By Andy Comiskey
I asked myself this question a few weeks ago. The local Living Waters in which I am a small group leader was on its 18th week (out of 25), and frankly, team members and participants alike were tired.
Like some groups, we were meeting on a Saturday to combine two teachings—healing of the feminine and masculine— into one long day spent at the cross. As the day lumbered on, I was tempted to scorn the familiar teachings and consider trivial the heartfelt confessions of how one gender had wounded the other. Then I thought of James, the 29-year-old man in my small group who had entered Living Waters on the brink of leaving his wife and kids for a gay friendship he had recently forged on the Internet; I also considered Bev, a participant and friend from church, whose father had sexually abused her and who now, having emotionally and sexually withdrawn from her husband, was considering divorce.
I observed both of them during the day, two wounded Christians, tempted by hopelessness and lured into false solutions to solve their problems (thereby creating huge ones for their dependents!).
I thought of their faithfulness to spend 3 hours every week progressively opening up to God through worship, to truthful teaching, and to others for healing prayer as they dared reveal more and more of their profound need to Christ’s body.
The end of that ministry day involved each gender grouping on either side of the cross in order to declare the first fruit of their healing; one at a time, one man would declare to the women a specific way in which they blessed him; a woman would then respond with a blessing for the men, until the volley ended.
Having just turned a corner in recognizing he needed to honor his wife and kids by breaking off his gay ‘friendship’, James cried out: ‘I bless you because of your faithful love for us, even when we fail…’
Bev had recognized a couple of weeks earlier that Jesus could actually bear the dark shame she bore from her father. For the first time, she allowed other women to bear with her in the grief she had carried for years. Then, at our long ‘crossgathering’, she received openheartedly the love of the men who confirmed her dignity and worth. Looking tearfully at the men through the cross, she responded to James’ blessing by declaring: ‘I bless you men for persevering with us in our wounding!’
I marveled at this practical application of Paul’s words to the Ephesians when he declared that the cross had ‘destroyed the dividing wall of hostility… thus making peace, and in this one body had made the two one.’ (Eph. 2: 14-16)
And yet I realized that the truth of the cross actually takes time to set us free; the Spirit broods over our broken, divided humanity and in a time and manner known only to God drops that truth into our depths. Until that happens, the truth remains bound up— understood at one level, but not yet the healing word.
I was beginning to answer my own question as to why Living Waters is so long.
The foundations inside humanity are weak.
By foundations I mean the solidity of soul we need to love others well. Most of the people we serve in Living Waters come from deeply fractured families. The ‘mother and father love’ they have received is insufficient, skewing their perceptions of self and others. It takes repeated interactions with the truthful love of healthy Christians to rebuild those foundations. Any shortcuts will not impart the depth of love needed to repair these foundations.
The foundations for loving others well are weak in the culture.
We live in an age that has deconstructed the very foundation of what it means to be man for woman and woman for man. Popular entertainment and pornography (on multiple screens that consume more and more of our time) have addicted us to images of sexual and romantic love, while distancing us all the more from learning to engage with real people.
And a society that champions no-fault divorce and ‘gay marriage’ as high water marks of civil liberty means that we as a culture no longer even point to mature, committed love as a goal. That means that our participants will often begin the journey to wholeness not even knowing what the ‘goalposts’ are.
People today are more confused by deceptive solutions and dull to biblical truth. Helping them to turn the corner from darkness to light takes time.
A Slow Turn
James’ repentance occurred slowly and was not well on its way until after 16 meetings. He had to first realize that he could receive love and affirmation from other men in the small group. We loved him well! Each week, he received a bit more of the real love he needed: appropriate touch, confirmation of what was strong in him, while gently challenging some deception.
He was ready to let go of sin, and to re-embrace his commitment to wife and children. An 8-week series or healing weekend cannot replace what time alone requires. (I say this rejoicing in introductory groups like CrossCurrent that introduce the broken to the ‘waters.’ All I ask is that we realize this is an introduction, not the deep end of the pool!)
Wounds are deep, defenses high, trust is weak.
Gaining trust is perhaps the best reason why Living Waters so long. We as human beings are not inclined to let others into the deep wounds and conflicts of our lives. We cannot; our defenses are high and longstanding. We are able to let them down only when we ascertain that others are trustworthy. Trust is a function of time. There are no shortcuts.
One opens up to others because (s)he observes that when others share their pain, healing happens: the response of the ministry team or small group leader/members is kind and powerful in mercy. One learns that (s)he benefits from sharing the truth no matter how difficult that truth is: that alone engenders the trust needed for disclosures that heal.
Historically, most of our people have received at least inadequate responses to their deep needs in the body of Christ. They are thus wary and watchful. A few leap into the ‘waters’ the first week. Most wade in cautiously.
‘Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.’ (Ps 42:7)
Something dropped from head to heart for Bev at about week 16, long after the ‘teaching’ on abuse. She was simply ready to open up. The Spirit had been wooing her every week but she had remained locked up inside, still guarded by the protective wall that distanced her from others, including her small group and her husband.
God waited; we waited with her until the fullness of time. God came to her when she was ready to let down her defenses. Through healing prayer, He gently bore her suffering with the help of His body, and gave her sweet consolation instead. He released ‘living water’ to her where she had always been most in need of it but could not yet receive it. He rewarded her perseverance with a double portion of healing.
Deep needs take time to be met. For both Bev and James, and thousands like them around the globe, there are no shortcuts to the truthful love that can set them free. 25 long weeks may not be enough! Still, we have found it to be a reasonable time frame in which God enables broken ones to resume the journey toward loving others well.
Resuming the Journey
‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made mature, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (Phil. 3:12)
Resuming the journey does not mean that Living Waters finishes the journey toward wholeness for anyone. Bev still must make some brave steps toward her husband with the help of others, a task that Living Waters alone cannot accomplish for her. James must steer clear of unhealthy relationships and initiate new expressions of love toward his wife.
We at Living Waters do not promise to do that for him or anyone. Yet we have helped unblock what seems like an impossible road ahead, and have made clear that this bright hope for wholeness is clearly and deeply to be found in Jesus Christ through His body.
Bev and James now know Jesus’ hope at a profound level; it cannot be taken from them, as it is an eternal hope wrought in the depths of their humanity. They have tasted and seen that the Lord is good; He is able and willing to meet their deepest needs with the help of His body. That is the goal of Living Waters. I contend that it cannot be accomplished effectively without a good 25 weeks.
Churches Want Quick Healing
‘They dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say when there is no peace.’ (Jer. 6: 14)
Sadly, many churches claim to want to restore the broken but fail to see that the broken need an inspired track on which to realize that wholeness. Over time.
Yet the pragmatic and at times simplistic body of Christ may be tempted to mistake a brief set of sensational experiences or teachings for a course of action that enables the broken to actually integrate the truth that sets them free.
We longstanding Living Waters leaders throw no stones at those churches that fall into that temptation. Rather, we rejoice and invest in those exceptional churches that actually help the James and Bevs of this world lay a track of truth that will inform and guide them throughout their lives.
We salute you, faithful pastors and elders and workers that have said yes to Living Waters. You gave God and His body time to accomplish His work in our lives.
Thank you for freeing us to resume the journey toward loving others well. Our friends and families and communities bless you.
‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Jer. 6: 16)