I sat across the table from a man who had walked in the faith more years than I’d been alive. I told him something to the effect of “I just don’t want to bring my church baggage to the table in the ministry settings I’m in; I only want to bring the lessons, not the baggage. I don’t want the people I’m with now to pay the cost of old hurts.”As if we weren’t made to carry each other’s burdens. As if love does anything else.
Without missing a beat, he told me that life is a little bit like being on an airplane; everyone has baggage – some you can check, but the rest is carry-on. Everyone has their carry-ons, and occasionally they’re going to tumble down from the too-small overhead compartment. He told me there’s no shame to your carry-ons; they’re just your bags, carrying what you value, including your tired, stretched-out underwear. Nothing shameful about that.
For years, quantifiable years, I felt a mixture of guilt and embarrassment when hurt from my old church would surface in my present church, where I’ve been for the past decade. Every reassuring conversation, every tearful catharsis, I was simultaneously grateful for the mercy of my brothers and sisters in Christ while also feeling ashamed of what I was “costing” them – in time, in emotional energy, in life. I didn’t want to “cost” more than I could give; since they were investing all this time and energy into me, I felt like I needed to carry my weight. To give them a good ROI. To earn the air I was breathing, as it were. It’s hard for me to write that out.
The truth is, nobody here has ever made me feel this way – not even once. Not a hint of it. It was my carry-on bag, and it took a long time to check that one at the Cross. I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to do a type of math that has nothing to do with mercy. I didn’t know how to be the right kind of honest with the right kind of people so I could get the help I needed to learn to walk well again. I didn’t know what to do with my bag.
Healing from church hurt can feel hard and very lonely. Like any other hurt, it’s tempting to paint the rest of your life with its colors – the friend who betrayed you becomes “every friend”; the pastor who hid moral failure becomes “every pastor”; the church who shied away from dealing with toxic leadership becomes “every church.” But those are not the hues of truth, friend.
There are safe people, and safe places to heal from church hurt – not perfect people, not perfect places, but good ones. (There are also toxic people and toxic places where those kinds of wounds will never be safe, and only be exacerbated – Gary Thomas has written the best book I’ve ever read on this, called “When To Walk Away,” that can help with discerning that.) You will still hurt and get hurt by good people in good places, because we all belong to the human race on the planet earth, and avoiding hurt isn’t really an option; none of us are getting out of this thing alive. Christ Himself knows what it is to suffer at the hands of those bearing God’s Name, and He still offers redemption, healing, and hope.
I’m writing this book to help you feel less alone, because if you’re on the road of healing from church hurt, unless Christ returns in the next 5 minutes, you won’t be the last. I’m writing this book to lend you my hope, just in case you’ve run out of your own. I’m writing this book because I needed it then, and you might need it now.
Above all, I’m writing it because the gospel is still true, and it is still the power of God for salvation. I’m writing because His bride is still beautiful.
Take heart, hurting friends. There’s still so much goodness to be had.