When Church Hurts

During my 40-year layover on this planet I have realized that life is like an onslaught of waves crashing upon the beach with varying degrees of intensity.  Some of those waves are violent and crushing while others glide listlessly up to the shore and give the sands a gentle kiss.  We’ve all experienced pain which we thought to be unbearable (and yet, here we are) and we’ve all been transported to that heavenly place of sheer bliss.  In my lifetime I’ve had my heart-broken and been a heart breaker.  I’ve been lied to, cheated on, and betrayed.  My hands are not clean of dishing out pain, either.  Sad, but honest.

As you grow up you quickly learn that some people at some point will inevitably let you down.  It may be a friend.  It may be a parent or a mentor.  It may be a lover or a spouse.  We come to expect that people are fallible and the disappointment which comes with that revelation is expected and accepted.  Please do not think that I intend this to be a blanket statement.  I am not at all implying that everyone will let us down, simply that we’ve all tasted that pain of betrayal, rejection, and disappointment.  It happens, it hurts, and you move on.

What happens, though, when the entity which has hurt you is neither a friend, a parent, a mentor, a lover or a spouse?  What if the cause of your hurt is your church?  What then?  Isn’t church the place you are supposed to come to for a spiritual respite?  A place of forgiveness and love and acceptance and encouragement, right?  Isn’t that what Christ instructed? 

I Thessalonians 5:14  “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

I Peter 1:22 “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  My father was on staff of a church in AR for 11 years.  As a “staff kid” I had the misfortune of tasting my first dose of such a disappointment when my father was “released” abruptly after the resignation of our senior pastor.  I was 17 years old at the time.  This church was literally my whole life.  I had been in this church from the age of 4.  My sister and I had participated in virtually every mission trip, evangelism outreach for children and youth, Sunday School class, choir, drama team, church camp to New Life Ranch, music camp, and program which was available to children our ages.  We had lifelong friendships which were established in that church.  We lived and socialized with these people.  This was OUR church.  Ours.  We loved it.  Then as quick as a wink it was all taken away.  I didn’t fully understand then as I do now, but situations such as this make it virtually impossible for the people being “rejected” to stay on as a member.  How do you remain in a place which seems to have turned its back on you?  How can you?

The pain of this incident stuck with me for years.  Our family bounced around to several different churches, but never again found that “home” which we had cultivated and nurtured in our time at that church.  Nothing compared.  When an event such as this happens to us, we have two choices- we can either turn our backs on God and say, “How could YOU allow this to happen?” and become bitter and resentful; or we can pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and keep marching straight ahead.  It was not easy by any means, but my family chose to do the latter.

I went through it personally and I think it would be safe to say that we all know of people who have been let down in some way by their church or by their God (as they see it).  Whether it’s through church politics or even possibly the death of a loved one, these people will often times quit going to church out of some form of protest.  I guess they are trying to really “show God” by not going.  The sad truth is that people who allow themselves to build up this wall of anger toward God are really only hurting themselves.

Now please don’t think that I don’t understand.  Buddy, I do.  There were many times I’ve called out to God in anger.  I’ve TOLD Him that I’m angry.  I don’t think He minds when we do this.  If God is our Heavenly Father, then just as we might with our earthly father, we may experience a few bumps in our relationship.  I talk to God just as if He was in the room with me and I talk to Him honestly about my feelings.  My prayers to Him are never long, flowery, poetic proses.  They are conversations with my Father, expressed in much the same way I would with all of you.  I think God wants us to be honest with Him about our feelings, our hopes, our desires, our fears, and our disappointments. 

It would be easy to allow ourselves to wallow in some degree of self-pity.  Poor us, so-and-so has done us so wrong.  Or on an even tougher note, how could a loving God allow THIS to happen?  Well, friend, let me tell you- I ask God this everyday about my own father.  How could God allow THIS to happen?  Why would such a horrible illness happen to such a wonderful man?  So friend, I get it.  Painfully, firsthand, I get it.  But, here is the difference-

I have learned that when we are angry, disappointed, and hurting we immediately begin to look for somewhere to point a finger.  We have to blame someone or something for this horrible feeling in the pit of our stomach… why not let it be God?  I can only speak for myself when I answer this, but this is my answer- we can not react that way because people are fallible.  God is not.  It is not God who lets us down.  It is not God who causes our pain.  Why then would we punish Him for something He did not do?

