I’ve told my story numerous times on this blog. If you’ve been on this journey with me, you might be tired of hearing it. But it has been necessary for me to tell it over and over again, because each time as I dig into it, I am able to uncover another aspect of the truth that sets me free.
Yesterday I talked to an amazing guy, who’s been through some really hard things in recent years. He’d read some of my blogs and discovered that we had similar struggles. I was deeply touched to hear that some of the things I’d written had encouraged this man.
I’d actually reached out to him, because we had a mutual friend who said he might be able to help me with some questions I had about overcoming my fears of getting close to others in my faith community. My questions were all centered around the fact that I am scared to death to trust others in the church. After our conversation, I felt an amazing relief when he put my mind at ease by answering the questions that I had.
But what encouraged me more than him answering my questions, was the fact that he took time out of his busy day to talk to me, and that he’d read my blog and wasn’t afraid of sharing his heart with such a vulnerable woman. He seemed happy to talk to me and was shockingly honest about some of the things going on in his life.
I realized after hanging up the phone with him that I was more comforted by the fact that he hadn’t been afraid of me than anything else.
There are a lot of fear based teachings in the church about what relationships between men and women who aren’t married should be like. It seems like every week I’m reading a story about another pastor who’s fallen into sexual sin. It’s understandable considering the damage that these types of sins cause that we in the church would be more than a little paranoid. Wisdom is definitely called for, but fear is never the answer. We must tread carefully and honestly following closely behind Christ.
Every one is in a different place on their journeys. Some pastors are vulnerable and need to be cautious about their relationships with women. Some might not need to be counseling one on one with a woman at all, especially if they aren’t willing to recognize their own vulnerability. I’m convinced that there isn’t much that can’t be overcome by Christian leaders having others in the church that they are able to lean on and be totally honest with without being judged. I really think a large part of the problem with my former pastor was that he didn’t have these kinds of relationships. He also didn’t seem aware of his need for them.
When I walked into my former pastor’s office, I longed for one thing more than anything else. For him to hear my story and to accept me. I was so very messy and afraid. Ever since I was a little girl shame had communicated to me that I brought out really bad things in men. I needed for someone to show me this wasn’t true. This pastor exceeded my expectations when he cried tears of compassion for me and told me that he didn’t understand what he was feeling, but that he loved me. For the next few weeks, everything seemed righted in my world. I found it easier to pray, to love my family and to enjoy my life. The connection I felt with him healed a deep disconnection and loneliness I’d felt for a long time. Not only for that of a father figure in my life, but for that of another Christian who would love me despite my brokenness. But all of this turned a terrible corner when the relationship became sexual. The fear returned and the shame took over, and I was in worse shape than I was in before I came to see him. As a result, he became the only person I felt free to share my true self with. I became dependent on him and was trapped in a web of shame and secrets for the next ten years.
Yesterday when I talked to this stranger, I felt this same connection I’d felt with my former pastor. It was overwhelming and powerful and at first it frightened me. I went to bed last night feeling a consuming flood of emotions, and I didn’t quite know what to do with them. Somewhere around midnight as I tossed in bed processing everything, I realized that God was waking up emotions in me that I’d been numbing for the past year, because I’ve been so afraid of going back into another bad relationship. So I did what I do best, and I wrote out my feelings in a letter to my counselor. When I finished, I came to the conclusion of how desperately I still need honest connections in the body of Christ. God doesn’t want me to spend the rest of my life being afraid to trust and afraid of relationships. He also wants me to trust Him with my emotions which is something that’s very hard for me to do.
As I write this this morning, I realize it was possible for me to come to this conclusion, because I had another person that I could share my honest feelings with. Someone I could confess anything to who would pray for me and never judge. On a side note, I love Sharon Hersh. She is an amazing lady and counselor! The world needs a clone of her in every church!
After writing all of this down, the result was my feelings weren’t so scary at all, as a matter of fact I came to realize that they were pretty normal, and in the light of this truth shame could not survive. I ran to Jesus with all that I was feeling, and He told me I was safe.
Oh how the church of Jesus Christ needs to learn to be able to be honest with one another and not to live in fear. How we need to come out from behind our perfect masks and admit that we need Jesus as desperately as the rest of the world. Sin grows in the darkness of our secrets. Fear and shame take over and rule us. Love grows in the light of our honesty. Telling our messy stories gives others permission to tell their own. Asking for help when we struggle and being vulnerable with one another produces a oneness that Jesus desired for His children to have, because that’s where His love is manifested and that’s how others know His love is real. He doesn’t want us to live in fear of one another, rather he longs for us to live in the light of His love.
After writing all of this, I can almost hear Steve Brown’s voice saying, “I don’t know if I’d have said that.” He also tells his students when he has that thought that often something that needs to be heard is being spoken. Steve, I hope this wasn’t too out of the box! Because I strongly believe it’s a message the church needs to hear!
I’m so amazed that God doesn’t waste anything in our lives. My fear of others in the church is what caused me to ask for help, and even being honest about that resulted in me seeing truths to help me overcome my fears. The truth is there just isn’t anything we can’t come to God with that He won’t work for our good and His glory. I’m struck with the reality of what an absolutely good Father He is. He deserves all the praise and all the glory, because He’s just so good.
Also, another thanks to you, friend, if you are reading this today. Our short conversation made a difference in my life and I thank God for you.
To learn more about safeguarding against inappropriate relationships in the church, check out my recent post that includes an interview with Sharon Hersh, Steve Brown and Kevin Labby.