Sink or Rise: When the church hurts you.
1. great destruction or damage: "the floods caused widespread devastation" synonyms: destruction · ruin · desolation · havoc · wreckage · ruins · ravages · 2. severe and overwhelming shock or grief: "she spoke of her devastation at his death"
Devastation leaves us with two choices. Sink or rise. By it’s definition we don’t have the option of staying where we were and how we were, we must choose a trajectory. Devastation forces us to change our lives, our fabric, our day to day routine, our relationships and everything else in between.
Devastation ensures different whether we want it or not.
Several years ago I sat in a normal church service and from the pulpit they were talking about church hurt. What that looked like and felt like and the people it has hurt in the past, then, was just a vague idea to me. It was something I had never experienced in my dozen or so years in church at the time so I couldn’t really relate to it. Surely it wasn’t as common as they were saying.
I remember thinking “I wonder what in the world a church could do to cause that kind of pain in someone?” “What does that look like/feel like/would I ever know it?”
Fast forward several years and I’m in the same church. Same people, same spirit (on the surface), same protection I’ve ever had from being hurt by a church.
And then the floor falls out from beneath me. Out from under all of us. Our collective lives were changed forever in a single day, in a single sermon, from a single pulpit, because of a single decision by a single person. Devastation.
The problem is that churches are habitually run by sinners. And a lot of times they get it wrong.
That is what happened here. To my beloved church, my beloved FAMILY. The brothers and sisters I had known for fifteen years were scattered off in a million directions. Like sheep witnessing the slaughter of one of their own, off they ran with a mixture of fear and deep grief in their eyes, not knowing what to do, where to go or where to find shelter.
The depth of grief was indescribable. I often felt like I was mourning a thousand deaths. My (church) family had been destroyed by one decision, its death ensured by a hundred more after it. Each more painful than the last for a while.
Some of us hurt each other out of that fear and sadness. Grief creates a mask that’s hard to discern. Many of us were confused and unsure of who to trust. Lies were now weapons and false walls to keep others out. There was chaos and panic and pain and tears and a mess.
We were left with two choices: we sink or we rise.
Most of the congregation vanished over a period of six months or so. Some of us went off to other churches. Some to no church at all, having lost the ability to trust another church body, understandably so. Some of us, bound together by years of family living, chose to rise together. We were broken and at times it felt like we were swimming with our winter clothes on, but we were choosing to rise. Painful and ugly as it would be at times.
The kind of hurt we are talking about here is deep. It is different from any other kind of hurt I have experienced in my life and having been the child of an alcoholic, I can tell you that I am familiar with hurt. This was different. It cut to the core of your very soul, your heart and sprit itself are injured when a brother or sister in Christ, a LEADER, who has stood next to you in services and served the Lord along side of you, turns to you and inflicts pain. When the people you have allowed to fill the position of pastor in your heart as well as in your life, hurt you and your people at the same time, that’s an especially excruciating kind of pain. Like a winning blow in a boxing match...you’re on your back and seeing stars before you know what has happened.
But we knew we served a good God. Even in the darkest of nights we knew He was carefully observing each and every tear and taking notes. He saw those who struggled through depression and darkness as the result of decisions made by one of His children. He saw the pain of losing family and friends. He saw the lies and deceit, it did not escape His attention. He saw it all and it grieved Him deeply.
And gently, like good Father would, He encouraged our rising. Those who could stand up, stood. Those who could lend a hand up, lent a hand. Those who could only sit, had someone sit with them. Those who cried had someone cry with them. You do what you can and forget the rest. For a while we just grieved and did the next right thing.
In those darkest days a fire forged forward. Relationships endured and became as strong as steel or went up in ashes in the process. You find out who your real friends are when you are so heavy with emotions that you cannot do anything but spew them out. The real friends listen and feel the freedom to be vulnerable when it’s their turn. The real friends come to you for truth. Vulnerability is the best fertilizer to a relationship and that was true here as well. We were grieving a tremendous loss, together.
We took care of one another, tenderly like you would with the wounded. And we still do. Two and a half years later a lot of healing has come but not all. There are still wounds that throb from day to day, poked by a memory or a friendship that is still sour or a lie that is still believed as truth.
And some days it still very much sucks, I will be honest with you. Some days you still get angry. Some days you miss what once was and all of that is normal. But God wants us to learn from our pain and how can we do that if we forget it all? No, we are to remember.
We are rising. It took a long time and a lot of work but here we are, soaring. From the ashes and from the dust. From the biggest grief many of us have ever endured in our years of living. Rising is possible.
Here we are nearly 2 1/2 years later, down the road. Standing where the fire once raged around us. Life has grown up around us, tiny and delicate sprouts and little saplings reaching for the Son once again. A lush meadow surrounds us and covers many of the embers.
Our trust flows a little more slowly these days, we’re a little more leery and a lot more involved. We’ve dug in deeper and looked for the good a little more thoroughly. We do the hard work of turning the pain over and over and over until it loses it’s strength.
In these two and a half years I have spoken to so many people who’ve gone through something similar. The exact words above describe their entire situation completely, yet it’s a totally different event. It’s been amazing and healing to hear all of the “me too”s and the “I know just how you feel”s. Church hurt is as common as they say.
And if you are in that place of pain and devastation, wondering how life will ever be normal again. It will. Just choose. Choose the new day. Choose to sit with the feelings and pain. Don’t avoid them or ignore them. Choose to face it. Choose to use it. Talk about it. Don’t give into believing that you should be ashamed or feel guilty about it. Never carry shame about something done to you.
Know that it won’t go away over night or ever in some cases. But a lot of it will. Some of the heavy rocks you carry will eventually tumble away down the hill. Others will jut out at you, tripping you time and again. Choose to make it a monument instead. A reminder. An ebenezer. Remember how far the Lord has brought you.
Know that the journey to healing doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s or be finished in a certain about of time. Just make it yours and make it thorough.
Sink or rise. Even if it feels like swimming in your winter clothes.