Tag Archives: hurt

What you need to know if you’ve been hurt by the church

You went to church seeking hope, support, love, friendship, and truth. Instead you felt like a number, were told lies, saw hateful or scandalous behavior, and felt unwanted and judged.

I know how you feel. I’ve been there.

Church is supposed to be a place of refuge and encouragement; a gathering place for followers of Christ, people who are called to love like He loved, serve like He served, and speak truth and light into our wounded and broken hearts the way He did. But too often this is not the experience people have when they go to church, and so they walk out the doors never to return. In fact some would say the number of people leaving the church because they’ve been hurt by the church has grown to epidemic proportions.

According to Pew Research, there are now approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S., a number that increased by roughly 19 million since 2007, and nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) who were raised in a religious faith now identify with no religion. Furthermore, the Barna Group reports that 35% of millennials who have left church cite hypocrisy and the moral failures of its leaders as two of three primary reasons why.

And my heart breaks for these people because I know what it’s like to be let down and injured, and feel like you will never find a church that gets it right. I have been in churches where staff members were having affairs, where I felt I was only valued for what I could give, where I saw angry and hateful words spewed during board meetings, and where man-made rules and procedures got in the way of grace and ministry to the community. I have hung up the phone with pastors and cried at the thoughtless words, and walked out of church doors vowing to never return again. I have spent months not attending church because it was too hard to always be the new family, and I wondered if in our endless searching we’d ever find the “right” church.

So I want you to know, I understand your hurt and anger, your trepidation and frustration if you are in this place.

But can I offer you a bit of hope? Some good news for all of you who have left the church or are still searching for the “right church”? It exists.

The place you seek where you will find hope, support, love, friendship and truth — it’s right here in Winchester, and in Charlotte, in Bedford, and Atlanta, in Des Moines, and Franklin, Lancaster and Phoenix. The church you are looking for is within a short drive from your home. But here’s what you need to know about that church before you go:

1. There are people leading the church. OK, you’re thinking, duh! Of course there are people leading the church! But here’s the thing: there are people just like you and just like me leading the church. And maybe even some like your neighbor down the street whom you don’t like very much because they always blocks your driveway and let their dog poop in your yard. And all of us? We are a mixed bag. We make bad choices, we get angry, we say hurtful things, we forget important dates. We send too many emails and do not place enough phone calls. We are all sinners. Even that pastor standing up front each week. It’s just some of us wear our sins more blatantly than others.

If you are looking for a church where every person is kind all of the time, the pastor never makes mistakes, and you will never see sinful behavior…well that church doesn’t exist…at least not here on earth.

2. Bad things happen to good churches. As mentioned in point one, churches are led by and made up of sinners. Even the most faithful congregations can realize scandal and unthinkable hurt due to the mistakes made by a few members or leaders of their church. But here’s an important truth: One bad event or scandal does not define a church.

It may badly damage the church, it may require big changes to be made. Some people may leave because the hurt is just too much to recover from, but there is hope for redemption and rebuilding, even after the worst sin. I’ve seen it first-hand. Don’t believe that just because a church went through a scandal that church is not worthy of your presence.

3. Churches change, and people change…sometimes it just doesn’t happen at the same time. Most churches I have been to or know of have changed over the years. Whether it be through their leadership, their mission statement, their size, or even their core values, in order for a church to continue to meet the needs of their community God will likely call them to make changes at some point.

Similarly, most Christians change over the course of their spiritual journey. Through both life’s circumstances and God’s workings within your life, a Christian can only stay in the same place so long before their relationship with Christ grows stale or distant. Unfortunately, sometimes a person’s spiritual journey leads them to places their church isn’t headed for. Similarly, a church may make changes before everyone in the congregation is ready or willing to hear the call…or they may, unfortunately, make decisions that are not aligned to God’s timing (see point one).

It’s OK to leave one church for another because you are not equally yoked. This does not mean church, as a whole, is a lost cause or that ALL churches will fail to meet your spiritual needs. God will always provide a group of believers to “hold in your heart as partakers of grace,” if you are willing to let Him do the leading (Philippians 1:7, paraphrased).

God will provide a group of believers

As a recovered “church shopper” I can tell you that perfect doesn’t exist in the church; because perfect only exists in heaven. It took me a long time to realize this and change my check-list of requirements. In fact, I pretty much had to throw out the entire list and narrow it down to one simple question: “Lord, where do you want me to be?” Once I made that my only criteria for selecting a church He put me right in the middle of where I needed to be (not at all what I would have chosen on my own, based on my own list of wants, by the way).

