Shelve Your Shock

You know what the hardest response to see and hear is when I tell someone something personal or sensitive is? It’s not anger. I can see that coming a mile away and change course. It’s not judgment; those people are easy to ignore. It’s 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 “are you serious?” I explain a sin I’m struggling with and they stare at me, mouth agape. I’m 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 it’s not intended to. It seems to express a lack of empathy; the listener simply can’t understand me otherwise he wouldn’t 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 “I could never do that.” Well, that attitude splatters all over someone who shares their story of sin, mistakes, pain, crime, sex, substance abuse, divorce, infidelity, or whatever. The Christian’s subtle surprise or overt shock speaks volumes of judgment.

The remedy to “I could never do that” 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 else’s fornication. Second, we need to be honest about our own propensity for sin. It’s not that we would never do certain sins; it’s often that we’ve never been given the chance. We use the phrase “but for the grace of God there go I,” 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.

photo credit: Erik K Veland via photopin cc

I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life