Asher Witmer

rediscovering Jesus

No Broken People Allowed what happens in church when Christians hide their failures

How do you handle it when a drug addict wearing a dirty t-shirt and raggedy shoes walks into your church? What’s your response when he has something to say and it goes longer than typical for personal testimonies?

lucidwaters/Depositphotos.com

lucidwaters/Depositphotos.com

Maybe your church doesn’t get that kind of visitors, but so far, every church I’ve been apart of has experienced that at some point or another. You want to know my response?

I feel awkward.

It makes me feel uncomfortable because it disrupts the nice little box that I’ve put church life into. Oh, I know how I should respond, and believe me, I do my best to respond in a loving, caring way. But to be totally honest, I feel like staying distant and unengaging, and sometimes think critically of the person. It’s easy to have an attitude of superiority. If I do attempt to “care” for the person, it tends to be more about impressing my fellow “Christians” than because I actually care for the person who just walked in.

I don’t like this about myself. I want a deep love and acceptance of everyone no matter what background they come from, but at this point in my life I don’t. Not intentionally. It’s just that I’m so used to a safe, sanctified, pretty-much-perfect world that these things always bring an unexpected lurch to my sense of reality.

Perfect Churches

Within the Christian culture, we don’t do well at caring for broken people, especially in a church mainly filled with multigenerational believers. We’ve known all of our lives how to live appropriately and so Christianity becomes more about living rightly than faith and transformation in Christ. When we “came to know Christ” we didn’t feel a need for change. We knew we needed it, so we went through the motions of “accepting” Him, but it wasn’t really done in faith; it was what good people do.

And we did it.

Is Christ more glorified by our perfection, or by our brokenness?

My friend Casey (that’s not her real name) recently opened up to a group of women from her church about a difficult time she went through. Nobody really acknowledged her. She broke down crying as she shared, but it was kind of awkward because no one did anything. She learned in that moment that if she wants to be received by her fellow sisters in Christ she shouldn’t share what is really going on inside her heart.

Troy and Caroline both came from broken families. Neither of their parents stayed together, but they committed their lives to Christ and desperately fought for their own relationship and family.

And were growing.

A few years ago, Caroline was killed in a tragic accident, which left Troy absolutely devastated. Understandably so! He struggled with deep depression and found himself unable to care properly for his children.

How did his church handle it?

Within a few weeks of the accident, almost everyone greeted him on Sunday mornings as if his life was as normal as the rest of theirs. Because of his apparent neglect of his kids, the church stepped in and basically took control of them. He ended up feeling abandoned, misunderstood and somewhat abused. When he quit coming to church as often, people viewed him as unappreciative and unsubmissive.

In multigenerational Christian churches, we’re so used to families who are together and relatively emotionally stable that we don’t know how to handle those who aren’t, or who haven’t come from that kind of background.

Requirements for church membership demand overcoming an addiction to smoking or wearing a certain style of clothing we deem modest. For those of us who grew up in the church, it was the way we always lived. For others, though, it’s like going to Timbuktu and learning how to do life the Malian way.

Church requirements focus more on outside sins (smoking, dress, habits of leisure) instead of internal sins such as gluttony, gossip, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, anger, rebellion, materialism and many more.

The idea is, once you have your outside life altogether you can become a member. And then, don’t show anymore imperfections after that.

I don’t think this happens on purpose. It’s just that we get good at being good. We know the lingo. We know how to share about victories and answered prayers, and we also know that disciples of Christ are supposed to be able to live with freedom and passion for God and holiness. So when we don’t feel free, ourselves, or when we bump into other people who aren’t free (especially those claiming to be disciples of Christ), we don’t know what to do.

Becoming Broken

When was the last time you shared about a struggle you’re going through? I don’t mean your struggle with lack of finances, illness you’re suffering or a really hard experience. I’m talking about the embarrassing struggles, like doubting the basics of faith, wondering if God really exists and if you’ve ever really known Him, or wondering what the point of Christianity is in the first place.

The more I listen, the more I get the feeling many of us have these types of internal conflicts.

It’s just that we don’t know how to be real about them because everyone else seems to be okay. No one else appears to have such basic struggles.

