A Heart-Healing Community
I didn’t realize until recently how important the local church really is. Even though I grew up in church and have met some of my best friends (including my husband!) at various churches I’ve been a part of, I think I forgot about how great the local church can be. Ever since my husband and I left a particularly toxic church environment 11 years ago, I’ve been rather…skeptical… regarding the integrity, motivation and behind-the-scenes inner-workings of organized American churches.
Before I get too far into this topic, I want to clarify that the purpose of what I am about to tell you is not to glorify any of my past wounds, but rather to show you the amazing ways that God has healed me.
That being said, I do feel it is necessary to go into at least some of my background in order to help you fully realize how very awesome God’s healing really is.
I’m not going to go into the details regarding my husband’s and my painful church experience, but the gist of it is that, for the first two years of our marriage, he and I were on staff at a small church that, both from the pulpit and behind-the-scenes, propagated a ton of twisted and corrupt false-teachings which left both Hubby and I so utterly hurt and confused and traumatized at the end of it all that we simply just disengaged from organized church community completely for a chunk of years. Trying desperately to sift out God’s Truth and His voice from the plethora of abuse and lies we had been trying to fight off for two years was… rough. It required each of us to try to reconnect with God on our own and try to decipher His voice from the multitude of abusive, demeaning, identity-robbing comments and lies we had been hearing for those first few very formative years of our marriage.
It was a confusing and painful time.
So, for several years following our departure of that situation, I was on a quest to figure out the Real Truth of Who God Is and what He says to me and thinks about me. I kind of went “into hiding,” so to speak. I was so terrified of hearing false teaching and I was so gun-shy of church leaders due to the way I had been treated at that one church, that I mostly just sought Jesus and His Truth in the quiet and still spaces of my life. I only visited church a handful of times at various locations for those first 3 years. Almost all of my meaningful connections with God took place at home: in my Bible, in my prayer journal, in the great outdoors, with a few close Christian friends, and in the new land of motherhood that I was then trekking through. (Watching my sweet children interact with me and with each other, and seeking God through it all was a huge challenge and ministry to my soul all by itself. It’s amazing how much the innocent awe of a toddler can teach you about God’s love and tenderness, isn’t it?)
And then, about 8 years ago, I started attending a church nearby. Since I was solo with the kids every weekend while my police officer-husband worked the weekend night shift, and since hubby had less than zero interest in setting foot in a church again anyway, I decided to check out my dad’s church. I figured even if it was lame, at least I could have lunch with my dad and the kiddos afterwards and it would get us out of the house so hubby could sleep. The kids loved the children’s program right away— which was amazing because they totally hated any other church I had ever attempted to “try out.” And I, likewise, was immediately blessed by and ministered to by the straightforward, honest, down-to-earth, straight-from-the-Bible, “I am flawed too” kind of teaching that was being presented from the pulpit each week. I also really enjoyed and felt God’s presence in the worship music that was going on there.
And the people who attended this church? They… seemed kind and loving enough. But I didn’t really know anyone; I still wasn’t ready to go “gung-ho” and plunge into another “church situation.” I didn’t consciously think anything at the time, but I realize now that what I was doing was… just … observing. Surveying the situation. Watching to see what this church was really like. What these leaders were really like. What they really believed and taught and encouraged others to do.
I had been so mistreated and was so afraid of being spiritually abused again that I decided the safest course of action would be to just sit back and watch. Intuitively, I knew that I wasn’t in a place to start serving left and right and offering up all my gifts and talents “for the greater good” at that point in my life. All I had the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual strength to do was to just show up (when I could) and consume.
And I thank God on High that He was okay with that. And so was my church. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard them say from the pulpit that they know folks are coming to them beat up and broken— and that it is okay to come and just receive for as long as you need to. This church community wants to be a safe place where people can come and “just be” while they heal up and get to know God afresh.
[As a side note, one of the teaching pastors just gave a phenomenal message on this topic just a few weeks ago. If you care to hear some good solid teaching on this, click here.]
So that’s where I’ve been at. For eight years, I pretty much haven’t done anything but show up kinda-sorta-not-so-consistently (either in-person or online), soak in whatever truth I can from the weekly sermons, seek God on my own, and try wholeheartedly to figure out who God really is and what He wants for my life.
But I’ve got to be honest with you: it has been rather lonely.
You see, I have found that being unknown and disconnected at church makes me feel… invisible. Unimportant. Like I am on the outside looking in. A nameless, faceless spectator.
And, as Theodore Roosevelt once famously said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt
So, even though I do have a few good, God-loving, Jesus-following, wise and faithful friends outside of church, I have still felt very on-my-own these past few years. I only have three semi-local Christian friends who I’m close with, but our schedules rarely line up to make it possible for us to actually have any truly meaningful heart-to-hearts.
And I am a serious heart-to-heart kind of a gal. Sometimes I feel annoyed by myself, but the fact is I just really don’t like shallow or surface-y times. I’d almost rather not get together at all than get together and have no real meaningful conversations take place.
