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?

Nothing Personal

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
(Romans 12:9-10)

All around me are relationships in crisis.

From common and trite forms of sibling contention to damaged marriages gasping out a final breath and everything in between, I have seen a great deal of contention.

But there are also marriages which are thriving. Siblings who truly adore one another. I know of marriages – my own included –  which have been salvaged only because the foundation is built on God even when every other part crumbled. Many of these are growing deeper in an active, genuine, and practical love day by day.

What’s the difference?

In several – though not all – cases, the conflict arises from a most intriguing dichotomy of human nature: our tendency to expect others to assume our best intentions in each of our actions while assuming the worst intentions of those who we believe have wronged us.

Often conflict arises because one or both parties have fallen for the oldest trick in the Book. Literally.

All the way back to the first man and woman, the Adversary’s tactic was to make the woman doubt the intentions of her Creator.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say… ?”

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
(Genesis 3:1b, 4-5)

From the dawn of mankind, the Adversary has been tempting us to assume God does not have our best interests at heart. Centuries later, the habit is so ingrained in us that we not only assume God has it in for us, we assume everyone else does, too.

We want to be forgiven when we’ve done a wrong – if we even own up to doing wrong, that is. Yet we are reluctant to forgive, preferring to lick our wounds and seethe with resentment.

When we cut someone off during our morning commute, we trust they will know we are late for a meeting, or we’ve had the flu and are just spacey, or whatever. But woe to the one who cuts us off as we drive.

If we are rude, it is much the same. When we are wronged, how dare they? Yet when we wrong others, why oh why do they not see our wrongdoing was a simple mistake?

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given for parenting teens was not to take anything personally. The eyeroll, the death-glare, even the occasional exclamation of hatred – none of them are personal, even though they feel remarkably personal. Most of the time, the teen is just acting on their own hormonal sea of confusion. Their brains are not working.

But sometimes I do take it personally. And after that, I take it to God, who teaches me forgiveness and mercy.

Somehow, as I’ve prayed through this difficult aspect of parenting, God has been changing me. Not only are the horrible things my teens occasionally say or do not personal, the horrible things I occasionally say back are not, either.

My husband loves me. Thus, if he does something I find irritating or feel hurt by, I remind myself to assume his best intentions. Not his worst. In so doing, I have found it easy to appreciate him. And it just keeps getting better.

In fact, when I assume the best intentions of the driver who cuts me off or the rude grocery clerk and answer sour faces with a smile, I find my whole life is more pleasant.

How interesting that our God would encourage a behavior in us which only leads us to enjoy His peace and presence more and more…

After all, at a time when I rejected Him, He didn’t take it personally. Or rather, He took it intensely personally. So much so that He offered the blood of His Son and to lovingly discipline me until I was overwhelmed by His astonishing grace. For me. For all of humanity.

As a challenge – for myself as well as you – if someone rubs you wrong, try to remember a time you were a little prickly yourself. Feel a pang of sorrow for them because their day is clearly not going well. Recall the grace of a God who would be justified in eradicating each one of us, then smile and remind yourself, “It’s nothing personal.”

Let’s pray both that we can be a bit less delicate and for God to show us how and when we can outdo one another in showing honor.

Let love be genuine. Oh Lord, let it be!

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
(Romans 12:15-16)