Hurt by Church? Me too. Let’s Chat.

My turn first.

It’s true. I have been hurt by church – even hurt by a church whose stated purpose is to provide a safe place to connect to God for those who have been hurt by church. A trifle ironic, you might say, and you’d be right.

However, I’m not here to drag the leadership of this church through the mud. There will be no character assassination attempts, no ranting or railing against the injustice of it all. In fact, there will be a shocking deficit of details about my experience.

What I want most to express is this: I am glad it happened.

No, you didn’t misread. I have a genuine, heartfelt, sincere sense of glee and relish because I have been  hurt by church. Sorry if that isn’t what you expected to hear. Yet bear with me and hear me out…

I admit I wasn’t always glad about it. To the contrary, there were years in which I was downright bitter about the thing. I was in pain. I was angry. I licked my wounds and sulked. I threw a huge pity party and invited me, myself, and I, and we sat around and placated one another’s tender little ol’ feelings.

Basically, I hopped on the crazy train without even looking at the itinerary first. And I have to say I didn’t really like where it left me when the time came to disembark.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

Yeah, there I was, alone and lacking the proper attire in a wasteland echoing with the sounds of my  sniveling self-pity with naught to eat but the acrid fruit of my own sharp tongue.

“Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Job 23:2

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

Not fun. Still, I am truthfully glad it happened. Not because it hurt, but because God uses all things – pain and pleasure alike – to shape His people for eternity. Maybe especially pain.

The thing is, God did not leave me to whine forever in that wasteland. Oh He let me endure it for a bit. Gave me my head, saw how far I would run astray from the Master I love. He allowed me the natural consequences of my sullen response to pain.

But He didn’t leave me because the wasteland was nothing more than a pit stop down the broad path which leads to destruction. And destruction was something I was embracing while I nursed my hurts as if they were dear, beloved friends.

Meanwhile, I was allowing something foolish like hurt feelings to build walls between me and my actual dear, beloved friends.

The stupid part is, I knew better.

In the logical part of my brain, I knew the decision which wounded me was made at a time when we were all worn thin, church leadership and laymen alike.

It was a difficult season in our church’s history, and each one of us was exerting an enormous amount of energy just to keep our heads above water and make each Sunday happen. And I also knew the decision had not been made as a personal slight.

I knew that. Yet for some reason, my pride still felt a sting and I allowed it grow. And fester.

But my Father is good. He knows when I have had enough of my own way, and He is faithful to bring me back to the narrow path by His side. And to be honest, that part hurt, too.

… He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:10-11

My God disciplined me for my own good, so I can share in something better than approval from man, or praise, or whatever it was I felt robbed of at the time. I can share in His holiness. 

Wow. Seriously, wow.

But I have to tell you, the discipline part hurt. Maybe even more than the original wound.

Because of my bitterness, I was forced to take an honest look at myself. I was compelled to assess the situation, what I knew to be true about it, and continue in God’s word.

Then once I had reconciled reality with my faulty perception, it was time to slay the monster. But it wouldn’t die.

Each time I believed it dead and moved on, the vile thing would pop its ugly head back up in a new location. Despite my best efforts at extraction, a root of bitterness coiled around my heart and continued to send new shoots piercing through my words at most inconvenient times.

It was humbling. It was horrible. And frankly, as a woman who spends so much time with her Father in His Word and in conversation throughout the days, it was embarrassing.

But it was also good.

You see, God used that one event, that one perceived slight to show me something I had overlooked. He used it to expose my selfish tendencies, my desire for approval, my propensity to “accidentally” allow my left hand a peek or two at what my right hand was doing.

He used it to expose my pride. My tendency to harbor bitterness. My inflated self-importance. And more.

But in exposing these things, He also began a long and painful work of removing them. And He prompted me to do something I can hope will be the proverbial stake through the monster’s heart.

He prompted me to confess my bitterness to two friends who in some ways represent the church I write of because they are the pastor and his wife. But as I said before, they are also my friends. And I confessed to them the bitterness I wanted gone from my life,  knowing they would accept my confession and pray for me.

It was humbling, sure, but it was also liberating. By confessing, the ugly monster no longer lurked in the depths of my heart but was brought out into the sunshine where it can wither and die. May this be the final nail in its coffin.

And so, in being hurt by church, I was able to discover and address my own junk.

There is no church on earth where people will not, from time to time, hurt one another. We are all selfish at heart. We can all be thoughtless. We respond to one another out of fatigue or pain or a myriad of other problems. And not a single one of us can read the minds and hearts of others, and so we never know if what we say or do might inflict some unintentional wound.