So, even though I am introverted in the fact that I must have solitude in order to think straight and feel sane, I also really truly need much more community than I have exposed myself to in the last decade. And even though over the past chunk of years I have had several good talks with some good friends, read tons of amazing books, spent countless hours praying and digging in God’s Word, listened to many great teachings online and/or at my weekend church services, and even though I have heard and believed and tried vehemently to prove that a person doesn’t have to be part of “an organized church group” in order to grow spiritually, relationally, and maturation-wise, I can also attest to the fact that it is much much MUCH harder to meet and connect with godly, interesting people in my normal, American, stay-at-home-mom life without being involved in something at least somewhat “institutional” or “organized.” So even though—in theory— I am a fan of the idea of an organically-grown, no church walls involved, completely God-initiated type of connection with other believers, I have found it ridiculously hard to cultivate relationships this way for me. Thus, even though I know the Bible says to “not neglect meeting together… but to encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24), the truth is that I haven’t done this nearly as much as my soul needs me to. And I have felt myself getting… “misshapen”… as a result of all this alone-time and lack of consistent Christian community. It’s just like we are warned in Proverbs:
“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”
~Proverbs 11:14, KJV
or, in other words:
“Where no strategic policy is, the nation falls, but in the multitude of yoetz (counsellors, advisors) there is teshu’ah (victory, safety).”
~Mishle 11:14, Orthodox Jewish Bible
So I finally did it.
I finally, after 8 years, decided to start actually meeting other human beings at my local, God-seeking, truth-seeking church. Yes, it is filled with flawed people and even flawed leaders (just like me!), but all in all God is showing me that it is a safe and healthy place to plug in and start walking the road of the Christian life alongside others.
So I joined a weekly women’s Bible study and I have also started going to a bi-monthly Mom2Mom group wherein we listen to a guest speaker and then have group discussion. And do you want to know a secret? Here it is: the women I have met at these two separate meeting groups are simply delightful. They are genuinely hungry for God, honest, down-to-earth, and courageously vulnerable to admit their struggles. It is so refreshing to me to be able to hear people’s stories, listen to their viewpoints, and hash out our relationships with God side by side. There is nothing like a good old fashioned conversation with another real, down-to-earth, God-seeking fellow human. I just love it!
Another amazing thing that has come out of my recent increased involvement within my local church has been the opportunity to once again put my spiritual gifts to use for the benefit of folks besides “just” my husband, children and close friends. It is so wonderful to be reminded, both by the teachers and leaders at my church and in my own heart, that I have gifts and talents that the rest of God’s kids could use.
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good… you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
~1 Corinthians 12:7
A few weeks ago I rediscovered a personal mission statement I had written out several years ago:
My Personal Mission Statement:
“To live a life of abundance— filled with health, love, joy and passion. And to inspire, assist and equip others to do the same.”
And do you know what is crazy? I know down in the depths of my soul that that mission statement is accurate: that is who I am created to be and how I am designed to function in this world. Unfortunately, I really haven’t been living that out for the last chunk of years— the truth is, I have been neglecting a big part of who I am and who God made me to be. I have felt stagnant and, to some extent, “purposeless” for too long… and I can’t tell you how healing it is to simply be used by God to bless and encourage other people once again. And to be blessed and encouraged by them too!
It is so awe-inspiring to see how the relationships I am building, along with the truth-drenched messages I am hearing from the pulpit on a weekly basis, are healing parts of me that were quietly hurting for many many years. And the re-discovering, development and utilization of my gifts and talents has been both soul-reviving and invigorating. I am so excited to see what else God does near and through me.
Thank you, Jesus, for healing me by providing me with not only the freedom to be me – to take the time to heal from some big-time wounds, but also to have the freedom to take my time and really figure out what my niche is. And thank You for putting me in these two women’s groups I am starting to dive into. Thank You for the dear women I am meeting, and thank You for the ways You are teaching me and inspiring me and touching my heart as I hear their stories, their struggles, and their triumphs. Thank You that I can be me in these circles. Please continue to give me the courage and the wisdom and the discernment regarding how to be me and how much of my self and my story to share. I admit I am still fearful of being hurt or betrayed or slandered as has happened a few memorable times in my life… but my trust in You and in where You have brought me is greater than my fear. As Christine Cain said at the most recent IF:Gathering:
“Being full of faith— “faith-full“— does not mean you are “fear-less,” it just means you are more full of faith than you are full of fear. So I am faith-full, not necessarily fear-less. Some things I go in with fear and trepidation; but greater is my faith than is my fear.”
So Jesus: I walk into this with open eyes, open hands, and an open heart. I do want to grow in You, Lord. I do want to know You more. I do want to understand You and Your Word more. You know me: I love learning and I love meeting people, and I love getting to know people and hearing their stories. And I love sharing mine, too— especially including the ways You have healed me and shined Your light of healing and truth on my life and my heart and my wounds and my relationships and my challenges. I love You, Lord. Please use my story to encourage someone else. Please use my mess-ups as a way to bring encouragement to others. Thank You for my local church— and thank You for the indescribable complexity and potential of all these folks who are all part of Your Church. It amazes me how different You’ve created each of us Your children.
Amen for now.
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What about you?
Have you ever been healed of a wound from which you never even dared to hope for healing? How has the community of Christ-followers been a blessing in your own life?
Please feel free to share your journey in the comment section below.