When Church Hurt Happens
No matter how different we believe that people are, I’ve learned that at the core of each of us is a desire to feel a sense of belonging. We all want to feel as if we matter, that we are valued and that we are heard. Belonging is a strong emotion and it’s something that at some point in our lives we’ve sought to fit in. “Belonging refers to an individual sense of acceptance…when belonging is intentionally fostered…feel [ing] accepted and connected with each other around a shared sense of purpose.” [i] We want to feel as if we are accepted at our jobs, in our homes and even with a peer group. As kids, we want to be liked and this doesn’t stop as adults. The desire to be noticed and recognized does not go away. Even if it is no longer by a group on the playground that we seek popularity from, there is something in our lives that we want to be a part of, to feel that people ‘get’ us and that we can be accepted for who we are. For many of us, the church has served that purpose. We have wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than ourselves with others that could empathize with us, who would stand with us and support us. Sometimes, the very place that was to offer a haven of support has caused a lot of pain creating wounds that have permeated to the core of who we are. What happens when the hurt we have is from others who are Christians, church folks who were supposed to be different?
Church Hurt “refers to the pain sometimes inflicted by religious institutions — a pain that distances sufferers from their communities and from God.” [ii] When I was in college, there was a pastor that I trusted. Instead of being someone I thought I could confide in at a time when I needed spiritual direction, I found myself running out of his office to get away from being attacked. I’ve seen loved ones dismissed at a time when they needed consoling by those in leadership positions whose role was to do just that. I know of countless stories of abuse, betrayal and trust broken in the church.
Some of my friends who know my journey often ask how I was able to return to a place that caused me such pain. For several years, I left the church, but I never left my relationship with God. Over time, I was blessed to find a congregation that is not perfect but one that has demonstrated love and a commitment to creating a sense of belonging that I needed. It took time to work through the trauma of church hurt and as I mentioned in my last article, it would have been easy to hide and sedate my pain, but I needed support to get through it. Counseling was critical to begin to heal the wounds that if not addressed, would have destroyed my relationships and would have created a wedge between God and myself. There is no excuse for bad behavior and for individuals who abuse their power. That is not the church that Christ created. That is a church built on the egos and insecurities of a human being.
So many of us sit by and watch this happen Sunday after Sunday without ever saying a word or doing anything. Know that Jesus spoke up when He witnessed abuses of power. We, too, need to use our voices and power when we witness injustice even if in the church. It is important to also know the difference in God’s character and the character of humans. Anything that goes against God’s love and God’s nature is not of God.
So how do you heal from church hurt? We must address this trauma head-on as well. Matthew 18:14-17 commands us to not keep quiet but tell our truth and seek restoration even if we must bring others into the conversation. We can’t stop believing in God and give up hope: “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep on praying.” (Romans 12:12 NLT)
Church hurt is real and is painful. God sees your pain. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) When we go through losses like this, we are grieving the loss of our identity and what is familiar. Allow yourself to grieve, commit to your healing and restoration through prayer and partnership with others that can walk with you. You can reclaim your joy, your peace, and your time.
“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning….
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”
(Excerpt of Psalm 30)
[i] https://peopleelement.com/overview-of-workplace-diversity-inclusion-and-belonging/ [ii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/03/08/amid-a-wave-of-church-hurt-one-boston-pastor-tries-to-repair-christians-relationship-with-god/
Image from https://asymphonyofpraise.com/blog/how-to-overcome-church-hurt