Faking Faith

As you might imagine in a household where there are four children close in age, we had our share of disagreements and bickering to contend with. Since unlike automobiles and small appliances, children don’t come with operator instructions, a lot of what we did as parents was an incomplete science.

In other words, like generations of parents before us, we faked that whole authority thingy.

We were both college-educated, well-read — it’s just the things we read weren’t manuals about parenting.

We still aren’t always sure we’re making the right call. That’s why when children question a parent’s authority, a parent’s default is to get defensive.

Why? I’ll tell you why — BECAUSE I SAID SO!!

It’s the parental form of stuttering.

The point where parents  become more concerned about being right in the eyes of their children, than they do about the redemption of their children.

Of course, this default isn’t restricted to just children. We are all prone to falling back on it whenever our authority is questioned. Particularly the more unsure we are about the calls we’ve made.

Perhaps the defensiveness is our last ditch effort to persuade ourselves into some wrong-headed notion.

Are you with me here?

Because that sort of defensiveness is what I came up against when I made some calls in response to the girl with the handicapped mother. (See Monday’s post if you missed this.)

Briefly, I met a young lady who told me that as her mother became more and more ill, due to a degenerative brain disorder, her mother was asked by the leadership at my church to refrain from attending worship service because she was just too disruptive.

Perhaps it’s the reporter in me. I’m always a bit skeptical whenever I hear stuff like this. I hoped and assumed that the girl had her story mixed up. That there was no way the leadership at my church would ask a woman who is ill to quit coming to worship service. Maybe some random person in the congregation took it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the church, I thought. I could easily see that happening.

Verifying information is the quickest way to dispel rumors.

I intended to do just that.

I made some phone calls, expecting & hoping to be told that I didn’t know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

And that is what I was told.

I didn’t know the whole story.

Okay, I conceded. That’s probably true. I don’t even know this girl. I just met her. Even so, she’s very upset about all this. Why would she make this up?

So I got the sordid story. I heard about how awful her mama’s disease was, about how it made her prone to falling and flailing, about how she got to where she couldn’t talk or participate in worship. She needed to be in a facility. We were the good people, stepping in to care for this woman when her husband walked out, when other family failed to show up.

Hold. On. Wait. But what I want to know is did someone in leadership actually ask this woman to not come back to worship service because she was being disruptive? That’s all. I’m just trying to confirm that.

Well. Yes.

Who did this thing?

You don’t understand — this was a hard decision. You have no idea just how hard a decision it was. The woman had no bodily control. The disease was ravaging her. We were afraid she was going to hurt herself.  It was a decision made out of compassion.

Y’all know me well enough by now to know I don’t mince any words when it comes to the practice of Certainosity. I called bullshit on that last remark about compassion.

Where in scripture do we have any evidence at all that Jesus did the safe thing? Or that he made decisions based on the safety of others?

If Jesus was anything he was downright dangerous.

And if you are going to follow him, he demands you live dangerously, too.

That means loving the unlovable. That means putting up with discomfort. That means there is no boundary, not any, not a one — do you hear me? — on our call to serve others.

We don’t get to say to our children when they are babies — you are too demanding. You expect too much. I can’t deal with your bellowing and flailing about any more. I’m done with you.

When that happens in parenting we call those people bad parents.

When it happens in a church, we become defensive and start making excuses for our wrongheaded ways.

You show me in scriptures, in the walk of Christ, anywhere that he pushed aside a person for being too sick.

Oh. You should have heard all the justifications.

Followed, always, of course, by the accusations.

What was I doing to serve others?

How was I evangelizing?

Did I belong to a care group?

It was ugly.

But because I’ve been a parent, because I’ve made bad decisions, because I’ve been part of a family my entire life, I get it. I really do.

That doesn’t change anything for me. I still think the decision was wrong-headed.

I don’t think it was motivated by compassion as much as it was by comfort – and I don’t mean the comfort of the ill person.

I was still mortified that I learned about all this from a woman I’d barely met.

A woman whose heart is hurting.

Don’t get me wrong. The church did pray for healing for her mama. They did try and tend to the ill woman — for a time. Until things became a real burden.

Then, instead of shouldering the Cross, they began to look for people to nail to it.

Or that’s how it seems to the sick woman’s daughter.

It’s wrong, I told her, standing there in the garage, next to the pickup. Her shoulders curled around her heart, protectively, as she sobbed.

I’m so, so, sorry, I said. I hoped that what I heard wasn’t true. I hoped it was all just some sad misunderstanding. I hoped to be able to come back to you and tell you that this thing never happened. But it did and it was wrong and I believe it hurts the heart of Christ. I can only imagine what this has sown into your life — to have your mother rejected this way.

I can only tell you that it’s not Biblical and I didn’t know about it and I bet most of the people at the church didn’t know about it, either.

They owe you an apology.

But they aren’t here.

I am.

So on their behalf, let me just say, I’m sorry, honey. I am so sorry you were hurt like this.

