By Carolyn Dale Newell, Crosswalk.com
Why was I returning for a visit? Was I a glutton for punishment? Yet, something drew me back every now and then. As I left that night, after the service, I smiled when I noticed something was missing. No bitterness remained! I didn’t recall their hurtful acts when I saw their faces or heard their voices. Finally, forgiveness had come full circle.
Time does not heal all wounds, but it does heal some. The fact that you’re reading this article tells me you’ve experienced church hurt. If we sat down together at a coffee shop enjoying something warm and chocolate, and we began sharing war stories, almost forgotten memories would arise as the minutes clicked by. Doesn’t it feel good to vent? Yet, it only gives us momentary pleasure. At some point, we need to refrain from venting so we can begin healing.
Stop Chewing on the Cud
Like a cow brings up the cud to chew on it some more, we tend to ruminate over past hurts. Perhaps we can train our tongues to stop discussing the horrible things we have experienced within a church, but if we continue to think about them, we cause ourselves just as much pain. We re-live that same painful event, the same hurtful words, the same cruel actions, and the same old lies. Satan attacks our minds, and usually at the worse possible times. Our enemy sets up strongholds that only God can conquer in our minds. To keep our minds safe and healthy, we must learn to take thoughts captive, making them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). When I catch those memories resurfacing, I remind myself of what Paul wrote to the Colossians:
"Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:2 NIV).
Do Not Isolate
When people and relationships have been a source of grief and pain, our natural inclination may be to isolate ourselves. Don’t get involved. Don’t get too close. We may even decide to stop attending church, but that isn’t what God wants for us. It’s natural to move forward with caution, but we cannot cut ourselves off from people just to guard our tender hearts.
God created us for relationship. He desires to have a relationship with us. He also desires that we fellowship with one another.
"Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
–Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV
When Elijah learned the evil queen Jezebel sought to kill him, he ran as fast and as far as he could, leaving his servant in Judah (1 Kings 19:3). In the next verse, we find Elijah exhausted and depressed, praying for God to take his life. How did this prophet who had just called down fire from heaven, as well as some much-needed rain, wind up like this? He isolated himself, and he began ruminating on his thoughts. Then Elijah began twisting the facts, believing them to be true.
Look for the Truth and Not Facts
Elijah believed he was the only prophet remaining in Israel who was zealous for the Lord (1 Kings 19:14). God revealed to Elijah the truth. God had seven thousand men in Israel just like Elijah (1 Kings 19:18). Some people have evil motives and clearly have inflicted harm on us. Many others didn’t intend to hurt us. They’re so caught up in their own world that they don’t realize the pain they have caused. Once I called someone out on this. She didn’t realize her behavior was rude or insensitive, and she asked me to forgive her.
Don’t believe the lie that you are unworthy or inadequate. I used to ask myself why they didn’t include me. I always figured they didn’t want to be bothered with the blind lady, so I assumed the role of being a burden to people. Sometimes separating facts from the truth can be tricky, so we have to look at God’s truth.
In my case, and perhaps in yours, I am not a burden. God says I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). I am adopted by God (Eph. 1:5). Your identity is in Christ, not in what someone has shamed you into believing. You are who God says you are, so hold your head up high.
Remove Yourself from Toxic People
Returning to a church where you’ve been hurt is an individual choice, but you should set boundaries for those who inflict pain on you. Separating from certain people, activities, churches, or even denominations may or may not help the healing process. Cover these decisions in prayer and godly wisdom. Sometimes, we want to get so far away from certain people only to realize that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side, just different.
The only path to total healing is forgiveness, but it’s a marathon and not a sprint. We don’t feel like forgiving when anger and bitterness seem fresh. When the same hurt occurs over and over, the wound reopens, and the healing process must start over again.
Biblical forgiveness is not a feeling but a choice. It’s a choice we must make despite how we feel. When we choose to forgive sooner rather than later, we avoid the root of bitterness. Once a root of bitterness begins growing, it becomes even more difficult to forgive.
I’ve found myself in a situation where the same person has continued to slice my heart open. I’m not proud of the bitterness that simmered within me, waiting for the right moment to share my pain with someone else. I took pleasure in their trials. We don’t please God when we harbor such feelings. It grieves the Holy Spirit, blocks answers to prayer, and keeps us from enjoying the blessings of God. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
"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." (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV).
Forgiveness doesn’t equal reconciliation or restoration of relationships. It will take longer if we want to restore and reconcile relationships. God only commands that we forgive.
We are never more like Christ than when we forgive. Look at what He has forgiven us—every wrong attitude and every unholy thought that has crossed our minds. He has not only forgiven our sinful deeds, but He paid for our sin debt with His own blood.
Christ suffered ridicule and rejection, especially from His hometown of Nazareth. He was beaten and whipped until His bruises and blood-stained body made Him unrecognizable. They spit on Him and mocked Him. They crushed thorns into His brow. They nailed Him to a splintered cross as He hung, gasping for air. They crucified Him. My friend, when I think of all Jesus endured without one word of protest, I feel humbled. I have held grudges for so much less.
Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. My forgiveness or lack of forgiveness doesn’t affect the person who caused my pain. It only affects me. We hurt ourselves when we refuse to forgive. The person who hurt you has already caused you pain. Why allow them to hinder your life with unforgiveness? We can never control the actions of others, but we can control our response.
God Does Heal
"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" (Psalm 147:3 NIV).
God saved me as an adult. I went into the church expecting perfect people with overflowing love. The church truly consists of flawed sinners saved by the grace of God. Do they get it right? Sometimes, but not always. Christian means "little Christs," but we fall far short of that definition, even on our best days.
I don’t set unrealistic expectations anymore. I even expect to get hurt again.
Jesus told us that in this life, we will have tribulations, but He has overcome the world (John 16:33), and so can we. God will bind up our wounds (Psalm 147:3). He will mend our hearts, and we will rise out of the ashes as a beautiful and strong daughters of God.
You can choose to allow what someone did to define you, or you can forgive and let God refine you. I choose forgiveness. What will you choose today?
Carolyn Dale Newell is an author and certified speaker. She knows what it is to live with blindness, but she calls her disability a gift from God. Her passion is to equip women to break free from emotional strongholds through her book, Faith That Walks on Water: Conquering Emotional Bondage with the Armor of God. You can connect with Carolyn on her website and her women’s ministry group on Facebook.