Bible Study, Faith, life, Parenting, relationships, Spiritual Encouragement
Comments 5

When It Hurts To Go To Church (Part 1)

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God. And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” {1 Peter 4:12-19}

 

Jef Aérosol, Paris Street art

Sometime I wish I were a food blogger.

Nice, comfortable, food. Or a lifestyle and decorator blogger, because I love the aesthetics of a well-appointed room. But when people ask me what I blog about, my rambling answer, after some hemming and hawing usually rests on this: I blog about what God is teaching me through his word and in this life.

And I’ve found that when I can give voice, give words, to the things that God is teaching me, and when I am faithful in the small things of letters and punctuation, words and syntax (and pressing “publish”) he leads me along and gives me messages and themes and story. You, my friends and readers, might find something in the “spacious place of grace” I have here. Maybe you’ll find affirmation, or encouragement, or get a new idea about an old feeling; maybe it resonates or inspires you to give words to your experiences or to reach for your own Bible.

This post right here is meant to give you permission.

But this post is not about permissiveness, or candy-coated glossy platitudes of how much Jesus loves you so you’re okay, or how great it is to be a child of God.

Because, honestly, sometimes being a Christian sucks rocks. Becoming (being and living as a follower of Jesus, not just a church-goer) a Christian is counter-cultural and so counterintuitive to being a human.

And, lest you think I’m making it up, go read 1 Peter 4 right now. Pick your favorite Bible version and read it through from verses one through nineteen. Heck, go ahead and read the entire letter, and maybe twice through for good measure.

Peter’s letter here is all about “Living for God” in the “Living Hope” and as “Living Stones and Chosen People and Royal Priesthood”. Life, life and living!

But it’s also a whole lot of death and suffering, too.

After you’ve read Peter’s first letter through a few times you’ll begin to see that he speaks of suffering in terms of persecution from an unbelieving world, somewhat. But mostly it’s about how hard it is to live this full-of-life gig as a believer in these ridiculously sinful minds and bodies.

The real mortification, the suffering unto death, is that of our sin. Yours and mine. Those persistent desires that motivate us from dawn until blessed night. Yes, Peter addresses controversial topics like wifely submission (chapter 3) and the role of a loving husband, and how masters and slaves should interact (chapter 2), but if you read the letter and keep in mind the context, you’ll begin to see the flower open and realize that he wrote to a group of people (Jewish Christians in the first century) who found new life in Jesus Christ but had to remain in the world in which they lived and be both citizens of heaven and members of the human race. Ain’t that the rub?

We all know being human sucks rocks, too. We fail one another, we hurt one another, we try and we succeed sometimes at making the world a better place, but we are punching clocks, paying bills, marrying, divorcing, learning and teaching and honestly, just trying to make it through the day sometimes.

Jesus lived in the tension of divine citizenship and human sucky-ness more than we can fathom.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)

Jesus mortified the sinful nature (he was without sin), in his own life and suffered for us to have the same success, by dying on the cross.

He bought our transcontinental ticket from the land of death and destruction and separation from God to life full and abundant, by God’s grace. Our journey, however, is not necessarily a pleasure trip.

Peter wrote his letter to address the suffering sucky-ness that it is to put to death the things that drive us as humans: domination in marriage, abuse in the workplace, confusion of our relational roles and this pleasant list from 1 Peter 4: debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, detestable idolatry.

Peter points out clearly that our enemy isn’t found amongst our own ranks, or even within our own selves. Our enemy is like a lion prowling around the edges, looking to pick off the weak ones, and he is called the devil (1Peter 5:8). And we are told to fight him: Resist him, standing firm in the faith (verse 9).

Let’s pin the truth that Jesus is our savior (from verse 2:24-25) next to the truth that our enemy is the devil (from verse 5:8), so we can go ahead and get to the points of this post.

1. There are rich, rich blessings of being a child of God. Consider this in 1Peter 1:3-5:

“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealing in the last time.” But we will have trials “so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are fill with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1:7-9).

You aren’t on a mission to earn your position as a Christian. The situation you’re facing is not some some of divinely prescribed penance earning you heavenly credits. Your salvation is a gift, your suffering is a gift. It’s all gift, Brennan Manning writes in The Ragamuffin Gospel.

