When the Church Causes You Pain

When it Costs You, Will You Still Follow?

The Right Timing

I wrote a post many months ago but didn’t publish it. I tucked it away and tried to forget about it. I deleted it from my blog drafts. Then I shared its content with three people involved in the situation with me so they would understand my heart, why I was struggling. Two had worked closely with me in the church group. Only one responded out of the three. That was disappointing. People were beginning to separate into two sides. I could not say much because of conditions and parameters. I felt sickened by this. I’m fairly discerning and knew the thing could cause damage down the road.

I had come to another crossroads in my life, this one in the church where I’d been active for some twenty-three years.  My beliefs went deep and my convictions were strong. There was no bend in me. I could not budge or see it differently. The thing was tearing me apart, just ask my kids. They knew I was being pulled in two directions and not happy about any of it.

Now, almost a year later, I can post what I wrote back then. If you’ve ever struggled with a difficult church situation, you know it becomes complicated and sometimes you lose friends you thought would always be true and care about you. That probably hurts more than anything else. You can’t hardly believe it. A woman who went through one of these church situations said to me, “Christians can be mean.” Christian people self-protect and are deceived, and people defend, and people manipulate, say things they shouldn’t have said, people think they’re right and you’re wrong, and you think you’re right and they’re wrong, and all that sort of thing. And people get deeply wounded.

But Christian people also love, people tell the truth, people care, and people forgive, and sometimes, thankfully, they even humble themselves. We are all called to love one another, to forgive one another, and to care for one another. .. even after a church becomes divided. We can still love; and we must love because it is the new commandment given to us by Jesus Christ. God pulls us up short when our hearts refuse to live accordingly.

I wrote my feelings in a paper tablet one Sunday afternoon after hours of feeling stunned. I was troubled by some decisions  in my church and knew in my heart of hearts that it was some sort of deal breaker for me. I had a different opinion about what was going down than many others, and I was in angst about the outcome, concerned that it would harm our church in the long run. A couple of months later, I decided to write the post and then thought better of publishing it. I was still greatly troubled in my spirit. The sadness had not lifted. By then I knew I was grieving a loss and there was no going back to the way it used to be.  I couldn’t turn away from what I believed, even though others did not believe as I did. I hope you are never put in this position.

The church is still a good church, though. I’m just not sure if it is where I belong anymore. This is not a slam, just a personal story and the way it has worked for me. Maybe there’s something here for you.

Sorry, but I cannot share any specific details.

Here’s the original post

Do You Know My Jesus?

We can grieve a lot of things. I happen to be grieving right now. I know this because I have been here many times in my life. I am not grieving the death of a loved one, but I am grieving a loss that involves people I love.

Two weeks ago I was struggling and in emotional turmoil. It had been building for a couple of months. I’d been stewing, self-talking, and praying about a certain situation I was in that carried certain responsibilities and required loyalties. During important church leadership meetings, I was standing alone in my perceptions and beliefs but trying not to.

Because I thought it was important, I found myself pushing and prodding to encourage the group to pause and consider what I believed was essential. I also considered my personal contribution and how to make it work in the group but still remain true to my own beliefs. It was coming to a head. I felt a tug of war within me between loyalty to the group versus my own conscience.

The pressure to compromise was pushing me into a box, a place where I am profoundly uncomfortable. Instead of peace, there was a hopeless, drowning feeling. I didn’t say what I should have said, which came as a hind-sight realization. By trying to do the right thing, I effectively cut off my own ability to speak. That ushered in self-deprecation. Yikes.

Why not compromise? The truth is, I see a box as a cage. Once out, you never want to go back in, nor can you.  My heart belief was set. I wanted to remove myself from the group but I knew better. I’ d been placed there for a purpose. Believe me, as an honest person that sort of thing is never fun.

On my drive home from church that day, two weeks ago, tears began to flow. I couldn’t seem to stop weeping. After about an hour of silent streams of tears, I took an unfiltered look at my conflicted feelings to see where they could lead. I soon realized I was facing the next step in my walk of obedience. The thought came in hard, what it could mean for me.

“You’re asking me to give up my church, aren’t You?” I whispered while washing the dishes. As soon as I spoke the words, a torrent of wrenching sobs burst forth from somewhere deep inside of me. Painful emotions gushed like an Old Faithful geyser rush. I love my church family.

I’ve given a lot of myself to my church. I’ve stayed with her when I’ve been hurt, disappointed and discouraged. I’ve looked to the better good when she’s struggled to heal so that she might thrive. Over the years I’ve had a part in almost every ministry she has to offer. Her honor and integrity mean the world to me.

