get that job or why to this day certain songs cause her to break down.

Or perhaps this person you haven’t met yet is a man. He might be an elder, or the leader of the youth group. He might always be there. He might have a wife and kids. He might be single. He might be the first to serve, or the first to leave. He might have been sitting in your congregation for 25 years.

But he also carries around unspeakable burdens that he will never, ever tell anyone.

He especially won’t tell you.

  • He won’t tell you about the time his father took a belt to him until blood ran down his legs.
  • He won’t tell you about his struggles with lust or same sex attraction.
  • He won’t tell you that he is terrified of being known and terrified of being alone all at once.
  • He won’t tell you that his biggest fear is that one day his children will look at him with contempt.
  • He won’t tell you that he fears that his wife will someday find out what he is really like and head for the door.
  • He won’t tell you about Uncle Marty and all of the secrets that they kept; or the overnight scouting trips with Dad’s best friend and all of the dark things that happened in dark rooms with heavy breathing and foul breath and how to this day certain songs and certain smells cause him to panic and curl up in a ball.

And when you read this, you might say, “They should talk to me. They know I’ll listen. There’s no excuse for not talking to the pastor.”

And that is one of the reasons they aren’t going to tell you. They know you wouldn’t understand. They know that you wouldn’t care to understand.

Perhaps they know that you view your congregation as simply a stepping stone in your career. They know that you will only be there are year or two, until something better comes along. You are upwardly mobile, after all. And tiny, rural churches aren’t nearly as significant as big city churches.

Or perhaps they know that you already know everything and they are terrified that you will find out what they are really like. Dirty; outcast; unclean – they aren’t really fit for any company, either God’s or man’s.

And there is a part of them that knows that this is what you will think of them if they tell you who they really are, and they can’t bear that.

Better to keep it buried inside and carry it to the grave.

 

For those who haven’t dismissed everything I’ve said yet – if you truly want to know this person that I am introducing you to, then perhaps you will hear me one more time. I am begging you for the sake of the one you haven’t met yet.

There is a reason why she won’t tell you who she really is. She doesn’t trust you.

There is the obvious reason. She is perhaps afraid that you might gossip. But I think it even goes deeper.

She doesn’t think you can handle the darkness that is inside and know what to do with it.

She thinks that you will respond with revulsion and rejection, and that is what she (or he) can’t bear.

She heard you when you mocked the #metoo movement as a bunch of money-grubbing whiners, or scorned exes.

She heard you when you said, “God hates f**s”.

She heard you when you blamed the rape victim by asking “What was she wearing?” When you preached about dressing like a hooker and inciting men to lust. I don’t know what you meant, but what she heard is that it was her fault that her mom’s boyfriend snuck into her bedroom every night when she was nine years old.

She heard you when you preached about Bathsheba inciting David to take her by bathing on the roof, even though the scripture says no such thing.

She heard you when you preached that a woman’s responsibility is to give great sex on demand so her husband won’t stray. “If he has milk at home, he doesn’t need to go looking.” And she watched everyone chuckling at your wit. And she wondered what was wrong with her that her husband has a new girlfriend every week, and spends every evening with pornography. She tries, but won’t ever measure up.

And she watches you squirm uncomfortable whenever anyone mentions sex. She sees your indignation and fear over cleavage and bare shoulders and exposed knees, and she wonders to herself – if he can’t handle that, then how on earth will he be able to deal with reality?

She hears you when you make your funny, funny jokes from the pulpit about how women are. She sees how you laugh when famous preachers say, “go home.”

She hears the jokes and she sees everyone laughing at it and she dies just a little bit inside.

 

And it isn’t just her. There are also men who will never talk to you about their true struggles.

They hear your contempt about “effeminate” men, and how you praise the hunter and the sportsman and the athlete, and the hardbody, and the one who goes to the gym and works out (like Paul did, you know, when he “beat his body into submission”. Obviously he is talking about crossfit, ancient Sparta style!)

