Growing up in the church my entire life, I've heard countless stories of hurt within the church, and I've had my own experiences feeling rejected by the body that is intended to meet people where they're at.
From my earliest memories, I've attended church and been a Christian. I accepted Jesus as my Savior at around 5 years old. My faith didn't really come to life though, until around 6th grade. As a young child, some of my closest friends were well connected to leadership in my church and well known in general. Although my family had close friends within our church and volunteered regularly, I wouldn't have considered us particularly popular. Having such well-connected friends didn't bother me as a kid because I didn't really know that I was supposed to feel left out until around middle school. As a natural introvert, I was very comfortable being a part of the ministry in a more behind the scenes way.
Over time though, I started to hate being unknown.
I hated knowing people's names and not being known back. I felt deeply unworthy because my life and family didn't match the perfection I thought I saw in the church's most important families. Now don't get me wrong, there were some good years of community with friends who lived out their genuine passion for Jesus and his kingdom. But as a high schooler, these friends would graduate and move on, and I would be stuck trying to reconnect. My church though, allowed me to serve, travel, go on mission trips, and share the gospel. I fell in love with Jesus within the church. Even as I served in a youth leadership role during high school, something deep inside told me that I would never quite be like the people in church that everyone idolized.
For someone who had dedicated their time, effort, and love to the church, I felt relatively unloved in return.
So I continued to serve and lead when on the inside, I was totally empty. I carried silently what felt like such a heavy weight of comparison and rejection. It wasn't until I got mono my junior year of high school that I was forced to drop out of my leadership in the church. This shift caused me to completely drop out of my church in every capacity. So many different factors made that part of my life the hardest I've been through so far and being desperately far from God and the church made it so much worse. During the next year, I church-hopped some but mostly stayed far from God and questioned every aspect of my faith.
It wasn't until a friend brought me to a church she had been attending that I decided to give church another shot. Here I found the leadership approachable and unthreatening, and for the first time, I didn't feel unequal. Even though I had reconnected to the body of Christ and had begun to reconnect to God, I still was cynical and unsure about how I could truly live a life confident of who I was after the enemy had made me question my identity for years.
The Lord has taken me on a long journey to reclaim my identity both in and out of church and it's a process I'm still going through.
Although I am endlessly grateful for the church I grew up in and the way it allowed me to discover who God is, it is bittersweet knowing that a place that I loved so much caused me pain. But that is a truth that I have come to know as I've grown up.
The church is simply a group of broken people trying to love and honor their Creator but sometimes falling short.
As Christians, we still say the wrong things, make mistakes and hurt each other. Being inside the four walls of a church doesn't mean we won't mess up, but as we are called higher, we have to seek reconciliation with the church. The first step is recognizing that we have been hurt by specific individuals or the congregation in general. And while confrontation may the path forward for some, I found that talking to God, and letting him transform my heart gave me more peace than any conversation with anyone else.
Loving and following God means we need to love the things he does and God LOVES his church. We cannot really know the nature and character of God without engaging with his people.
So, to those who have been hurt by the church, I just want you to know, the Lord sees and knows your pain. The greatest desire of his heart is that you would know him and his people and glorify him through that knowing. I pray that through drawing near to the Lord, he would comfort and redeem places in your life where the church have left a hurtful mark. In all things, the Lord gives us beauty for ashes.