Family life is full of messes, disappointments, and irritations. These are all part of living in a loving family filled with flawed people. This is also true of the family of God. This past week, those of us at Heartlight experienced the broad range of "family-mess" and "family-ness."
Several weeks ago, we decided to try an information note at the top of several of our emails. Some of the information was about a set of devotionals that had been put into a book and released because many had requested this over the years. Other information was about new things or special resources we had on our range of sites. A few of the days had ads. Wow! We got a few emails back that were really unkind, ugly, and hostile. Some were kind and questioned why we were doing this, but these others were filled with shame-based language and questioned our motives.
Well, we've removed the information note from the regular rotation and will only use them for very special reasons in the future. However, the real issue has to do with the ugly and hurtful language used by some in the Christian community. For a staff of four part-time folks who all work other jobs so they continue the ministry to provide these resources free of charge, these emails were pretty hurtful and discouraging. I was reminded of something that I have repeatedly been told by wait staff at restaurants about the Sunday church-going crowd — we are considered the rudest, most demanding, least kind, and lowest tipping group of the week.
Family life at any level is sometimes messy. This is also true in the family of God. Some people have bad days and off days. Others don't seem to think through what they write in their emails — my wife handles a lot of the email correspondence for all of our mailing lists and she is sometimes absolutely blown away at the ugliness and even profanity used in some of the messages she receives. Yet in the grand scheme of things, twelve to fifteen ugly notes out of 210,000 daily emails sent is not much of a negative. And, there are those other messages that simply fill our hearts to the point of bursting with humble joy. Thankfully, the latter list outnumbers the former list!
This past Saturday, we received a message that reminded us why we do what we do. A person in recovery since the 80's was struggling to hang on to sobriety. She had faced a number of huge losses since committing her life to ministry. She was discouraged and was simply doing a search for a quote and came across some of our material. She emailed and thanked us for being there. She requested that she be added to some of our mailing lists. A simple response to her with a favorite poem attached brought one of the sweetest, most heartfelt notes we have ever received. She let us know that God had used us to be there for her when she needed it most. Ah! That's why we do this. Yes, indeed.
Why do I share this with you?
Well, first, I think it is sometimes good to let you know a little bit of what is going on in the Heartlight.org ministry and in our hearts. Yes, our hearts get hurt and broken when folks say and do ugly things or presume we have some false motives or pretenses in why we do it. At the same time, our hearts are regularly blessed and encouraged by the overflow of kind notes we receive from people God blesses through our efforts. Like any ministry, web ministry has its wounds and rewards. In the end, we want to be found faithful by the Lord and helpful to his people.
Mainly, however, I wanted to remind all of us in ministry that we live and serve an imperfect family made up of mostly very good folks who sometimes have bad days. So many people use the excuse of imperfect and unkind folks in the family of God as their reason for giving up on church. Even leaders can sometimes grow very bitter for what they consider mistreatment for the service they offer to those who only have criticism, sarcasm, and gossip to offer them in return. Neither of these responses is helpful or appropriate.
As much as we want others to follow the example of Christ in the way they speak and act toward us, we must also remember that we are called to handle hurtful things the same way Jesus did. His ultimate words in return for ridicule, shame, degradation, and torture were these: "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
Rather than getting even or giving up, Jesus chose to share grace and offer his personal sacrifice. Can we as leaders expect more of others than Jesus received and accept less of ourselves than Jesus gave? I think not, at least as long as we share a family as imperfect as the person we see in the mirror each day.