She stopped her crying for a moment.

My mother used to work at the state hospital for the mentally ill, she said, recalling a story from the days when her mama was healthier. She would take us girls sometimes. It was scary there. Sometimes the patients would chase us. My sister and I would run to our mother. She would  explain that the people couldn’t help it — they were sick. They aren’t trying to harm you, she said. They just want to play with you. Don’t be afraid.

Your mama was a kind-hearted woman, I said. I see where you get it.

People with broken bodies do terrify us.

And when we make decisions out of fear, we are not living a life of faith.

We are faking it.

As a mother comforts her child,

so I will comfort you.

Is. 66: 13

It was my own daughter so said to me later: Maybe God put you in her life, Mama, so you could apologize to her. Otherwise, she might carry this thing with her for the rest of her life.

Sometimes in a family, we have to apologize for the wrongs, even when we aren’t at fault.

It’s not all that hard to do, really, if we can get to that point where we worry less about who is right and who is wrong in this thing.

And make redemption our focus.

Your thoughts?

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Where’s Your Jesus Now? Examining How fear erodes our faith.

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  • My thoughts? When you’re all out of puff on this one Karen, hand me the baton, and I’ll keep it-a-goin’. You retweeted my opinion, so I know you know where I stand on this.
    Congratulations also for following through and doing the research on this one too. Many would have simply thrown the accusations without doing the legwork. I know we always want secretly to be proved wrong when these things happen. What an enormous pity you couldn’t have been proved wrong in this instance.
    I’m sorry too, and I will keep on being sorry while ever these knuckleheads keep on with the their Circuses of the Perfect, where they all stand around and pray to be more whole, more blessed and more healed then they already are. They hoard up God’s blessing at their own peril. Blessed are the poor, for they get the whole dang kingdom.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Brokenness, in whatever form it takes, makes us uncomfortable. I’m guilty of shunning specific types of brokenness.I’m just more discreet about it — or maybe not as much as I try to convince myself.

  • Mike Morehouse

    If our hearts were on display in church rather than our bodies; how many of us would be asked to leave because our flailing spirits were distracting!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Well I certainly would be!

  • It just grieves my heart. I was reading this story from your first post, Karen, and it hurts my spirit. It should hurt everyone’s spirit. It should wound us so that it never happens again. It should convict us that we are even capable of the thinking that it’s okay to turn people away because it’s too hard or not safe or whatever stupid excuse they come up with.

    If the entire congregation doesn’t know that it happened, they should. They represent the congregation. They are absentee partakers in the wrongs that their leadership has done to this family.

    If the church doesn’t take in the sick and the frail, who will? Who will stand for them? If the church doesn’t do this, will God go somewhere else? Has he already gone somewhere else? Maybe God is now finding Himself elsewhere because He is unwelcome in the church.

    To those of us who think the Kingdom of God is a spiritual place, it is, and always has been. If there is no spirit of God residing inside the church walls, God isn’t there. Jesus has left the building. All the sermons and words in the world mean nothing if our actions show that we don’t care about loving our neighbor when it’s the most needed.

  • You did the right thing, Karen. It hurts to think we rank the importance of certain members of the body of believers, but we do. And shame on us for doing so. I’m sorry, too. Praying that the pain this family suffered is not in vain. That this will never happen again there.

  • Peg Willis

    I’m so thankful for people of integrity! It isn’t what we think that matters, it’s the TRUTH that matters. You go, Girl!

  • I agree with your daughter. God placed you in her life and likely did so for more than one reason… Does He often use you as a vessel of love, hugs, and apologies? (you gave that to me too)

    Father God, give Miss Karen all that she needs to be an extension of Your love to that gal and her ma. Soothe the hurts, ease the pain, renew the Spirit, strengthen the heart, comfort the sadness, and guide the lost. Lord, the gal has so much on her heart, what with her husband gone in the military and her mama’s health and the mistreatment at church, Lord, You know all the needs. I lift up my fellow sisters in Christ and ask for You to move mightily. In Jesus’ name, amen.


    • Gloria

      Dear God I pray in unity with Darlene. Thank you for hearing our prayer. Amen.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        To be clear ladies, it wasn’t the woman whose husband is in Afghanistan but rather a neighbor lady who ministers help to her. It was the neighbor lady’s mom who has the disability.

        • Thanks for the clarification. It’s a good thing God knows what I’m talking about even when I don’t. 😉


  • You know what I said last time — someone should be crucified for this. OK, maybe I overstated it, but I tire so completely of Christians not being compassionate to the downtrodden. This whole story makes me think of the passage in James about putting the guy who looks good in the front row, but the poor people have to stand in the back. James has some pretty sharp words for such action — so I am in good company (as are you).

    Is there anyway to find a wheelchair and take the lady’s mom to church?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      The mom no longer lives in the area. There was no treatment facility nearby so she is several hours away now. Making the wounding even deeper for her daughter, I think. But what’s sad is the number of people who’ve contacted me to say that they too have had handicapped family members asked to leave church or not participate. Wow. I had no idea.

