Faith, Culture & The Church
"In Him [Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
(Ephesians 2:22, NIV)
(Ephesians 2:22, NIV)
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28, NIV).
Hurt can cause us to think, say, and do crazy things. Pain can sink into our minds and penetrate how we process everything happening around us. Wounds from our past can open up and knock us down in moments when we least expect it.
And yet, is experiencing hurt and pain to be avoided?
And for that matter, is it even possible to avoid the discomfort that arises, even in the places we expect to feel most safe, most understood, most unguarded and most at home?
It is no big secret that hurt and pain have caused many people to walk away from the church. Woundings from experiences with people and systems within a church are not uncommon. And though this isn’t something to be ignored, nor something to be taken lightly, it really shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Because churches, every one of them, are comprised of imperfect people all in a battle, fighting for love win more often than sin. Some days we warriors are victorious. Some moments, we are not.
All of us members of the body of Christ are made in God’s image, destined to live in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, but we are broken nonetheless. You and I, when we show up, bring our whole selves with us--our overcomings and our weight. We all enter our places of worship in need of grace because of our failings. We all come walking on the tight-rope of hope, one step away from falling down into despair. In our humanness we are fragile and fickle. In our Christ-likeness we are strong and sensitive. And everywhere we go, we bring our human weaknesses and wounding and our Holy Spirit power and grace with us.
Living as Christians in this culture makes us walking conundrums.
Several weeks ago, I brought my whole broken and redeemed self to church. I don’t recall why I was feeling more broken than redeemed that day, but based on the way I processed the experiences of that Sunday morning, I will tell you that the broken me showed up stronger than the healed me. I was hurting, though for seemingly no particular reason.
I was low on energy and my introvert-self was uncomfortable. And because I found myself walling and not wanting to strum up a conversation with anyone, I decided to do some “action research” (Thank you master of teaching and learning program for making me turn every question I have into an opportunity to find data!) to pass the time. I decided to “test” out a theory: If I don’t pursue a conversation with anyone, will anyone talk to me this morning?
As a word of advice, if you show up to church hurt, don’t run action research to collect data on something that may have the potential to increase your hurt. Instead, just close your eyes, pray and rest in the arms of Jesus. Trust me.
I am guessing you can imagine, based on my advice above, the data I collected didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, the data left me feeling more hurt, angry, and discontent with my life. My data pointed out what my assumptions were looking for--no one cared about me here. In the two hours I was present at church only one person came to talk to me. And he was simply thanking me for some things I had done to help he and his wife in a ministry they were getting started. Which was awesome. I was truly blessed by him taking the time to let me know that a small thing I had done was making an impact on the ministry they were doing. But since exactly zero other people pursued a conversation with me, this blessing was blotted out by my data.
This is what my data confirmed in my mind: I am valuable only to those who I am able to help. I am not needed for who I am, but for what I do. I am not a person people are excited to see because I am a good friend or they are a good friend to me. My role here is to do things for people, and finding friendship and people who are excited to see me because of a bond we share happens elsewhere. (Hello, who can tell I am an Enneagram 3? #funnynotfunny)
As a side note, to add to the sinking feelings of that morning, my husband is a pastor and people line up to get a conversation with him. Most weeks our family waits 20-30 minutes after the service for him to have conversations with people. My Sunday morning experiences starkly contrast his. More data to fuel my hurt and discontent!
Not surprisingly, this little experiment I ran on that Sunday morning several weeks ago set me up to feel hurt for weeks to follow. I couldn’t shake it and began to process everything even slightly negative that happened to me as proof that I was living on the wrong continent, working in the wrong profession, and investing my time and energy in the wrong things.
It was ugly. Just ask my husband. Hurt people, hurt people. And often they hurt the ones they are closest to and trust the most. This was absolutely true of me.
But God gave me the strength to actually say out loud, to my husband, all the ways I was hurt, disappointed and in need. (The delivery was not anything I would ever be proud of or that most people could even imagine of me!*) And, by grace and providence, God had “appointments” already lined up for me to process my hurt with a few friends--one who called me out of the blue, two who I run with on a weekly basis, and another that I meet on a monthly basis. If these “appointments” weren’t already a regular part of my life, I know for a fact I wouldn't have sought them out in my hurt. These conversations were instrumental in God taking me from where I was then to a new place of understanding later. He used them to also dismantle the lie that I didn’t have friends who cared for and loved me.
In addition, God spoke to me through his words. Because reading the Bible is a habit etched into my life, I couldn’t hide from the truth that He is a good God and able to be trusted. Even when I am hurt and maybe even mad at God, I still end up with my Bible in my hands because of how much it is a part of my morning routine. I have my parents and God to thank for that.
Over the course of a few weeks, and a lot more processing (mostly in my head while spending two weekends sitting in a deer stand with my oldest son) and digging into the truth of who God is and who I am in him, I began to see the beauty in the bruises caused from my data.