2. Whatever your trial is right now is refining your golden faith and giving your measurable proof of your salvation. You have permission to hurt through this.

→ It hurts to put to death your own inner desires. It hurts to detox. It hurts to stop drinking too much, it hurts to give up the habitual thoughts that have been like our very food. It hurts to leave a toxic church or an abusive relationship. It hurts to keep your spouse accountable or point out sin in your pastor’s life. It hurts to parent bravely. It hurts to stop being afraid. It hurts to let go.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering and though something strange were happening to you (4:12).”

→ Extricating yourself from the stranglehold of sin is bewildering, exhausting work, and only made worth it by the “inexpressible and glorious joy” of knowing our salvation is a love-pact made between Jesus and you. He will not fail you. He cannot fail you.

Can I hold your shoulders and look you square in the eye and speak this into your deepest hurt?

This trial, right here, the one that squeezes your stomach into knots, that makes the sky gray and frightening, that makes you want to hide?

It is refining you. You. Not your spouse or your kid or your pastor.

God is faithfully paying attention to your soul, strengthening you, humbling you, raising you because YOU have “been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, and for obedience the Jesus Christ (1:2).

God’s doing that with your spouse, pastor, kid, boss, sister, father—anyone else who will let him, too. But bask in the truth that he loves you that much! Enough to refine you, to draw you into his pure life and his “wonderful light” (2:9).

→ So give yourself permission to recognize that whatever is hard, sharp-edged and doing surgery on your soul is causing you real pain. Cry, weep, wail. Write about it, pray face down on the floor.

Let this exposure do its work so that you can stand restored and strengthened by God himself (see 5:10).

It hurts.  Indeed, we fight against things that can kill our bodies, suffocate our souls. But friend, don’t let the suffering kill your spirit. Don’t become the walking dead:

the joyless churchgoer;

the suffering submitter;

the pastor motivated by greed, or worse, compulsion;

the well-intended, bible-verse-throwing among the sanctified;

the parent who can’t see the real enemy any longer;

the victim;

the abuser;

the deflector;

the defector.

Come into the wonderful light in which you were called and live brave, big, quiet, joyous, different than you ever thought possible. Hold tight onto Jesus’ wounded hand, remembering this:

“If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name (4:16).”

///

Friends,

I’ve resisted writing publicly about the church hurt in my past. It’s a little like writing a memoir and exposing the ugliness that you’d rather not revisit. The hurtful experiences, yes, even the manipulation and mental abuse, that my husband and I suffered is long in our past. But God’s been poking me and reminding me to speak the truth he’s taught us. I know there are good books on the subject, and now even counseling is available.  I’ll put together a good list of books and resources. But, you know, my blog here is more of a conversation, a sharing of souls. So, I begin this series of conversations on When It Hurts To Go To Church, with the passage of Scripture (1 Peter) that shined brightly through my circumstances and gave me solid truth upon which to place my hope.

I seriously wanted to walk away from church and never come back. This truth here, this is what keeps me connecting with God’s people. Oh, how we continue to fail as a church. In Seattle alone, thousands of displaced members of Mars Hill are collective proof of failure. But God isn’t finished. He is working out the salvation, refining the individuals’ faith into gold, and making me write about God’s faithfulness even when it hurt to go to church.

Blessings,

Alyssa

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Love, love, LOVE this Alyssa! And it applies to so many more hurts than just church. Beautifully written. Thank you for being brave and speaking the truth about hard things. We need to hear it!

  2. Jennie Bradstreet says

    Can’t wait to see where you are going with this– Fantastic topic and so much to learn from it!

    • It’s kind of a scary topic for me and honestly, I am procrastinating at the next part… But it’ll come in time 🙂

  3. Peggy Green says

    Alyssa,
    I am a new reader to your blog. I must say God’s timing is impeccable! All the whittling and honing God has done in you and your husband’s life will become a beacon of hope as you share with those who are hurting from pain inflicted by God’s people. And you are right…there is beauty in the ashes.

    • Hi Peggy! Although we tend to be comfort seeking Christians, I think that God’s amazing and ongoing redemptive nature is constantly responding to our various sufferings. When we acknowledge that he’s there, all along, redeeming, we get to see him work his redemption. And we are the blessed recipients. Thanks for reading here, friend!

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