Earlier this week a friend sent me a message on Facebook sharing that a friend of their family (a closeted gay man) had posted to Facebook earlier that day renouncing his faith in Christianity.
In the process of his renunciation, he clearly stated he was returning hate for hate toward Christians. After a few choice outraged words, he declared he was leaving the faith/church for a community that truly loves others of any kind. It is evident he has been hurt by religion and outraged.
First and foremost, that is his story to tell, and life to live, not mine to second guess from afar. That said, he isn’t the one who contacted me, so the following are thoughts I wanted to share with my friend gleaned from times in life when I was in her position watching friends renounce their faith. Plus, the situation is very similar to the much larger number of people I knew or know (LGBT+ and beyond) who may not renounce their faith but are livid with the church and reject culturally conditioned religion.
Now, to the issue at hand… what do I do when a friend renounces their Christianity?
Prevent Projecting Personal Issues (The Heart Check)
I think it is helpful to take a quick personal inventory of emotions. What feelings manifested when hearing about the friend’s renunciation? Afterward? Did these feelings change or intensify after having time to think about it? Many times, in this type of situation, it is tempting for Christ followers experiencing strong emotions to jump right in with unasked for advice, correction, or reminders. I think it is better to hear the person out, and then affirm them with love and an acknowledgment that we have genuinely heard them. Then, whether it is an acquaintance or loved one, it is a good time to reaffirm the commitment we have to them as appropriate to the relationship. Follow that with meditation, prayer, and search for inner peace before offering an in-depth response (if asked for and/or appropriate.)
Allowing time to process and search our own heart can help center/anchor us in what may feel like a volatile situation. It enables us to remove any potential spiritual ear-muffs and hear the other person clearly.
Emotions inform and empower. Emotions help make our car run, but it is the mind that’s behind the wheel. Emotions can compel us to think through the issues. However, if they are imposing a context on the situation without any humbling and critical thought, it usually leads to unfair and incorrect judgment.
Keeping our heart clear by stewarding our emotions (not being run over by them) makes room for love and compassion to exponentially increase.
Empathetic Listening Often Turns Knowledge Into Wisdom (The Mind Check)
Would you agree with me that in today’s world, truly listening to someone is a lost skill? That many will only listen long enough to find the loophole; only listen for the opportune time to insert an opposing talking point, or just completely zone out until there is an opportunity to change the subject to something they are comfortable with?
Our faith teaches that those with “eyes to see and ears to hear” will know the ways of the Spirit and what is actually important and life-giving. Taking the time to genuinely listen to someone in pain will help reveal the facts being born out of another’s heart and life. Allowing ourselves to consider and relate to what is being shared helps the “facts” become relatable and may produce life-giving wisdom instead of unrealistic assessments and expectations.
Also, actually listening will help turn the pain from a wounding pain into a healing pain. Stating the obvious here, being wounded hurts! However, empathetic listening can contribute to facilitating the clearing and cleaning of the wound. Then, as anyone who has ever broken a bone or suffered a cut knows, the wound hurts through the healing process as well. However, that pain lessons with healing and eventually dissipates.
I believe empathetic listening is the bond/medicine/dressing that keeps the wound be safe and contaminant free enough to heal itself. In other words, we love and listen to our friends find their way to what is healthy and right for them.
I believe God’s love for us isn’t dependent on our ability to return or not return His love. I think He loves us so much He inspired the very breath you just took; delights in the things you enjoy and purposefully finds ways to bring joy into your world. He loves my Facebook friend. He loves this hurting man. Nothing can remove God’s love from us…not even us.
When we put our hearts and minds in check and really understand where we are coming from and have to offer, we can divest ourselves from ourselves and truly be present to our hurt(ing) loved ones; to love and serve them regardless of what they believe or decide. That’s when our hearts heal as authentic relationships and community flourish.