Yet today, I am part of a church family that I love with my whole entire being. Where I am loved and supported, and filled with hope and truth every week, while also being stretched and challenged where I need to be.

We most certainly don’t get it right all of the time. People have come to our church and left for a variety of reasons. My feelings have been hurt by things said or done by others, and I would not be surprised if something I did or said inadvertently hurt someone else’s feelings. We don’t all agree, all of the time. But we are a group of believers who have been placed together by the Lord’s design.

It is my “right church” for this part of my journey.

Yes, it’s true, there are some “Christian” churches that really should just take the word Christian off their sign because they holistically ignore the teachings of Jesus Christ, and show no intent to change. But I truly believe those are few and far between.

And I believe the right church for you exists. God has a body of believers He wants to place you with. Ask Him to show you the way.

Don’t give up yet.

Image copyright: malyeuski / 123RF Stock Photo

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God is bigger than my pain

Spring has begun here in Winchester, VA. The temps are rising and the daffodils and crocuses in my yard have just started to bloom, looking like sleepy maidens trying to awake from a long winter’s rest. This time of year is a beautiful reminder of fresh beginnings, new starts, and of course the miracle of resurrection.

I can’t imagine better timing for the release of my friend Crystal Sutherland’s new book, Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. While we still have a little over one month to wait for Journey to Heal to reach stores, I am honored and blessed to be part of Crystal’s book launch team, and was recently given the opportunity to read the first few chapters of her book. As I started to read, the primary message that leapt off the pages and into my heart is that God is bigger than our pain. His ability to heal will far surpass anything we can fathom. Crystal emphasizes this truth by sharing some of her story of healing – the healing of her heart and soul, and the healing of certain relationships.

In my own life I have experienced similar circumstances and been humbled by God’s awesome power to heal, especially within my family relationships. I confess, I have not always understood the importance of working at healing and restoring fractured relationships. At times it has seemed much easier to just walk away. But by my mid-20’s I started to realize that even if I walked away I still had to carry the burden of hurt, anger and pain – in fact walking away just made the baggage I was hauling heavier. This was especially true for me in my relationship with my mother. I had spent years waiting to hear the words “I believe you” and “I’m sorry,” thinking these would be the magic words to cure all, and as time passed, without even realizing it, the seed of bitterness grew larger in my heart.

Click here to continue reading the rest at CrystalSutherland.org

 

Cloud dragons, King Arthur, love, and forgiveness

I could see from his moist eyes and furrowed little brow he was upset.

“What’s the matter, honey?” I asked my 9-year-old son. And the emotions burst out of him like a water balloon hitting a brick wall.

“I ruined Easter,” he cried.

My heart broke for this little boy as I held him and tried to sooth his tender feelings. It had been a bit of a rough day for him. From the moment he woke up to get ready for church there had been battles. He dawdled; he played instead of getting dressed; he talked back when given instructions; he didn’t cooperate when asked to do something. It had been building all day and then after lunch, during a family game, he misunderstood something his daddy did and yelled at him, which got my son sent to a time-out. That’s when things went from bad-to-worse. A full-scale meltdown ensued. Screaming, crying, kicking the wall — you get the picture.

This of course ended the game and, since it was getting late in the day, our company decided to leave shortly thereafter.

And here we were, an hour later. Time-out ended. Temper-tantrum over. Apologies made. But this little boy felt he had ruined everyone’s Easter. This little boy who has a learning disability that impacts how he thinks and processes sometimes — especially when emotions are high. This little boy who has come so far in the last 5 years, but still has some very bad moments where he loses control. This little boy who presently sat in my lap crying tears of shame and regret.

I whispered words of comfort in his ears and promised him he had not ruined everyone’s Easter. I promised when we all looked back on this Easter in a year or two it was unlikely anyone would even remember this incident. Because, that’s how parent’s memories work, isn’t it? We have short-term memory loss when it comes to the daily trials with our children. I’m pretty sure God hard-wired us this way, otherwise I don’t know why in the world anyone would have a second child!

But when it comes to our other relationships, I’m not sure it always works the same way.

How often do we hold grudges against our spouses and hang-on to past hurts for months, or even years? How many times have we been let-down by a friend and refused to return calls or emails? And how many of us reach adult-hood carrying a catalog of faults for the ways we felt our parents fell-short?

For much of my early adult years I held-on to hurt, disappointment, and anger. I had a vault full of sour memories I’d stored — memories of broken promises, yelling and fighting,  punishments and mistakes, hurt and disappointment.

And asparagus and mushrooms. I definitely remember being forced to eat asparagus and mushrooms.