But my friends, that’s the inherent beauty in the church. It’s called sanctification, and it means dealing both with our own hideous monsters and with the hideous monsters of others. It’s how we learn to confess, to forgive, to grow in Christ. To become more like Him in His holiness and humility.

I am thankful for friends I can confess my sin to who will listen and hear my heart then pray for me. And I pray the stupid rift caused by bitterness will truly be healed.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
James 5:16a

And I’m even more thankful for a God who loves me enough to show me the nasty bits breeding beneath the surface of my soul, then rip them out before they squeeze the life from my heart and relationships.

So what has God wrought in you through times of being hurt, by church or otherwise?

Diplomacy and Other Poetic Sentiments

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

ShowBirds-9

“With all my heart, I tolerate you.” 

Oddly enough, I have yet to see these words splashed in false gold-leaf across the front of a sappy floral greeting card.

When I consider the amount of airtime the word, “tolerance,” is given, I have to wonder why it has not yet received this high commendation of public approval in the sentiment department. For $3.99 or thereabouts, an average human can purchase a bit of folded paper in order to proclaim undying love and devotion, wish a friend a happy birthday, send all manner of random holiday greetings, or even express sympathy over the loss of a cat.

Yet the only “tolerance” cards I can find have been sardonic parodies meant for a laugh. I have yet to hear any young man blubbing out an ardent and passionate confession of tolerance for a woman or a furious teen shrieking, “I tolerate you!” at the top of her lungs to her life-ruining mother.

Tolerance, it would seem, is a bit inadequate as an emotion.

So what’s all the fuss? Oh, yes; I remember. Tolerance is supposed to pave the path to peace.

What a heartwarming image that evokes – a room full of people representing widely differing cultures, races, and viewpoints all tolerating one another with tender, brotherly toleration.

Or perhaps the scene might more accurately be described as a room filled with heads bent over a wide variety of electronic devices upon which people tap out their knee-jerk responses to a staggering volume of bullet-point, shock-and-awe headline sound bytes, because really there simply isn’t time in the day to process it all.

I guess that’s why the author of that ancient letter now titled “Hebrews” in English translations of the Bible felt the need to qualify his call to “strive for peace with everyone.”

Peace alone, it would seem, is also a bit inadequate.

For one thing, we are urged to “strive.” That alone tells us that achieving “peace with everyone” will not be easy. This is going to be a matter of good, old-fashioned blood, sweat, and tears… the most precious of which were shed some 2000-odd years ago upon one of the more heinous modes of public execution that my species has invented.

But I digress…

The point is that peace is not enough. We must also strive for holiness, because without that key ingredient, no one will see the Lord; they will only see the friendly neighbor or the pacifist.

I find it interesting to note that the admonition to strive for peace and for holiness comes immediately after a discussion of the importance of discipline in training and the author’s coaxing to “lift drooping hands and strengthen weak knees,” which in today’s vernacular may or may not be slightly akin to “man up” or “put on your big-girl panties.” I can’t be sure because I am not privy to the nuances of colloquial Koine Greek.

At any rate, the import is that peace and holiness are not easily achieved. In fact, I would postulate that it takes something very unearthly to attain either true peace or holiness ; nothing less than the very life and breath of God in us… or at least that’s how I understood the Messiah’s words, “apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

With all this in mind, I think I love the Complete Jewish Bible’s translation of Revelation 3:19 most of all because it so beautifully reflects the idea of expended effort (and ironically is written to the lukewarm Laodicean church):

As for me, I rebuke and discipline everyone I love; so exert yourselves, and turn from your sins!
Revelation 3:19, CJB

Exert yourselves, and turn from your sins…

Hmmm… it seems to me that some of this striving for peace and holiness stuff might require me to first expend some effort in a reversal of my own faults, flaws, and outright crimes. That puts some punch to the Lord’s statement about denying self and taking up crosses in order to follow Him. He certainly did not carry His cross to the Roman equivalent of Disneyland.

It could be that what the world needs most is not so much tolerance as it is a stout number of Christians willing to take a sober look in the mirror and Biblically evaluate how well the Kingdom ambassador peering back is doing in his or her representation of the Most High God.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20

Personally, I am humbled by that thought…

 

Lessons from Parenthood

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Proverbs 3:11-12

My home is awash in hormones. I pity my husband, really, as he seems to be the only member of our family who is not going through some physio-chemical change right now. All three of our children are in various stages of puberty, and I… well, I am a woman in my 40s. Enough said.