He hears you when you mock the poor, the sick, the lame. He hears when you show so much contempt to the one who “doesn’t keep his woman inline”.

And when you ridicule depression or chronic illness. When you roll your eyes at yet another man who “won’t work, so he shouldn’t eat!” because you have no concept what continual, chronic illness feels like.

Every time you preach on Christian manhood, or testosterone-fueled sanctification, he shrinks a little more inside.

Every time you say, “Men need to man up!” he hears his schoolyard bully, his father’s voice, his old PE coach.

  • “What are you? a girl?”
  • “You’ll make a great wife someday. Hahahahaha”
  • “Quit your bawling, you baby”
  • “Act like a man, you sissy. God hates f**s.”

And so when he hears those voices in you, he shrinks a little more. He might puff out his chest, and laugh along at the poor unfortunate, but inside he vows to himself that he will never, ever, ever speak of the darkest places of his heart.

And for all of these who carry dark recesses in their hearts – they know that Jesus said, “Who touched me” and then listened.

They know that God hears them and that Jesus knows them by name. But how they long to talk to someone! How they fear the loneliness of the dark, but even more than that they fear exposure.

Worm the Judge says, “I sentence you to be exposed before your peers!” and they continue to lay in the curled ball, building the wall around their soul, higher and higher and higher.

And at the same time, they are terrified of dying alone.

And scripture teaches us that Christ came to restore our voice. It is speaking aloud that brings light into the darkness. As long as we stay hidden, the darkness reigns. But speaking into the light is terrifying, especially when they know what you will do with their greatest fears.

 

In Proverbs 31, we read this:

Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die. (Prov. 31:8 NKJ)

The translation doesn’t quite capture it: “Appointed to die”. The NASB says, “The unfortunate”. The ESV, “Destitute”.

The literal is “sons of vanishing”.

Those who have the characteristic of hiding, silently waiting until they can slink away. Those who desperately want to never be known and yet want to be known all at once.

If you have ever seen “The Wall”, you can picture Pinky curled up in a ball on the ground behind the wall. “The son of vanishing”.

And I don’t care if you have a church of 20 people, all of them born and raised in the best tradition – or if you have a church of 300, from every walk of life – up to a mega-church of thousands.

Your congregation is full of sons of vanishing. They are the ones that you so desperately need to meet.

The first step is to acknowledge to yourself that you need to meet them. And then seek to understand the point of view of someone else.

We profess the “Total Depravity of Man” in the creeds of most churches. But do we act like it?

I wonder how often we dismiss the ugly things because we really don’t believe that people are that ugly.

Elie Wiesel remembers that his whole village had plenty of time to leave before the Nazis got there. The Jews could have escaped. They were even warned of the danger by someone who made his way back after seeing first hand what was going on.

But they kept going like they always did, because things like that don’t really happen.

  • “She is just looking for attention”.”
  • “He’s just melodramatic.”
  • “He’s just trying to get clicks on his blog”

At bottom, we confess Total Depravity with our tongues but don’t really believe it. Not us. Not our town. Not our tribe. Not our denomination.

And the child of vanishing in your congregation knows that. You’ve preached on it often enough – the wonders of being Reformed and the horrors of being “other”.

So she will continue to bring meals to the shut ins. He will continue to teach Sunday School. They will put on the happy face and everything will be just fine.

The panic attacks should go away any time now.

The nightmares and cold sweats should stop sometime.

He doesn’t hit me ALL the time…”

If I learn some new tricks and buy some new lingerie maybe I can get him to love me again….

And there may be a part of them that would wonder what it would be like to have a pastor that they could talk to.

Don’t get me wrong. They like you. But they won’t talk to you.

And if you are wondering if this is you, ask yourself – How many children of vanishing have talked to you?

If you don’t know of any in your congregation, then you have your answer.

“Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock?
3 “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.
4 “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.
5 “And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered.
(Ezek. 34:2-5)

If you are a child of vanishing, wishing to remain hidden, I am so sorry. But God did not leave you to hide in the dark.

