Throughout my childhood and the bulk of my young adult life, I often heard the phrase, “Don’t do or say anything that brings shame upon the family.” While the use of this phrase was probably intended to have me think about how my words and actions affect others, my childlike ego assumed and internalized this phrase as, “Be perfect or you will be rejected, lonely, and abhorred.” (This was quite extreme, I know—and it is what I thought!)
Consequently, as I grew up in the church, I marveled in wonder when church leaders openly discussed their flaws, especially from the pulpit. I admit that at times, I was taken aghast. I recall once hearing a Catholic deacon share his experience of being a recovering alcoholic in his homily during Mass and asking myself, “How can he be so open? Isn’t he afraid of the judgment and rejection that will surely come? He is a Catholic deacon! How can he be an alcoholic?”
Another time, I remember going to a youth conference and hearing a priest talk about his past as a pornography addict. Again, I was aghast. Wasn’t he ashamed? How and why was he standing there on stage, in front of hundreds, maybe thousands of teenagers, talking about his porn addiction? At the time, the openness and vulnerability of these church leaders were in such contrast to my culture of perfection, I missed their message. But one day, by the grace of God, I heard, and I listened.
This time I was listening to a priest talking about his healing from drug addiction. At the time, I was suffering from an eating disorder. This illness had been with me for so long I wondered if it were possible to heal. I wondered what recovery from an eating disorder meant, what it would look like, and even if I wanted to get better.
As I listened to this priest talk about his healing, I finally got it. I finally understood why church leaders share their testimony and talk about their human flaws. He talked about how his drug addiction had him feeling like he was in a metaphorical graveyard. His addiction had him sick, on death’s doorstep, and alone.
I related to that.
My eating disorder had me feeling like I was in a metaphorical graveyard too. I was sick, possibly on death’s doorstep, and alone.
He described all the horrible, sinful things his drug addiction led him to do. How he neglected his responsibilities and stole from his friends and family.
I related to that too.
Staying in my eating disorder and neglecting my recovery kept me from my responsibilities and prevented me from earning my own living.
When I found myself relating to this priest’s story of drug addiction, I learned I was not alone. And even better, this priest gave me hope and a solution. He boldly proclaimed and emphasized that through the body of Christ, the people of His church, Jesus heals. The priest also emphasized Jesus’ words to the healed Gerasene Demoniac in Mark Chapter 5:20, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”
That was it. I finally got it. The reason why church leaders need to share their brutally honest testimony, is because it proclaims Jesus’ message to us that He heals, forgives, and is perfectly merciful. It gives others hope too. Because of this priest and his bold, vulnerable testimony of Jesus healing him from sin and addiction, I not only sought treatment (and continue treatment) for my eating disorder, but I also entered into a renewed relationship with God. I learned that Jesus calls us to Him not because we are perfect, but because he wants to make us perfect.