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Wholeheartedly – Wounded Healers

Date: 30/07/2023/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Wholeheartedly: Wounded Healers 
30 July 2023 
Miak Siew (FCC) 

Today, I am going to preach from a not-so-popular passage – the story of Cain and Abel – because whether it is FCC, or any other church – murder isn’t exactly a topic to explore.  

Genesis 4:1-16 
 
Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions.  

And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” 

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.”[b] And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen, your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!  

And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”  

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”  

Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 
 
I chose this passage to preach on because Gary’s sermon “Identity and Belonging” gave me a lot to think about – and I have been reading a book on intergenerational trauma – how the effects of trauma are passed down between generations. 

Gary said: 

“All these stories – whether it is the parables in Luke 15, or the creation story and the fall, they don’t actually reveal a sin-separation-salvation model, they reveal a shame-estrangement-restoration model. The mission of God since creation is to restore that relationship with ourselves, our relationship with God and our relationship with one another.” 

Let’s look at God’s interaction with Cain – 

God said to Cain – 

Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”  

Does this sound somehow oddly familiar? 

 
It reminded me of Cain’s parents’ interaction with God – 

 “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”  

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” 

<M> What is happening here with Cain, Adam, and Eve? 

All three of them denied what they did – they weren’t responsible and accountable for their actions. Adam and Eve blamed someone else for what happened, instead of owning up. 

<M> Why do you think they weren’t able to be responsible or accountable? 

Shame.  

Fear. Fear of punishment. Fear of losing relationships 

That is also often how we ourselves behave when we feel a sense of shame, and we fear punishment or losing that relationship. 
 

Shame is about our sense of unworthiness. We are not good enough. We are bad. We think that our worthiness is linked to our behaviours. We believe that our worthiness can be earned.  

Well – Gary highlighted in his sermon  
“Our traditional Christian understanding of the human condition is that our union from God is separated a result of the Fall right?   
 
When Adam and Eve hears God coming, they hide behind the trees. Now who went to hide? Was it God or was it Adam and Eve?  Even though they had sinned and they didn’t feel worthy, God still comes to find them.  

God still takes care of them in their place of need by sewing garments for them. And just like Adam and Eve, while we can’t be separated from God, because of our unworthiness and our shame, we can certainly feel estranged from God, distant from God or be uncomfortable with God.” 
 
Let’s return to Cain (and Abel) 

“And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” 
 

I think that it is unfortunate that the words we use can be interpreted in many different ways – God said to Cain – “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” 

I don’t think God is saying to Cain – if you do well, then you are worthy of my love. Conversely, if you did not do well, you are not worthy of my love. 
 
Rather – if you do well – then your offering will be accepted. 
 
You see, some scholars pointed out that it may not be that God prefers animal offerings to offerings of “fruit from the ground,” but rather while Abel brought the best of his flock – the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions – Cain just brought an offering of the fruit from the ground. Abel gave his best – Cain did not. 

And then what happens after that? 

God said to Cain – “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” But Cain, instead of reflecting on where he could do better, Cain repeated the patterns of his parents – blamed it on someone else. Of course he could blame God, but he took it out on his brother Abel. 

 
Cain isn’t a character that is easy to identify with at first – after all, we are not murderers. But once we start seeing what happened in this passage, then we can see similar patterns in our lives as well 

<M>Are there occasions in our lives when instead of taking responsibility and being accountable and addressing the issues at hand, we blame other people or other things? 

Yes! From something as simple and common as being late – how often have we blamed the traffic for our lack of punctuality? If I am honest, most of the time, it wasn’t the traffic – I could have factored in the traffic and left home earlier. Most of the time, I simply left home late. 

When I make mistakes, I often make excuses instead of taking responsibility.  

<M> Why do you think we blame other people, other things or make excuses? 

I have come to realise that the reason why I blame other people, other things, or make excuses instead of taking responsibility is because I link my worthiness to what I have done. So when I fail, when I make mistakes, I feel shame. I don’t go “I made a mistake” but “I am a mistake.” So to protect my own ego, to not feel shame, I don’t own up to my mistakes. I make fig leaves to cover myself. 

When FCC first started out, whenever we found out a newcomer was in any way musically trained, we would almost immediately suggest that they join our worship team.  

Some of these newcomers would step up and join the team. And then we frequently had conflicts with some of them, and they leave the team, and sometimes leave the church altogether. 

After a while, we noticed that this happened in other ministries and cell groups too – a newcomer joined us, then they enthusiastically stepped up, and some conflict erupted, and they left. 

You know, seeing these patterns now, I did wonder – is the problem us? I think it is an important question to ask ourselves, especially when we encounter similar issues over and over again, are we the problem, instead of blaming others for the issues. 

Many of these newcomers were LGBTQ, and more often than not, they had left their old church – one that they probably grew up in, one that they had friends, and even considered their church their family too.  

Some of them left because they heard a homophobic / anti-LGBTQ sermon and they could no longer take it, some of them left because they came out, and they were rejected – they were asked to step down from serving in church, step down from leadership positions. And when they found FCC, there was much rejoicing. Finally, they are home! Finally! A place that accepted them for who they are!  

