There are people in the shadows of many churches: the poor, the afflicted, the widows and singles, the married couples in difficulty, the parents and children in crisis, the jobless, the handicapped, the life-scarred, the strugglers—the different. Christians who don’t fit in and who live in the shadows.
These are the people who persevere sometimes alone and without encouragement except that which comes from their fellow Shadow People. These are the people who endure crass remarks of judgment from others within the church—who are given advice by those who haven’t taken the time to know them and find out who they are, let alone actually share their lives and walk with them as equals in Christ Jesus. These are the people to whom the church says, “I have no need of you.”
These are the people who are patronized and who live without respect because of their circumstances or their background. These are the people who are hesitant to reach out for help because of wounds inflicted on them by others because they struggle with problems or situations they cannot hide. These are the people who are unreceived and unwelcomed and shut out from the life of the church. These are the people who love Christ, but who live on the edge of breaking because they bear heavy burdens by themselves. These are people who sometimes finally do shatter under strain.
Some people start their Christian life 100 yards ahead of the starting blocks because they had Christian parents and years of security. Others start their Christian life 100 yards behind the starting blocks because they come from dysfunctional homes with parents who do not know Christ, and often they can barely hold their head above water. (There are a rare few who are neither ahead or behind because, while their background may not be Christian, their personality or support system means they don’t have quite so many things to overcome).
Often those who are ahead, rather than being of mutual help, hardly give a backward glance to those who are behind and stumbling. Why do I use the word mutual? Because those who have become Christians 100 yards behind are the ones who have so much to give in their witness of having known and seen and understood the chasm between darkness and light, of the difference between being dead in sin and being alive in Christ. Their difficult and wretched backgrounds have meant they had explosive delight and astonishment and joy in being forgiven and knowing God. They are the people of ‘First Love’.
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Rather than being considered rich in faith, the poor of the church are far more likely to be considered inadequate or deficient. Who is considered “spiritual” in your church? Married couples who prosper with a nice home and smart and healthy children? Walk into a church in the United States—your church—and consider the leaders and those who are in prominent places. Are they there because their spiritual gifts and character are evident and have qualified them for the work? Because they have shown by their deeds that they love the members of the church and are careful to teach them and to care for them? Consider what your church does. Who are ministries geared towards? Who does your church look out for?
Have you ever considered that Shadow People, because they have had their faith tried by fire, might be people in the church who have a great deal of knowledge about perseverance? You have read of Job and David and may think of them as great men of God, but how do you perceive those in your church who are suffering or for whom life is fraught with difficulties?
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”
1 Corinthians 1:26–31
Years ago I was in a church that, along with numerous college students, had some well-educated members and a few who were even affluent. Do you know who the most hospitable couple was in that church? The couple that had students over for Sunday lunch week after week, to watch television, to eat and to enjoy special events? A couple who lived in a small home—no family room, only a living room; no dining room, only a kitchen eating area. The wife was a homemaker and the husband was a blue collar worker; I don’t think either one had a college degree. Yet they opened their home to a half-dozen or so young adults who needed to know family life and see what a Christian home was like. Their eating area was so small that when all of us sat down to eat you could not move around the table. They were much loved, and some of the students even called them Ma and Pa. He was a deacon in the church, and he was the only deacon in whose home I ever ate a meal. The elders? There was one elder who frequently opened his home—not the wealthiest by any means—and the pastor’s wife met with me weekly to eat and talk.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I could tell you stories of self-important and insensitive barbs that Shadow People have endured. Things I’ve been told and things I’ve experienced. I could tell you about kindness and sensitivity shown to me by Shadow People while the strong pass me by. Are Shadow People perfect? No. But Shadow People know what it’s like to suffer, to be rejected and to live through days and nights when you feel no one has your back—that’s why they have a tendency to watch yours.
Do you know who the Shadow People are in your church? Do you know who they are in terms of their background and personality? Have you considered their strengths, or do you see only their weaknesses and feel superior? Do you understand and believe we are all one in Christ Jesus or do you make demarcations and see differences?
Does anyone in your church stay consistently in touch with the Shadow People in your church? To know their battles and their needs and to come alongside them to help? Or do you assume if they say nothing then they must be doing fine, rather than comprehending there may be hesitancy to express needs because of past rejections? Do you have a plan to help and do you actually do something, or is discussion about someone enough to make you feel you have ministered to them?
Do you know the stress of their family life? Of their loneliness? If someone weeps in front of you, do you listen and comfort and take action to ease their strain? Or do you assume someone else will do something? Do you hesitate because you feel awkward and your discomfort trumps their desolation? There are few things more devastating than to break down before other believers and then have no one express love or empathy or call or check to see how you are doing.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.”
At times it seems hardly anyone is willing to inconvenience themselves, much less lay down their life. If you wonder why I have written such passionate posts interspersed with some that are much milder, it’s because I’m fighting a hard, hard battle not only to persevere, but to be balanced and sane. Sometimes the blows have hailed down upon me. God has held me together through His Word as I have read the Bible and written these posts. Some daily readings don’t stir me up inside, and some days are easier than others. With other posts I pour out my heart. I don’t know whether to cry or be angry, and sometimes I do both. I have to fight against bitterness. When you’re a Shadow Person you bear not only the suffering of your circumstances, but the suffering of feeling isolated and unloved.
My statistics page tells me the search terms used by people to find this blog. People frequently search for hope, and they find Anchor of Hope or its revision, A New Year’s Anchor of Hope. People search for psalms to read in despair, and there was one very poignant search for, why so many believers are so distant in times of despair. I don’t know who these people are, but when I see these phrases I pray for them.
I used the above Walter Langley painting, “Never Morning Wore To Evening But Some Heart Did Break,” in September in Organizing Love. It is usually searched for several times a week. I don’t know if people look for it because of the subject, the artist or both; I only know the painting is deeply moving in its depiction of a young woman with a breaking heart being comforted by an older woman who enters into the young woman’s pain with her own knowledge and understanding of suffering.
When I read the Bible’s words about the Christian life and then look at what my family is going through and consider what Christians go through elsewhere in the world, I find that what we endure is the normal Christian life and to be expected. We are to keep our eyes on Christ and follow Him. I know from past experience, however, that our way is made easier and more joyful when we walk together.
Life in this world can be messy, inexplicable and outside our control because we live in a world marred by sin. Have you come to realize that God in His sovereignty has allowed it to be that way, and that only He is in control? Do you distance yourself from those who live in messy situations because you only want to deal with things that can be quickly tidied and neatly boxed up?
A man once asked the Lord Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Who is yours?
People Shadow, Purityofspirit: Public Domain.
“Never Morning Wore To Evening But Some Heart Did Break”, Walter Langley: Public Domain
Barmhartige Samaritaan (The Good Samaritan), Han Wezelaar: Gouwenaar, Public Domain.
Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter