As a minister, the times I feel most defeated are when I fail to show love in a difficult relationship. I don’t mean the warm and fuzzy feeling kind of love, I mean the kind that is spoken about in 1 Corinthians 13:4–13, the kind of love that is patient, kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. The kind that does not insist on its own way or keep a record of wrong. The kind of love that “believes all things, endures all things, hopes all things” (NET).
Failing to exhibit the kind of love that God calls me to show towards difficult people is a challenge for me as a minister.
I have had thoughts like: “Now what if that person decided to go and share with the world how I was easily angered, was insisting on my own way, was impatient, or was ready to quit because the relationship, the conversation, or the interaction just became too difficult?”
Perhaps you are thinking, “What difference does it make if they shared it with the world, Joycelyn? You are only human.”
I agree, but I want to be a credible witness for Christ. I am not aiming for perfection but for the credibility of my integrity. And perhaps you, like me, have people in your life who would be the first ones to call the Enquirer to sell what they know of all your “hidden faults” if you became well-known.
In fact, once someone told me that their goal was to expose me.
Initially, I was angry and afraid. Then I asked myself this: “Expose what? That I am still growing in my long-suffering and that there are just some attitudes and behaviors to which I have a very difficult time applying grace? That there are days when screaming is the “normal” pitch of my voice? That there are times when my words are not seasoned with grace? That not being easily angered is a description that doesn’t always apply to me? Or that I have a good memory and keeping a record of wrongs could be one of my spiritual gifts?”
A Changing Perspective
There was a time when having my “hidden faults” exposed would be a scary thing if I wasn’t willing to expose them myself. As a minister, I have learned that it is important to be transparent with my struggles. Then no one can threaten me with the words, “I’m going to expose you.”
When we keep our struggles a secret from ourselves and others, we leave room for the accuser to torment us with them.
As ministers, we must have a safe place to share our hidden faults. Scripture urges us to “confess our sins one to another” so that we can “pray” for one another to be healed (James 5:16). Who is that person that represents a safe place for you?
My E.M.S. Team
Along with scripture reading and prayer, I have created what I call my E.M.S. team. These are people whom I regularly see to make sure that I am emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy. When needed, I see a Christian counselor. Monthly, I see a Spiritual Director and I have my usual “go-to” friends. They are the people in my life who are not afraid to tell me the truth and let me know when I am wrong but they are also people who encourage me and build me up when I feel torn down.
I am intentional about meeting with at least one or two of my E.M.S. team members monthly to specifically keep me from simply leaving my hidden faults unseen, as well as to prevent me from being too hard on myself.
I have also learned that there are times when we must share our struggles with the people we minister to because it removes the power of Satan to make us feel like we are not qualified to preach, teach, be missionaries, sing in the choir, serve as ushers, work with children, lead small groups, pastor churches, lead ministries, etc.
Unexpected Ministry in Vulnerability
Sharing our struggles can even be beneficial to those who listen. As ministers, we must refuse to believe that sharing our struggles with those to whom we minister will spoil our credibility. Admittedly, we must share with safe people, but transparency can actually strengthen our integrity.
I was taught by a mentor to pay attention to my struggles, especially prior to ministering, as a way of God prophetically revealing to me the struggles of those I will minister to. And I have made this an important part of my preparation process.
A couple of weeks prior to speaking at a retreat, I was experiencing an intense spiritual battle in a very difficult relationship—I was failing at showing love. Suddenly, strange words popped into my head one day as I pulled into our garage:
“You should just take yourself out.”
Literally, the voice said,
“Just keep the car running and stay in the car.”
“What the heck?!” I thought.
So, I prayed and I felt that I should take materials on suicide prevention to the retreat thinking that there would likely be a woman there who was struggling with thoughts of suicide. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pick up the materials in time.
While speaking at the retreat, the Lord led me to share about my difficulties of showing love along with the thought I had had while pulling into my garage. Quite honestly, I didn’t want to share that. It would have been much easier to address the issue through the materials on the table. More importantly, I didn’t want it to appear that I was struggling with those types of thoughts.
But the Lord insisted that I share, so I was obedient. Afterwards a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, “Before you shared that you had thoughts of taking yourself out, I didn’t hear a word you said. I have had those thoughts too.”
Sometimes the sharing of our struggles, weaknesses, and hidden faults is for the sole purpose of opening someone’s ears so that they can hear the rest of what we have to say.
I also spoke with several other women at the retreat who were having difficulty showing love in the same type of relationship that I had shared about. One woman confessed to me something she had never shared with anyone. That day, I learned that sharing my struggles hadn’t made my integrity less credible at all, rather it had given others permission to share their hidden faults as well. Even if it was only confessed to me, it was no longer their secret.
So, I invite you to form your E.M.S. team and become intentional about sharing your hidden faults with safe people. I also invite you to be open to hearing the Lord speak to you about sharing your past or even current struggles—it just may be what someone needs to hear to believe that Romans 3:23—“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”—not only applies to them but also to you.
Joycelyn Lewis is a member of Soul Care Collective’s Steering Committee.