The Covid shuffle continues for many individuals and churches. The onslaught of events that began in 2020 leaves many folks sorting out what they think — about the pandemic, racial injustice, the attack on the Capitol, abusive church leadership, and the politicization of masks and vaccines (to name a few issues).
This sorting of ideas has prompted lots of swapping spaces. For ideological reasons (or just an opportunity to make a change), church members are moving on from their churches.
While I don't exclusively work with pastors, I get the privilege of walking alongside many. And one thing is clear — ministry leaders are disoriented and hurting.
The question "Can we meet?" creates a queasy feeling in a leader's stomach because recent history proves that the meeting will most likely end with long-time friends announcing their departure. If they leave filled with judgment or on cordial terms, the void of their absence fills up quickly with a question:
I'm seeing leaders answer this question in one of three ways.
The Blame Triangle
The desire to understand why something happens is as human as it gets. We constantly fill our knowledge gaps with stories and interpretations.
Oh yeah, and we can't help but assign blame for our pain.
Leaders are heaping blame either upon themselves, others, or God. This precarious pile of guilt isn't healing but crushing for the soul.
Blaming Yourself - This takes the shape of replaying every conversation — especially the ones where you messed up. You are hyper-aware of your faults and regret that you couldn't be more mature, capable, or helpful. You believe the lie that if you had been better, then you wouldn't experience this pain right now.
Blaming Others - Your thoughts drift toward the faults of others. You replay conversations thinking, "If I could go back, I would have said [fill-in-the-blank]. That would have shown them how ridiculous they're acting." You believe that if they were better, you wouldn't experience this pain right now.
Blaming God - This one is harder to acknowledge for some because we've been directly or indirectly trained not to express anger or disappointment to God. But if you're honest, you believe the lie that if God had been better, then you wouldn't experience this pain right now.
And speaking of being honest, many of us create combinations or vacillate between these three options. As it turns out, there's enough blame to go around the triangle.
The problem with blame
The problem with blame (even blaming ourselves) is it's an effort to bypass pain. Until we're willing to enter into the pain of lost relationships, we'll continue to stay stuck in loss and grief.
As others have brilliantly said, "You've got to feel it to heal it."
So, how do we face our pain?
The Beginning of Healing
I could write a lot about the healing process, but let's start our journey out of the blame triangle with two attitudes:
Be honest with yourself and God - Own where you place the blame for your pain. And then, talk to God about it. The Psalms are replete with examples of this kind of self-honesty (see Psalm 10 & Psalm 31). Obsessive thinking won't heal your pain. Only relating to Jesus honestly will heal relational loss.
Be compassionate with yourself and others - Speak honestly to the Lord about how you feel. Don't allocate blame to disown your feelings. And at the same time, muster the same amount of compassion that Jesus has for you and others. As much as we or others might be at fault, showing more compassion than blame is the trailhead toward healing.
The covid shuffle is painful. Losing regular contact with friends hurts. You may feel misunderstood, incompetent, or thwarted as a leader. But Jesus is with you. He gets it. He's lived it.
Let's put more energy into wrestling with our pain before Jesus than blaming ourselves, others, or God.
A Final Encouragement (or two)
Because relational loss is so disorienting, I want to remind you of two things:
God is faithful, and He's got you. Keep entrusting yourself to Him because He's trustworthy. Jesus dealt with the pain of our separation from God by suffering in our place. When you're hurting and wondering if you can keep doing this, turn your eyes to Jesus. He loves you.
This too shall pass. The past several years have felt like a dark night that will never end. Yet if history proves anything, it's that this intense moment will shift and settle. Relationships won't always be this unstable, and you'll be okay. Hold onto Jesus, remembering that He's holding onto you.
NEW OFFERING - Sometimes, you need a jumpstart of insight or a deep dive into recurring patterns to change. I'd love to talk about a 3-Day Soul Care Intensive with you. If that's intriguing, then read this article and reach out.