When was the last time our testimony times were filled with confessions of intense bitterness, or impatience toward family? Have we ever been honest about our pride and tendency to manipulate through influence prowess, the negative thoughts we have toward newcomers who walk into church, behind the back gossip of the needy family in the congregation, or the way we do things to impress certain people in order to get greater recognition?

I’m asking this because these are the types of sins we commit all the time within the church. And you know what’s even worse, we are good at justifying not sharing about these types of failures.

You want to know something else, though? I believe that almost all of us are getting tired and frustrated with the sense of fake-ness we feel in our churches. I doubt every church is struggling with it right now, but I’ve been involved in churches and Christian organizations enough to know that at some point everyone will struggle with it. Unless we are intentionally regularly confessing and praying together, pleading with God for deeper transformation, it is inevitable that we who know a better way to live become detached from the reality of our own hearts and spiritual neediness.

The apostle James urged us to confess our sins one to another and pray for each other so we may be healed (Js. 5:16). Peter told us to that above all else we are to keep loving one another, since “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8) In these passages, they are not talking about people outside of the church. They are talking about those of us inside the church who claim to be disciples of Christ.

Jason Gray has a song that says, “If you want to love someone, search their soul for where it’s broken.” How scary is that? Look for another person’s brokenness and then love them.

You know what we do in the church? We look for people’s brokenness so we can confront them and rebuke them for their sin. It’s as if we’re more consumed with slapping people than helping them.

And we do it under the disguise of pursuing holiness or life.

What is radical about Jesus Christ and the New Testament is that while He and His disciples are unwavering with conviction in the Truth of God’s Word, they are totally enraptured with helping people. Even church discipline, as described in Scripture, is clothed with love and the pursuit of reconciliation.

We use church discipline to throw our weight around.

Truth, love, obedience, relationship—these are all fruits of a true disciple of Christ. They are not competing principles. They are signs of God’s Holy Spirit within a person, and if ever any of them are missing, it reveals a fake disciple. At least, a rather immature one.

People are not attracted to perfection. God is not most glorified when we are perfect. He is most glorified when His perfection is realized in our lives through hearts of faith. People are attracted to authenticity and acceptance in spite of failures and neediness.

That is what is radical about Christ.

How do we curb this? How can we bring about change in our churches right now?

Simply start being transparent.

Go ahead and share a victory story. We need those. But also share struggles.

When others tell their struggles, care for them by sensitively asking questions that help bring understanding to their struggle and draws them out even more. Create a safe environment by sharing from your own failures, not victories. At least, not right away because it will make them feel more like a failure if you bring to light your recent win.

We have got to start caring about how people feel. We have this misconception that we must stand by truth regardless of how it makes people feel, but that is absolutely false. Truth without love is no truth at all. It’s religious rhetoric for the purpose of control or self-exaltation. That doesn’t mean we make people feel good without giving them Truth–that’s not real love. But the reality is, many people decide what to believe and how to live their lives based on how people made them feel.

Let’s quit faking it and start being transparent about our failures, because true love means caring for each others brokenness.

Make it Real

Are you ready? Are you ready to quit trying to impress people and gain other’s approval and simply be yourself, honest about the struggles, failures and victories? Are you ready to show the side of you that you are afraid others won’t accept?

I am.

And here’s why: I’m tired of trying to look perfect. As if I have it all together. The reality is, I don’t. I struggle to keep my priorities straight. One of my biggest sins is impatience and anger toward my wife and family. I could call it a weakness, but it’s not. It’s a sin. And it grieves me that I commit it.

I struggle with knowing how to care for my wife when she feels pain, because I still haven’t fully figured out how to process the pain in my own life—especially the pain of losing loved ones. What do you do with that? It is so easy to quote Job because I know people admire that, but that’s not how I feel. I want to feel it. I want to bless the Lord with a whole heart, but right now, I can’t.

I struggle with procrastination.

I struggle with overscheduling myself.

I struggle with really trying to gain people’s approval.

I struggle with thoughts that make me feel like a pervert.

These are all things I struggle with right now as I write this. Not that I don’t experience victories in them, but they’re areas of my life I keep wrestling with over and over again. I don’t feel that I have many answers for them, and that’s why I share them.