Enthusiastically, they stepped up – whether it was someone suggesting that they join the worship team because they knew how to play an instrument, or another ministry because of their passion. 

Then, after a while, some differences led to conflict, and then things escalated and this newcomer quit the team, and very often left FCC altogether. 

For those who have been in FCC long enough, you would identify not one, not two, but several situations that fit what I just shared. 

<M> What do you think was the issue here? 

You see, in our need and desperation, we saw people as “things.” We didn’t see these newcomers for who they are, but for what they can do for us – their skills and their talents. That’s how the world sees us – we spend most of our adult lives working – and that’s how we are seen and valued – by what we can give, what we can do – our skills and talents. But that’s not how God sees us, and that’s not how we should see each other. 

We didn’t see the needs, wounds and hurts that these newcomers have. Some of them wanted to quickly “give back” but did not realise that their desire to serve was also driven by fear. There was, deep down, a fear that they would be rejected again. They stepped up because they wanted to show that they had something to offer, so that they won’t be rejected and abandoned again. 

But we didn’t see that. We were just glad that we had people stepping up to serve. So when conflicts happened (and they will happen), they quit. And we were often stunned because that reaction was usually quite disproportionate to the conflict. 

What happened often is that because they were stepping up because they feared being rejected and abandoned, their sense of worthiness was linked to their work. So even a small comment can have a great impact on them. “You could do better” is heard as “You are not good enough for us.” 

I know this well, because I experience this too! When I receive feedback, even rather neutral ones – I often hear “you are not good enough” rather than hear them as ways I could do better. It is a growing edge for me still. 

I feel that what happened with some of these folks is that we didn’t get to know them and build up a relationship so that we all feel safe, we all feel loved, and most importantly – we love each other not because of what we do, or what we give, but that is how God loves us – unconditional. Our worthiness is a given. Our belonging here is a given. Once we have internalized that, we have a safe space where there trust and understanding and we can work out our differences and work through the conflicts. 

Conflicts are important – because not only because conflicts are bound to happen, “Absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy.” We have conflicts because we care enough about something. If we don’t care about it, then we won’t feel anything and we will just move on.  

I have heard many times “hurt people hurt people.” Well, healed people heal people too.  
 

Being wholehearted means we do work on ourselves, and see our wounds and tend to them, so that we don’t end up reacting. 
 
And what’s the first thing we need to realise? 
 
First Realise Everyone’s Equal – EQUALLY BELOVED BY GOD. Equally worthy. 

It’s something all of us have been trying to repeat Sunday after Sunday – and especially in this sermon arc – YOU ARE BELOVED.  
 
Once we are anchored in that identity, then we are able to own up to our mistakes, and what we have done wrong without feeling shame. Then we break the intergenerational trauma that has been passed down from Adam and Eve, to Cain, to us.  

We no longer blame others for what is going on, but take responsibility for what we need to be responsible and accountable for. 

We also don’t end up distracting ourselves from our own problem by trying to fixing other people’s problems. 
 
We need to do our work on ourselves BEFORE we can become healers. (and which is why nowadays, we tell newcomers to find their place in this community, before stepping up to serve. We want to move away from a model of transactional relationship.) 

I have been reading the book “From Burned Out to Beloved” by Bethany Dearbor Hiser.  

She closed the book offering these insights  –  

To close, I humbly offer a few grounding truths that have arisen out of my codependent brokenness, my need for God, and the gift of my belovedness: 

• ▼ I am loved, not for what I do but because I am. My worth and value do not depend on how I am received or accepted. Nor do they depend on how effective and helpful I am to others and this world. I am loved just as I am. 

• ▼ I am not the healer; God is the Healer. I get to point people to Jesus, yet I also witness Jesus speaking the truth in deep soul places where my words of comfort, truth, and encouragement don’t reach. 

• ▼ I am not the hands and feet of God. God works outside of me as well as through me. When I cry out to God for help, I see the impossible happen. Mountains move and challenges are overcome in ways that even the best advocacy and clinical methods can’t accomplish. 

• ▼ I need to ask for help; I can’t do it all. I have limitations and that’s not only completely normal but also a good thing. It’s okay to say no, maybe, and tomorrow. I’m dependent on God and on others. Neither God nor other people expect me to have all the answers or to be able to figure everything out on my own. 

• ▼ I need to rest and learn to receive. I need regular times of reflection in prayer. The pain of others penetrates me deeply, so I need to be replenished and filled with God’s presence to survive. I can be okay with unproductiveness. I can choose gratitude and receive joy. 

In the book, she shared a practice developed by Rosemary Crawford. I want to close today leading you through it.  

Cease striving. 

You are loved. 

This is a day of love, of grace toward yourself, of delight. 

It is a grounding day. 

Let yourself move slowly, breathe deeply, notice, and relax. 

Relax your body, your mind, tension, and let go of the to-do list. 

You don’t need to produce anything today. 

You are—that is enough. 

Notice your reactions with grace and humility. 

Practice kindness; loving yourself and others. 

This is Sabbath. 

Don’t hurry or worry. 

Sabbath is a gift, a gift to be free, to live wholly, 

a privilege indeed that not many experience. 

Practice resurrection this day. 

You don’t need to do anything. 

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