Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Don't Need Fixing

I'm not sure whether or not I will post this. I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but I had an encounter which has left me reeling -REELING - and apparently, I can't let it go until I write it out.

I recently joined a Bible study at a church in our community. I love the Bible, and since hearing Beth Moore speak last April, I have wanted to join a study of one of her books. I read one of them after hearing her speak, and loved it; the next step was to study a book in community.

If you're a regular reader here, you will know that I was raised in Christian Science, and later, baptized in the Presbyterian church, along with my children. You will know that I loved and served that church in various capacities (Deacon, Stephen Minister, LOGOS) while being lovingly ministered to through its sermons, Lectionary class, women's retreats, etc. My children attended the Sunday School and LOGOS program. We were an active part of the community. When Katie was diagnosed, that community surrounded us with love, prayer and every kind of care. I will be grateful to that church forever.

If you read along from the start here, you may recall that while we were in Seattle for Katie's cancer treatment, an interim pastor gained a foothold in our church and changed the theological stance. Whatever happened, I was not present for it, but the end result was that she drove out about 2/3 of the congregation. This church had something like 600 members, and in an "unchurched" state (apparently, Washington is low on church attendance), that is a big deal. It's a big deal in any case, but think about the impact here, in a small community.

Some of those who left now attend other churches, but some, like me, don't feel they have a church "home" now, and don't have the energy to re-start that search. I've done that several times in my life. My husband (though baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran) does not want to attend. I haven't withdrawn my membership yet, but can't seem to return, so I have been seeking a mid-week Bible study and/or worship service that would meet my need for being in the Word, and might bring praise to God through worship and sharing in community.

I attended one that I liked right away, but found the Bible study to be less in-depth than what I was seeking. Then I found a Beth Moore study nearby, and signed up for it.

The first week, one woman noticed that there were newcomers and said, "The natural first question is, Which of our services do you attend?" I replied, "The answer is: None. Do you have a second question?" I was surprised that this was the first question.

I got over that, and returned the following week. That day, we broke into small groups and were asked to discuss the impact of the week's lesson on us. Two people spoke, and then it was my turn. I shared what was in my heart. Everyone listened kindly.

After class, a nice lady came up to me and said, in essence, "I noticed you were tearing up when you spoke [I wasn't, but that isn't the main point]. There is a place where you can go for healing prayer near here. They have the gift of healing and could help you."

I was shocked, and truly mystified by this suggestion. What if I was crying? I wasn't, but what if I had been? In the community of Christ, where I do tend to cry during worship music, I should be safe to let whatever comes, come. Why would tears over the death of my daughter be a reason to go someplace else for healing prayer? It is natural to cry! Katie is gone and not coming back here; I have to wait, in hope and faith, to see her again. That's a tall assignment. Why would tears - a natural expression of missing her - be something to "heal?" I will never stop missing her until I can wrap my arms around her again - I'm her MOTHER!

This set me back at least four years in my social interaction journey. I left that place feeling hurt and unsafe, though I believe this woman's motivations were all good and kind. However, she mentioned that God had healed her of cancer twice, and that she believed that He did so to prove His love for her. If you follow that kind of reasoning out to its conclusion, what does that say about Katie? About us? Would you pray to such a God for the healing of tears?

I recalled with gratitude how my spiritual director would teach her groups to allow each person to have her own space and feelings, and never to try to jump in or "fix" each other.

Gregg and I discussed how I could approach such interactions in the future. I need to learn to smile and say, "Thank you," and walk away. I am going to return to Bible study, and forgive this dear woman for this painful interchange and her misguided suggestion. I wasn't crying, but I felt like doing so after she finished with me. What are people thinking when they make assumptions and say such things? Do my strong emotions make you squirm? What does that say about me? What does that say about you?

Please don't try to "fix" me, or anyone else.


christine said...

Great words!!! It is too bad we have often lost the ability to listen and just be present to hear. I have experienced these types of events too and the challenge is to not let it turn me over and take me out. I hear you-I see you--and I think your words from your heart are beautiful...just so soft and full of love and life. Thank you for even writing this--it brings words to the journey I have experienced and not written into sentences. You are a jewel...

Elizabeth said...

Sigh. I understand Karen. I think I understand. For me, the loneliest I've ever felt was in intense "communal" spiritual places.

I do hope you find a place that appreciates what you have to offer, that makes you feel open and authentic and honest and challenged. I believe your instincts are profoundly strong and you should honor them.

Sheri said...

My sweet, precious friend in strength and grief,

I have encountered this too many times to count and find myself what it says about ME that I am relieved to hear you have encountered it too and reacted much the same as I do. I feel it like a blow, the indignity of implying God picks and chooses who is "saved" from suffering, grief, anguish, death based on some unseen, unmeasurable outpouring of need/faith/love/belief heard on the whispers and cries of one person's prayers over another's.

You know well this is not the God of our hearts. It is a sad, lonely truth that those of us who have wandered the forest of loss are called upon to stretch a sorrowful grace into the holes left by those who deny us. We cannot be "healed" of this emptiness and would not choose to be if we could.

I am sorry they hurt you and in the name of One you turn to for comfort. You are far enough in this now to know His voice and to feel the dissonance of their ignorance when compared to that all encompassing wisdom. We are called upon to forgive as one forgives children for simply stepping on toes in their chaotic, wandering eagerness to interact. They do not, can not know what we know.

I wish I could join you in a bible study. I think I am ready for something like that now, at least moreso than I had been. Since we are not geographically close, I simply offer you the softness of my heart for you and to let you know I hear, understand and do not judge you harshly at all. You are a vessel of knowledge that comes at a high price. Few recieve this knowledge and even fewer would choose to obtain it if they could. It sets us apart, those of us who hold this unwilling wisdom. It makes the ignorance of others garish and unkind.

