Not Meant to Suffer Alone- Experiencing Community with TWLOHA and What it Means to the Church

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This past weekend I went out of town to participate in the first ever To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) Move Conference.  If you are not familiar with them yet, TWLOHA is a non-profit organization that focuses on starting the conversation with people about various mental health issues such as depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide; trying to help move people suffering from these towards treatment and recovery and trying to raise awareness among everyone else about the prevalence and symptoms of such problems.  The Move ’09 Conference was a weekend experience where the participants were trained in recognizing, understanding, and dealing with these issues, as well as learning about and working towards the ideal of community with a group of people.  It was an incredible experience and one I walked away from thankful that I was able to participate in.

Being there this weekend really encouraged me a lot as well.  I got to be surrounded by a number of people who were alright with being open about the problems that they have and still suffer through.  People who are broken, who realize that they have many things they need to work through, many insecurities and experiences that haunt them from day to day, and yet understand that there is hope of being better one day.  These people, who I feel I was one of, really tried to embrace the philosophy of “It’s okay to not be okay.”

Unfortunately, this is not the case in so many places.  Particularly in my mind I automatically think about the church and how shut off we are to each other in it.  If there is any one place where people should embrace the “It’s okay to not be okay” mindset it should be the church, and yet what we often see is the opposite.  Instead we get rows and rows of plastered on smiles and ironed-out clothes, when underneath of many of them is a balled up hot mess of a life that is barely being held together.  Of course, many people will say that we just need to have faith that God will make it all right, but I can’t help but believe that that hardly scratches the surface of what God really wants us to do.  If it were just about having faith that God will provide, then for what reason did he call us into communion with one another in the church?  

Hebrews 10.24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Who is the ‘us’ here?  It is the body of believers, the church.  And what are we told to do?  Far from sitting around and exchanging ‘Nice to see you’ and ‘How’ya doing?’, we are called to “stir up one another to love and good works“, to “not [neglect] . . . meet[ing] together“, and to “encourag[e] one another.”  This is community.  This is caring for one another.  And this does not occur unless we tear down the plastic facade that we so quickly put up on Sunday morning and bear our broken souls out in front of each other.

A large part of this starts with “not neglecting to meet together.”  If we ever want to feel comfortable with fellow believers and feel alright with being open with them, we have to spend time together.  Yet so many of us just treat Sunday morning first, as if its optional, and second, as if its enough.  How do you expect to grow together with people who you spend at best two hours a week with?  How do you expect to let people speak into your life in times of trouble and self-doubt if you never see them and they never get to know what it is that beats you down?  God did not ask you to sit back and simply rest on a promise of his provision.  God provided you with a community to be in, to grow together with, and to get healed and encouraged by.  It is part of the plan.  God built it in.  He meant for us to use it.  We will never see the maximum change in our lives, the full change and healing that God intended, if we do not learn to embrace this and to start walking with one another through life instead of simply walking alone into the same building for a short time each Sunday morning.

I am so thankful to To Write Love on Her Arms for what they are doing.  Though they are not overtly Christian, the principles of community and compassion that they embrace are at the core of what Christians should be participating in.  I pray that we can realize this and that as time moves forward we will learn the true purpose of the church and what a difference it can make in our broken and hurting lives.

As an aside, I am supporting TWLOHA through the SocialVibe network.  Please consider getting involved and helping raise money for this organization so they can continue reaching out and making a difference in the area of mental health.

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