The Waiting Wall

Part of the challenge of preaching is communicating difficult concepts in a way that wins people over and helps them to consider ideas – often ideas about themselves – that they might not otherwise have believed.

As I’ve said before, one of the most difficult ones is ‘sin’; the idea that we have any failure that needs to be addressed, confessed and made right. Here are two ways I’ve tried to illustrate it in the past from one of my favourite authors David Foster Wallace. The first you may have heard before, from his talk This is Water, the second is a conversation starter from his novel The Pale King.

And here’s a third – an illustration I used in a recent talk in a series on emotional health. You may want to check out the recording to see how I used it. The talk was on Mark 2, the man on the mat being lowered through the roof to Jesus. It looked at the importance of building communities where we can express our weakness and find restoration. But you could apply this illustration any number of ways.

Essentially, it’s this:

Last September there was an art project at Brighton station entitled The Waiting Wall. A screen was installed on the concourse by the departures board and commuters could anonymously submit their fears and confessions, which were broadcast for all to see. They were also put up on an accompanying website.

Now, you might think that the idea of confessing your inner woes to countless commuters may not be the most attractive prospect! But the organisers were overwhelmed by the number of people who submitted messages. They reported that in one 24-period alone they received over 1,000 messages. Here are just a few examples:

The reaction was fascinating: Some commuters found it too much to bear and couldn’t look at the screen. Others became addicted, visiting the station just to read the messages, or checking the website throughout the day to see what new confessions were being uploaded.

The organisers wrote about the messages:

Some are so upsetting, we can’t really take them in… There are lot about regret, death, relationships, depression. Others are lighter. That’s fine. We want people to use it anyway they want… It seems that there is a universal appeal and a need to share your problems.’

What I find fascinating about this project is how it taps into a deep human need:

There is a universal appeal and a need to share your problems.’

All of us – if we’re honest – have moments where we are weak, insecure, overcome with worry. We all live with things inside us that we wish weren’t there. Guilt and shame, over things we’ve done and things done to us.

On the one hand, we work hard to keep these things hidden – afraid that if we were to let anyone see what is inside we would be ridiculed, judged or rejected. Yet, we have this inner longing to confess, because we know how releasing it is to get things off our chest.

So as soon as we are presented with an opportunity to express our inner weaknesses without fear of stigma, judgment or rejection – with anonymity – we leap at it!

What if there was another way?

Fascinating as The Waiting Wall was, I doubt it had much lasting effect. Projecting your inner turmoil onto a digital screen may bring momentary catharsis, but it will not fundamentally change or heal your situation. The healthiest thing you can do is find a loving, caring community where you can express your deepest needs, fears and failures, knowing that those who hear them will love you, support you and help you find healing.


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