I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who has left a world of black and white and entered a beautiful world of color.
The ladies in the CR (Celebrate Recovery) bible study I’ve been attending make up a beautiful tapestry of so many different stories. It is an environment rich with honesty, humility, and brokenness before God. We are a beautiful mess, and I sense more of the love and forgiveness of God in this room once a week than I’ve ever experienced before.
This week after our meeting, I remembered where I was a little over two years ago. I was the administrative assistant in a church. I knew most of the families in our small congregation pretty well and felt like I was a part of their lives. There was rarely a Sunday or a Wednesday that I wasn’t at a church service, and when I wasn’t there I was working in the office or teaching a small study for teenage girls. I’d begun to break away from the abusive relationship with my former pastor, and believed I’d found purpose in my life. I didn’t ever want to leave.
But then a good friend of mine who was a part of our church was going through a divorce. I helped her move out of her ex husband’s house. I watched her family be torn apart. I also watched my church community attempt to help her. It was a disaster. Rather than cast any stones at what others did to bring my friend “comfort,” I’ll address what I did that was more damaging than it was helpful. Looking back on things, I’d have done it differently, but I can also honestly say at the time I didn’t know how.
I can see clearly now that I’d been in a nice little Church bubble. A place where I believed there was an answer for everything. A place where if we just stuck together, prayed about it, and listened to one another’s advice we could fix most things and avoid things getting too messy.
I’m not sure if my friend ever returned to church, but I know that after she opened her heart up to the leaders she turned to for help, she wound up more hurt and didn’t come back for a long time. And I just kept trying to make things right. I told her if she’d just hang in there with the church that we’d get her through it. I even tried to get her to come back to counseling with another leader who I believed would show her compassion, but she continued to reject our offers to help. I remember getting so frustrated with her and even thinking “if only she’d let us help we’d make it better.”
At the time, I didn’t understand my friend’s pain or what she really needed from me. I was still in denial about my own messiness that I was covering up. I could only sit in my Church bubble and tell her how to cope. I’d learned that skill so well. Until the bubble burst.
When I couldn’t cope anymore and confessed the messiness of abuse and secrets in my own life to my leaders, I got to experience what my friend did. My leaders reached out, just like I had reached out to my friend, with how to fix it. They had a plan for our family. They had it all worked out. They’d do everything to clean up the mess and keep us inside the Church bubble. As a result, others in the church got to stay in their bubble, and we left.
As I remember that time in my life, I find myself getting so angry over how misunderstand I felt. How I needed my church during that time more than I ever had and they didn’t know how to help. I have screamed, kicked, cussed and ranted over this whole thing with God. I’ve wanted to make them pay. I’ve prayed they’d be exposed and have to deal with what I did. I wanted them to know how it felt. But then I’ve also had to remember when I was in the Church bubble right along with them. And how I tried to fix her and only wound up hurting my friend more. Only my own brokenness could crack open the scales on my own eyes, so that I could see. Only Jesus on my own road of deception shining the bright light of truth that I was going the wrong way could make me turn.
So I can’t throw any stones, because I know what life inside that bubble was like and sometimes I actually miss it, until I remember how much energy it took to keep it all together and how dull things were on the inside all in black and white.
Outside of that bubble, listening to the stories of other’s messiness the brilliance of Jesus love, mercy and forgiveness shines through the darkness. I am reminded that I am not alone. I know that no matter how messy it gets He’s never, ever gonna leave. He’s a good and perfect Father who loves us even when we don’t have a handle on our lives and when we don’t know how to fix it.
There is no us and them, only bubbles that we we think are safe until circumstances come along and burst them. But when the bubble burst, that’s when freedom comes. And I thank God that He burst mine.