Last week, one of the inevitable explosions occurred smack in the middle of our school day. My middle daughter and I clashed over a particular point of continuing disrespectful behavior. Warnings and verbal rebukes had been given in plenty, yet the problem persisted. Rather than accepting correction with humility, she responded sullenly, certain she had been wronged and blaming me entirely rather than accepting any responsibility for her own actions.

Try as I do not to take these things personally, there was a bit of me that was hurt by her petulant response to discipline. I was overcome by a sense of my own inadequacy and felt like a failure as a mom. A more selfish part of me was frustrated that, after all I have sacrificed in order to home school, the results were not meeting my expectations.

In that moment, I desperately wished that my children could see the grace they are given when my husband and I warn them not to continue in wrong behaviors.  I wished that they would accept accountability for their actions rather than assigning blame elsewhere.  I wanted them all to know the sacrifices that have been made so they can have the life they do.

I also longed for them to stop receiving gentle rebukes as if they were merely a reprieve from punishment, but instead to heed them as sincere warnings that unpleasant consequences lie ahead if the behavior continues. I wished the kids would just listen and understand that all the discipline my husband and I administer is done out of love and for their own good.

Oh…

Realization punched through my agitation: I am often exactly like my child. In all the incorrect responses of my child, I see a reflection of my own incorrect responses to my Father’s discipline.

I love that my Father keeps me humble. I love that He uses the painful incidents — and even failures — of my own parenting to remind me of His own sacrificial, nurturing nature; to bring my focus off my problems or my hurt and back to Him where it belongs.

Perhaps next time there is a parent/child conflict, I will remember that parenting is a part of my own spiritual training.  Perhaps my children’s responses will serve to remind me to respond with humility and openness when I am chastened.  Perhaps I can keep my eyes on the enormous sacrifice of my Father, losing myself entirely in the depths of His overwhelming love.

Perhaps, too, the next time simmering emotions boil over into full-scale battle, I will not cave to feelings of parental failure but rely on the only perfect Father to be my wisdom and my strength.

When I am grieved by my children, let it be a reminder to me how my Father grieves when I ignore His still, small voice.  May it be that both my children and I will always turn to Him no matter what external or internal forces may be at work. And I pray that I may always, always be faithful to discipline my children in love, forgiving them as I have been forgiven, and at all times pointing them to God both in my words and my deeds.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Ephesians 4:31-5:1

On Bridles and Leashes

Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.
Psalms 32:9

I have very little experience with horses, but this verse rings true to me nonetheless. What I do have is a dog that I absolutely adore. Actually, I have two dogs but one if them is squarely my dog.

When she was a puppy,  she would only sleep in the crate if it was positioned where she could see me in the bed. If I leave through the downstairs door, she is often found waiting for me on the top stair when I return.

YumiWaiting004

Her crate days are long over, and while she has branched out a little and often ventures into rooms I am not present in, she does still, for the most part, follow me like… well, like a puppy dog.  She is an excellent companion. I trust her around children and rarely have trouble getting her to obey promptly.

Unless, that is, she sees a squirrel.

I don’t know what it is, but the bouncy little guys trigger something deep in her doggy brain that nothing else does and she is prone to dart after one when she spots it.

And so, on our frequent walks together I use a leash.  When she was younger, she would strain against the leash at the enticing vision of one of the little rodents fitfully searching for its winter hoard. Age and many miles of experience walking on a lead has tempered her interest, and now she only acknowledges them with a perk of the ears… or sometimes not at all.

Even so,  I keep that leash on when we walk. She has proved in the past that she needs it, and I am aware of dangers that do not enter her canine consciousness.  I confess I have envied the occasional hiker I’ve seen whose dog trots faithfully, leash-free, at his heels, but I am not yet willing to risk my dog’s safety with such heady freedom as that. Someday, perhaps, but for now I have seen enough interest sparked by a scurrying squirrel to keep my dog tethered on our excursions.

It is the same with us…  Some of us have learned that our God is so good, so  wholly trustworthy, and so incomprehensibly wise that we will eagerly follow His footsteps on the narrow path. That isn’t to say we might not look around or hesitate, but we come at his bidding and regain our place at His side with little fuss.

I long to be like that, and by God’s grace I truly believe that someday, He will bring my training to just such a point. I strongly desire to be more eagerly responsive to His quiet calls, more mindful of where He steps, less tempted to wander away at the slightest diversion; in short, to fix my eyes on my Master alone as we walk along.

However, I confess that I am by no means as close a follower as I ought to be. I am not yet to a point where I never require a “bit and bridle.” What I have learned, however, is not to strain against such apparatus when God attires me in it. As I have grown more trusting of Him, grown to love Him more and more, I notice the bit and bridle less, in part because I fight them less. 

