Church Hurt: Exploring a Christian Cultural Phenomenon Part 5-Finale
HEALING FROM CHURCH HURT- TOOLS FOR THE JOURNEY
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The past few blog posts have been addressing the topic of church hurt. It has been quite a journey for me, considering I had not planned on writing about this topic. What’s interesting is that a funny Tik Tok series called “Church Hurt Hotline” by user @iamwill.johnsontiktok inspired me to write about church hurt. Go check him out on Tik Tok, he is funny and has a huge following. After I finished laughing my guts out at some of his videos, my mind began to do its ruminating thing, and it made me realize I had some things to say about it. I didn’t want to just go on a rant (Lord knows, I can do that). I wanted to share my heart in the Lord, something that I believe the Lord would approve of…. Something that would help others and give them hope.
And that’s how we got to a 5 part blog series on church hurt.
This final sharing is the most important one, and it is the one I am the least confident in writing. It is about healing from church hurt. I hesitate the most to write this one because I do not want it to read as a “how to” guide for healing. There is no “how to” guide, because only God can heal church hurts. This kind of emotional pain can cause lifelong damage. Even when it heals, church hurt functions like other forms of trauma. It can leave scars, and retelling it can cause you to relive it (re-traumatization)
Have I healed from my own church hurt?
I had to sit with myself and do an honest inventory. I believe I have come a substantially long way in my healing journey from my church hurt. I have other traumas that I am still healing from, and I don’t want to conflate them with my church experience (though there is some overlap). I value every experience I have had in church, both positive and negative. And, I believe I am mostly healed from the negative offenses that I experienced. And check this, it was not all bad by any stretch of the imagination. But I believe God had a greater calling for me than living a “sunday-go-to-meeting” type christian life, which, although it provided many things that aided my spiritual growth, it eventually proved to be devoid of joy, devoid of victory, devoid of power and purpose; stuck in empty ritual and vain routine; strangled by fear, shame, legalism and dead religion. I think the greatest hurt that I have ever experienced in church is learning that, for the most part, modern churches do not help people live a fully realized life in Christ. That is the most sad, disappointing, and hope-killing church hurt there is.
But there is good news.
God can and will heal you from church hurt.
The key in understanding all of this is to remember the nature of God. Anything that is done, spoken or taught must line up with the nature of God, or it is not of Him. Plain and simple.
That’s not to say that it is always easy though. God uses negative experiences to teach us as much about who He is NOT, as He does to teach us about who He IS.
What My Negative Church Experiences Have Taught Me...
Or confirmed about what I already knew deep inside...
God is not punitive.
God does not humiliate, shame, or embarrass people.
God does not seek to cause us to fear or be terrified.
God does not curse people.
God does not use, manipulate, or take advantage of people
God does not condone sexual assault.
God does not condone physical, emotional, verbal, or spiritual abuse.
God does not coerce people with guilt.
God does not force Himself on people.
God does not go around threatening to kill people. Jesus came that we might have LIFE.
God does not use HIs power to oppress and control people.
God is not working in everyone who claims to have a spiritual gifting or position of leadership
God does not lead with a heavy hand, as many church leaders do
God is not mean
God is not a bully
If you filter all of your experiences through the understanding that God’s character does not align with the negative character traits and actions mentioned above, it will help you discern your situation better.
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Any Scripture to Back This UP?
If you are concerned that I haven’t quoted any scripture yet, let me assure you that I love, cherish and treasure the truth of scripture. But I can’t even begin to narrow down the appropriate passage to quote to support my understanding of the character of God. Just go ahead and read the whole bible LOL! But seriously, try meditating on I Corinthians 13. Paul is writing about how to interact with one another in church gatherings and everyday life. He explains the better way of Love. If you read that passage, and replace the word “love” with “Christ”, each time it appears, that will give you a clear picture of the nature of God. Anything that you experience in church that doesn’t line up with that, does not come from God. Therefore, you are not obligated to endure it.
So your first step in healing is to remember the nature of God. Allow this understanding to permeate your being, and “...be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
Tools for the Journey...
Here are some other things to prayerfully remember, consider, meditate on, and do…
*Remember God Loves You, and wants you to be healed
*Talk About It! Tell Your Story. In the movie “The Color Purple”, Celie’s step-dad, Pa, who raped her (giving her two children) admonished her never to tell her mother about it…”Bet not tell nobody but Gawd..it’d kill yo mammy.” Let me tell you something. The enemy has the same plan for you as Pa had for Celie. He wants you to stay silent and suffer in pain. He wants you to be eaten alive from inside out by the burn of shame. But God wants you to be free. When you speak up and tell your story, your liberation begins, the poison begins to be sucked out, and you just may help somebody else. There was once a meme floating around that said, “Never trust your tongue when your heart is bitter. Hush until you heal.” I hate this meme and it’s a lie from the pit of hell. Silencing your pain is sentencing you to continued suffering. DO NOT BE SILENT. Even if you just begin by writing your pain in a journal. Pour it out and watch God do a work in your heart.
