Faith, life, relationships, Spiritual Encouragement, Uncategorized, Writing
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When It Hurts To Go to Church, Part 2 {How to Get Happy Again, Really Happy}

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds.

And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” Matthew 5:1-12

*

“She wrote you off a long time ago.”

The words were spoken with the same care one might use to scrape peeling paint or brush away a wasp.

And the sharp edges abraded as they were mindlessly tossed my way. My vulnerability was showing. I moved to cover my raw, bleeding soul, turned my face away as those immediate tears sprung and threatened to betray me. How could I have allowed someone in this close to hurt me this deeply? How does one simply write off a friend?

Even today, after years have passed, after forgiveness became the balm to these wounds, the speaker of those careless words has no idea of the hurt they inflicted. There was never an apology offered to address that moment. Both the one writing me off and the one delivering the message spared little concern for me.

*

Months passed since I’d last heard from him. Eager to continue doing volunteer work for the ministry I loved, I had hoped with the transition to new leadership, I would be able to supply support in the area of communications using my writing ability. I was enthusiastic and willing to help. I never heard from him again.

Eventually, I decided to “clean out my desk” and move on. I realized and came to accept the truth that there simply was no place for me or my gift-offering in this ministry. The agenda didn’t include me. I could pray from a distance, give money of course, but not serve. No thought was given to the hundreds of hours that I’d already given, the editing and revising and rewriting I’d done. The time I took away from my family or from other projects as I devoted to writing for this ministry was nothing to him. Overlooked, snubbed, passed-over. Again, that soul-scraping sadness. Again I turned to Jesus, sought the forgiving way, and found it.

*

When I was a young wife and mom, I looked to my church family for community and support, friendship and advice. But our church was toxic. The perplexing behavior of our pastor and leadership team became less perplexing and more abusive, but we tried for two years to “make things work”. Convinced that God could provide resolution and reconciliation, we prayerfully battled through months and months of closed-door meetings and slanted dialog. We finally chose to withdraw our membership.

At the church business meeting where our membership withdrawal letter was read aloud, we sat together as a young, broken couple. Our withdrawal was voted on and approved. We were no longer members of our Baptist Church. The elder followed the vote with these words, “It is the opinion of the pastor and the board that no active membership of the church should attempt to contact Angelo and Alyssa Santos. If you feel you need further clarification as to why they are leaving this church, please contact us. This does not need to be discussed with them as they are no longer members here.”

Within a year or so, the church, once a thriving neighborhood center, closed its doors after a mass exodus. The dysfunction had done its work in asphyxiating the family. An empty building sat as an effigy to a dead church.

Church family. No words.

*

Sometimes it hurts to go to church, to show up to serve or to offer your heart in friendship. I have spent years of my life seeking recovery and healing after hurts inflicted by ministry leaders, pastors, friends and family—all Christians. What’s wrong here? Often I asked in prayer: why is this happening again?

I have never felt so much hurt and rejection as I have felt in the Christian community. And I know I’m not alone. Isn’t that sad?

*

But Jesus says, his hands tenderly cupping my soul, his voice strong and gentle:

“You are happiest here.

You are happy, you are blessed, you are in your sweet spot when you are spent, exhausted, empty-handed, alone. Because then you can be happiest hungering for God’s truth, caring for others, having your soul roto-rootered, cleaned out and cleaned up, reordered and reorganized.

Because then you can model cooperation and acceptance, you can become confident that there is ALWAYS a place for you at God’s table and in his family, you can face being misunderstood, overlooked, blacklisted and written off because you know for certain in that black hole you will always find God, full of love and purpose, and you will be happiest there.”

And then Jesus continues with a smile, “Remember the poor widow.”

“Oh, I love the poor widow, “I reply, “Thank you for making sure her story is in your Word.”

“That poor widow is a particular favorite of mine,” he says, “All she had. She gave all she had. And any observer would have laughed it off. Two copper coins were practically worthless.”

