“How on earth do I deal with this hurt/anger/bitterness in my heart?”
“How long will it take before I can start trusting others again?”
In my latest post, I shared my personal experience with being hurt by the church and how Christians collectively need to love and extend grace more.
I knew my experience wasn’t an isolated or unique situation for a Christian to walk through. Sadly, I knew my words would resonate with many which is why I tackled such a heavy subject.
Through the number of messages and emails I received, the same two questions/comments almost every time: the struggle with knowing how to deal with the bitterness in your heart and how you can learn to trust others again.
When James and I removed ourselves from the congregation that hurt us, the realization of what occurred hit hard. Because for a while we were in survival mode, putting out the fires and only focusing on the immediate need in front of us.
It’s one thing to be in the middle of the smoke and trying to fight the fires as they come. It’s a whole other situation to be completely away from the flames and be left to deal with the burns they caused.
The burns we were left with were up for us to deal with alone. The people we were the closest with were still a part of that congregation, leaving us no choice but to keep the details of what really occurred to ourselves.
James and I spent many nights talking through different series of events and trying to make sense of what we had walked through. Eventually, the feelings of hurt started to dissipate but then anger and bitterness arose.
I was able to recognize that bitterness existed within me by how I responded when a person’s name was brought up. I wish I could say that I was able to “just get over it” and quickly moved on, but that’s not the truth. And it’s also unrealistic, especially when it comes to spiritual hurt.
Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Bitterness is resentful cynicism which builds into an intense hostility towards another. Scripture teaches us to rid all the bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, and any form of malice in our heart. What I love is that scripture then tells us how to do so by being kind and compassionate toward one another and to forgive just like Christ forgave us.
The greatest danger with allowing bitterness to stay and rule in your heart is that it creates a spirit that refuses reconciliation. Which then leads to the outbursts of anger and brawling talked about in Ephesians 4. When this occurs a spirit of malice will settle in, which signifies an evil-mindedness and feelings of intense hatred. Malice is a deliberate attempt to harm another person which is why Ephesians tells us to rid every single from of it from our being.
God’s will is for you and His children to live in love, joy, peace, and holiness- not bitterness. You must always be diligent and on guard protecting your heart. It takes time to heal, so whether you stay at the church who hurt you or leave, know that no matter what- it’s going to take time.
To my hurting friends who are dealing with the aftermath of church hurt:
Give yourself grace: You’re allowed to feel hurt, rejected, pushed aside, or any other adjective that fits your situation. You’re allowed to be frustrated, sad, and disheartened. You will go through feelings of confusion and mourning. Don’t try and rush through this season, ignore it, or even pretend you’re not hurting.
Allow yourself to feel because that will enable you to heal. You can never heal wounds by simply ignoring them. Because no matter how deep you push those feelings aside and no matter how hard you try to ignore them- I promise you, friend, that pain will make its way out eventually. And it will resurface in ugly ways and more than likely you will hurt others along the way.
Choose to be aware of how you feel every step of the way because then you can fully give it over to God and allow Him to heal you and redeem this situation in your life.
Allow time: Time to forgive, time to heal, time to truly move forward, time to feel love and have joy in your heart towards the ones who hurt you. You may get frustrated that you don’t feel the way you used to and how you’re not as excited or full of life like you once were. The zeal and drive that once led you with great passion may even feel gone. Remember you’re human and you just need time to process everything that happened to you.
Prevent division: This may be hard to hear, but friend, can I urge you to not slander the church whether you stay or go. Do not make it your mission to bring as many people as you can with you as a way to validate your pain and the shortcomings of the ones who hurt you.
I can promise when you do this, you’re hurting yourself, those that follow, and the church whose members have left because of division. Offense has a way of stirring up a spirit of division and if you’re not careful you can either be leading the path of division or enabling it by following suit.
Please know, I do know there are times for people to leave a church. I shared with you how James and I did just that. We knew God was calling us out of there because it would be impossible to heal while serving or attending there. What we didn’t do was bring people with us. We were adamant that we didn’t want to take people with us even when they asked us if they should leave too.
In all honesty, we told everyone to stay. To also keep serving and keep on praying. We encouraged them to be agents of change wherever God calls them and James and I were simply leaving because God told us to. They weren’t being mistreated the same way James and I were, there was no reason for them to leave.
If the reason of your discourse is rooted in theological issues, they’re not the enemy because they came to a different conclusion from their time studying the word. (I’m not talking about the churches who preach a false gospel and lead people to a false Jesus. Those churches are far and few between and those communities need to be corrected and held accountable.)
Take heart action: No matter where you’re at in the healing process, make a conscious effort to speak kind words whenever the name of someone who hurt you is brought up. Nothing shallow or surface level, instead- a deep heartfelt encouraging word about them. Remind your heart and your mind that these people are your brother/sister in Christ and most importantly, they’re a child of God and if He loves them enough to die for them then you need to love them too.
Take everything to the Lord first through prayer. Say whatever you need to say to Him and Him alone. Be careful to not fall into the trap where you’re telling others you’re praying about it when really all you’re doing is complaining and not actually bringing it to the Lord through prayer.
Forgive those you hurt you. Then, go serve your church, preach the gospel and make disciples.
1 Peter 2:23 says, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly”
Through your pain, you need to still remember the church is not your enemy. Your job is to lift them up in prayer, even in their wrong. It’s not excusing them and their actions, instead it’s battling your hurt through prayer and loving your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Whether you have stayed or moved on, that’s between you and God. But, no matter what church you’re attending, serve those people. This will prevent you from carrying past hurt into your new season. Being giving of your time and giftings will remind you that it’s not all about you and that the big picture is to reach those who don’t know Christ.
Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”