“God, I’m tired. I’m so tired and drained and half the time I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going. I need Your help, Your strength, Your hope.”
It has been a year since we left the church we’d been a part of for more than seven years. Since that time there have been good days and bad days – days when we experience great joy and awe at what God has brought us out of and days when we feel all the pain, anger, and loneliness of our situation.
We know too much to go back but not enough to move forward. We have left the group we were a part of but haven’t yet fully established ourselves in new one.
And so we reside in a middle area, under God’s cloud, waiting for Him to show us a clear path forward. We think He wants us to simply rest here for awhile but resting without action isn’t easy for either of us. Isn’t there something we should be doing? Shouldn’t we be taking more active steps while we are resting? Maybe we need to reach out more. Maybe we need to find more groups to be a part of. Maybe…
Maybe we need to be still and wait – wait and learn and process what has happened. Maybe we need to accept the bad days as much as we welcome the good ones – to view them both as equally important facets of this healing process.
Welcome to part four of this five-part blog series on church hurts. As an idea of what was covered in the first three weeks and what you can expect next week, here is a rundown of the topics:
Church Hurts Part 4 – Lessons Learned
Church Hurts Part 5 – Moving Forward
As I do my best to rest in this holding pattern we are in, I reflect upon some of the lessons we have learned throughout this ordeal.
Lesson #1: God has been present at every step in our lives.
Looking back, we can see how much God offered His presence and protection throughout those years under the Pastor’s influence. We can see how He has been with us in our searching, how much He is with us in this stage of healing and recovery.
The bottom line: If God has been present in our past and is with us in our present, we can trust that He will be with us in the future. Circumstances change; God does not.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
Lesson #2: There are people in positions of religious authority who will hurt those in their care.
Before John and I experienced our own church hurt, I knew of four others who had been hurt by church leadership. By the time I started writing this blog series I had learned of nine more. Since I started posting these blogs, I have heard from thirteen others who have also experienced this type of pain. Altogether, that makes 27 individuals or families (including us) who have been spiritually damaged by those charged with their spiritual protection. And that’s just within my little social sphere.
This is not a new problem. In Matthew 7:15-16, Jesus warned the people, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”
Abusive, unrighteous behavior on the part of Christian leaders is not ok. It is not ok for those who have been given the stewardship of God’s people to take advantage of the position and use it for their own gain (which is not necessarily a material gain) to the detriment of those they are meant to be shepherding.
“Let not many [of you] become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgement.” James 3:1 (NASB)
If you look through scripture at all the times when God became angry, you can see that His anger was often directed at the spiritual leaders who were misusing their authority and abusing His people.
This is not ok, and it is not something that should be excused and enabled under the umbrella of, “They are just imperfect sinners like the rest of us.”
God certainly doesn’t seem to excuse their behavior, so why should we? Forgiving and enabling are two very different things.
Their behavior is not ok.
Lesson #3: When it happens to you, it hurts.
At some point in your relationship with this leader, you put yourself in a position of spiritual vulnerability. You trusted them – opened yourself up to be guided and led by them in the ways of God. And they hurt you. They may have even used the name of God to justify their words and actions. You may be in shock at first. You may doubt yourself, your walk with God, your relationship with Him… But most of all, you feel pain. And if you decide, or are forced, to separate from this leader and their church of influence, you grieve. You grieve the death of who you thought this person was; you grieve the death of your relationship with the leader; you grieve the death of any other relationships that have been severed as a result of this leader’s actions. You grieve the loss of who you thought you were. You grieve.
Lesson #4: It takes time to heal.
Like any other form of deep pain and grief, it takes time to heal from this. I heard from one friend who shared that it took them almost three years, with counseling, to be restored to a place of health and vitality. It takes time. As much as John and I would love to just bulldoze our way through this process and be done with it, we are learning to allow ourselves to take it slow and to ease up on our own expectations of where we think we should be. Instead, we are learning to recognize and accept the place where we are – we are hurting, we are drained, we have nothing left to give. We yearn to be involved; we yearn to give, but we are empty. We have nothing to give. We need to heal – to be filled and cared for.
Lesson #5: Not everyone in a position of religious authority will hurt you.
Another reason I don’t accept the umbrella excuse of, “They are just imperfect sinners like the rest of us,” is that not every imperfect Christian authority is abusive or is using the position to achieve their own self-aggrandizement. There is a plethora of really good Christian leaders out there. The presence of the unrighteous ones does not negate the fact that there are even more righteous ones who, though they still sin, are not leading from a heart that is seeking their own gain. Instead, these men and women are leading from a heart to give all they have to live, love, and lead rightly in the strength and power God gives them. They are not seeking to hurt you but to love you, encourage you, and help you grow stronger in your relationship with God.
Lesson #6: God looks at the heart.
(NASB) I Samuel 16:7 – “… for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”
(NASB) II Chronicles 16:9 – “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His …”
Lesson #7: Heart and mind, knowledge of God and love for Him, were never meant to be separated.
It is so much easier to focus on either one element or the other. It’s either about our love for God or about our knowledge of Him. It’s either the heart that is important or it’s the mind.
Somehow, I don’t think that is the way it’s meant to be. Instead, I’ve come to think of these concepts in light of a romantic relationship. The heart brings the two people together. They are drawn to each other; they want to spend more and more time simply being in each other’s presence. And so they get married. Now they are bound together by contract. Technically, they don’t need to learn anything more about each other to stay married, but how stale would a marriage grow if neither partner sought to learn anything more about the other than what they knew at the time they were dating? In this case, learning more about the other person can increase the love they each feel. Working together, the heart and mind (love and knowledge) are able to push the relationship forward.
Similarly, our heart draws us to God and gives us the desire to be with Him and to know more about Him. With our heart serving as the driving force, each bit of knowledge we gain about God can increase the love we feel for Him and help us progress onward in our relationship with Him.
That’s my beginning understanding. I really want to know more about what Scripture has to say about the heart, mind, love, and knowledge. What place does each have? What happens if you focus on one element to the exclusion of the others?
As a starting point, here are some verses about each.
“But knowledge puff up while love builds up.” – I Corinthians 8:1 (NIV)
“For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” – Romans 10:2 (NASB)
“And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to admonish one another.” – Romans 15:14 (NASB)
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” – Philippians 1:9 (NASB)
“And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7 (NASB)
Lesson #8: It’s ok not to have all the answers.
There are so many questions I have, so many things I don’t know, and I think that’s ok.
Lesson #9: There are people in every denomination who have a heart for God and are seeking to know Him and do His will.
We’ve interacted with people in every church we’ve visited, both Catholic and Protestant, who have revealed a love for God and a desire to know Him better.
Lesson #10: God doesn’t limit Himself to one church or to one denomination.
But we try to limit Him there, don’t we?
Lesson #11: A relationship with God alone isn’t enough.
In the Garden of Eden, God said that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. Taken in a broader context, it seems that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone in his relationship with God, so God created someone for Adam to also be in relationship with. Sure, it complicated things a bit, but according to God, this additional support was good.
A relationship with God alone, according to God himself, is not Good! We need each other, and this need extends beyond the weekly service.
Bottom line: A support system and fellowship with other believers is vital to a believer’s walk with God.
Never do you understand this truth more than when you look around and realize just how thin your support network has become.
Lesson #12: God provides.
We are tired, we are drained, we feel we have nothing left to give and no idea where or how we will be filled. Yet we know that God will provide. He knows what we need. He sees our hearts’ desire and hears our spirits crying out to him. As He has been there in the past and is with us in the present, we have every confidence that He will be there to provide what we need in the future.
Church Hurts Interlude – In His Words