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Maybe you can pray for me. Maybe you have similar struggles and it will help you feel like you’re not alone. I’m sure you have input you could share with me, as well. I’m just tired of fakeness. I’m tired of seeing myself as better than the addict that just walked into church. I’m tired of pretending to be something I’m not, always.

I’m tired of acting like there’s no broken people allowed.

Will you join me in living transparently so we can love each other more deeply and realize, together, Christ’s perfection?

Question: Do you feel this awkwardness in church as well? Share in the comments.

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About Asher Witmer

I am a son of God, husband, father, and difference maker. I love helping people sort through hard questions they face and rediscover Jesus. I have written three eBooks dealing with church frustrations, and send out daily posts addressing faith, church and relationships.

  • LaDonna

    This is good, great points about what should be happening in our churches today. However, I take a little offense when you say things like Christians don’t deal with brokenness very well. For one I’ve seen many true Christians deal with brokenness in a beautiful way. I’ve seen others not so so well. The Church I grew up in would have gathered around that girl and prayed for her. Our council meeting time was filled with confessions of bitterness, doubt, and even lust. The church that I moved too not so much. But I am seeing growth in that area. My point is true Christianity deal with brokenness the best. And I squirm a little at the box you lumped all Christians into. What you say is true, it may just be swallowed and excepted better if it doesn’t feel we are all lumped into the same group. Hope I’m making sense with what I say. I really appreciate your insite into this subject! Good stuff here!

  • Marcellus

    This is really good stuff! I can’t agree with you more about our need to care for others in a sensitive way. Our churches need to create a safe place to share struggles and real battles! It is not weak to struggle with and question things… Let’s speak the truth in love in a way that cares for the heart! Feelings are real and they do matter… Often, you may not remember exactly what was said, but you definitely remember how it made you feel. Thanks for this great post! I needed to read this.

  • Luasaigh

    I was removed from a Beachy church for raising some protection concerns. The very people who had welcomed me to stay with them and eat with them, who had said I could join, turned on me in an instant. I was depressed, self harming and suicidal and they turned their backs on me. I survived several suicide attempts and went to hospital 3 times.

    I now have a whole new perspective on the parable of the Good Samaritan: the rabbi and priest who would have obeyed all the Mosaic laws, did not care to become unclean in helping the wounded man, the herectical Samaritan who stopped and helped. If we dress with modesty, drive modest cars, baptise only adults, practise the holy kiss and all the other biblical teachings but lack compassion upon others, then we are truly not Christian. Our gay neighbour in a pro-lgbt church who helps a neighbour in need is the greater Christian. Our neighbour who has tattoos and piercings and attends an anti-trintarian church who helps one in need is the greater Christian. Our neighbour who prays to Mary more than God who helps a neighbour in need is the greater Christian. Despite my covering and capedress, my biblical beliefs I am not a Christian if I need someone hurting, someone going without and walk on by. It is a lesson to me.

  • Glenn

    Thanks for sharing on this reality. I’ve been the Pharisee who scorned the ‘publican’. And I’ve also been the one who has bared my heart in penitent brokenness, desiring to be real, only to feel the scornful (at least it felt that way) silence. I think there’s a lot of people in the church (especially our Mennonite/Anabaptist background)who really desire to be real, but they just don’t know how. They havent seen it practically walked out. We need to be willing to be vulnerable, despite the pain, so that others can come to deeper levels of freedom and authenticity. It’s a small sacrifice for the great returns. It’s ‘the way the Master trod, should not the servants tread it still?’
    There are some who simply don’t want to get into anything messy. Years ago, I was on the evangelism committee in the Mennonite church of which I was a part. I had been working at communicating with the warden of the local country jail with the interest of conducting a regular Bible study with the inmates. So one evening at our committee meeting, I was sharing about my endeavors. As we discussed the aspects of having this Bible study, our elder deacon shook his head dissaprovingly and said, “I am not in favor of having a Bible study at the jail. What if some prisoners would get serious and then if they get released they would want to come to church here. That would bring to much trouble for us to have to deal with ex-convicts in our church life.”
    Was Jesus’ life kept in a neat little box? Did he avoid anything that had any aspects of messiness? If we have that Life flowing through us, I am thinking maybe we will be eager to enter into messy situations and befriend raggedy people so that we get to experience the excitement of watching the awesome workings of redemption. After all, wasn’t that what was done for us?!