He calls to you – Come unto me, and I will give you rest.

19 Comments

Filed under Men and women, Pastoral ministry

19 responses to “An introduction…

  1. Annie

    This is excellent. Thank you for writing it. In a future post, would you care to write about the prodigal son? It seems that trauma makes a person stupid and desperation makes a person stupid and it’s very easy to get extremely bad advice and find you’ve fallen off the straight and narrow (or at least feel like that).

    People with hard lives seem to have more understanding and more compassion. Perhaps that is the downfall of privilege and luck, not having much understanding of how things are for many people, thus lacking compassion.

    I remember fearing talking to my pastor about things, showing just how bad things were, making things sound way more nice and pleasant than they were and feeling guilty, as though I was gossiping and being disloyal.

    I saw how one speaker who gave presentations on suicide, and it was a personal thing for the speaker, would invariably have others come up and share their experiences with suicide.

    Same goes for battered women, prostituted women, and raped women. A writer would give speeches and invariably afterwards there’d be woman after woman telling the most horrific stories of their lives.

    But people who have not been directly victimized don’t want to know. They don’t want to bear the burden of knowledge. They don’t want to hear stories that’ll stay with them for good. They don’t want to know.

    As horrible as the Internet is, it does allow you and other pastors and advocates to reach those you’d never otherwise hear from in person.

    • Anu Riley

      I don’t speak for Pastor, of course! I hope it’s okay to pick up on something interesting you said, though:

      “People with hard lives seem to have more understanding and more compassion. Perhaps that is the downfall of privilege and luck”

      I think there is more likelihood that a former or current victim will be prone to be understanding those that have suffered.

      But that doesn’t automatically mean they are trustworthy (by the way, I don’t think you were saying that. I’m simply adding some context to your insight!) OR, that they have a Biblical, Christ-like attitude about unjust suffering.

      Pain can actually harden the heart, not soften it. I’ll speak of my own life to testify to this. Pride and rage can end up blanketing the hurt inside as a form of defense, instead of simply showing those wounds to Christ and letting Him heal you. It’s a form of denial, I think. Once He helped me admit my own frailty, He helped me treat the frailty of others with more respect.

      Sometimes victims might lash out and appear harsh due to triggering, which is separate issue! That’s not denial, however, that’s the sickness that trauma causes.

      Your observation about those who have NOT been victimized reminded of something. It’s a fair insight. But \no matter what, I think every person likely knows someone who has been victimized. They just might not know it. That is not AS personal as if it happened to them, but it’s still dang meaningful.

      I recall a Trump rally where “jokes” were made about an alleged victim, and the crowd roared with laughter. I remember thinking just that—-by proxy, those persons were laughing at the very victims in their own lives, even if they didn’t know it. And more than likely, they’ll never find out after that.

      One the worst parts of abuse is the relational aspect: it’s likely someone you have a relationship with that is hurting you. Understandably, victims might have a hard time forming relationships in general, and for good reason. Pastor’s post graciously acknowledged this.

      You’re not going to risk confiding your deepest, darkest secrets unless you can be fairly sure they will treat them with respect. These are your treasures—not very pretty ones, but very significant to you.

      Best part is He who promises to treat such treasures because we ARE His treasures. When people close their doors, He opens His arms.

      • Annie

        Anu Riley,

        If a person is too traumatized, victimized and desperate, a person might just end up blindly trusting anyone in a position of being a helper or an advocate and it’s extremely brutal and harrowing to have those people betray and prey on you, too.

        So, you speak wise truth that not all who have been victimized are then trustworthy. I thought if one suffered through the horrors of domestic violence themselves, those women would be helpers of other women. Not so. It’s a toss-up.

        And so, ultimately, I find it rare that anyone is trustworthy and those who are are usually decent in the first place. But ignorance plays a part and propaganda plays a part. Myths play a huge part.