If it is “your chuch” which has let you down you must remember that it is not your God Who has done so.  The people in your church are only human.  Sinful, imperfect humans…  fallible.  Just as we all are.  People are going to let us down.  Remember as I said earlier, it is expected and accepted.  We must not give Satan the upper hand by taking an already-painful situation and making it worse by turning away from the Lord.  This is the time we must draw even closer to Him for support.  He is mighty and He will provide.

I am probably writing this tonight for myself more so than any other reason.  Similar circumstances in my current town have brought back a barrage of memories and feelings.  Two little girls whom I love oh so dearly may be experiencing the same hurt and confusion that I felt those 22 years ago.  If they were to ask me what to do I would tell them this- I am committing to myself and to anyone who is listening that no matter how bad circumstances may get in life, I will not walk away from Him.  The Lord is the one constant I know I can always count on without fail.  He is infallible.  God will never hurt us.  Circumstances and people will.  He loves us eternally.  I will repay that love with undying loyalty.  It’s the very least I can do for Him.  That was what pulled us through all those years ago and that is what will pull you through today.

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22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ann Trent
    Feb 07, 2010 @ 21:37:54

    Amanda, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. You have caused me to understand better some things that I really wasn’t sure about. Thanks-You are a wonderful person.

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  2. Brittany
    Feb 07, 2010 @ 21:44:00

    Thanks for this. I, too, have been there…I have been hurt multiple times by the church. I think I am often an easy target because of my outspokenness. Something God has really had to teach and reteach me is that the church is composed of sinners, so no church is going to be perfect and we must expect to be hurt, to some extent, by one another..whether that be individually or corporately. Sin always causes disfellowship, and sin is what we are all naturally prone to, what we gravitate toward, what comes out of us…we can be a church-goer, a pastor, a deacon, a missionary…titles are irrelevant. Our sin, though it causes hurt, actually is bittersweet because the Gospel as we know it hinges upon it. “If your sin is great, your Savior will be great.” So, I know that I am a rotten, ugly, henious person, and so are ALL the other people that I go to church with, and any other Christian I know…and, so I must proclaim, how great is the grace of God!

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    • mandaclair
      Feb 07, 2010 @ 22:06:08

      Brittany, I fully agree that we must proclaim how great HE is in ALL circumstances!

      It’s so disenchanting the day you realize that your church can be just as harsh and as cruel as the rest of the world.

      … and trust me, sister, I completely understand about being outspoken, let me assure you. 😉 Don’t you change that for anything, smart girl.

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  3. elfinfun
    Feb 07, 2010 @ 22:03:47

    Hurt and disappointment can be expected from outside the walls of the church; but, man when your face is already in the mud and the church mashes it further in, it can seem intolerable.
    But I find His hand is the one that reaches down, wipes me off, cleans the muck off my eyes so I can see HIm clearly and I set off on the path He has chosen for me.
    When the church hurts us, we have no greater opportunity to show the world our faith and commitment to Him. Our steadfastness becomes a greater testimony for those watching than anything else.

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  4. mandaclair
    Feb 07, 2010 @ 22:07:41

    Very well said, Kelli. Our lives seem to have become a tribute to “steadfastness” in the past few years, hasn’t it? It’s what we are called to do. I’m proud of you.

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  5. Joline
    Feb 07, 2010 @ 22:21:58

    So glad to hear this. Do hope you will all return as soon as you are able. We love you all and miss you. Church is home. Don’t ever leave it.

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  6. Kathy
    Feb 07, 2010 @ 23:44:26

    Sweet Amanda
    We had already left the church before you did and I never knew why your family left – I thought it was to move closer to family. Makes me sad – I missed your mom so much. We had
    a horrible experience a few years ago in our church and I dealt with it with anger toward my husband because he would not deal with it like I thought he should – needless to say he dealt with it in a Godly way (me -not so much!!) But, bottom line, the Lord wanted us to move on and we would never had done that without a big push from the “big Guy”!! Now we are in a wonderful church where my mom has started attending (she has not been in church for 30 years) which makes it all worthwhile. Like you said – the church is just a lot of hurting and imperfect people. We all need forgiveness as well as to forgive – funny how difficult that can be. Your blog makes me laugh and cry and stop and think!! Keep sharing – you are challenging everyone to consider their walk and their talk.