“Still are,” I reply, “No one cares about pennies. There’s even talk of eliminating them.”

“Yet she hobbled up and passed by the sneering glances, the muffled guffaws, the sniffs and the drawn looks of boredom…she was so unimpressive. As a widow, she was a dependent of the temple – her two little coins were from a temple handout. She didn’t even earn her offering.”

“She just gave back what was given to her,” I whisper.

“You got it, sweetheart,” Jesus says, “You got it.”

“You know why she gave it back?”

“No.”

“She realized it wasn’t really hers, it wasn’t really about her. She realized its all gift and it’s all God and in his economy it’s all the same. All the money, talent, popularity, acceptance, blah-blah-blah…none of it really matters to God. What matters to God is that you show up and meet him and give back what he’s given you. If that’s talent or money or influence – great! Give that back to God. But you know what he really loves?”

“What?”

Your loneliness. Your pain. Your broken heart and your smashed dreams. Your beleaguered spirit and your ridiculous relationships, your tears and your disappointment. Give it all. He loves that stuff. He just wants you to keep coming and giving it back to him, all of it.”

“That’s so different than here, so different than church,” I say.

“I know! In the temple practice, men announced their gifts at the altar and made a big display. No one cared what a woman gave, let alone destitute old leech. She made no show. She just quietly dropped it all in and went on her way. But here’s the beautiful thing: she always knew just where she stood with God. She was utterly dependent on his mercy – just like those birds of the air and wildflowers. And in that dependence she was utterly free. That’s what God wants for you: absolute freedom from the patterns that control society, even church society. He wants you to be so free that you give it all because know who you are. I will point to your generosity. I will see it. I will point others toward you so that they, too, can learn how to be free. Freely giving, freely receiving, freely living. That’s what God wants for you.”

“Yeah,” I know, “I like that idea.”

He puts his hand out, and I drop it all in. I have nothing – and everything – and I am happy.

*

Friends,

Sometimes a lot of time passes between posts here. Thanks for reading this one. I don’t post regularly because of several reasons. One, life. Gets busy. Two, I don’t blog for followers or money. Three, I need white space and breaks from the words. But I am so thankful for you, friends and readers, who hear my heart through my writing. I write mostly to connect with God, as prayer and as a means to process what I’m learning. I want to invite you into this process because perhaps what I’m learning might be meaningful or encouraging to you, too. So thank you, dear ones.

Alyssa

{To read When It Hurts To Go To Church, Part One, click here}

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3 Comments

    • thank you for reading it. It remains a difficult thing for me to put words toward. There are still many who believe that being hurt by the church is the victim’s problem, that if those hurt truly held faith in God, they could move on. I pointing to the pain is part of the process of honestly dealing with it and the beginning of choosing a faith that is authentic and healing. Bless you as you point to the painful places and heal.

      • Alyssa, I wish I could remember where I read this. So I could give credit where credit is due. But I can’t:-/ I’m going to write it here anyway. In my own words:

        When the Church hurts people, then turns and places the blame on the people they hurt, they are proving that they are not any different than the World. They are proving that they are not found in Christ.

        That’s a very bold statement to make. I know. But we are all human beings. We all hurt and hurt others. Our only hope is found in the humility of Christ. A place of being that cares not who is to blame as much as it is concerned over the fact that other people feel hurt. And Christ has the power to heal that and reconcile us to ourselves, to each other and to Him. In 2 Corinthians 5, St. Paul writes about this “ministry of reconciliation”. It is our role as members of the true Body of Christ. Without us effecting this ministry of reconciliation in our churches, we are useless to the larger Body of Christ.
        In my own experience, most American churches fail miserably here. Then it becomes our task, as Christians, to seek out Christ’s will for us as individuals in this ministry of reconciliation. That’s where I am right now. Seeking my place in this very important ministry. One that I’ve yet to find genuinely active in human organizations calling themselves the Church.

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