I thought I might be able to concentrate better without the weekend chores calling out to me from the laundry room and kitchen, so I went to a coffee shop nearby. This particular coffee shop is one of those little makeshift, strip mall, four-tables, spots.
I purchased a beverage, the charge for plugging in my laptop and sitting my patootie in their big fluffy chair for a few hours. I’d not been there before, and until I walked in, I didn’t know they were associated with a church in town. They had information posted on mission trips and how a percentage of your coffee purchase goes to helping folks. My “I-just-spent-$4.90-on-a-beverage-in-a-paper-cup” shame was assuaged a bit.
There was one other fella in the place. He was zoned out in a book in the only other big chair. He looked to be in his late teens or early twenties. That was the extent of my “people watching” until another lady walked in. She was probably in her late 30s.
She pulled a chair from one of the tables next to him. As I caught the beginning of their chat, it seemed they knew each other well. I had them tuned out before I took another sip.
Until she started explaining all the things God told her to tell him and all the ways he should behave or not behave. The relationship appeared to be some kind of mentor/mentee situation. The tone was part kindness and part condescension.
She seemed to show care mixed with disdain. Her way of saying, “God showed me this or that,” and, “You should do this or that,” was a bit confusing considering the angry tone she used through her smile. The incongruence in her manner was painful to observe. The most difficult aspect of this encounter was that this young man barely said a word.
The conversation was coated in, “Don’t you see how much I know, I mean care?”…
The truth is, I don’t know this woman, or the situation. And, it’s really not about her, it’s about the spiritual hogwash that trickles down when we control another out of our own pain and use God’s name to do it. It’s about spiritual abuse under the guise of love. It’s about being so wrapped up in an agenda that we stop listening for an invitation from a hurting heart and barge in unwelcomed to create more damage.
That condescending, know-it-all tone crushes hope. The tone that says, “I care, but don’t ever forget you’re nothing without me.” The one that says, “of course I’m safe, but don’t ever question me.” The tone that says, “I love you, but don’t think differently than me.”
Stir up that kind of spiritual care with sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, and you’ve got yourself an amazingly strong cocktail of control and manipulation.
Now, I understand that mentoring can be an essential, spiritual discipleship with the potential to change lives. I understand how powerful sharing your experience with safe people can be. But when the so-called care comes from a place of hidden fear within the giver, it is, more often than not, damaging to the receiver.
The individual on the receiving end of the “all-knowing voice of truth” quickly loses an innate, authentic, spiritual compass. The truth of love and its message gets lost.
It took everything I had not to jump in to defend this young man. I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that kind of message, and I could feel my insides shaking as I was vividly reminded what it feels like to be trapped by another person’s controlling agenda in the name of God. Focusing on what we believe is broken in others is like a drug. It numbs us to our own brokenness.
As I steadied myself, I was reminded that this woman has a story. Somewhere she learned that using the name of God as a weapon to control was acceptable. As I listened, my heart began to break for her. It is a painful existence to have to put other people in their place in order to feel safe. When we use the all-knowing tone to create a sense of authority, it isolates us and gives us a false sense of protection. It not only keeps others from knowing your truest heart, but also yourself.
In my life, I have been that young man and I have been that woman. Both positions are painful and lonely and desperate. I have been put upon and I have been the one placing the spiritual chains upon others. Both positions hamper hope and healing.
What I put together is that the young man in the coffee shop that day needed to be heard, loved, seen, and understood.
Or, maybe that’s what I needed that day… Anyway…
Compassion coupled with vulnerability creates courage for change.
May we have courage enough to view others in the context of their story and through the lens of compassion. And, may we be willing to see the truth of our own brokenness in order to listen and speak with genuine love.