        (Paragraph deleted by moderator)

        But I suspect you are a fellow victim and you are trustworthy and you care. I appreciate you speaking about the triggering and rage and anger that comes with extreme, prolonged abuse and how victims can be very hair-trigger. At least that is now my life. It ruins and deforms a person. Gone is the kind, gentle-spirit, happy-go-lucky, positive person. Instead it’s a mangled wreck of a person, constantly in pain, constantly being haunted day and night by past trauma and abuse, plagued with horrific memories that assault a person again and again, and walking a gauntlet of triggers, hoping not to be triggered and lose one’s cool, (or conversely, shut down and go super passive).

        Thankfully we are but foreigners in this demon-controlled world. Someday we will no longer be here on earth, where the devil rules, but rather we’ll have passed through into eternity, spending it in heaven. Thanks be to Jesus! By His blood, we are washed.

      • Dear Annie
        As the moderator, I agree wholeheartedly with the paragraph I deleted. I have written similar things before.
        But as soon as you mention anything political, the ugly trolls come out, the subject is immediately changed to the partisan shouting points.
        So I deleted that paragraph for that reason. I try on this blog to get to the heart of the issue and attempt to be heard by as many as will listen. Politics seems to cloud the issues.

        I also am leaving this week for church meetings, and won’t be able to monitor all of the ugly that would be sure to follow.
        Thank you so much for your comments.
        And i agree 100%

      • Anu Riley

        Pastor I apologize for bringing up Trump’s rally—I have a hard time knowing exactly when and NOT when it’s appropriate to bring such things up. I almost described it simply as a “venue” versus a political rally, but I wanted to point out the size and significance of where those “jokes” were made. I’ll try to be more careful in the future.

        Annie, thank you SO much for the gracious reply. I tip toed as best I could to make sure I communicated properly.

        You brought up SUCH good points, sad though as they are:

        “I thought if one suffered through the horrors of domestic violence themselves, those women would be helpers of other women.”

        It’s common for victims to be told to forget about the abuse, don’t take it too seriously or too personally, forgive and forget AND most of all—don’t talk about it “so much” (whatever that means). Sometimes I wonder if that is why victims, who are in a unique position to bond and bless one another, may end up hiding and hurting one another instead.

        “I find it rare that anyone is trustworthy and those who are are usually decent in the first place.”

        I’ve noticed that personal trauma or crisis tends to expose what those around us are really like. I admit I’ve felt a bit envious of those who claim their loved ones remained loyal and loving. I tended to find out the exact opposite! I try not to let that consume me, and I also ask the Lord to help me BE the person that I wished others had been to me.

        “It ruins and deforms a person.”

        Well, that sums it up right there. I don’t think anyone could have said it better :-(. I will be praying for you, and thank you again for your wise words.

      • And now you caught me with a confession – I didn’t catch YOUR Trump reference. I sometimes only have time to skim.
        but on the plus side, I usually trust your statements and so I approve them even when I don’t have time to read them thoroughly.

      • Anu Riley

        Thank you Pastor and again, I’ll try to catch myself next time. Tried to just volunteer the info about the rally without making it the point of the comment, which it wasn’t meant to be. No one seemed to latch onto it so that’s good!

      • Annie

        Dear Pastor,

        (comment not published at request of Annie)

        Thank-you,
        Annie

      • I don’t know how to reply without approving the comment, so i simply edited it so I could reply.
        I am very much in agreement. Sometimes the ugly gets overwhelming, so I save my views for more private forums.
        I also, as a pastor, don’t want something as trivial and fleeting as politics to get in the way of the beauty and permanency and goodness of the Kingdom of God.

        The Kingdom of God and the USA are not at all the same thing, as much as I seek to be a good citizen. The kingdoms of this earth are fleeting, vain, and incapable of giving us what our hearts long for the most.
        I try to remember always that I am an ambassador for another King, and another kingdom. I don’t see how I can be the ambassador for the gospel of Christ and a shill for a politician at the same time, and I find it shameful that we expect our pastors to “endorse” candidates. Ugh.

