Loss for Words   

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Have you ever felt alone when assembling with the family of God? You come in, sit in the back, and feel more judged than fed. Today you are just checking off the attendance list. You may even silently sneak out the back avoiding others and wishing you had not gone.

              In our family, we have had a long-standing (sporadically observed) tradition. Even though our kids are teenagers, and some of them taller than I am, we still read bedtime stories at night. We have read some good classics like Mark Twain, or Chronicles of Narnia, and Lord of the Rings. Paddington Bear is one of their favorites. (Even when my son comes home from college, he still loves to listen to stories about Paddington). These are books they might not pick up and read on their own, but they enjoy listening to dad read them.

It was quite a few years ago I remember my own dad reading the story of Pollyanna. Her story has resonated with me ever since. If you aren’t familiar with the story, Pollyanna was the only daughter of a minister who gave his whole self to his little church. In the story, Pollyanna tragically lost her father at a very young age. She was passed on to a distant relative she hardly knew and who didn’t particularly want to take on the extra responsibility of a teenage girl. Despite difficult circumstances, she played a game she called the “Glad Game”. She always looked for the best in people and situations that surrounded her. In the story, her cheer, despite her tragedy, soon spread to others around her and before long, she had the whole town playing the “Glad Game”. This story was very touching, and I have often thought of Pollyanna years later.

               A few years back, we had a woman in the church who I admired because I saw Pollyanna’s disposition in her. She seemed to always be upbeat and excited! She was the type of person that cheered people up around her. In an effort to compliment her, I told her I thought she was “Pollyannish”. I didn’t expect what happened next! She looked at me, grimaced, and got up from the table without a word. She acted strange the rest of the day. I had no idea what could have been wrong. She called me later, and with her sweet, hurt tone of voice, she told me she thought looking on the bright side was a wonderful trait to have. She was glad to be branded “Pollyannish”. She tried to look for the good in people.

We were both so confused. She could not imagine why I would insult an obviously Christ-like character, and I felt admonished, but I just had no idea why. 

Thank goodness for Miriam Webster:

 Pollyannish: a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything. Nothing bad there.

Pollyannish has come to mean ignorant of reality, superficial and shallow; annoying. I am not sure when Pollyannish became an unkind thing to say. But my sister in Christ was hurt by my words. Which was the opposite of what I meant to do! I meant to say I thought it was wonderful that she always saw the good in things, she always looked for the positive. But that was not what was communicated.  I called her back and told her I realized what the word meant and apologized. She forgave me, and whenever we are in the same town we get together, so there’s a happy ending

              I told you that story, not to illustrate that we should all have the disposition of Pollyanna (or be Pollyanish), but to show how easy it is to misunderstand the expressions that come our way. Many of us may have been hurt by something that was never intended. A feeling harbored against someone in your church family may actually be the result of misreading what they said. It could be that they just communicated poorly, as I did. Other times it may be incorrectly interpreting a look, an email, or text.      Perhaps that person just had a hard day and things didn’t come out right. Maybe someone’s ‘disgusted’ look that you perceived was a judgement on you, was more of a reflection of how they felt about themselves.

How we respond in this moment is so important! You might not avoid church, but perhaps you come without any enthusiasm, dragging your kids through the door, leery of interacting with this person. Now, a conflict which actually might not exist has ruined your worship experience. The hope you have assumed is a part of worship is missing.

In this moment communication is of utmost importance. A quick call, like the one I received, can clear things up before hurt feelings are cemented. Even if there is an issue, clearing it up quickly is much easier work, than unraveling months, or even years of feelings. More importantly, you may find that this person has a silent need themselves that was causing these types of interactions.

              Instead of offering judgement, have you told your church family what you need from them? More importantly, have you brought it before the throne of grace?

              Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. – Matthew 7:12.

              In keeping with the old classics, Let’s borrow a few references from Alice in Wonderland. Imagine If it was you who did or said something hurtful to a fellow Christian. Try to crawl ‘through the looking glass’ and see things from their perspective. Would you want them to bottle up that pain and keep it to themselves? Would you want them to show up to church with a less than genuine smile on their face, trying to remain mostly invisible, pretending your actions hadn’t hurt them? The obvious answer is no. You would want them to come to you and gently express how your actions made them feel. How can you amend the situation if they don’t tell you?

However, is this what you are doing to them?

Do for them what you would like them to do for you. Matthew 7:12

You can’t be filled up if you don’t pour yourself out first. Heartache, pain, anger; let go of it all and make room for the love of Jesus.