More often these days,  my eyes are fixed on Him and we have taken some few little adventures together where I walk free, bound only by adoration for my King. Even so, I know that any moment I demonstrate a need for His restraint, He will promptly provide it. 

Because He is a perfect Father, He will give us each the measure of discipline we deserve. If we need a bridle to keep us from straying, He will  supply it. Should we need a rod applied in discipline, He will apply it as vigorously as the situation requires to curb our error and bring us back into the safety of His presence.

Make no mistake — if we need correction of any sort, correction we shall have– not because He is a tyrant, but for our welfare,  to keep us from wandering into danger. Because He loves us and in His infinite wisdom, knows dangers our created minds cannot fathom.  Because He is good.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalms 23:4

 

In Appreciation of Pain, Part Two

 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

(If you missed the first installment of why I am thankful for a prolonged season of pain and want to check it out, you can find it here.) 

Some of the spiritual gleanings of the years I spent living with chronic migraine cannot be expressed in clunky words. They are, for now, just impressions of intense joy or closeness with my God. Other lessons are permanently etched into my consciousness, as palpable as scars from a wound. They act as a brand of sorts, reminding me to Whom I belong and are entirely caused by my opposition to His firm leading.  Many of these scars are remnants of the chastening I received during those years, reminders to me now of the plentiful grace God was eager to give when I humbled myself… and of the ridiculous wilfulness I demonstrated, digging in my heels against His attempts to lead me to still waters and green pastures.

This second lesson is the one for which I am most exquisitely grateful but is also the most difficult to share. However, I want to share it with you; this bit of  instruction more painful even than the migraines themselves, poignant and personal, so that if you, my beloved, go through a season of crushing, you can be reminded that all the trials God allows to afflict us are for our eternal good–shaping us, preparing us for an eternal expanse of joy beyond compare.

During those dark years, I went through Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s study for women entitled Lies Women Believe and was confronted with a truth, roughly summarized that my circumstances do not make me what I am; they reveal what I already am. Before entering this long, treacherous stretch of my spiritual journey, I had felt pretty good about myself as a Christian. I served my God well, or so I believed. I had sacrificed much and was pretty proud of that. I did a lot for the Kingdom–at least in my own estimation — and I was able to demonstrate love to a variety of people. By all appearances, I was a good servant.

However, the God who knew my heart was ready to show me what lurked beneath the surface.

When I had walked in that dark valley long enough that even my hobbies weighed as a burden and the concept of “fun” had faded to a distant memory, then the real me was revealed.  I discovered that my heart contained more that was shrewish, complaining, and hateful than I had ever dreamed. I saw that I had little self-control and less patience. In short, my circumstances revealed a me that I was ashamed of and horrified by. It was as if I had imagined I was dressed for a royal gala only to have a mirror held up, exposing garments that were soiled and tattered,  greasy hair in utter disarray, skin that was sallow and sickly.

Here, in the disagreeable circumstance of chronic pain, I was confronted with some bare facts: my heart harbored more bitterness than blessing, more rage than compassion, more indulgence than self-discipline. Much of my service was revealed to me now to be done out of pride; a prim little girl looking for accolades and disappointed when none were offered. God lovingly but firmly exposed the real me that seethed secretly with bitterness and resentment.

I felt entitled to appreciation, entitled to have someone else help me in my work when I was sick, irritated when I felt that the work I did was unfair. And sometimes it was. I justified my peevishness with worldly standards, but by the grace and chastisement of my Father, I now fully comprehend that it was –and is — desperately, desperately wrong.

You see, for me to think that I deserve anything for my paltry, haughty service, to believe that I deserve anything at all outside of condemnation for the tremendous sin debt I owe, is tragically incorrect. All I deserve is death, yet in Christ I have been granted not only unmerited forgiveness but eternal life as well. It is by His grace alone I am saved. The thankfulness I have for this gift is beyond expression, though it took suffering to make me see clearly.

So did this time of intense and painful scourging result in a harvest of peace and righteousness? Peace, yes. I now have a more profound peace in my heart than I ever knew to be possible. Righteousness–well, the only righteousness I can claim is the mantle of my Lord that He, in His mercy, has clothed me in. I can say undoubtedly that I am no longer serving Him for what I may get out of it, but out of a gratitude so intense that it makes any task He metes seem light and simple, and when I fall into old habits of grumbling, the scars remind me to repent and fix my mind on His grace once more. The burdens I once whined beneath are now cheerfully borne because of the love I bear for my King. This is the meaning of Matthew 11:30, and I rejoice in the pain that helped me to understand it.

But even that is not all. He had something to show me still yet. . .