I had no idea. I thought we were friends. The truth hit me like an unwelcome virus. Sickening and painful. For years I had been walking around smiling at people who I had no idea believed I was a traitor to my church family. What did I do, you ask?
Several years ago my husband and I were struggling with severe burnout. We were about to step into one of the most difficult seasons we would face to date. Our comfortable lives would be a thing of the past and we had no idea what we were headed for, yet we felt called to step away from the only church home I had ever known. The decision was excruciating and the departure even worse. We did our best to handle it well and sent a letter to the church leaders explaining our decision. It was met with love and respect and we set out on the journey that was before us.
After nearly four years away, we had walked through an interrupted adoption resulting in a child taken from our arms, my parents moving in, my son suffering a severe head injury, a successful but traumatic adoption, a church plant turned nightmare and a crumbling marriage. We were broken and desperate to “come home” to our church family. We stepped through the all too familiar doors once more. My soul sighed in relief as I saw familiar faces and sights. We were received with love and at last, the restoration I had pleaded with God for was realized and healing began to take place.
We set about the business of life in the church, plugging our family in and returning to the ministries we loved. And then it happened. The news came out of nowhere that an underground whisper campaign had been circulating for the past year. Someone in the church had repeatedly said very hurtful things about us. Someone we thought was our friend.
We knew it was a lie. We didn’t understand the reason for the attack. We went through all of the emotions of anger, hurt, confusion and frustration. The knee-jerk response, of course, was to defend ourselves, our character and our honor. But none of it mattered. Lies had been scattered around our church body like feathers flown out of a busted pillow in a windstorm.
“She doesn’t deserve to be on that stage.” “They should have never been allowed back in the church.” These were the sentiments so passionately expressed. The sting of unforgiveness was unwavering as days and weeks passed. Each time I turned into the parking lot of that place I so dearly love, the memory would revisit and the wound would reopen. I prayed for her every time I thought about it. I knew that’s what God wanted me to do. But the injustice of it and not knowing who believed it was maddening.
Through this time of wrestling with my flesh and my spirit, the Lord began to remind me, I was once this girl too. There was a time not too many years ago when I exercised the same flawed passion, speaking into situations in the church strictly in black and white terms. My enneagram 1 – judgemental and dogmatic personality – came raging into scenarios, truly believing my heart was in the right place. All the while I left a trail of hurt and misrepresentations of Jesus behind me. I hurt friendships and burned bridges all because I was not operating in love or wisdom.
To the girl in church who hurt me with her words: I actually get it. You thought I’d done something terrible and out of love for your church, you slayed me with your words. Seems justifiable, right? The truth of the matter is, you’re right. I don’t deserve to be on that stage. I don’t deserve to step through those church doors. My sin separated me from God long ago but by His grace alone, I am made right before Him because of Christ, and so are you, and so are all of us who are saved.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:1
The thing we can’t lose sight of is the power of the redemptive work of Christ. That redemptive work in us is ongoing until we are made perfect in heaven, and not a moment before. I learned a hard lesson in life when I saw the damage my tongue and actions caused all those years ago. Though still very much a sinner, that lesson has stuck with me and reminded me to pause before I speak and act. As my pastor said recently, “You never regret the things you didn’t say.”
My family had to step away from our comfortable church life and walk through that difficult season because we needed to experience growth in many areas of our lives. Did we handle everything perfectly? Absolutely not. Are we blameless? No way! But thank God, He sees us as redeemed under the blood of Christ and He is working through every season to refine and bring us to completeness in Him. Our goal as Christ followers should be to see others the same way.
If you have been hurt by someone in your church, may I first say to you: I am so sorry. I wish it weren’t the case, but the enemy is still alive and well and he loves nothing more than to facilitate deep wounds at the hands of those who proclaim Christ. If we are not actively living according to the Spirit and asking God regularly for wisdom, any one of us can be the instigator of debilitating hurt against believers and unbelievers alike.
As author Sharon Jaynes says, “I can’t wipe the hurt from my memory, but I can wipe the bitterness from my heart.” How true this is. Healing takes time and there are valuable lessons to be learned despite the painful experience. But healing requires a choice to move past the hurt and strive to see the one who hurt you as a child loved by God who is simply in a different stage of their journey than you are. No better, no worse.
Here’s the good news: The character of God is not reflected in the flawed and broken ways we interact with one another. As His followers,we seek to mimic His character but of course, we sometimes fail. Those who profess Christ, myself included, still say bone-headed things from time to time. The church is very much a hospital for the spiritually broken and convalescing and there are times we just flat out mess up. But God. He has the power to redeem and restore those who have been hurt and those who have hurt others.
Look to God’s Word and the truth of who He is. Give Him your hurts and confess and ask forgiveness if you have hurt others. Ask Him to mend your heart and obliterate pride.
Wherever you find yourself, agree today in prayer and receive the truth of who God says you are. Reject the lies the enemy has spoken to you through the mouths or actions of others. And lastly, ask for wisdom and the mind of Christ that you might be the example others need to see in the church and show love everywhere you go.