It shouldn’t be that the words “hurt” and “church” are entangled within the same sentence, especially not with a direct correlation.
There is a kind of pain that impresses into your soul–into the fissures of your being–when you are hurt by a church. When the supposed hands of Christ are the same ones that strike you down, betray, and take advantage of you… that is a hurt that hurts to the whole of who you are.
This hurt creates a hole in your wholeness,
and this holy space now makes you wholly break,
and what on God’s green, scorched,
broken earth are you to do with
I’ve been hurt by a church–more than one, actually. And I know many others who have been as well. I’ve seen the wreckage and waded through the debris left in the wake of a church broken.
I’ve traced with my fingers the jagged scars resulting from this to-your-core kind of hurt.
I became so familiar with fire-and-brimstone that the gentle touch of Jesus made me wince.
I recoiled at His mercy; I grimaced at His love. I shunned redemption and refused His grace because it went against everything I thought I knew. I was used to Jesus flipping tables, but not nearly as familiar with the gentle and lowly Savior who came to trace these jagged scars with a healing touch that reaches to the depth of my soul. I was used to a weaponized gospel, but not with the Gospel of Christ.
I had to learn how to be loved by Jesus. I had to learn how to be beloved by Jesus.
It is hard to feel beloved by Jesus when you do not feel beloved by His people.
So what do you do? What do you do when you’ve been hurt by a church and those within it?
You look for Jesus.
The lies and manipulation I had seen were so twisted up and entangled with the goodness of God that it became hard to differentiate. It has taken time to sift through the rubble of what was to find what still remains. It has been a slow process to separate the actions of man from the truth of Jesus. But as I did, as I asked more and more questions, and prayed more, the same phrase kept coming up:
“That’s not who I am.“
When I struggled to accept grace and was overwhelmed with guilt, fear, and shame, He reminded me, “That’s not who I am.”
And once I began to identify who He wasn’t, I began to replace it with who He is. He is forgiving; He is gracious, with a love that wraps around our deepest failures and covers them under His righteousness. He is kind, with a gentle spirit, not quick to anger, but patiently walking with me through this journey to healing. Over and over again, He reminds me who He is and who I am, and who I am within the love of the Great I AM.
He relentlessly pursues me, covering me in grace, removing the shame that seems shackled to my feet. Because that is who He is. He is a King who kneels down to unbind and wash the feet of the children He loves.
I don’t fully understand why I pushed onward to find a community that was genuine and loving. I give that credit to God. He put the right people in my life at the right time, and helped my broken heart to trust even when I didn’t want to.
Perhaps it is because a part of me, though still aching from wounds not yet healed, believed there had to be something more. It wasn’t that I necessarily had faith in churches or in people, but I did have faith in Jesus–albeit a faith that felt fragile. I had faith that the God that designed the patterns of my palms, who made my eyes the darkest shade of blue, who shaped my heart to be one that looks for the light in every dark place was indeed a good God. The Savior who calls me by name, He is not one that condones abusive systems. The churches that stand to protect abusers of any kind are not reflections of Him.
Jesus is not an abuser.
He has never taken advantage of me.
He has never tricked me.
He has never shunned me.
He has never shamed me.
He has always loved me.
Church hurt is one that penetrates to the core of one’s being.
But His grace and lovingkindness reaches so far beyond that hurt.
He knows every crack and crevice that lines our souls. He is a God who cracks seas in two to reach you. He is the Father that stands out on the well-worn porch, scanning the horizon for His child, waiting for the shadow of your staggering figure to peak over the edge of the sky so that He can run to you. He runs to us, gathering us up in His arms, clothing us in righteousness, welcoming us in celebration.
I have found that the path to healing a heart that has been broken by a church looks different for everyone. The levels of damage vary in degree of severity. But I have also seen a kind of restoration I hadn’t before.
Restoration–rebuilding–always comes after destruction. There is a tearing down to be had before rebuilding takes place.
But our God is a God known for turning ashes to beauty, for raising up temples once fallen, and for taking the broken and bringing from it new life and light.
So, to the one who is hurting–still nursing gaping wounds and struggling to wash the taste of bitterness from their mouth–the one who feels like their sacred space was burned to the ground: our God is a God of restoration and resurrection. He beckons the weary and heavy laden to come into His rest. He has a habit of bringing life from death. It is okay if you don’t have it all figured out, if you’re still struggling with anger and hurt; it is a journey that varies in length for each individual. But it is not a journey without purpose; it is not a journey void of grace.
We can hand Him our hurt and all our uncertainty; we draw in to Him and give Him our broken hearts. We can hand over our dusty and faded hopes, no matter how long they have been shoved away.
He is rebuilding what was torn down.
He is reshaping what was skewed.
He is reestablishing my trust in Him and others.
He is redeeming what was lost.
And every broken piece finds its place in the One who binds up the brokenhearted.
I write with hands that bear the scars of words and actions that have forever impacted me. I have carried the weight of it for so long. It taints everything I do. Day after day, I just keep peeling back the layers. I think that surely I’ll come to the end of it, but on and on the road stretches with twists and turns and unexpected repercussions.
Someone I know who went through similar experiences asked me recently, “Do you think it ever ends?”
I don’t think so.
After all, there was trust that was broken.
When you’ve spent years feeling as though you–all of your being, all of your brokenness, all of your struggle–is too much, too messy, too unlovable, it leaves wounds that take many nights to heal.
2 years out and I still find myself panicking, thinking that this fall, this setback, this struggle is going to be the thing that finally makes the ones I love leave me. Like the edges of my pain are too sharp and no one wants to get cut. Perhaps over time that will fade. It ebbs and flows, this pain. I can go months feeling the tangible presence of grace in my life only to find myself dragged back down into a pit of self-doubt and self-destruction.
So, I don’t know if it ends, this hurt in my heart, the hurt in your heart.
Maybe it eventually dulls. Maybe the waves subside into gentler, nudging streams that lap against the shorelines instead of crashing down in destruction. And I don’t think that takes a way from the magnitude of His grace. Every step forward, taken in faith, brings us closer to Him–and in that there is joy.
There have been days when it felt like I would never really find Jesus, much less who I am in Him. Like my redemption, my renewal, and my restoration remain still in that tomb. Like maybe my chance for peace and healing has passed–the damage too great, the pain too deep.
But really, it isn’t about finding Jesus, but realizing that Jesus finds us.
We are found, Beloved.
It does not rest solely upon our shoulders to fumble our way out of darkness because He comes into the darkness. He wades through this debris, tearing down strongholds to reach His child.
It’s a process, this journey of rebuilding and restoring and finding your way through the mess of church hurt.
But there is redemption for all the pain endured.
So for today, you can rest.
Rest in knowing that He has found you, that you are held within His grasp, and the Savior of your soul never lets go.