First, my disappointments of that Sunday morning propelled me to deal with and voice other hurts and disappointments from my past. Because I was so caught off guard by the depth of my hurt and response to my data, I was compelled to ask, “Why?”
Why I am so shaken up about this?
Why is this impacting me so much?
God knew I needed to wrestle with some hurts from the past in order to move forward in productive and healthy ways. My “why” questions lead me down paths toward these--even to the point of bringing me all the way back, via a dream, to some experiences from my teenage years that I had forgotten, but that clearly marked some scars in need of attention.
Secondly, this experience caused me to evaluate why I go to church. And pushed me to seek out answers to the questions:
And as I combed through Scripture and waited on the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts, my soul found rest in these answers:
My data had nothing to do with any of these. My data was based on a human standard and a selfish motives:
God had work to do in my heart, and that was more important to him than my comfort and feelings of acceptance among my people.
Thirdly, hurt is not the worst thing in the world. Hurt hurts. No doubt about it. But that doesn’t mean it should be avoided. Nor does it mean that because I am hurting I should spiral into despair. Or even that I am far from God. Instead, my pain was first a result of my perspective. I had to own the part I played in the pain. Secondly, this hurt was a catalyst in the transformation of my mind--my understanding of the purpose of church. Somehow I had gotten wrapped up in wrong thinking which lead to wrong expectations, which lead to disappointment.
Hurt isn’t our enemy. In a culture where comfort is supreme, it is very hard to remember that our call as Christians isn’t to avoid hurt, run from pain or assume that when we experience these that we are in the wrong place. Comfort creates complacency. Hardship creates perseverance and learning. And yet, what do I expect from church, comfort. But that doesn’t work if one of the purposes of church is learning, growing and being sent out into a world full of hurt and pain.
Check out what Peter learns from Jesus, even in his hurt:
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt by Jesus’ questions!
Because of what he was thinking and feeling. He was hurt, but that didn’t cause him to abandon his relationship with Jesus, nor his mission as a disciple. Instead, his hurt lead him to examine his heart, pursue understanding Jesus’ words, and then live based on what Jesus said. And Jesus didn’t avoid saying things that hurt others if he knew that his words would increase the hearer’s effectiveness and commitment of heart.
And this is why I keep saying “yes” to church. Because I need to be transformed by the presence of God, to sing praise in corporate worship to the King of Kings, and because I sometimes need to get hurt in order to grow.
I am not called to show up Sunday morning to see how many people love me, how many people notice me or how I can feel better because of showing up. If those are my expectations, I will be disappointed every time. Which may not be a bad thing if that hurt leads me to evaluate the “why” of my hurt and the “why” of church.
But if that hurt causes me to abandon the church, write people off, and sink into my own self-pity, well, then that is actually on me. Because that reveals that I have lost sight of who God is, who I am and what this Christian life within the body of Christ is all about. I have then made it about me and what I think my needs are, rather than about God and what he knows I need. (If this is where you are, seek out counseling or friends who speak truth into your life, and allow them to help you process your way back to understanding that heals your perspective and grows you closer to Jesus’ design for your heart and mind. Dig into the Bible and wait on the Holy Spirit to give you knowledge and wisdom.)
I don’t know where you are in your feelings about gathering with a body of believers on a Sunday morning. But I do know that if this pastor’s wife who goes to the church she grew up at can get hurt on a Sunday morning, the odds are high that you have walked out the doors hurt too. That you have left feeling unloved, unnoticed and frustrated that when you came looking for comfort you found pain. And it hurts my heart to know that many of you have likely experienced this more times than you can count.
Hurt hurts. I feel that hurt with you.
But we get to choose what hurt does to us, in us, and for us. We get to choose to keep saying “yes” to church, Christians and the truth of the Bible, even when it hurts. And when we do, we can find new perspectives, healing and hope. We can learn to keep coming back, not for what we can get out of church, but for what we can offer up to God and learn about how to live for Him. We get to practice what it means to believe the fact that in this world we will have trouble--even on a Sunday morning.
But guess what you’ll find if you go and read this verse in its entirety, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).
Friends, our peace will not come from any other source than Jesus. No thing. No one. No experience. Sometimes it takes getting shaken up to figure out where we are expecting our peace to come from. Sometimes it is our hurt that helps us realize that this world, and everything in it, including our experiences within the body of Christ, are bound to disappoint. But when we choose to take thoughts captive and realign our minds, hearts and actions to the truth that Jesus is our peace, the Word is our strength, and heaven is our hope, we get to learn from our hurt and find the strength and joy to keep saying “yes” to all the places and people God calls us to.
*The ugly deliver was later followed by a very long apology and several late night conversations. Messing up isn't fun. Nor is asking for forgiveness. But both lead to a closeness and healing that wouldn't be found otherwise.