It’s Holy Week at the time I am writing this – a week to reflect upon Jesus’ last days before his crucifixion and all the events that led up to it.
It will be Good Friday when I edit – a day when we remember the great sacrifice God made and the pain He suffered – the day we celebrate as a time when God, through Jesus’ crucifixion, put to death that which would separate us from Him – the old covenant with all its hindrances and the sin that so easily ensnares us and draws us away. Those who loved Jesus mourned on this day. They cried out at His suffering. Surely they did not understand why God had allowed such an atrocity. They saw only a piece of the picture – a piece wherein that which they loved was suddenly gone. Can you imagine their pain and agony on that day?
And then there was Saturday – that horrible day in between the death and resurrection. I can imagine the disciples waiting and wondering. What now? Where is God? Is there any hope in our grief? How do we move on? What would God have us do now that Jesus is gone?
At long last, Sunday arrived. Oh, what indescribable joy comes with this day! After all the pain and grief, God revealed His power and goodness. With the resurrection, all the pain of the last days suddenly made sense. Jesus had to die and rise again so that we could live and walk with Him in a new and increasingly intimate relationship with nothing standing in our way.
Before something new can start, something old must die.
With the Resurrection comes the beauty and joy of hope and new life! Our pain is not the end. There is Life beyond the pain and death. Life wins!
Welcome to the final part of this blog series on church hurts. As an idea of what was covered in the first five weeks, here is a rundown of the topics:
Church Hurts Part 5 – Moving Forward
A Good Friday of Death
The pain we experienced at the hands of our former Pastor felt like death. The choice to separate from him and our church felt like a death. It was painful and we cried out in confusion – what is happening? Why is this happening? Where is God? What do we do now? Where do we go from here?
A Saturday of Mourning
Our Saturday of Mourning lasted roughly eight months (March – November). Throughout this time, we visited various churches and found solace in the presence of God at various places, with strangers who were opening their hearts to worship Him. Several of these strangers even reached out to welcome us.
At one point, I attended a women’s tea and shared our story with a woman who turned out to be the pastor’s wife. Rather than chide me or try to get me to see the Pastor in a better light, as I was afraid she might, she told me about her daughter in another state who had recently gone through a similar experience. She said she knew it was difficult to settle into a church after that kind of ordeal but was encouraged to see we were at least open to the idea and were attending somewhere. She didn’t try to pressure me into staying at their church but instead shared her hope that we would eventually find another church home to settle into. Talking to her was a huge blessing and encouragement. It meant more than she knows.
We had other similar experiences throughout these months – moments of hope and encouragement from believers who knew little to nothing about us.
Yet, overall, this time feels like a hazy blur. We were surviving, but that was all.
A Progressive Resurrection
Whereas Jesus’ resurrection happened all at once, it feels as though our spiritual resurrection has been a slow, progressive one. It is as though one part of our body at a time is gradually returning to life. First, there is a faint heartbeat. Then a tiny spark of brain activity; a tingling in the toes; a flicker of light in the eyes…
- A New Church
After about eight months of moving about from one church to another, we were exhausted. Besides the spiritual and emotional exhaustion, there was mental and physical exhaustion from having just given birth to our third little girl in September. About this time, we began crying out and asking God to show us a place where we could stay and rest for a while.
God answered this prayer and led us to the church we are now attending.
Right from the beginning, something about this church spoke of peace. It invited us in to rest, to be at ease. The people welcomed us without being too eager or too intrusive. I cried several times during the worship portion and found myself encouraged by the humble, down-to-earth nature of the pastor.
A hope sprang to life. Maybe there was a home for us here.
After a few weeks of attending, John and I met with the pastor and his wife. We wanted to be honest and up front with where we had been and where we felt we were at. There was, in part, a fear that our state would bring harm to the congregation and if that was the case, we didn’t want to hang around and damage this body of believers.
The pastor and his wife listened patiently, occasionally stopping us to ask questions or to clarify what we were saying.
When we finished, the pastor gave his answer. We were welcome to stay at their church, he said, for as long as we needed. There was no pressure or expectation to get involved. We could rest, heal, and feel free to move on whenever we wanted.
The blessing of that response cannot be overstated. We were welcome to come or go with no strings attached.
After a couple of months of attending regularly, we joined a small group at this church that met on Sunday evenings for a study. We were a little hesitant, especially since we realized pretty quickly that we weren’t fans of the book (and author) they were going though. Our desire for a new community, however, drove us to attend. In the back of our minds were the questions, will they be able to handle us? Will they be able to handle our pain, our questions, our doubts? Will we be rejected again?
We tested them. Not intentionally, but we did. And they passed. They met our volcanic explosion of emotion with love and support. Rather than pull away from our pain and anger, they drew closer.
A new love sprang to life. There were people who would see us where we were and not reject us.
- Holding Back
Despite opening ourselves up more and more to this new church family, we are still holding back. After our last experience, the last thing we want to do is commit ourselves too quickly. Neither do we feel capable of taking on any kind of leadership role. We are still healing and the last thing we want to do is to lead out of a drained and injured state.
And yet, there is a hope and expectation that we will get there, someday.
These last few months have been heavy with learning. With the spiritual rest we have been receiving, our minds have become more open and capable of learning about and evaluating our experience.
Some books I highly recommend for anyone seeking clarity in their own experience are:
- Healing from Hidden Abuse by Shannon Thomas
- The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen
Although the resurrection was an incredibly powerful and joyous occasion, it wasn’t the end. Instead, it heralded a new beginning – a time in which God’s people began to learn what it meant to walk with Him in the strength that a close relationship with Him brings.
This new beginning took time. After his resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days walking with the disciples and teaching them. He even gave them instructions for what they were to do after he returned to Heaven. And then, after telling them what to do, he told them to wait in Jerusalem for the power (Holy Spirit) to do it.
After Jesus ascended, I imagine there may have been another period of grief for the disciples. I mean, they had just said goodbye, for the second time, to someone they truly loved and cared about.
And then they had to do one of the hardest tasks: wait.
There are roughly 10 days between when Jesus ascended and when the Holy Spirit came – ten days in which the disciples, though they knew what they needed to do, had to wait on God for the power to do it. Can you imagine how much they must have been yearning to get started? Think about it – they had just received the greatest news ever and they couldn’t share it yet!
When the Holy Spirit did come (Pentecost), the disciples were finally able to start fulfilling the mission Jesus had given them. But even that took time. The book of Acts, when the church was just getting started, spans roughly 30 years, while the rest of the New Testament (Romans-Revelation) spans another 30 odd years.
One major takeaway: new beginnings take time.
Where We Are Now
I feel like John and I are in the waiting stage right now. We are coming back to life and we think we have a pretty good idea of what God wants us to be about – helping those who want to know God know Him better – but have not yet received the strength and power to operate in it. Neither have we received the direction this mission will take. And so we wait and learn and rest and heal.
Thank you for listening and for joining us on this journey. May God go with you and with us in our new beginnings.