Church is supposed to be a safe place. Like family. No one ever expects that the greatest pain in life can come from the safety of God’s house and God’s people – or our flesh and blood. Yet it happens.
In 1999/2000 I experienced my first major disappointment at the hands of church leaders and friends. There were several disappointments and things I didn’t understand in Church as I was growing up, but this experience as an adult was far more painful that I could imagine and it caught me off guard. The people I loved the most were not only not helping me in a major crisis but they literally turned their back on me. I felt like I had just been kicked to the curb and left to die. Sound dramatic? It happened – and was so bad I had to move out of that town.
HOMELESS WITH A BABY
I separated from my husband in June. It was on Father’s Day. I didn’t plan it to be that way. Sometimes life doesn’t cooperate with our schedules or with holidays. Sexual addiction had plagued my husband from the time he was 10 and now it was destroying our marriage. I discovered what was happening only a month after our wedding. Two years later, now a new baby in our life, and I couldn’t take another day with the on-going effects of his addiction. He refused to leave, though his family lived down the street. My son was just 2 months old. I packed an overnight bag and drove to our best friend’s home to figure out what to do. I thought he would call or come for me – promising to follow through with the help offered by the clinics and counselors he had been to. I never heard from him. He went on with his life, and his addiction, like nothing ever happened.
On this particular day, I was loading everything I could fit into my car. It had been 2 weeks since I first arrived at our friend’s home. Over the days, I had slowly gathered clothes, diapers, necessities, a playpen, and a baby swing; but now I was loading it all back up in my car because I was asked to leave and go home.
The night before, my friend’s husband (who happened to be my husband’s best friend) confronted me about what I was going to do if my husband refused to get help for his addiction. I responded I would consider divorce. I didn’t know what else to do. That was unacceptable to him, he got up in a huff, and made it clear I should not remain in their home.
The next day I was driving around town, the car stuffed to the ceiling, and my newborn son next to me, not sure what to do. I had to find a place to stay. I made several desperate calls to long-time friends, pastors, church members, and also to an older couple who were our counselors/mentors. They all refused a place for me to stay and told me to go home and be a “good Christian wife” because his addiction wasn’t “that bad”.
They didn’t understand. I couldn’t go home. He had started to have fits of rage, throwing large objects around the house – including slamming our dog against a wall and throwing him across the room. Moments like that, and one involving a gun, had made me too scared to return. My family lived 3 states away and it would take them a few days to reach me. With nowhere to go and not a single dollar in my pocket, I went home and called my family. Instead of welcoming me back home, my husband mocked me and bragged, “I guess everyone gets to see what you are really like.” Within 48 hours, my parent’s picked me up and brought me home. It was a humiliating and discouraging time for me.
That was my first wake-up call as an adult regarding rejection in the Church body.
The pain was so bad and nothing made sense. All I knew was that I loved God so much and wanted nothing else other than to serve him every day of my life. I didn’t understand why my entire church fell silent and closed their doors to me. Was separation so horrible in their sight that it erased 12 years of relationship? I didn’t know what to do or what to think. At that time, I didn’t understand the function of the Holy Spirit as guide and counselor.
THE CHURCH GAME
Growing up in the Church, and as a pastor’s kid, I learned to look nice, smile, be polite, and play the Church Game like a good Christian girl, fitting in perfectly. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, but that was because I was too “church-y” for everyone. I was so happy to live my self-righteous life and judge those who didn’t live up to the expectations of the rest of us. I fit in at every church I went to. I genuinely loved God and had a great relationship with everyone in church. Sunday mornings were my favorite time of the week. But, when life dealt me a hand that I didn’t know what to do with, I was abandoned by the people I thought who had my back.
Thankfully, my perspective was clear in one area…I clearly understood that the actions of men and women had, even in the name of God, no bearing on WHO GOD WAS. I could be disappointed every day and that would not change the truth about God and His Word. That deep conviction in me served me very well in this instance and in a few more to come as I experienced the deepest pain at the hands of the church, friends, and family.
The best part of this experience, I was able to receive God’s kindness in a miraculous way the night I was asked to leave. The Father reinforced His mighty love for me supernaturally. The night it was made it clear I was no longer welcome, it was very late, and there was no way I could leave at that hour; I knew that I had to be out early in the morning. My baby was sleeping next to me on a makeshift bed on the floor. The tension in the house was palatable. The burden and pain of what was happening were so intense that I started bawling uncontrollably. It’s one thing to go through tough times when it’s just you, but when you have a beautiful newborn baby involved, it takes it to a whole new level of desperation.
I got up and made myself a bubble bath and began to softly sing worship songs to calm myself down. It took every ounce of effort to offer up a song of praise in the midst of my grief. After I had dried off and laid back down, I closed my eyes and wept again and praying silently. As I prayed, I suddenly felt gentle yet large, strong, muscular arms slide around my body. It was so real I opened my eyes to see who was embracing me. When no one was there, I quickly shut my eyes and begged God not to let go! It was the most surreal moment I’ve ever had in my life.
Thinking of it now brings tears to my eyes. I got a BEAR HUG FROM GOD! I never wanted it to stop. I relaxed in His awesome arms. I knew, that I knew, that I knew that even though everyone else may fail me, God will always have my back. I am His child.
WE ALL NEED GRACE
To be fair, I was not perfect in all of this. In my desperation to find help, I approached far too many people to “discuss” his addiction and our marriage problems. I lacked discretion and it hurt my husband deeply, also giving the impression that I was a drama queen. I don’t excuse my behavior but I also don’t excuse theirs. Grace is something none of us had.
I share this part of my story because a lot of people have been hurt by the Church, and while it shouldn’t be that way, the Church is filled with imperfect and hurting people. Never lose sight of who GOD is. In the midst of your pain, look to the Father and allow Him to minister to your needs. Be willing to give grace even when you do not receive it.