This is a guest post by Emily Guyer.
Do you build walls of division within your church?
I know what you are thinking—“No! I warmly greet anyone who I pass walking down the halls of my church.” But… what about your small group? How unified are you when someone shares an opinion on a matter of preference with which you disagree? What do you do when someone is different than you?
Have you ever been in one of these situations?
A woman stands in the lobby at church joyfully chatting with a group of people, and yet you are exhausted from getting all of your children to church this morning. What is going on in your heart? “Oh, I wish I could have it as easy as she does! I wish I could just leisurely talk in the lobby with my friends!”
A woman shares her opinion on a matter—perhaps on schooling choices, parenting philosophy, or politics, and you disagree. How do you respond? Silence? Judgment? Correction? Do you belittle her in your mind?
A woman opens up in small group about her burdens, and you feel her trial is relatively insignificant. “Pshh, you think that’s hard? Just wait until you are where I am, then you’ll really know difficulty!”
A group of friends are gathered talking about stories from everyday life; however, they all have something that you long for—whether that is a loving spouse, more children, a vibrant relationship with God, or financial ease. All of a sudden you cannot hear the conversation anymore because you are deafened by your own hurt, and you in turn begin to resent your friends.
What happens in all of these situations? You put distance in your heart between you and the other woman. You build a wall, and soon she may begin to build one against you too. On the other side of the wall, she feels unloved, unknown, or belittled. No one cared for her burden.
You may say, “Well, it’s not a huge wall. I’m not really being divisive and causing disunity in my church. I just don’t really like being around her.” Well, she is a part of your church. She is your sister. The unity of the church is built upon the small choices we make to love and pursue one another regardless of the difference.
We must stop to consider what causes us to respond this way. Or, better yet, what does our response reveal about our hearts? Let me suggest two possible answers: pride or mishandled hurt.
We have a deep vein of sin pumping blood throughout our body tainting a majority of our interactions with others—that vein is pride. Why do we respond the way we do to difference? Well, if we are honest, sometimes we believe we are better than others. We are listening to the other woman while sitting in the place of superiority and subjecting her to the seat of inferiority. We are the judge of her, and we determine that any way in which she is not like us makes her wrong. Any experience she has is overshadowed by our belief that our experience is more significant.
Other times, our strong response reveals a mishandled hurt or insecurity. Anxiety. Grief. Discontentment. Body image. Fear. We guard these hardships and insecurities rather than fully submitting them to Christ. “You think you are hurting? Look at me,” we roar. Difference makes us vulnerable. It exposes us. It brings shame or stirs up overwhelming memories of our experience. When differences shed light on a tender place, our sinful hearts come roaring like a mama bear protecting her cubs against an intruder—except the cub is our hurt, and the intruder is our sister in Christ.
Oh friend, I have been there—in both places. I have assumed the seat of superiority. I have wanted to be the protector of my own grief. However, the Lord is asking us to lay our pride and our hurt down at His nail-pierced feet. As we kneel at His feet, His kindness will move us to repentance.
To the prideful, see Jesus—the Humble Servant King— who shows us that the first shall be last and that to be great is to be the least.
To the hurting, see Jesus—the Savior and Redeemer—who heals the sick and loves the outcast, raises the dead to life, and promises that He is righting all the wrong one day.
As we humbly lay down our pride and hurt at the foot of the cross, then we must get up to love that sister in Christ by the power of the Spirit rather than cast rocks at her.
As we draw near to that sister, we need to shift our eyes off of our differences and instead see our similarities. We must press in and ask her questions. We must humbly listen and put ourselves in her shoes like our Savior did to us. As we do that, we will see that we are both sustained by grace. In counsel given to pastor’s wives, Gloria Furman gives an exhortation that I believe is applicable to all women:
“As wives of ministers we sometimes feel that we are uniquely challenged in our efforts to serve God, our husband and family, and the church. May I humbly submit to you that every woman probably feels this way? You are not alone… [all] women face real challenges, and [all] women receive real strength and grace from Jesus. When we are preoccupied with circumstances, we miss the real grace that is available to us. And there is nothing trivial about needing or receiving grace. As we recognize that we are all in this overarching circumstance of needing and receiving grace from Jesus, we see instead an opportunity to connect with other women and remind them of the grace we all need. The different life seasons and circumstances that seem to unravel our potential for relationships with our sisters in Christ are actually occasions to see that we are all the same.” (The Pastor’s Wife, p. 96-97)
As we draw near to our sister, are we supposed to forget our differences? No! We are to use them to build up our sisters in Christ. God gives us unique schools of circumstances that are meant to cultivate new knowledge of Him—whether it is singleness, infertility, aging parents, financial difficulty, or illness. However, rather than building a wall because of difference with your sister, build a bridge because of grace. After listening to your sister’s struggle, consider how Christ has ministered to both of you in similar ways. From that place of humility and common ground, be a caring sister and tenderly apply truths of the gospel that you have learned in your school of circumstance to your hurting sister’s heart.
Our differences do not have to divide. We can build bridges of grace rather than walls of division. Just imagine what it would look like to experience a community bound up by grace. Our churches would be places of belonging marked by joy-filled fellowship and unity. Burdens would be shared. People would tenderly care and walk alongside others.
And, we would get front row seats in witnessing the power of the gospel transform the lives of those we love… even in the midst of our differences.
Emily Guyer and her husband Michael live in Raleigh, NC, with their twirly and delightful daughter Amelia. She is a work-at-home mom, graphic designer, disciple-maker, coffee-guzzler, and soon-to-be church planter’s wife in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has the privilege of creating and writing at Words Worth Noting alongside her dear friend Lauren Weir. Her biggest passion is to see Jesus Christ worshiped to the ends of the earth, making her deepest prayer that He will use every sphere of her life for that purpose. Instagram: @emilyguyer | Website: wordsworthnoting.com and emilyguyer.com