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Holy Places of Hurt

Holy Places of Hurt

Ideally, the church should be the one place where we can live authentically, without fear, as a community, but that’s not some people’s experience.

Just as Jesus experienced before His crucifixion, the deepest bruises and bloodiest beatings often come at the hands of church people, not sinners.

Let me stop before anyone gets it twisted. I can tell you that I fundamentally, wholeheartedly, and unapologetically love God’s house. Not one part of me is a church hater or a church skeptic. I believe in, trust, and need the holiness and sanctity the church represents as the bride of Christ, and I’m here for it all day, every day — not just on Sundays.

But I’d be lying if I told you the church hasn’t sometimes looked more like the enemy of Christ than the bride of Christ. And my purpose in talking openly about a typically swept-under-the-rug conversation is not to bash or hurt the church but to follow the model of the garden.

Then God said to the man, ‘I commanded you not to eat from that tree. But you listened to your wife and ate from it. So I will curse the ground because of you. You will have to work hard all your life for the food the ground produces’. — Genesis 3:17 ERV

When Adam and Eve sinned, God didn’t curse them; He cursed the ground. After He exposed their sin, He told Adam that because of his sin, he would have to work harder, against thorns and thistles. When sin comes into our communities of worship today, God doesn’t curse us; He exposes our sins and tells us we’re going to have to get to work too, and we, too, will have “thorny” issues to face. God didn’t shy away from exposing the sin in the first community, and I’m here for a real, honest conversation about sin in our communities as well.

Power, position, and authority can make people do crazy things, say crazy things, and act in crazy ways and end up victimizing people worse than the world can outside the church walls. People expect blows of manipulation, abuse, and neglect from the world, but they don’t expect them in the name of their God. It changes something in the minds and hearts of believers when they experience their deepest pain in the house of God. It’s not just church hurt they must deal with; it’s a spiritual violation of the sacred relationship between the Father and His kids.

  • Faith is the very fabric of the church, and when people are broken and bleeding at the hands of people they’d expected to trust, asking them to trust again in a faith community can be nearly impossible.

A few years after starting She Speaks Fire, I shared coffee with a woman who was so deeply traumatized by church hurt that she vowed never to be part of a church community again. Let’s call her Ingrid. As she shared her shame story, she repeated a saying I had heard before but didn’t fully understand until that moment: church hurt is the worst hurt.

I listened quietly as she shared how she had been a leader at a church for almost fifteen years before she found out a shameful truth about her pastor. The so-called shepherd she was following showed himself to be a wolf. For over ten years he had been having an affair with a young woman in their church. It resulted in pregnancy. As Ingrid’s story unraveled in front of me, she wrestled with the incredulous detail that other people knew and suspected over the course of the past decade, but they were too afraid to speak. To some, her pastor was a benevolent and compassionate leader, and to others he was a tyrannical monster. To Ingrid, he was the former, and seeing him as a wolf brought an onslaught of anger, confusion, disappointment, and sadness. In the moment of his exposure, she looked around and wondered if others were real or just more wolves in disguise. If it was possible for the shepherd of the house to abuse those entrusted to his care, she wondered who could really be trusted in that place.

When spiritual abuse like this man’s is exposed in a church, everyone is exposed. This wasn’t just a man to Ingrid; he was her trusted and beloved pastor, mentor, and father figure. When he fell publicly, she, along with thousands of others, felt the rocking and shaking of the house. He was removed from all levels of leadership, and while Ingrid agreed with the removal, she was unprepared for the shame, panic, rage, and frailty that came as a result. One Sunday she was taking notes from his preaching from the pulpit, and the next he and his pregnant victim were gone from sight and all conversations. Hers was a story of abandonment and betrayal all wrapped up in one messy chapter in her church’s history.

At the end of her story, she told me she couldn’t go back to church because she didn’t believe it was even possible to survive as a church community after such a loss and betrayal. The sin wasn’t hers, but she felt the shame of association as a member of his church.