Then, I had my own kids. I lost my temper too many times; I yelled, I demanded. I said no, when I should have said yes. I judged too harshly, and made a big deal out of too many things that really weren’t. And I’m not done yet. I’ve got at least another 9 years of kids living under my roof full-time and no doubt I will make many, many more mistakes, especially as we approach the teen years!

But a funny thing happened to my memories somewhere along the way. My bitter recollections from my own childhood slowly began to fade, like pictures left in the sun. And they were replaced by more vivid, happier ones. I started to remember hugs and kisses, family vacations, and laughter. I remember hand-made doll clothes and Halloween costumes, post-football game parties, and learning to drive in an empty parking lot on a Saturday morning. I remember how often they forgave me; how they kept on loving me even when I had melt-downs and talked-back and rolled my eyes. Even when I refused to eat my asparagus and mushrooms.

Halloween 1983

I realize not everyone reading this may have good memories of their childhood. Some parents are too broken to show love and forgiveness, and some just aren’t present at all. But we all have one Father that has modeled what real paternal love looks like. We have One who loves us to the moon and back and forgives us “70 times 7” (Matthew 18:22). Even when we pout and cry in frustration; when we turn away and lose control; when we get mad and show no signs of respect, He loves us beyond all measure (1 John 4:7-12). He forgets our mistakes (Isaiah 43:25). And He asks us to do the same.

Colossians 3, verses 12-15 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could love one another the way God loves us? If we could show compassion to our parents, kindness and humility to our spouses, and gentleness and patience to our friends? What if we forgave just as quickly as God forgives? How freeing would it be to have that short-term memory loss when it comes to the people in our lives and their transgressions? Then we could let the “peace of Christ rule in our hearts.” I don’t know about you, but I could definitely do with more peace in my heart.

Colossians 3:12-15

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After a few moments of comfort, my son asked me if I would come lay on the big swing in our yard with him. In a very gentleman-like fashion he brought out a blanket for me and we snuggled up together staring up at the sky and swaying as the breeze pushed us. He pointed out clouds shaped like dragons, boats, and dinosaurs. I told him about King Arthur and a sword called Excalibur. As we talked and snuggled, I prayed a silent prayer that this is what he would remember.

view from the swing

Please God, in 20 years let him remember this moment spent with his mom talking about dragons and legends. Help him to remember this and not how I yelled in exasperation this morning that “he had pushed me to my last nerve.”  Let him remember an Easter evening spent lying on the swing and not the fight he’d had with his dad that afternoon. Let him tuck this moment into his heart and keep it there always as a reminder that above all else, he was forgiven and loved. Lord, I pray he will remember this so that one day he will do the same. That he will be quick to forgive his own children, yes,  but also his wife, siblings, friends, and even his dad and me.

And Lord? May he remember that I never, ever made him eat asparagus and mushrooms.

Mamas and their daughters – hope for healing

I recently had lunch with a good friend to talk about planning a women’s retreat. As we discussed ideas for the teaching sessions, we ended up on the topic of mamas and daughters, and how there seems to be a large majority of women carrying around hurt, anger, unforgiveness, and/or resentment when it comes to this special but complex relationship. It’s a topic very near and dear to my heart — as both a daughter and a mother of two girls.

I’ve seen firsthand generations of women struggle to find peace and healing in their relationship with their mama. I don’t know what it is about the mother/daughter relationship that makes it a breeding ground for so much hurt. Perhaps it is because of the raw, primal dependence we have on our mothers from birth that makes us expect so much. We expect them to always be there without fail, to always say the right things, lead by example, and pick us up and brush us off when we are hurting. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a person, really, and when mamas mess up — as we surely will because we are, after all, just flawed human beings like everyone else — we come tumbling off our golden mother-of-the-year pedestals. The super-mom image crashes into a million pieces and we daughters, we don’t seem to know how to reconcile that.

I am very blessed to have three women in my life who have loved and mothered me at one point or another. Each of these women is incredibly dear to me, yet I have experienced some degree of conflict in all three of these relationships over the years. But it is my relationship with my first mom, the mom who gave birth to me at the tender age of 23, that has been through the most difficult of times. Our story is one rooted in hurt, anger, pride, and estrangement. But it has blossomed into a story of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope. It is a testament that healing and redemption can be found through the grace of God. I don’t divulge my past lightly or without concern for the others who played a part. But, with my mom’s blessing, I share with all of you this piece of our story because it’s important to understand the place of hurt that we came from to truly appreciate the place of healing we have found.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog, you know that when I was young I went through a horrible ordeal. Not knowing how to handle the shocking news and reality that was facing her, my mom chose to believe it was all a misunderstanding. After “the incident” I moved out of my mom and stepfather’s house and had a painful and estranged relationship with my mom. I was still just a girl, only 13, and I struggled internally between just wanting to have my mom in my life, and feeling deeply wounded over her choices. I tried many times to come to terms with what had happened and to forgive her, but the pain and rejection never went away, and eventually it turned to anger and resentment.

