I know many people have had bad experiences with churches over the years. Sadly, many people walk away from the church due to those experiences. And not only do they walk away from the church, they end up walking away fromJesus believing that their experience is a reflection of Jesus. The truth is Jesus is about love and saving people from their brokenness. His goal is restoration of mankind’s hearts and the restoration of all nations to God.
The tough reality of the church is that it is filled with all kinds of people. There are people that truly understand God’s message to the opposite end of the spectrum with people who really don’t understand. There are people that follow God’s guidance and live out of His grace and truth. And there are others who live out of their own truth; and frequently, they extend their judgement rather than God’s grace.
So why bring this up in a blog about overcoming the destruction of abuse? Well, while I love my church and understand that the church is supposed to be full of people who can walk the road of life with us, some times the church fails. One area that is tough for the church family is interacting with hurting people. I’m not talking about mild hurts. These are people who feel like their souls are crushed,and they struggle with the basics of life because of their overwhelming emotional pain. There are many reasons why people struggle with other people’s pain. Some times they just don’t understand and have no idea how to react. Some times it reminds them of their own pain. I think church leaders understand this tension so they try to steer clear. Unfortunately, this leaves a significant portion of their congregations with no biblical guidance on dealing with their deep hurt. It also builds on to an already existing shame. “My experience was so awful, we can’t even talk about it.” Or worse, “it really is just me or wouldn’t our pastor address this?” And again even worse, the people inflicting the abuse lose another opportunity to hear about the destruction they are leaving in their wake.
When I first started working through this topic, I was surprised at how deep the church had hurt me. Again, it was not intentional. The outcome for me was another level of shame and rejection. It was so upsetting to me that I couldn’t write about it. So, I started with the following fictional story that touches on several experiences I encountered at church in, again, a fictional setting. I hope it helps open eyes to why we can’t just ignore the hard conversations especially in our churches.
The auditorium was filled with smiling faces. Friends and family members came to join in celebrating God’s glorious works in the lives of those there to be baptized. Celebrating broken souls that had accepted God’s grace and would publicly announce their trust and gratitude and the work He had already done to transform their lives from old to new.
The first gentleman stepped forward with a mix of timidity and anticipation. He began his story of moving in a different way than his parents’ faith. Sharing his story of a life of drugs and sex that led him to a place of ruin. He was left with nothing – fired from his job, divorced, and basically living in the streets. Then at the mission, he encountered Jesus. He was beyond words to explain his experience as tears rolled down his cheeks. He shared how the mission staff accepted him and loved him even in his darkest moment. He gave his heart to Jesus, and he had seen blessing after blessing ever since. While the consequences of his past remained, he had a new hope and a fresh start.
The room filled with the sounds of applause and a few cheers as all celebrated the glory of God.
After his baptism was complete, the next person stepped up to the microphone. She was an obviously shy young woman of about thirty. The notes in her hand were already mangled due to her nervous folding and twisting. The pastor looked at her with a reassuring smile and encouraged her to speak. She looked out at the sea of faces and then quickly back at her notes. Her eyes fixed on the page, she began to read with a faltering voice. She told of her childhood and how her father raped her repeatedly for years. She also shared how she lived in hopelessness and complete despair for years to follow.
It was good that she kept her head down to read. Looking over the crowd, many shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. Some stopped listening at the word “raped” and retreated within themselves not wanting to hear. Others were horrified at her story. “No one should ever share such things.” “The shame of her poor family!” “She must have brought this on herself. The tramp!” “Oh, that she would do that to her poor mother.” Then still others who shared the same nightmare tried desperately to sink within themselves terrified that others might notice the truth on their own faces – that they might be exposed. Desperate to leave the room, they were frozen in their seats.
The young woman finished her story with tears mixed with shame and gratitude. She looked out at the room of grave faces. There was no applause – no cheers. Her story of God’s glory had been completely missed. She could see their judgement. She could hear the labels that they would mark her with for as long as they knew her. She saw friends who refused to look at her. She thought some of these friends might share a similar past as her, but she was always afraid to ask. Now she knew for certain; and from now on, they would try to avoid her in order to avoid their own pain. Their friendships would be no more.
She looked down at her chest expecting to see a giant scarlet “I”. Oh, the things she would say if her spirit wasn’t crushed. “I was only a child. I did not ask for this. My father was supposed to be my hero and my protector – not my tormentor. I was innocent before all of this happened. And I begged over and over again for it to stop. Instead, I was threatened into submission. This was not my choice. Children do not ask to be raped. I do not deserve your condemnation.” Rather than defending herself, she moved solemnly through the remainder of her baptism. And while she still knew she loved Jesus with all that she was, the wound of her past cut even deeper.