  • M Weaver

    So am I alone, in that when the spirit prompts me to share, the struggle to be honest and forthright about where I am at is a battle to be won in my heart and on my knees. I have never found it to be ‘easy’ no matter what the atmosphere. I believe the fault lies more in the the devil knowing that audible confession brings healing, and he has a different agenda. I am not saying that we never experience pain, but rather that if our confessions are are motivated by ‘safety’ the devil will keep us convinced that there is no such place around. I am so thankful for true sisters in Christ that have listened and prayed with me without condeming, but even more, that when I audibly confess my sin and desire to grow in Christ, that need is ALWAYS met as I allow Christ to work in my heart. Thank God it is not contingent on others responces. Please understand, I am not insinuating that rejection or cross-eyed looks from others feel good. Just thankful that our healing is not dependent on people and right reactions!

    • Thanks for sharing. You’re absolutely right, we can’t be looking for healing strictly from other people. Ultimately it come from God. Our needs are met in Christ. However, it is in the context of relationships that we fully experience God’s love and healing. That’s what makes it such a struggle. In first John, the test of whether or not someone is in Christ is whether or not he loves his brothers. We ought to create safe environments for each other to share openly so we can mutually give to each other emotionally and spiritually.

      To initiate that, though, is pretty risky. Especially in groups where that isn’t already happening.

    • LaDonna

      Exactly!

  • Good words, Asher, and a good description of the accepting, compassionate spirit that ought to prevail in our churches.
    Just to add to your thoughts, I think certain confessions are appropriate for a large group and others are better said one-on-one or to a small group. If Sally Stoltzfus confides to me in private that she’s depressed and struggling with trusting God, I can cry with her, give her a hug, put my hand on her shoulder, murmur my understanding, and pray for her. If she stands up in church and says the same thing, I sit there awkwardly because she’s across the aisle and three rows up, and to go put my hand on her shoulder would mean standing up, stepping over ten large knees, and navigating around a sleeping baby.
    Then there’s the matter of sexual sins which in my opinion are best confessed to a mentor and not to the church as a whole. I suppose there are exceptions that need to be brought to the church, but I feel it violates all appropriate boundaries when young men, in front of all the youth group girls, the grandmas, and everyone, publicly confess to getting into pornography. Yes, they need to be honest and accountable, but keep it to a chosen few.
    Of course, this doesn’t change your basic point, that we all, individually and collectively, need to be real and to extend grace to others.

    • Dorcas,

      I just now found this comment in my “trash” bin. Not sure how it got there, but I’m approving it now. Sorry about that!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! You are absolutely right–there is a time to share certain information. Especially as it concerns sexual sins. I’m with you on that! Even when people share something at the wrong time, however, those of us sitting there ought to do what we can to step over the ten large knees and make sure that person feels loved. Mennonites do great at loving within the code. But most people who need it badly don’t follow code.

  • Monie

    I appreciate that you didn’t censure one church in particular. I think these sins are common to mankind, the temptations come from the devil. One church, one group of people isn’t necessarily more prone to a certain mindset than another. I agree with your post. I feel Jenny’s pain and have been there too. There is hope!

    • You’re absolutely right, Monie! These sins are common to mankind. The tendency to hide failures will happen in any culture that knows how to live a better way. There is hope! Hope in Jesus Christ and people who completely surrender to Him!

  • Darrell

    Interacting in various spheres of society as well as various cultures has reinforced this for me that Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. It seems the weakness of formality of church order is that on multiple levels, authenticity, or the reality of in-formality in our material (physical), spiritual, and emotional being, is inconvenient or disrupts this ecclesiastical nirvana that we ceaselessly strive for. We are uncomfortable to present our imperfections ultimately because of our pride. We ourselves, our particular church, our denomination, our ecclesiastical ancestry we may feel we must protect from even the perception of having any “issues.” We know it isn’t true but we seem to feel some compulsion to act as if it is. If I can deal humbly and truly with the reality that I stand in as much need of the grace of God as the fellow wretch who cannot conceal it as perhaps I can, then I hope I’m ready to associate with him. As my late wife reminded me, fear God. I want to be who I am. When I am who I am, who I am can be changed. Thanks for raising this.

