You have an enemy. Seriously. You are hated. Deep down you know this, but your enemy is not usually who you think it is. You are a threat to your enemy–if you fully become who God made you to be. So, he will attempt to stop you in your journey to becoming you… Your freedom and wholeheartedness are the greatest threat to him, and his goal is to fight you for them.
Life, love and all relationships can be messy. That includes Church life, love and relationships; and they have a unique messiness of their own. I have experienced the most amazing Church-born relationships in my journey, and I have experienced equally disappointing ones. If you have been in the Church very long, so have you, which is probably why you are reading this.
When we are in the middle of these life-giving relationships, nothing feels better! It becomes difficult to even conceive how we have ever lived life without relationships like these. They are a breath of fresh air to us, and make us feel as if we could accomplish anything together–and in many of those relationships we have faced and accomplished awesome things.
Unfortunately, relationships don’t last forever here on earth and sometimes they can end as soon as something unexpectedly pierces your heart. This happens everywhere in life, but I have found it particularly difficult to deal with in my Church experience. Having lived through years of abuse in my childhood, I have actually found recovering from pain experienced from friends or foes in the Church to be even more difficult than abuse recovery. I don’t think I am alone in that difficulty and complexity, since there are books written on how to recover from abuse and hurt in the Church.
I think we expect so much more out of our relationships in the Church, and I think maybe we should…in a perfect world. But, I also think that we might experience Church relationships in a different, and perhaps deeper, way than other relationships in life.
Why do I think this? I think this because we are not only experiencing those relationships emotionally, but also spiritually and socially. The fact that there is a spiritual dimension to those relationships takes the level of intimacy deeper, and as a result makes us feel much more vulnerable when they become broken. When that happens, not only are there broken relationships and emotional pain, but now our place of spiritual support suddenly feels emotionally threatening. Since it is often a social network for us also, it can just be pervasive and overwhelming.
So, why is this worth talking about and why does any of this even matter? It matters because it involves your heart, and, ultimately, your spiritual journey.
Having experienced hurt in the Church more than once, I have seen there is a pattern the enemy uses to destroy us with the hurt. And yes, I did say destroy, because the truth is that the stakes for your destiny are at risk. If you disconnect from the Church body, and from the people intended to walk with you in your journey, you also put what God has intended for you at risk, too. Connection to the greater Body of Christ is imperative for life to flow. Flow stops, you wither.
To help you avoid that casualty, here is the attempted and oversimplified (by me) progressive pattern I have seen the enemy use over and over in my own hurt experience, and in observing others’ experiences (including those in ministry). Depending on where you might find yourself, I added under each part the ways you can guard your heart in the hurt, and how to not be setback by it.
The enemy’s goal is to:
1. Wound you. If you don’t deal with an offense or hurt quickly, it becomes a sticking place that impacts our Church relationships and behavior. We start to avoid the offender. To avoid them, we begin to remove ourselves in little ways from things we used to do, to not have to see them at church. Eventually, as the wound begins to fester, we withdraw more to avoid dealing with it at all.
Safeguard for your heart: Confront or share the offense/hurt and deal with it quickly. Make amends for your role in the situation. Trust God to restore you and them.
2. Isolate you. Because we didn’t deal with the offense or confront it to weaken its power, we then begin to isolate ourselves and lick our wounds. In doing that, we begin to rehearse all the reasons we have a right to stay hurt. We withdraw from the relationship entirely, we withdraw from God, (to avoid our guilt in knowing we are not handling it right), and this begins to cause us to stagnate spiritually, most often sending us to the desert. When no one calls to see how we are, then we get mad that no one cares. We then start to question where friends and God are in all of it.
Safeguard for your heart: Confront or share the offense/hurt and work at mending the relationship(s). Forgive the person/people, and by all means forgive yourself. Make amends for your role in the situation. Trust God to restore you and them.
3. Create mistrust in you. Once we convince ourselves no one really cares, and maybe God doesn’t even care, then we begin to mistrust anyone related to the situation–and then ultimately, anyone who even resembles the situation, or the Church. This eventually leads to a bitter heart, and then later we can’t figure out why God is so “silent” to us now.
Safeguard for your heart: Re-engage with people that feel safe. Make a decision to confront or share the offense/hurt and work at mending the relationship(s). Forgive the person/people, and by all means forgive yourself. Make amends for your role in the situation. Trust God to restore you and them.
4. Create resignation in your heart. We start to give up on expecting things to be the way they were, or that we will have those kind of relationships again. Because our giftings and callings are often drawn out by being in the right tribe of people, who draw those giftings and callings out, we start to lose hope that we will ever use them again. This leads to regret and grief, which can become unbearable. In the unbearableness, we question God, if we are still talking to Him, or we question ourselves. (The worst I have seen of this is with those who are still working in ministry, but checked out in their heart and inaccessible to any real relationship that could hurt them again. Ministry can be brutal, and I have met many hurt leaders who are deeply cynical, vastly guarded, and withdrawn. Be kind to them, because people can be mean! Nothing would be worse than to have to be “on,” carry deep hurt at the same time, and have your paycheck tied to it.)
Safeguard for your heart: Do not spend time alone, and find someone in the Church who will love you where you are. Re-engage with people or a church that feels safe. Make a decision to confront or share the offense/hurt and work at mending the relationship(s). Forgive the person/people, and by all means forgive yourself. Make amends for your role in the situation. Trust God to restore you and them.
5. Kill your destiny. I have found if the enemy cannot get you to question God, he will work at getting you to question yourself. Either way, once a person gets to this point, it is easy to make agreements with lies and let go of our whole identity as a child of the Father. As a result our destiny is eventually left in the graveyard once you give up or give in.
Safeguard for your heart: Refuse to give in, and recognize that there is nothing wrong with you, and know that God still loves you; not because you are good, but because He is just that good. There is nothing you can do that will take you too far away from His love. He still has plans for you, and a good future for you. Do not spend time alone, and find someone in the Church who will love you where you are. Re-engage with people or a church that feels safe. Make a decision to confront or share the offense/hurt and work at mending the relationship(s). Forgive the person/people, and by all means forgive yourself. Make amends for your role in the situation. Trust God to restore you and them.
If you ever have watched TV shows on the wild in Africa, the first thing predators do is separate the weakest animal in the herd from the herd. Once this happens, there are none who can come to its defense. The enemy does the same thing. He gets you hurt, he gets you alone, and then he takes you out! We were not meant to carry the weight of hurt, and it weakens us so much.
I can speak from experience that if you can have the courage to confront an issue, you are willing to learn from it, you can extend forgiveness to the person/people who hurt you and to yourself, and then you make amends to the greatest degree possible, you can continue on in victory. However, just because this is simple, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It’s not. But, it is worth it. You can do this, and your life is worth it. Your destiny is worth it. Do not wait. The Kingdom needs you!