You know what the hardest response to see and hear is when I tell someone something personal or sensitive is? Itís not anger. I can see that coming a mile away and change course. Itís not judgment; those people are easy to ignore. Itís not even apathy, though that can sting, because apathy leads to nothing.
The most painful response is shock.
I tell someone a story of some really bad decisions I made in the past and they gasp and say ďare you serious?Ē I explain a sin Iím struggling with and they stare at me, mouth agape. Iím honest about how hard marriage is and the bumpy road my wife and I are going down and they lean back and blow hard through pursed lips in that overwhelmed way. These are the responses I fear most. They are the ones that make me feel like and idiot, a six-inch tall moron.
Shock feels like judgment even if itís not intended to. It seems to express a lack of empathy; the listener simply canít understand me otherwise he wouldnít respond like I said I had a third arm under my shirt.
In church circles this is especially true. Many church people grew up sheltered from real ugliness. For many, the moralistic and legalistic upbringing made many sins seems both distant and unthinkable (not all bad). They are out of touch with the difficulties so many people face. Many Christians have the prevailing attitude toward a lengthy list of sins of ďI could never do that.Ē Well, that attitude splatters all over someone who shares their story of sin, mistakes, pain, crime, sex, substance abuse, divorce, infidelity, or whatever. The Christianís subtle surprise or overt shock speaks volumes of judgment.
The remedy to ďI could never do thatĒ is twofold. First, we need to remember that one sin is not more damning than another. The hierarchy of sins we have in our minds has more to do with perceived societal damage caused than anything else. Your self-righteousness needs a savior just as much as someone elseís fornication. Second, we need to be honest about our own propensity for sin. Itís not that we would never do certain sins; itís often that weíve never been given the chance. We use the phrase ďbut for the grace of God there go IĒ, and much of that grace is the circumstances God gave us as protected church folk.
I could have had that affair. I could have cheated or stolen my way out of a job. I could have become an alcoholic or drug abuser. I could have been such a rotten husband that I drove my wife to divorce me. I am more than capable. So is everyone. If you deny it you need to repent for lying to yourself and everyone else.
If we recognize our own sin and our potential for sin the playing field is leveled. More importantly, we stop being shocked when someone admits to something horrible. Of course they did it. They are human, in the line of Adam, the moron who ate the fruit and started this mess. And you and I would have or could have done the same in their place or his. So shelve your shock and realize you are just like the person sharing.