Denise has asked me a couple of times this week if I would write our family newsletter. It is that time of year . . . as our mail box has been full of them coming our way.
I approach this with strong mixed feelings for a couple of reasons. For one, while I love to write, I long to write honestly. Using my metaphor about a building where the basement is raw reality, most of us live at least on the third floor being insulated from the truth by a pretentious spirit. I think Evangelicals live on higher floors. But Denise wants me to write a “normal” letter. I know what she means, avoiding the honest truth but showing just the fluff that keeps of the mirage that we are the perfect family.
But she has a point. Because our culture, especially our Christian culture, expects us to lie to such a degree, when we are honest, they take it far too seriously. For example I can say Denise and I had a disagreement over an issue. The readers will believe that it is a subtle hint that we are having marital difficulties. The thinking goes; we would never let it be known that we weren’t perfect unless our marriage was on the brink. But I would mean it at an honest, face value . . . we had a simple disagreement.
The second reason that I have mixed feelings is because I usually get a note from someone that I should “let” Denise write the letter sometime. The term “let” or “not let” makes no sense in our marriage. I don’t tell Denise what she can or can’t do and the concept is as strange as a Martian bathing ritual. She hates to write newsletters so she chooses not to.
When the newsletters start coming in this time of year I fist greet them with great enthusiasm. I love tearing them open because I miss my old friends. However, I am quickly disappointed. Invariably, the newsletters are fluff . . . “My perfect kids doing perfect things, miracles happening every day . . . big smiles for everyone.” The worst ones are the sermons. I hate sermons. I’m sure that on my death bed I will look back in regret about all the hours I’ve spent listening to sermons and lectures which re-hash the same Christians truths over and over and over. So when an ole friend, whom I have a deep desire to hear from, sends me a generic sermon with only a brief hand-written note at the bottom, it is very disheartening.
I would love to get a letter from a friend telling me about their struggles with one of their kids, or how they feel too fat, or how much they enjoyed a concert . . . anything real. My favorite Christmas newsletter of all time was from a dear Christian brother, writing from Germany (where they went as “tent-making” missionaries) and very candidly informing everyone that he realizes he is an alcoholic. I had to get in touch with him right away to show him my support.
I know I’ve told these missionary newsletter stories before, but I will share a couple again.
Once I was corresponding with an old college friend as I was putting together a class reunion. She had been very involved with Campus Crusade and now her husband her lead several ministries. They have five kids like we do. As we were corresponding (and she was talking about all the wonderful things God was doing for them) suddenly, out of the blue, she sent me this letter of great distress. She described how she hated her husband, had thought about killing him, that they are always fighting about money and she felt trapped. She was trying to decide which would be better, leaving him or committing suicide.
I didn’t know what to do. I mean, I was very concerned about her. But, it is dangerous territory to become involved with the opposite sex and at their moment of distress. But because she said the word, “suicide” I didn’t just want to pretend that I never read her e-mail.
I started writing her back asking, “Are you okay? Are you getting help? Do have any friends to talk to?” I bet I sent her five or six e-mails . . . and she ignored them all. Then, it was Christmas, and we got their family/ministry newsletter. You would think that they were the happiest, most blessed . . . perfect family in the world. I thought maybe that I had the wrong e-mail address however she did eventually write me back to tell me that she would not be attended the reunion and she used the e-mail account that I had been responding to.
When I was a missionary, I knew of three different missionary men in trouble, one with TEAM in Paris, one in China and one in Egypt. They each had very similar stories. Each husband had to be admitted to a mental hospital in their perspective countries for severe depression and suicidal ideation. These men hated where they were living and what they were doing. To even consider leaving would be turning their backs on God.
In the midst of each of their great distress, they wrote these glowing missionary newsletters of how great their ministries were going, how much God was blessing them and how much joy in the Lord they were experiencing. They wrapped some sermon around their “news.”