by Sheila Walsh
But I’ve found that being honest and open about our struggles is the only way to understand that we are all seen, known and loved by God, no matter how dark our troubles may be. We inflict unresolved brokenness and pain onto others unless we have learned to bring it to Christ. My dad’s brain injury changed his personality. He went from being a loving father to a confused and violent stranger who ultimately took his own life. The last time I looked into my father’s eyes all I saw was hatred. That stayed with me for years.
This is the most honest and vulnerable book I’ve ever written. I almost quit during the process as some of my truths are extremely hard for me to share. Talking about my lifelong struggle with suicidal thoughts was tough, but I believe it’s time to shine the brightest light into the darkest corners of the Church. We don’t talk about things like that, yet millions suffer with it every day. It’s time to embrace this beautiful broken life.
This book has been described as “a practical method for connecting with God’s strength in the midst of struggle.” Give us an example of how this is true.
Sheila: I hope that anyone who reads In the Middle of the Messwill begin to understand at a deeper level that God loves them now, as they are, not as they hope to be. I’ve been intentionally practical too, sharing tools that helped me on this journey and hopefully they’ll help someone else connect with God like I did. We can’t know the will of God if we don’t know the Word of God. So many of the spiritual disciplines of The Church through the ages have fallen by the wayside.
By focusing on these five disciplines—prayer, meditation, community, confession and thanksgiving—I found strength and peace on even the most difficult days. I hope that sharing the steps through my journey will help others to find their own peace as well.
What is the most common struggle you have found among Christians?
Sheila: I think one of the most common struggles in the Church is a lack of transparency. We think the love of God is based on our behavior rather than on the finished work of Christ so we hide who we really are. I’ve discovered that our brokenness is a far greater bridge to others than our pretend wholeness ever does. We are not alone, even in the ugliest corners of our lives. We all struggle with something, whether it’s raising our children, fighting for our marriage, facing illness or a million other issues. Life is messy but Christ’s promise to those who love Him is peace, hope and strength and greatest of all, His presence.
According to psychological research, the need for human beings to be acknowledged and to find love and acceptance is, perhaps, the most basic and defining of needs. How do you deal with this in a world where people seem to be so disconnected from each other, and how does this relate to our daily connection to Jesus?
Sheila: In today’s technology driven society, we live in a world that fosters false community through social media. I believe women have never felt more ‘connected’ or ‘followed,’ yet more alone. We see the prettiest, happiest and most exciting two minutes of someone else’s day flash across our screens and judge ourselves through that window. It’s a recipe for failure, comparison and self-doubt.
During his three years of public ministry Christ allowed us to see the highs and lows of life on this earth, not just the miracles but the disappointment and rejection. I want women and men to understand that much of what we allow to be seen on social media is smoke and mirrors. Real life is bringing all that’s true about us—the good, the bad, and the ugly—into the grace-filled space of the love and mercy of God. I would rather be known and loved by ten people than followed by a thousand.
If you’re hurting or disappointed or angry or sad but you see everyone else around you seeming to have it all together—even those who are facing difficult circumstances—you begin to wonder: What’s wrong with me?”
God gave us communities so we could help each other; but we aren’t helping each other if we hide our struggles or shame those who tell their darkest truths.
Why do you think we guard our deepest hurts, even from God?
Sheila: The greatest desire of every human heart is to be fully known and fully loved but we’re so afraid to bring all of who we are to the table in case we are rejected. From an early age, we’re taught that being strong means holding it all together. We’re taught that sharing our weaknesses to the world will cause harm and open ourselves to criticism and pain. And, sadly, too often, sharing secrets and shame in the church begets more shame, which leads to more secret keeping. It’s a vicious cycle. But the relentless love of Christ pursues us through all our secret shame. Jesus didn’t do life alone and we’re not meant to either. I believe we all need a couple of safe people that we can be open and real with.
You talk about “entering a safe place with God.” Would you explain what you mean by this?
Sheila: We begin by telling God the truth, the whole truth. He is our safe place. There is no judgement, there is no shame, there is no rejection. If you are willing to lay all of your pain and hurt and loss and shame at His feet you’ll discover there is only God’s love for you. Nothing that affects you is petty to God.
We can tell anything to God—hurt, grief, anger, shame, secrets, etc. He can handle whatever we have to say, and telling it straight strengthens our relationship with Him. (And of course,
He already knows the truth anyway.)
How have confession, meditation on God’s Word, and prayer been key to overcoming your own struggles?
Sheila: The beauty of these daily practices, especially confession and meditation, is that it’s not about us getting them right. The practices are more about becoming fully known by our Father. Contemporary Christianity has walked away from meditation because we associate it with eastern religion but that kind of meditation is about emptying your mind. Christian meditation is about filling your mind with the Word of God. When I feel the darkness of depression begin to overwhelm me I confess my pain to God and in the quiet, remind myself that, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
Exposing your sin and shame to the light of the love of God extinguishes their power. Once you’ve confessed your darkest parts, you don’t worry about becoming known—and you are free.
What do you hope your readers will take away from In the Middle of the Mess?
Sheila: I hope when the reader finishes this book there will be a fresh—or perhaps, a first time—understanding of how much they are loved by God. I pray that the reader would know that they are not alone, that we all struggle. I pray that they will no longer pursue perfection but pursue Christ.
We live in a broken world but we are a resurrection people. Because Christ lives, we live too. It’s time to really live, to lay our baggage down and as God’s grace floods the darker places in our lives we can extend that grace to a hurting world.
Sheila Walsh is a powerful communicator, Bible teacher, and bestselling author with more than five million books sold. She is the author of the award-winning Gigi, God’s Little Princess series, Peace for Today, Loved Back to Life, The Storm Inside, Five Minutes with Jesus and The Longing in Me. She is cohost of Life Today with James and Betty Robison.