*Trust the Scripture. If you are in a healthy christian environment, follow the scripture’s guidance on conflict resolution, accountability, forgiveness and reconciliation. (Matthew 18; Colossians 3:9-14)
*Leave Toxic Religious Environments (Get the hell out in Jesus Name!). No. don’t ask permission. Don’t meet with the pastor. LEAVE.
*Take a break from Church (Don’t force yourself to adhere to rigid spiritual regimens in an attempt to expedite the healing process. You may even need to take a temporary break from reading the bible).
*Speak Up/Stand Up to Offenders (WHEN IT IS SAFE TO DO SO!)
If you have been sexuall assaulted- call the police,and file a police report! Don’t worry about the outcome. In non criminal situations, find a way to confront your offender, if you can remain emotionally and physically safe doing so. You have a right in the Kingdom of God to demand accountability for abuse and injustice.
*Seek Mental Health Support- (I have a firm belief that religion causes mental illness). If you cannot afford to get mental health support, I recommend going to a 12-step program recovering from abuse or even Celebrate Recovery.
*Refuse to accept guilt and shame
*Write and say your own affirmations- use scriptures if you are emotionally well enough to access it. The scriptures carry the revelation of Christ, and Christ is our Healer.
*Take communion alone with you and God. Continue to do this to help build up your awareness of your unbreakable fellowship with God in Christ in the Spirit.
*Keep Talking to God (pour out your heart, be completely honest, even about the most dark and disturbing thoughts and feelings you may have)
*Make playtime a priority (Toxic church can be stifling. There are often overbearing time commitments that suck the entire joy out of life. Go out in the sunshine and do something fun with no condemnation. Go dancing, see a movie, sit in nature, or my favorite- go to a concert. LIVE!
*Take it Slow. And, when you feel well enough, begin to pray and ask God to guide you to a healthy spiritual community. It may just be a small group of fellow believers who want to follow Jesus with one another. It may be a social group or a friend circle of believers. You do not need a big crowd, just one or two who can relate to you, will listen to you, pray with you, and walk it out with you.
*”When you have returned, strengthen your brothers”- (Luke 22:32) Jesus told Peter to do this after he betrayed him, because Jesus knew Peter would return. Jesus knew that Peter knew deep down inside who He was, even if circumstances would have him deny the Lord momentarily. I am borrowing this phrase for the very different purpose of healing from church hurt. Obviously, being church hurt does not automatically mean you will have denied Christ. But many people go on a long journey of pain, and do move away from God and church when they have been hurt. So I want to apply this saying to all of us who have been hurt by church hurt, whether you left God, were angry at God, questioned God, or even turned your back on Him. When God brings you out of your dark season, and renews your faith- use your testimony to go and help somebody else find healing through Jesus. I am not saying you need to “return” to church. Seek God and let Him guide you with that decision. You will need to have community in Christ in some form, but it may not necessarily be in a traditional church.
Finish Your Race!
Again, please don’t see this list as a “how to”. These are tools. Use the ones that work for you-add your own if the Lord shows you something different. God has an unlimited spiritual toolkit to aid us along in our journey.
If you are emotionally wounded from experiences you have had in church, I want you to know something. God is closer to you than you would ever believe. He wants a deep relationship with you through His Spirit. Don’t give up on God! Don’t turn to the ways of the world for solutions. There are no solutions there- only deception and death. Come to God boldly- keep seeking His face, Keep asking Him to heal, to explain, to teach, to help you understand. Ask God to walk with you to your place of Healing. He wants to do it. Don’t let your faith fail you now.
Wrestle with God if you need to (Genesis 32:22-29). Tell Him, the same way Jacob told Him, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” And God blessed Jacob, changing his name to Israel (“You have struggled with God and humans and have overcome”). Those who have been hurt in church have certainly struggled with both God and humans. So trust that God has been with you all this time, and that He has a greater purpose for your pain. God wants to bless you the same way He blessed Jacob, by revealing his true identity, which can be found in God alone.
This is our true healing- finding ourselves and our identity in Christ and Christ alone. It cannot be in religion, denominations, programs, rituals, routines, titles and auxiliaries..not even in gifts and callings do we find our identity. Our lives are Christ, and that is all that matters. Nothing and no one can take that away from us. It is from this victorious place that our healing begins, continues, is completed and passed on to others.
My love and prayers to every soul who took the time to read this piece.
May God’s love and healing permeate and envelope your entire spirit, soul and body.
Be healed in Jesus Name, and get up and walk with Him.
Finish your race!
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