I’ve seen a couple of things going around the internet lately about how church is hard. I’ve shared a beautifully written post to that end. Because church is hard. And I know why.
I am the reason church is hard. I am a walking, talking ball of hurt, heart break and, if I’m being totally honest, unforgiveness.
The church is full of me. People walking around hurting, angry, trying, failing, wanting to do better. Be better. Wanting, trying, praying to forgive. And the moment we think we have succeeded. We’ve grown. We’ve healed – BAM! A new “offense” returns us to that place of pain we thought we had left behind.
Much like the smell of baking cookies can take you suddenly back to your grandma’s kitchen, a new church hurt can send you reeling, sliding back into that pit of hurt you thought you’d climbed out of.
As I stood last night sharing my frustrations and angers and hurts with perhaps one of the most bluntly honest friends I know, I really realized, maybe not for the first time but certainly more fully than before, how much these old hurts drag us around, through the mud and muck and leave us unfit for ministry.
Or do they?
Perhaps they leave us unduly fit for ministry. Perhaps it is only through our hurts that we can finally begin to minister. I don’t know. I’m honestly trying to figure this out.
A little over a decade and a half ago I started this journey of “ministry”. I told the women mentoring me at the time that I was pretty sure I didn’t want to get to be too useful to the Kingdom because I didn’t want the attacks from the enemy.
I didn’t listen to me. I ended up diving headlong into one of the messiest ministries in the known world. No, not Children’s Ministry. That is just the cover for what we really do. Family Ministry. Momma ministry. Ministering to the mom who knows she’s blown her relationship with her daughter because of her life choices, and the daughter whose heart aches for a mom who is present. Ministering to a wife trying to save her marriage and a wife trying to leave an unhealthy one. Ministering to a friend who is heartbroken because she just can’t seem to find her way along God’s path for her.
I didn’t listen to me. I poured my heart into my church. My family. And my heart was trampled.
I didn’t listen to me. And I’m so glad I didn’t. I honestly don’t think I would choose to avoid the heartbreak by avoiding the moments I’ve been privileged enough to show the love of Christ to a child, a momma, a friend.
No. I wouldn’t.
But I’m still hurt.
And that brings us back to the problem. Me. I am the problem. I have been ignored, scolded, placated, slandered. I have had my heart broken. I have also ignored, placated, slandered and broken hearts.
Because churches are full of people. The non church going world sees the church as full of hypocrites and maybe we are. What we in the church know is that we aren’t perfect. We are loved and saved by grace. Saved by a grace-filled God who died simply so that we might live. But perhaps we forget that we are all, ALL, imperfect creatures. Whether we’ve been saved a day or a decade, have attended seminary or a few sermons, none of us are perfect. We hurt each other intentionally and unintentionally.
We forget. But you see, the enemy, he doesn’t forget. And he doesn’t want us to forget. He doesn’t want us to forget the times we’ve been hurt. He doesn’t want us to forget what that other pastor did to us. He doesn’t want us to forget that we are sinners and undeserving. He wants to bring up every moment that hurts our hearts and smear our faces in it. Make us taste and smell the foul stench of our brokenness. Of the brokenness of those around us.
He wants us to walk away, hoping that leaving the scene of the crime will wash away our guilt or hide us from our shame. So we go to other churches. And, surprisingly we find it is also full of sinners. Hurt, broken people fill those pews as well. And in time we begin to find new offenses that bring up our old broken heart.
I am the reason church is hard. I am.
God is here and He’s offering us all a clean slate, a blank ledger, a new start. And time after time I think I’ve taken the clean slate, but it turns out I’ve picked up my old dirty one and I begin to see the faded lines of the past mistakes. And I decide it’ll always be this way.
I honestly don’t know how to stop the cycle. I do know Who. I am certain that God has the clean slate and is handing them out to anyone who is willing to pick it up. But I think the key is whether we are willing to throw away the old one so that we can never again pick it up.
I know the church is full of people like me. Hurt. Tired. Weighing the options. Is it worth it? Do I step up again and get smacked again? Do I open my heart? Throw away the slate with the faded marks of my past? Never again look at how I was hurt? Do I stand and say “send me”?
Or do I stand and complain about all the past mistakes of others, hoping their mistakes will somehow hide my own,