My husband and son were recently in a car accident. No one was hurt. We’ve been in conversation with the at-fault driver’s insurance company about the damage. The adjuster insisted, incorrectly, “This car has surely been in other accidents. At least two of the dents in the passenger door could not have been caused by this.” After much discussion, it became clear that the insurance company would not pay for this “prior damage” and, therefore, would only partially repair the damage from the accident.
I later found myself smiling, almost giggling, with profound gratitude, for a God who does not function like insurance companies. God does not demand the story behind all of the dents in my fender and cracks in my windshield. God does not remind me of whose fault they were, nor refuse to repair them. When we go before the Lord with repentant hearts for pain we’ve caused, or with hearts bruised by the actions of others, what the Lord most wants is to give us a complete makeover. We come away with new paint, and a new shine.
What also strikes me is that we human beings, just like cars after an accident, have to find our way to the body shop. And our worshiping communities, outreach programs, schools and social justice ministries, are called to be those body shops. We, as faith leaders, are called to be the chief mechanics overseeing this important work. We must ask whether there are ways our organizations foster environments of “prior damage” rather than new paint and shine?
I, as a pastor, have had a hard time letting go of comments made by disgruntled parishioners – dents in their fenders. I also have trouble taking my own “car” into the body shop of worship and prayer because I tend to get used to the cracks in the windshield and stains on the upholstery. In our leadership teams, we often hear ourselves saying “Oh, he’s just that way” when someone acts out inappropriately. It is our way of accepting the broken headlight from years of hurt or pain rather than lovingly, kindly assessing the damage and walking a person through process of renovation.
Some years ago I had a particularly painful run in with a committee chairperson in the congregation I served. She made harsh statements about me in a public forum, and also painted an unhealthy picture of our church’s ministries in front of visitors who represented our denomination. I was hurt, and felt that damage had been done to the other congregants present. I found myself in the months following responding in unhealthy ways. It allowed me to put this leader in a different category, as someone who didn’t appreciate what was happening in our church, who wasn’t “on board” with our changes. I distanced myself from her, and she from me. Only later did I realize that my actions were, at least in part, prohibiting this person from experiencing a grace-filled reconciliation. I did not know if she was looking for healing, but my refusal to continue to be her pastor only made the possibility of healing more unlikely. The repair of my bruised fender was deeply connected to the repair of hers. God had us both in the body shop at the same time!
What the world most needs from faith based organizations is a place for individual and communal healing. If our organizations foster an environment where wellness is not a high priority, then our actions will be reflections of the dents and scrapes that we continue to carry around. To be sure, even the newest automobile has its flaws and we will too. But a continual reflection on how our communities can help to rebuild people and communities is vital to our ultimate impact.
Consider the ways your leadership fosters healing and repair. Are there systems in place to help make renovation a constant priority? Beyond our constituents, are staff and leaders also encouraged to seek the same kind of healing and anticipate from others?
Cynthia Weems is senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Miami, Florida.