  • Linda

    Thank you so much for sharing. This gives me such great hope for the Mennonite denomination in particular. I left (for the very issues mentioned: they couldn’t handle my brokenness), but I still care deeply for them. Praise God that there are those of you receiving this light. I know that so many will be helped and encouraged!

  • Katelyn

    I can totally relate to this. The problem I have is not knowing how to handle people who are different or caught in sin in different ways than I tend to be. I don’t feel better than they, but I also don’t know how to reflect Christ to them, maybe just because I haven’t had much experience with people not like me? I’m sure it’s a learnable skill, but I don’t know how to go about learning it…

    • I know what you mean, Katelyn. I think if our hearts are filled with love and care for the people, and if we intentionally get involved with peoples lives to show them God’s love, we’ll learn how to better care for them. Not that we won’t make mistakes along the way, but people can feel love even when the actions are sometimes wrong–know what I mean?

      Keep it up! God bless!

      • Katelyn

        Thanks! Yeah, that’s helpful. Basically, if I stop waiting to try until I know how to show people I care, I’ll get better at serving them effectively just doing it. I kinda knew that, but it’s helpful understand that in so many words.

  • Joy

    Wow! It is like someone else said you hit the nail on the head and it is something I have struggled with much of my adult life and later teen years. I struggle with a lot of depression and long for that openness with others of like faith but I just can’t find it. I come from a conservative Mennonite background and that is something I was not allowed to talk about even at home. I remember there was a time that I struggled with being addicted to reading supposedly Christian romance novels and I tried talking to my mother about it and she told me “it is not a problem for me to read them.” I knew better then that because her fruit betrayed her. She was not happy with her lot in life. Fortunately I was able to get some help with this struggle from a professional Christian counselor for which I am very grateful. But I do have spiritual struggles that I don’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone because of the stigma that you talked about. I no longer go to a Mennonite church but a Holiness (God’s Missionary) Church and I find myself continually telling myself I am going to share with my pastor when he comes to visit but I have not found the courage to do so. I too am tired of all the pretending to be what I am not. Thanks for the great article.

    • Keep pressing on, Joy. God bless you!

      One thing I think we need to be aware of as well is to remember that Christ meets our needs. Our sharing struggles should not be done with closed fists insisting that people then meet our needs for healing, but rather with open palms of sharing openly no matter what the response. We desire people walk with us, and I believe the ministry of believers is to care for each other (love your brother). Since it would help my brother know how to love me I share my struggle with him. But I do not demand with expectation that he do that. Instead, I rest in that Christ has already met my needs. Does that make sense?

      It’s been powerful for me to grasp that concept at a deeper level.

  • Winston

    Good word! Blessings for opening this subject.
    I’m praying that the church will be cleansed of the scourge of hypocrisy!

  • Yes, Asher… I’m ready to live that way too! Thanks for provoking and prompting us again!!

  • cmd

    Hey Asher,
    I really enjoy your passionate writing man!
    I Cor 6:11 shows a a church that was comprised of broken people! Maybe we could ask “If brokenness is shunned here, are we a church?”
    I’m asking most of these same questions you are. Not to be contentious, but out of a passion to know the Truth!
    Fortunately, I’ve found a lot of openness and honest confession about real life struggles, even from my friends in conservative mennonite churches. Most of the times when I’ve been vulnerable and exposed the darkest chambers of my heart with a brother, they have exposed their deepest and darkest as well. We then encourage each other, and strive on together. It very rarely happens in a service though…unfortunately. Mostly because of the way we’ve designed our “formal services”. But, that’s a whole different topic. It seems like the problem is not that we can’t identify with brokenness, but that we don’t know how to deal with it as a body should. We need to work on it for sure!
    Keep pressing on!

    • Thanks for sharing! It’s awesome to hear the openness to personal struggles. I’ve found the same to be true and it’s always so meaningful when it happens! Unfortunately, that’s not everyone’s story. But I believe people will respond if someone just leads out in being sensitive to others or sharing raw struggles.

      I also agree that it can be difficult to structure the service in a way that facilitates this effectively. It’s always a blessing to when it is done well!