When I was a young college student my mom divorced her second husband and that seemed to open the door to a better, easier relationship. But it was really a superficial relationship because no matter what I tried to tell myself, or her, I still had not forgiven her; the wounds were still there, just under the surface. This was not the foundation of a healthy relationship because every time there was a conflict or a disagreement it was easy for me to go right back to that place of resentment; to pull up a mental record of all the ways I had felt hurt, shortchanged, or abandoned and relive that pain all over again. And so, our relationship continued to be strained.

After having my first child, my mother disagreed with some of the parenting choices my husband and I were making. At that moment I really considered just walking away. It would be easier, I reasoned. No more conflict, no more hurt, no more disappointment. Why was I trying so hard anyway? And then I looked down into the face of my little daughter and realized she was why. She deserved a relationship with her Nana. She deserved to have a mother who believed in forgiveness and healing, and who lived out those things; a mother who loved by example. Because one day she might be the daughter on the verge of throwing in the towel and giving up on me!

It took several years of counseling and prayer before I was able to truly put the past to rest. I was in my early 30’s and for the first time in my life I felt truly free of my past. I got rid of the mental record of wrongs. I saw my mom for who she was: a flawed, hurting sinner, just like me. Yes, she had made mistakes, and would likely pay the rest of her life for those, but I realized that she had been scared and overwhelmed and unprepared for the decision that faced her and so she did what she thought was best. Ephesians 4:31-32 In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us “You must not hold on to any bitter hurts, rage or anger. You must not fight each other or say bad things about each other. You must not think or act because of spite. You should be friends and you should be kind to each other. You must forgive each other, just as God forgave you. God forgave you because of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

In the 12 short years I’ve been a parent I have made many mistakes. I have been scared, overwhelmed, and unprepared for decisions that faced me. I have tried to seek guidance from the Lord, but I know I often jump to conclusions or act in haste. I have been guilty of doing the same in my marriage, friendships and other family relationships.

I am human.

I am a work in progress.

Thankfully I have a Father in heaven who forgives me every time;  who does not hold grudges or a record of wrongs; who sent His very own, beloved child to die so that my poor choices and decisions would be wiped away and I would not be separated from His love. If He can do that for us, should we not also try and do the same for our friends, siblings, spouses, grandparents, fathers, and our mothers? Forgiveness is not something we earn because we are worthy, for human nature makes us unapologetic and arrogant. Forgiveness is a gift that comes free of appraisal or condition.

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About three years after I finally let go of my hurt and anger and truly forgave my mom, she said the words I had been waiting almost 25 years to hear: “I believe you. I’m sorry.” I am convinced God was working on both of our hearts for years leading up to this. After I finally let go of the past and started anew with my mom, she was able to do the same.

Today my mom and I are closer than ever. I lean on her for support and guidance. I value her opinion and I trust that she loves me beyond all measure. Our relationship is not perfect, we do things that frustrate each other and disappoint each other. But I can’t imagine my life without her in it. Forgiveness Fellow daughters, I don’t know what past hurts you are carrying around. I don’t know if your relationship with your mama can be restored, because it takes two people to heal a broken relationship. But I do know that with God’s help you can forgive. You can finally, once and for all, let go of whatever you are carrying around and be free of that burden. You can find healing. And I encourage you to start now, before any more time is lost.

Can I share a prayer with you?

Heavenly Father, the relationship between mamas and daughters is an incredibly special and fragile gift. From the moment we are born there is a bond forged in iron. Yet the very things that make our bond strong can also be our undoing. Father, I know there are so many women who are hurting right now — seeking out forgiveness, repentance, healing and hope. I pray that we daughters can soften our hearts and turn our sights to you so that we may see our mamas through your eyes. I pray that every daughter who is hurting will seek out the help she needs to heal and come to know the freedom of forgiveness. I pray that us mamas, we will lean on you for strength and guidance when we are taken by surprise at how incredibly difficult this mothering job is. May we be patient with our children and gentle with ourselves. And may we show mercy on our own mothers, remembering they once stood in our shoes and, just like us, they did the best they knew how. Amen.


#livefreeThursdayForgiveness is freedom! And I’m honored to be linking up today with Suzie Eller and friends for #livefreeThursday. Hop over to Suzie’s blog to read more encouraging stories of hope and freedom from women who are joining together to live freely in Christ.