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  7. mom
    Feb 07, 2010 @ 23:51:50

    Tonight a childhood friend of mine called to talk to me about a problem in his church. He made a profound statement. He said, “The trouble with organized religion is that it is made up of disorganized Christians.” The Millards will be just fine. God had already walked through Thursday before the Millards ever got there. They know that. i am encouraged by the possibilities that lay in front of them. The Sunday night when you and Jess were children and the FS pastor walked into the pulpit and resigned without having told his staff, we were sitting on the front row of the balcony. Andrew had just been buried, and i didn’t want to sit on the main level and interact with others because i was so weepy. When he finished his resignation announcement, Jess looked over at me and said, “Mom, God must really trust us in order to let us go through this.” What a perceptive statement—that God would trust humans. All we ever hear about is humans trusting God. Now my sweet baby Jess and my sweet baby Manda have the opportunity to walk out II Corinthians 1 where we are encouraged to “comfort others with the comfort with which we were comforted by God.” Now you two must pass on to Neely and Emma the faith tools you formed when going through the same experience, and your faith will become a whole circle of strength. And if that doesn’t work, we used to live in New Orleans where they have the voodoo shops, and i know exactly what to do with black candles!

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  8. Lora
    Feb 07, 2010 @ 23:58:02

    An excellent, well-written post, Amanda!

    Just about 2 years ago now my husband and I went through a situation almost exactly as you described for your family. The betrayal was unbelievable. While we never once considered turning our backs on God or His Church, we certainly bombarded Him with questions. And even though I can’t exactly say that I’m grateful (yet) for that experience, I am so thankful to have a much better understanding of people who have been hurt and turned off by church/people in the church. Before this experience I can’t really say that I understood that at all~I’ve been in church since birth and have always had wonderful experiences…until I had a terrible one. And from people I completely trusted. So I’m glad that God is using this to teach me how to be able to reach out to those who want nothing to do with church for those very reasons. Because I can now begin to understand where they are coming from.

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    • mandaclair
      Feb 08, 2010 @ 16:23:58

      Lora, I can relate to every word you just said. I appreciate you pointing out that horrible situations like these can be used to bring us to a better understanding of others who have been hurt by the church or just by life.

      Love you and wish we were anywhere near one another. Would love to sit for hours, drink coffee, and chat with you!

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  9. mom
    Feb 08, 2010 @ 00:07:49

    Lora’s post reminded me of something my friend Susan Altes told me three years ago. She said the Lord had said to her while in prayer that He was going to take the church and shake it up, shake it down, shake it out and the church that was going to touch the world would not be the church as we think of it now. When reading Mary Beth’s posts, i was reminded of the many Christians with hearts for the Lord who do not have a church where they feel loved and accepted. But the church is not a building, it is a body, and wherever any of us is, there is church. The church is here at my house with me, just as the church is in your house with you. As you go to work tomorrow, the church will be in your office. And wherever Christians are, there is the church. At least that is my opinion.

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  10. Kelly S.
    Feb 15, 2010 @ 15:12:00

    Great post Amanda. The best part is LOYALTY. From my homework this week: “loyalty is not something we suddenly are at the flash-moment of testing. Its’ something we already were that surfaces in the test”. I love that you have made the decision to never leave God no matter what comes. I too have made that decision ahead of time….LORD, with Your help, may we prove faithful. You are worthy. Amen.

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  11. Jessica
    Feb 17, 2010 @ 15:51:38

    Thank you for this, Amanda. I have just read it for the first time. I’m sure you understand why. Our family could never consider any other option than to stay loyal to our Savior. And like you said, we won’t ever quit “church” – maybe just location!Moving on…

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  12. Pat Lenzini
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 10:38:53

    Dear Amanda, Jessica and sweet Carolynn, It was awful when our church family was scattered in all different directions!! I miss all the people that were so much a part of my young adult life. I grew so much in my christian life when I was there and made lasting memories of people that I love dearly. We are scattered but you still are my life long friend ,sister and mentor in Christ Jesus. I love all of you very much and am sorry for the pain Jessica and her sweet family is going through.This pain is character building.”A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?Proverbs 20:24

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  13. Brenda Curtis Becker
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 13:01:08

    Amanda, I loved reading this article and to see how God has used you in thy kingdom since your age of 17 – Praise to HIM. I am so glad you didn’t turn your back on him at such a young, tender age. God Bless YOU.

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  14. Jackie
    Jul 25, 2012 @ 09:43:00

    I have never been in a situation like yours, but i really like this article! You are a good writer:)

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  15. June
    Jul 25, 2012 @ 11:01:13

    Enjoyed very much, have been disappointed many times. I keep hanging on.

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