There is no hurt quite like church hurt.
Let me tell you a few personal stories.
When I was a girl my mother headed up the WM, Women’s Ministries, at church. She was diligent and devoted to the post, although not at all a public speaker. On Mother’s Day Sunday it was rather a tradition that the ladies led the service. So, being the committed soul that she was, she often took on the role as “host” for that service. She was stiff, nervous and uncomfortable and it showed...yet she forged ahead.
She prepped a lot for it. However, as I got older I didn’t like to see the day come…because inevitably it seemed there was always someone criticizing her after the fact. When these comments got back to her she would be devastated. I remember her crying and crying. My father would admonish her to just give it up, it upset her so, but she would always reply that no one else would take the job, and perhaps that was true. Thus it went year after year.
But what I remember the most now as I look back was her God-given tenacity. She felt this was her task and she was determined to see it through no matter what…and she did. I realize now what powerful lessons there were for me in this. She would not be dissuaded.
Years later when I was perhaps about 12 or so, there was a contest at church where the winner won a trip to camp. The competition was based on the number of guests (other kids) you brought, Sword (Bible) drills and memorization of scripture. I was in the lead and I knew it. To get over the top, secured as winner, I invited my cousins on Friday night. Much to their chagrin, I frequently invited them to church, they attended and I knew I had gained the victory.
Church camp was my happy place. Mom always said she could hardly get the car stopped before I’d plant my feet on that sacred soil, running off to find my friends of the previous year. I remember camp cost about $19 for the week back then which meant my win would help my parents out a lot too.
During Sunday morning Sunday School before we all went off to our separate classes the winner was to be announced. I held my breath knowing I’d be called on stage. But I wasn’t! I was gob-smacked and bewildered! There had been a chart posted all week and I had been in the lead. How had I lost?
Yet what I remember most now when I look back is not the devastation of the loss but rather the loving kindness of 3 men who later came to our home to say I had indeed won but that the church board, of which they were a part, had decided to give the win to someone else. They never said why. It never really mattered after that. One man had tears in his eyes as he explained that something similar had happened to his son and it had turned his son against the church. He didn’t want that to happen to me. The other two men were dear Sunday School teachers I had had.
I once had a friend whose husband came to faith because of a TV evangelist. But when that man of God made a public confession of infidelity, my friend’s husband tuned away from his faith, severely disillusioned and disgruntled.
Anyone who has been involved in a faith community over a long period of time sadly may know the very painful feelings of rejection, criticism, and disillusionment. Church hurt can stings like no other. Why is that?
The answer is simple. A faith community, just like any other community, is made up of human beings and human beings are flawed. We must remember this. Yes, we know this but when it happens to us we forget it. If you look to people, if you put them on a pedestal, you will always be disappointed sooner or later. There is only one perfect person on which to focus, Jesus Christ. Only he is infallible.
Underlying this are our misplaced expectations and misguided assumptions. Even though we know Jesus is the only one we should look to, we still look for a higher standard in people within our faith community. This isn’t really wrong, our standard should be higher, just again, unrealistic. People who are not Jesus-followers may see a fall from grace or even a misstep as confirmation that religion has no possible merit for them, a dangerous, erroneous assumption indeed…and that may be on us because we placed too much weight on that person, place or thing in the first place. That is an impossible responsibility to bear. The enemy, so sly and cunning, will take full advantage of this because he loves to see us falter and fail.
We can agree then that it may have happened to you and perhaps still does occasionally. We can also agree that it is extremely painful, dashing our hopes, and belittling our endeavours. Christians can’t even vent or complain about it because a good Christian should just accept it in silence, right, and not make waves. But Jesus sees the tears and knows the pain. He invites us to pour our heart out to him. Church hurt is deep and the wounds can leave a permanent scar if not put into their proper place.
So let’s go back to what I remember most from my experiences. There is always good to come from what may have been meant otherwise.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
I learned tenacity in doggedly pursuing a task you know God has given you. I learned this from watching my mother.
I learned what a loving Christian community and family truly looks like because of the 3 men who came to my home so that I would know the truth. These men had shown me that I mattered, that I was loved. They validated my efforts and set my on the right path. They are each gone now but I can’t wait to see them in heaven.
I learned where and on Whom my focus must always be through my friend’s husband. He came back to the Lord years later. I believe he learned the same lesson.
I learned how my own behaviour influences those around me. If my expectations are too high I need to go back to My Source, My True North. I must be clear on what he has tasked me to do and not allow myself to be drawn off course no matter what, no matter the hurt or the criticism.
I learned to forge ahead undeterred thanking God for the shaping and the pruning painful as it was at the time. I gained courage and strength for the unseen battle we are all engaged in.
So if you have been hurt at church try to look at the experience through a divine lens. Recognize the attacks for what they really are. Place them in a right perspective. I know your vision will clear.