By Gina Smith, Crosswalk.com
It’s easy to have expectations of how we are supposed to be treated or what we are supposed to experience when we walk into a church. When our experience doesn’t match those expectations it can be confusing.
I find it interesting that much of the New Testament addresses church problems: The book of Galatians reveals that the church was dealing with legalism. The book of Colossians addresses heresy, and 1 and 2 Corinthians confronts human pride and religious activity done with wrong motives. These issues sound a lot like those we face today, don’t they?
I have experienced being hurt in the church. I have felt disillusioned and have wondered if I even want to walk back through the church doors. Thankfully, God has faithfully taught me several things that have kept me from completely giving up. I offer them to you with the hope that they will help you work through any confusion or hurt you might be facing.
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1. Give Yourself Time to Heal
We are spiritual, physical, and emotional people. We need all three aspects of our being to be whole, so it is important that we process hurt correctly and allow ourselves to heal. During this healing process, you must center yourself in God’s Word. Processing hurt through this lens is the best way to heal and the only way we can eventually forgive those who have hurt us. Remember that it may take time for truth to travel from your head to your heart; give yourself time and ask God to do this work in you.
If we saturate ourselves in the Word and take our broken selves to God, He helps us to heal—but we may never be the same. And that is a good thing because if we allow God to do His work in our heart, we become more tender, sensitive people, and our view of others changes. If we allow God to use the hurt for our good and His purposes, it can be used to increase our love for Him and His people.
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2. Search Your Heart
As you soak your mind in the word, ask God to help you relate to others in the same way that you have desired and expected from others. When you walk into the church, you expect to be shown grace, acceptance, love, and patience. You expect that people will be with you for the long haul of life and that they will assume the best of you. (Love assumes the best: 1 Corinthians 12:7). Often, that is not what you experience. My experiences with church hurt have motivated me to pursue the very things that I desire and expect from others.
Over the years, God has changed some of the ways in which I think or believe. I can see now that, in the past, my mindset was incorrect and I may have come across as harsh or insensitive. As God has brought those situations to mind, I’ve gone to people and apologized for hurt I caused years ago.
Ask God to show you any past error and ways you may have caused others pain, and deal with those hurts.
Pursuing Christlikeness and holiness when we come face to face with disappointment, hurt, and betrayal inflicted by the church is part of persevering in your faith. Persevering in an imperfect church will help you to grow, learn, and forgive; and it is part of fighting the good fight. This perseverance is supernatural, only made possible by God’s power.
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3. Move Back into Community
After you have taken time to heal, it is important that you choose to move back into community. When you do, ask God to give you a heart for His people, in spite of your painful experience. Even though it may seem impossible to move on, choosing to love and forgive is the calling of all believers. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that “only love will abide”, and without love, our lives will be meaningless and unfruitful. 1 Peter tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins” and that we shouldn’t “give up meeting together“.
1 Peter doesn’t say, “don’t give up meeting together, unless you’ve been hurt.” It says “don’t give up!”
And most importantly, John 13 declares that others will identify us as Christ’s disciples if we have love for one another.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” By the Spirit’s power, don’t give up. Don’t walk away.
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4. Remember: The Church Is Not Perfect
No church or relationship is perfect. Like it or not, you and I have probably been the source of someone else’s pain. Only God’s word will enable us to process the pain and change the way we interact with other people, and only God can heal and change our heart. And eventually, by His grace, if we don’t quit, our perseverance is going to encourage someone else. We will help change the church!
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5. Do This!
Write down how you have been hurt or disappointed by the Church. Bring your list before the Lord and thank him for understanding your pain. Study what the Bible says about God’s forgiveness, how He wants us to forgive others, and the kind of forgiveness that He has shown us. Ask God to make all of these truths a reality in your heart. It will take time; but if you have an open and willing heart, He will do it. Ask God to give you the ability to forgive each person who has hurt you, even if they never apologize.
I do not want to minimize your pain. It does take time to heal after hurt or disappointment. But God does so much in the healing! When I look back on the situations that I have faced over the years, I can actually say that I am thankful for what I experienced, and that it made me more in tune with and sensitive to the Lord.
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6. A Prayer to Pray
Please help me to focus on you and who you are, and not on your people who are in the process of becoming more like you. I pray that I will treat and respond to others in the way that I would like them to treat and respond to me, and that I would not be thoughtless or divisive in any way. Please show me anything that I have done that may have been hurtful, and provide an opportunity for me to make things right as you bring these things to mind. Enable me to persevere with others the way that you persevere with me. I pray that I would assume the best of others, that I would not allow a barrier to form that could potentially cause division, and that I would know when to overlook a transgression (Proverbs 17). I pray that I would not be easily offended, and if there is a situation where I need to confront another person, that you would make it very clear and that you would provide an opportunity for me to do that in love.
In Jesus name, Amen
Gina Smith and her husband have served on a Christian college campus as the on-campus parents for over 20 years. They have lived on the campus where they homeschooled and raised both of their children. In her spare time she loves to write and recently authored her first book, “Grace Gifts: Practical Ways To Help Your Children Understand God's Grace." She also writes at her personal blog: ginalsmith.com.
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