  • Shirley

    Thank you ! I appreciate your openness as to why exactly the church struggles with accepting people who aren’t “quite there” . I wasted a good many years trying to encourage people to include/accept those who “had issues” and kept running against a brick wall. I always thought that I was not saying the right thing or not being clear or something. Its still difficult for me to realize that ” they just didnt wanna” and that its not my responsibility to make them want to.

    • People have to want it, that’s true, but I also believe people will respond if someone just leads out in being sensitive to others or sharing raw struggles. I believe people want to be connected at that deeper level–we just don’t know how. It’s kind of foreign. Let’s go be those change agents with those around us.

  • Powerful, yes! Can I interject an observation? People don’t want to hear about non-physical pain. They don’t want to hear the struggles. It’s okay to talk about a medical illness or some misfortune that is not your fault. It’s not okay to talk about how you lost your temper on someone during an argument. Or you swore (weren’t you raised better?) Or you were spent a morning basking in envy (are you not grateful?) People don’t know what to do with that. Let our prayer be that we can be the person who God lifts up to truly listen when someone reveals their hurts and shortcomings and that we can respond in love. A call for greater transparency and compassion would be a solid beginning if we are to change church culture in our lifetime. Also, yes, I’ve been that uncomfortable person sitting there while someone opened up in a sea of tears, but that cultural conditioning was a shortcoming in need of repentance. We need a revival of awareness that we were created for so much more.

    • I think you’re right, Monica. It’s easier to talk about physical pain or issues we ourselves don’t deal with. But I also believe people will respond if someone just leads out in being sensitive to others or sharing raw struggles. I believe people want to be connected at that deeper level–we just don’t know how. It’s kind of foreign. So let’s be those change agents with those around us.

  • Ann

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been on both sides of the wall. I’m beginning to see that the theme from Genesis to Revelation is redemption. And you can’t have redemption if everything’s perfect. Sometimes I think we try to act like angels. When God made us He didn’t want angels. He had those. Instead He wanted to show His love through the redemption of mankind. He gave us a free will knowing we’d mess up big time. And He was perfectly okay with that! It blows me away! I want to be more transparent even if it means rejection. But I know that’s easier said than done. God bless you for being open about your struggles. And thanks again for sharing this.

    • Amen, Ann. The story of God’s glory is His redemption of mankind! Thanks for sharing!

  • Jenny

    Wow. This needs to be heard. It hits the nail right on the head! It’s so true- so many are not okay with brokenness, and we all learn to hide it. Here is what I struggle with: If I am authentic and show my brokenness, I am punished for it (by others disapproving and withdrawing) so that in the end, I am given more pain instead of less. So I feel that when you say be open, you are asking me to put my hand on the table even though each time I lay it there, it gets smashed with a hammer. I can’t make myself lay it there anymore.

    I do understand the need for openness… as you pointed out, if we all hide our imperfections, we all think we are the only one who has them! And that is not good. I am not saying we shouldn’t be vulnerable with others, just explaining my difficulty!

    • Barb

      Jenny. I understand and feel your pain firsthand!! Praying you find that one person who will listen without judgement and help you!

    • Jenny, thanks for sharing your pain. . . and being honest. Sadly, not everyone will understand our pain and care in meaningful ways. Where trust is broken, it’s okay for it to take time to heal. . . but wherever we can begin to share openly (and listen to others when they are open), I believe it will help bring a new life to the church.

      God bless you!

    • I agree: if honesty with someone else brings condemnation and shaming instead of hearing, healing and help, “being honest” doesn’t do us much good.

      I wonder how many times we don’t feel very compassionate toward those who make themselves vulnerable and get really honest, because we are trying to live the Christian life on our own strength instead of by God’s power. Our own achievements and strengths make us feel superior to those who struggle in those areas. On the flip side, our own struggles show us that we’re not as perfect as we would like to be, either, and so we put others down to make ourselves feel better.

      Perhaps the answer is for each of us to realize our need of God’s grace?

      http://www.aradicalforjesus.com/2016/04/17/what-is-grace/

      • I believe there’s truth to what you’re saying, Joel. Our put-downs can be an attempt to feel better ourselves, and we certainly need to extend grace to each other. I also believe people will respond if someone just leads out in being sensitive to others or sharing raw struggles. I believe people want to be connected at that deeper level–we just don’t know how. It’s kind of foreign. So let’s be those change agents with those around us.