Did she weep for a man she had put her faith in? Yes.

Did she despise him for the choices he had made that painfully brought shame to everyone connected to him? Yes.

Did she want him back and at the same time want him to stay away? Yes.

Did she hurt and turn against fellow congregants because his decisions had forced them all to make decisions on what would happen next to their community? Yes.

Did she have to hold the pieces of her own heart while healing the hearts of those around her? Yes.

Did she believe the end of his story as her pastor translated to the end of her in that community? Yes.

Was she wrong? Yes.

I gave her a tissue and wiped my own tears away. Then I reminded her that God removes people and things in a church community because it’s what’s best for the church as a whole, not the church as individuals. His vantage point from Heaven gives God a wider perspective to help communities make the difficult decisions to expose church hurts before those hurts become church culture. There was peace for Ingrid instead of shame when she accepted that her pastor had to be removed because the culture he had begun to value was not that of the Kingdom. Yes, she hurt in the process, but I encouraged her to go back to God’s house so that a grace to heal, a grace to be truly seen, and a grace to be truly loved by God could be birthed from their communal pain.

If you’ve been part of a church community like Ingrid’s that has known the bloodshed and pain of spiritual manipulation, abuse, or neglect, I need you to know it may have changed you, but it didn’t change God. It didn’t change the fact that His house is still the body of Christ where people come to experience a one-on-one encounter with the real God of redemption and grace.

I can tell you this with full confidence and authority because sin and shame in the garden may have changed Adam and Eve, but it didn’t change God.

The first sin didn’t change the fact that God still, millennia later, wants His sons and daughters to come back to His Son to experience a one-on-one encounter with a real Savior who could silence their shame once and for all.

Just because you or I had an encounter with one of His sheep who went astray doesn’t mean God went astray too. He didn’t fail you and He didn’t forsake you. Your purpose didn’t change because your community got shaken or torn down. You’re going to heal and you’re going to move forward. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but you will heal.

Your community needs you to heal because they need you. We need you. We don’t need you because of what you do or what titles you carry; we need you because our communities can exist in health only when we choose to fight for interdependence instead of conforming to isolation. That is, when we see the value in ourselves, the value in one another, and the value in who we are together.

Close your eyes and see yourself being seen and known within an authentic community.

See your community strong and healthy.

Envision being part of a community that reflects genuine interdependence instead of isolation.

Imagine a community of people who know that nakedness of soul and spirit is a gift, not a punishment or a curse. Let yourself have faith again in a community that is healed and actively working to heal from past hurts and traumas. Now, open your eyes, wipe your tears, and go build it.

Garden Prayer

Father, You know the pain and longing of my heart for genuine godly community. You walk with me when I have no community, broken community, and whole community. You have seen the parts of me that hide, run, fight, and question in skepticism. I’m thankful that these places in me don’t surprise You or remove me from community with You.

Help me rebuild community again the same way You rebuilt community after the fall with Adam and Eve. I release every place of shame that has created walls of isolation and ask that You show me how to keep releasing shame to You as I move through these Garden Lessons. I surrender all my hurts to You because I know You can make me whole.

For all the healing You have done so far and for all You have yet to do in me, I thank You. Make my heart ready so that the community You see is the community I build. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Speaking Fire into Your Community

I declare that isolation and fear will not lead me away from the gift of community [Isaiah 41:10].

Even in my hurt, I will not doubt the Lord’s ability to heal [Psalm 69:20].

I choose today to rejoice with the truth and always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere [1 Corinthians 13:6–7].

Excerpted with permission from She Speaks Fire by Mariela Rosario, copyright Mariela Rosario.

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Your Turn

Have you been hurt within church community? Have you stayed away and self-protected? What if today you chose to take that pain and heartache back to safe people within the family of God and heal with them? What might happen? What do you think God would do? ~ Devotionals Daily