Monday, April 18, 2016

The Mercy of Excommunication

You and a friend you dearly love are engaged in a battle. Your friend is hit. They are mortally wounded. If they do not rest and allow you to attend to their wound, they will bleed out and die on that battle field. What do you do?

The sensible thing, of course, is to encourage your friend to step off of the battle field for the time being and allow themselves to be tended to by the medics. That is the courageous and merciful thing to do. Yes, it means you'll be down one soldier and you will have to work twice as hard to make up for the fact that they aren't there to fight alongside you. Yes, it increases your risk of becoming wounded.

But if you truly love your friend, you don't encourage them to continue a fight that is going to kill them. You don't tell them to put on a brave smile and show up to table as if everything's okay while the blood spills from their wounds to pool at their feet. You don't pretend that you don't see the wound or that it isn't real and dangerous.

I have been fighting a battle with depression and two days ago, I nearly lost that battle. It got bad enough that I wanted to know just how many of the little pills in the bottle I would have to take before it killed me. Fortunately, I didn't have enough to do the job. All I'd end up doing is causing myself some liver problems.

So I lay on my bed, crying into my pillow, begging God to help me understand what the point of all my fighting was. I was tired of struggling every single day just to make a living, let alone a life, and seeing no fruit from it. I was tired of the constant roller coaster ride between success and failure. I wanted off the ride. I didn't see a point to all the pain I was going through anymore and if this was all there was to the journey, I didn't want it anymore.

That's when God reminded me: Love. Love is the point of all the fighting I'm doing. And I'd forgotten that. I'd gotten so caught up in the struggle to make ends meet and to try and improve my financial situation, that I'd forgotten the reason I was fighting to make things work in the first place. I wanted to help other people know how much God loved them. And because I'd forgotten the purpose of it all, I'd lost sight of how much God loved me and I'd become so ungrateful for what He'd done for me that I was willing to throw everything away and give up.

That moment of anguish helped me to understand on some level the anguish Christ must have underwent during the Agony in the Garden. To wonder if everything he knew he would have to go through would be worth it in the end. To wonder if it would make a difference in the world. To need the Father's reassurance that this really was worth fighting to achieve.

I lost a battle with the Devil and I received a mortal wound on my soul. It was hard to accept the need to excommunicate myself the next day. I could hear a thousand reasons to just pretend that everything was okay because I apologized and that was enough. But it isn't. Apologies are good, but they don't tend the wound.

They don't strengthen the weakness. They don't give me the healing that is provided when you hear the words, "Your sins are forgiven" and you receive the counsel on how to improve your fighting technique so you don't wind up wounded the same way again next time and you receive the blessings that strengthen your body so healing takes place more quickly.

Abstaining from communion doesn't mean that I'm unworthy of God's love. It means my soul is too weak to be receiving solid food, which is what Communion is. God's tenderness is such that He will provide me His grace intravenously as long as I am showing up and continuing to try and am willing to receive it. It does mean I don't need to pretend that everything's okay with me because it's not. I'm not okay. I need help. I need my brothers and sisters in Christ to do their part and minister to me, to encourage me, and to pray for me.

It may take some wounds longer to heal than others. I don't need to be in the front lines of the battle, leading the charge, while I'm working on healing. I don't need to be in a leadership position because I'm not strong enough to carry that burden. I need to be convalescing, resting up, sitting at the feet of Christ and seeking His graces to heal. That's the reality.

Excommunion isn't meant to be a harsh punishment or an exile. It is meant to draw the wounded warrior closer to Christ, to get them bandaged up and on the road to recovery, and to allow the time and space to heal without the burdens of leadership or ministry. God will feed the soul directly the nourishment it is ready to receive if that soul will keep coming to Church seeking it. It is meant to alert the fellow soldiers to one who is in need of extra support and encouragement, instruction, and ministry. It is a mercy all on its own.

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