I proudly welcome Chris Bennett, pastor of Christ the Rock Church in Memphis, as a guest blogger this week. I greatly value Chris' ministry and personal friendship. The encouragement of this post is helping me make the most of my sabbatical. Thank you, Chris!
Be sure to follow Chris on twitter @chris_bennett.
Several weeks ago, people were aghast to discover that the recently retired NFL star, Junior Seau, took his own life. Many assumed that his remaining decades would be spent on the beaches of his beloved Southern California. Several of his friends reported that Seau suffered from depression. Some say that his thousands of on-the-field hits caused his depression. Others say he never quite adjusted to the mundane life of retirement following stardom.
Several of his friends, also stars in the NFL, have recently spoken out in the media about this tragedy. But they aren't focused on what caused Seau's depression. They're not calling out for reform in the NFL, either on the field or post-retirement. They're calling out a society that trains men to suppress their pain rather than talk about it. They're lamenting that our culture has made a taboo of men who express their emotions. They're complaining that men live virtually alone and they feel trapped. And whether or not they realize it, these famous, rich, and powerful athletes are essentially saying that having the world is not worth the cost of their souls. They have an innate, God-given hunger for community. As they navigate this up-and-down life, they need friends who can help them plumb the depths of darkness and pain in their own hearts without fear of rejection. Chicago Bears wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, tacitly admitted this in his recent column in the Chicago Sun-Times.
I'm not qualified to conjecture about Junior Seau's mental condition, but I would bet that he is not in the minority. Men everywhere live with the gnawing frustration of feeling the relentless pressure to convey an image of fearlessness and strength. The problem is that we often feel weak and empty. I've seen this in my own life and in the lives of the men I pastor. We wonder why we endure seasons of being defeated by sin. And by the time we're picking ourselves up off of the floor, we realize that we are alone. We have no shoulder to lean on. "I want to be free, but what if [my pastor, my wife, my church, etc.] found out about this?" The cultural idols of reputation and self-image disperse transparency and confession. So we convince ourselves that ratcheting up our prayer lives, recommitting to daily Bible reading, and being there every time the church doors are open will be the perfect fix. (Why we repeat this cycle over and over again is beyond me.)
With all due respect to these virtuous acts, I don't believe they are the answer all by themselves. Priority Time, as integral it is for Christian maturity, is often used as a fig leaf to cover our sin rather than cure it (see Genesis 3). I submit that what we need, first and foremost, is to emotionally connect with our loved ones and Christian community in a deep and abiding way. In this context, Priority Time is a powerful instigator of spiritual maturity.
Reconnecting can insulate us from the dark temptations that accompany isolation and aloneness. When we're engaged in our children's emotional well-being, we spend less time surfing the internet late at night or mentally checking out during dinner. When we authentically engage with our spouses, date-nights take on entirely new features. Pushing food around our plates at the restaurant is replaced by conversations in which we share our fears and dreams. Sometimes the conversation is painful because we actually work through issues we've suppressed for far too long. Emotional engagement can even look like evening walks rather than perusing our Netflix instant queue hoping that something besides another B-movie is waiting for our enjoyment.
We experience healing when we emotionally engage with our spiritual community. We speak humbly and in a self-deprecating manner that exposes our joys, struggles, and questions. We're real. No pretense. We tire of attempting to one-up everybody else or we reject the comfortable, yet cowardly habit of standing aside in silence while others (primarily the ladies) nurture along edifying group conversation. We have this ugly habit of coming alive when we laugh about Anchor Man, but we shut down when we talk about Jesus.
Going to church even changes. Emotional engagement even drives where we sit during worship services. We position ourselves to be near people who are good for us. We sit in the speaker's line-of-sight with little potential for distraction because we showed up to hear from God. We might even ask people out to lunch. Some of them we need in our lives as mentors. Some are new and we want to connect them to the life of the church. We have taken ownership of the vision of the church because we care. We care because we have emotionally engaged.
I could go on, but at this point I would be thinking for you. Take some time and reflect on the condition of your soul. Are you being defeated by habitual sin in any area? If so, then I bet that your relationships are either struggling or in sort of a suspended animation. Before you overcompensate by adding more prayer, more Bible study, or more church, ask yourself if maybe you need to first reconnect with your family and your friends. Sometimes scratching and clawing our way out of defeating darkness is as simple as emotionally engaging with the world around us.
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