  • Kim B. Puzey

    Karen, Thanks. You know I’m from a church with a lay ministry. It was in my role as a bishop (many years ago) that I had two expereinces that may be relevant to this topic. The first was when I received a threatening letter from a young disenchanted Air Force officer who had been at the Academy and was passed over to be a pilot. The wording of the letter was not sufficient to involve legal authorities, but his demeanor and conuntenance were enough that it became necessary to establish a preemptive plan to help evacuate the rest of the congregation if he decided to “go postal” one day in church. I spoke with several trusted advisors and the plan was that if we felt that he was going to be a physical threat that day, we would announce a “change in the meeting schedule.” We would ask the children to go with their teacher to that part of the church, same with young adults, women, etc. There would eventually be a few adult males left in the chapel and then we would just “play it by ear.” I hope this makes sense. He didn’t ever bring a gun that we saw, in time he got some professional help and gradually he was less threatening. We didn’t remove him from the building, but we did have a protocol in place. If this seems overdone, you might recall a bishop who was shot in his office a few months ago. Physical harm is not common, but not unheard of in this age of violence. Second example was of a meeting that I was conducting with a full chapel. A woman stood in the midst of the congregation and began talking loudly and incoherently. I came down from the stand and slowly approached her. She seemed delusional and I was a bit daunted by her behavior. As I got closer to her, I could hear that she was talking about her shampoo and how beautiful it made her hair. As the congregation stood by, I complimented her on her hair and asked her to come with me. I held her hand and we walked into the foyer where a psychologist from another congregation was looking for her. She was one of his clients. She had schizophrenia and had not been taking her medications. In the first case, we did not remove someone that I thought might be a physical threat to others, but we did make a plan that included their safety. In the second case, I invited the woman to leave with me, where we found her some help. There were times when Jesus was in danger and He made adjustments in his daily walk to avoid a confrontation. There were also instances when a healing was done with greater privacy. Sometimes we may need to help a person in public and sometimes in private. Sometimes we need to be aware of danger and sometimes the threats are real. I think the woman to whom you are referring needs public love and help as well as private love and help. Knowing how to administer that is sometimes hard for each of us. Thanks for sharing your expereince and doing what you could to bless her daughter.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      As I stated previously, Kim, there is value in having a plan and practice for dealing with these sorts of encounters. However, that’s not relevant in this situation because the woman wasn’t disturbed — she was disabled and disturbing others. There’s a huge diff.

  • Christie’s sister

    My sister has had an inoperable brain tumor for over 10 years and every day that she is still with us at this point is a blessing- a blessing from God. While she has had her ups and downs with her health over the years, and we know that this thing will eventually take her from us, the one thing she (and we – as her family) have never wavered in is our faith in God. This incident causes me to question my faith in PEOPLE, however. My first and current reaction was that surely this was not true, but deep in my soul, I know I know some of these people – not really, but figuratively. I go to church with them, I work with them, etc. I know that it is up to me to try and educate them on how they need to respond to these situations and people who are sick. Jesus had to show his disciples that it was okay to associate with a Samaritan. So must we show others that sick people, mentally ill people, disabled people, homeless people are all PEOPLE and deserve respect. If you cannot be accepted in a place of worship – where else? It is not surprising that the younger generation (I am 52) is tired of all of our “faking” and rejecting formal worship of any type. ***Stepping down off my soapbox now, thank you***

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      You are welcome to the soap box here anytime. So sorry to hear about your sister. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve been reading Ann Vosskamp’s book — One Thousand Gifts — have you read it? It addresses the character of God. Whether we view God’s character as good or bad goes to the core of who we are and how we live out our faith. I’m thankful that through this you all have been able to say, still: God is good.
      And people have their moments.

  • Pat Pope

    I recently reflected on how “keeping the peace” and “peacemaking” are two different things. “Keeping the peace” is more about one’s own personal comfort, whereas “peacemaking” is about righting wrongs. I think as you described it, this situation was about the congregation’s or certain people in the congregation own comfort. This woman made them uncomfortable. She disturbed THEIR peace. This is what happens when we idolize our pristine churches and perfect worship services. Nothing that detracts from that is allowed and yet Jesus when interrupted by children did not shoo them away as His disciples wanted to do. If we can’t make room in our gospel for the “disturbed” or “disturbing”, we need to re-examine that gospel. I often think how ironic it is that people sitting in a church, listening to the gospel, cannot see their own hypocrisy. Something’s wrong with that picture.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Pat, what a great way of drawing the distinctions. I’m intrigued by your study. But, yes, it occurs to me that we may be like Cindy Anthony — sitting in a courtroom, hearing the testimony of so many, yet, unable to see the truth for ourselves.

      We sit in church every week, hearing the testimony of Scriptures, but often thinking it only applies to someone else and their situation, not to us and ours.