I pray you are enveloped with grace today. I wish we could do lunch, listen to music, pet the cats and wander together. I have not "talked" much lately, but I am always fond of you and often thinking of you and of Katie. Hugs and kisses sent to you on love and light.

Maggie World said...

Hello, I'm here via Elizabeth and, like her, am a mom to a teenager with disabilities and a lot of special health care needs. I have to deal with well meaning but off base comments all the time.

I am not in your situation and cannot imagine the difference. I believe when someone says something to you in kindness that is actually hurtful it is ok to tell them. I think a comment like deserves a "Thank you but I don't need fixing" response. Or crying is natural or any of the other correct things you said in your post.

And it's galling that she said she was cured because of her faith. Galling.

Peace to you. I hope you find your church home. And that this particular woman is not in it. I'm sure she had good intentions, but as the saying goes, The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Noan said...

The ability to listen attentively is truly a measure of our own inner peace, don’t you think? I think your situation probably frightened that woman -- threatened her storyline. When people say things like that to me I am reminded of the small shivering bunnies in my yard -- frozen in place, hoping to avoid a predator. I am sure if asked, this woman would say- and believe- her intent is to be helpful. But I suspect her words are motivated by fear more than compassion. As Jack Kornfield wrote: True spirituality is not a defense against the uncertainties, pain, and danger in life, not an “inoculation, “ as Joseph Campbell called popular religion, to avoid the unknown. It is an opening to the entire mysterious process of life.

Thank you for your post - for your wise questions and honest sharing.

Trueda said...


Thank you for such a heart-felt and courageous post! I'm sorry you had this experience, and in a church setting no less. I have had similar experiences and they are like a swift punch in the gut, and hard to get over. (I also am church homeless at the moment.)

Some people just don't get it. You'd think that this woman, having gone through cancer twice, would have more of a clue, but apparently not. I try to remember that God alone is "God" and that the Bible tells us God is love. It's my place to love/stand beside people, not judge and attempt to fix them. Any "fixing" that needs to be done would only be messed up by my interventions - clueless as I am!

I commend you on your forgiveness and determination to return to the Bible study. May God hold you close in his arms.


Sue Palmer said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sorry for the hurt that people can inflict through their thoughtless words.

I pray that you will soon find a warm Christian community where you feel spiritually at home.

Peace and grace to you.

Busy Bee Suz said... This was a lot to take in. I am appalled at this person saying that to you, but then I wonder if she realized exactly what she was saying? Who knows what she was thinking?!?
I agree with the above commenters....seems they are dead on with advice. Me? Don't listen to me. But I'm glad you shared this Karen.
Thinking of you,

Daisy said...

"that God had healed her of cancer twice, and that she believed that He did so to prove His love for her."

Makes me want to scream but I settled for just shaking my head.

Anonymous said...

Karen, thank you for sharing this. I'm so sorry that you were made to feel this way. No doubt, the woman was misguided, and didn't intend the harm she caused, but still seems a bit unbelievable. I agree with one of the earlier commenters that it is appropriate for you, if you feel comfortable, to respond to those of us who say the wrong/foolish thing with a corrective word. Blessings and peace to you as you journey on in your quest to commune with Love.

Karen B.

Anonymous said...

Lv, CT

Karen said...

grrrrrr. This burns me up. NOT a safe place. Perhaps your presence and influence will eventually help them all grow bigger hearts. I hurt for you and want to protect you. I am glad you posted, because I sense you can take care of yourself! haha! I hope you leave this post up because others need to read this. It's the truth and tragically common in churches...places where it should NEVER happen. I love your courage and send you hugs and prayers.

Clippy Mat said...

Karen, I left (I thought) a comment yesterday but perhaps I didn't press 'send'. Silly moi. It was much more eloquent than this one.
Anyhoo, I'm sorry that this misguided woman made you feel this way but I think you are wise to just say, 'thanks' and move on. Don't let her get to you. You are much more polite than me. I would have just said, "Wow! I can't believe you said that! How thoughtless and tacky are you?"
and then I might have smacked her one.
OK the last bit's a lie but I would have felt like it. But God would hold me back because he loves me.
You are awesome.

Lynda said...

Karen, I am here via Robin's blog and your comments have really touched me as well. I have listened to such comments about a different situation in my life from people who are well-meaning but perhaps limited in their understanding of God and of people. The important thing for you to remember is that God loves you and God loves Katie more than we could ever imagine. I think that you know that in your heart. Prayers are with you as you decide whether to return and I know if you do, you will be a blessing to the others. God bless.

Bradley Family said...

I'm glad you chose to post this my friend. We show our emotion even when we don't think we do. This lady probably saw your pain and was trying to help but her choice of words was not the right choice. God doesn't love one person more than another. Your Katie and my Kathryn were taken from us not because God loved them any less or loved us any less. He loves all of us. I have come to believe that God had a mission for Kathryn and she fulfilled it. Her duty on this Earth was completed. God took her to give her a life with him which is worry free, suffering free, pain free and wonderful. Your Katie had a mission too and she fulfilled it. God has her now at with him and she is enjoying peace. Take care and know that you are loved very much.
Carol (Flower)

Karla said...

Ugh, Wow, How many times have we tried to offer words of comfort with no realization as to how they may have been received. Bless you for you're open and forgiving heart and for sharing the exchange here. As a Christian and as a health care provider I really appreciate learning better ways of communication "try not to fix" is a great one that just got added to basket. Well put! Thank you and hugs to you.