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.
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.