  2. Just beautiful, Sam. You’ve totally nailed it. Soon as I stop crying, I’ll share your words.

  3. Pingback: “An Introduction” | See, there's this thing called biology...

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is not just congregants who are sons of vanishing. Some of us as pastors have spent time being invisible men and women as well.

  5. I’e never seen this addressed before,but I sure identify with what you’re saying. Thank you.

  6. Walt

    Great post.

    I shared problems with a TE and a RE one time and decided I was probably never going to do that again. When they later came for the one elder visit I’ve received as a Calvinist in 20 years of being one, I answered the questions exactly as you described. I also have a chronic condition and don’t bring it up with any of the elders because it just provokes frustrated looks.

    Not having been raised in a Calvinist denomination, I’ve started to notice that all the children who grew up in Calvinist churches I’ve attended have left Calvinism in adulthood. Usually, it seems, they left Christianity altogether. I suppose this isn’t unique to Calvinism, but it does make you wonder why Calvinists don’t have better results than Evangelicals.

    Sons of vanishing, indeed. I wonder if I’m going to have to emigrate to another country to find the church pretty soon. I’m not actually joking. I suppose I’m acting like Elishah with this, “Woe is me! I’m the only one left!” but the American church seems to be shrinking rapidly and none of its leaders seem to be seriously tryign to figure out why.

  7. IVAN NOLT

    The Bible clearly says David was on the roof top and saw Bathsheba bathing, whether or not she intended we do not know,

    • Yes. It says, as I said, that HE was on the roof. It also says that she was doing the ritual cleansing prescribed in the law after her menstrual cycle. It doesn’t say she was taking a bath in the nude on the roof in order to catch the attention of the king. Quite the opposite.
      She, most likely, would have been in the courtyard after her family was asleep. It would be the only private place.
      Nathan compares her to the innocent lamb, not a co-conspirator in adultery, but a lamb taken and devoured.
      We have to let God tell us what he wishes to tell us, not read into it what we want to read into it.
      Nathan’s parable explains everything that God would have us to know.
      Bathsheba – innocent, lamb, victim, prey
      David – guilty, rich man, powerful, predator.

      That’s all we need to know.
      My only point is that every single time we seek to make Bathsheba even partially guilty in her assault, we do two things: One, we misuse the scripture. two, we assume that God is wrong, that Nathan got it mixed up, and we know better.
      And three, we make sure that every single young woman in our congregation who has been molested by someone powerful never, EVER speaks to us about anything, ever.
      But, hey. that might be the goal of those guys. Not to be bothered by those “whiners” anyway. They’re women. What do they matter?
      And if that is truly the motive, Jesus strongly warned them something about millstones….

      • Anu Riley

        Nathan’s parable is one of the most agonizing ones I’ve ever read. Knowing and understanding that he was speaking from the Lord’s heart, saying the words He led him to say—is crucial to keep in mind.

        Nathan’s voice was the one audibly heard by David, but it was His voice that David actually heard. Otherwise, I wonder if David would have repented. You don’t repent because a person told you to.

        The casual cruelty of that parable is what stays with me. When David looked in a “spiritual” mirror via that parable, he finally saw what He saw. And as Pastor made it clear, it had nothing to with any fault of Bathsheba.

        Pastor’s insight about the total depravity of man stayed with me. It tends to be viewed as a one way deal: our sins are between us and the Lord. When we sin against Him, there is no way to accuse Him of any fault on His part. To dare to imply otherwise taints His perfect holiness.

        That’s valid, by the way! But it goes deeper than that. What about the sins that we commit towards each other? It’s not so easy to claim the victimized party is not at fault, not even one little bit, because they are not perfect and holy like He is.

        The fact that Bathsheba bathed and—-motives notwithstanding—got noticed, is usually enough to at LEAST assign a just a BIT of fault to her. It’s just enough to cast what might be called “reasonable doubt” and just slightly minimize David’s sin as a result.

        It’s unfair and unjust to do that because that is obviously not how the Lord saw it.

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