Yet I was there, being asked to set aside my wishes if I couldn’t serve with my whole heart in the way God would have me to serve him. It wasn’t the church’s fault. It’s just that God comes first with me. In the past I’ve had to be indifferent to other ‘dearly beloveds’ in my life, so this shouldn’t have surprised me. But it did.

It costs to follow Christ when he is on the throne in your life. It may be a test, but sometimes he asks us to step out in a new direction. Often it is a lonely place one walks. “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

The truth is I sense a calling on my life. I submit myself to learning about God by intentional meditating, reading, learning, and seeking His presence. Two choices I made back in 2002 were pivotal acts that opened the door to the unknown. One, I asked God to teach me. Two, I asked him for wisdom. I vowed to use what he would give me to help anyone he would put in my path. Many years have passed since then and now. His love has constrained me and barriers have come down.

My confidence is in God, not in myself. I know God’s love within the context of a real and tender knowing, and it is incredibly sweet. He is precious to me. We walk together. He speaks in my spirit and this ministers to my soul. People say God doesn’t speak today, which tells me they aren’t open to listening. For me, it’s not an audible voice. I read His word and it speaks. I listen for him, and he gives me a knowing. I have learned to recognize his voice as distinct from my own personal thoughts. I trust him to lead me.

This process of God’s refining has opened my eyes in many areas. One is an understanding of the church of God. It is not nearly as limited as I used to believe it to be. Humans look on the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. Everyone who has faith in their heart, who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, who receives Christ’s offer of salvation through grace and forgiveness, is made anew. In this way they become a new creature of God as his beloved and dear child.

Somehow, through God’s work in me, I no longer see divisions and walls. Instead, I see hearts that need him, that yield to him and are freed by him. I see belief in a loving, transcendent Father God, who changes the soul of the one who puts their faith and trust in his loving, heavenly, Spirit being. I don’t see Jew or Gentile, Protestant or Catholic, Calvinist or Armenian, liberal nor conservative, as the measurement of one’s core faith. I prefer to ask, “Do you know my Jesus?” I don’t see what separates us; I choose to see what unites us in and through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Although I have my faith traditions and beliefs and believe in their theological doctrines and biblical positions, I know God reveals himself to people of other church traditions. My reading and people interactions have shown me this. I believe the world is hungry to see authentic Christians who love without labels. (This is not easy to confess before you, but, in all honesty, I must.)

God is not a God of division. He is a God of multiplication. I see a people who need restoration and fullness in God. This God, who loves every one of us with redeeming love that is richer than we could ever hope to understand, is a God who desires relationship with us in the intimacy of being Oned to the Divine.

My life is no longer my own. It is lived for God. This means giving up some very human desires. There is a separating and isolation that comes with this. I’ve learned, though, every choice I make for closer joining with God is never regretted. The regrets come those times when I choose to self-protect because I don’t understand or I am fearful of the consequences.

The tears came again today after a woman sitting next to me in church asked if she could pray for me. I responded that I was okay. But she did anyway. She put her arm around me and quietly prayed for my needs during the offering. It was beautiful. I’ve been carrying this burden all alone, and God used her as a ministering angel. She later told me that God told her to pray for me. She didn’t know of my inner turbulence that has robbed me of peace and caused sleepless nights. We talked after church and she greatly encouraged my faith.

I don’t know the future or how it will play out. But I do know Who knows, and he is far wiser than I am.

Most of this year has been difficult for me. I have had to speak up when I would have preferred to stay quiet. I’ve stepped aside from leading and teaching in areas where I’ve served for years, and that is like pulling out my own heart especially because it is the area of my spiritual gifting. I’ve listened for hours and hours and hours to disheartened people who are discouraged and disillusioned as I’ve heard their pain and shared it, and then tried to give them some measure of comfort and understanding. I find that listening gives to us its own measure of comfort. At the end of the day I can say, I do what I believe I am supposed to do and seek to follow God in the process.

Are there any benefits? Well, yes, there are. I have become closer to some of my sisters in Christ. I’ve watched them study more and grapple with their Christian beliefs, and I’ve shared with them some of what I’m working through as well. That is a good thing. I am trusting God for greater understanding, and I’m releasing what I must let go of. I’m learning what it is like to view church from the sidelines rather than from the active ministering side. It’s different. I’ve visited a few churches that I’ve never been free to visit and enjoyed them. I’ve listened to audio sermons and found them to be a blessing. But I know all of this is temporary. I’m waiting for God to show me what’s next for me. Do I stay put or move on? In truth, I still love my little church. Tears brim every time I think about her.

God knows, and I do not. God is in control, and I am not. There you have it.

Here’s a song that ministered to me this week. This Johnson Family came to my church, and we loved them. I love this song because it’s where many of us live.  Hold your head up and walk on, my friends.

“Walk On” by the Johnson Family