This morning I read a post by Jen Hatmaker that hit home with me on Facebook. As I am writing this, Jen’s post has been liked, loved and cared for by over 40,000 people. While I have been unable to read all six thousand comments, it is clear from what I have read that many relate to her post. Here is my comment in response:
Thank you for sharing. Your post and so many comments from others are a healing balm. I am amazed and encouraged by the vulnerability of so many. This post is church! I love that you say Jesus is there in the new broken places. My experiences with Him have taught me that my wounds are the cracks where His light gets through. My relationship with the church was shattered several years ago, and ever since that time I have been haunted by ghosts from the church. I have learned that in many ways church had become like an abusive dysfunctional family. Most children who grow up being abused do not realize that what is happening to them is abnormal. It’s all they know. Every child wants to believe the good about their parents. When we recognize the damage that has been done, the truth can be almost too much bear. I will never forget the day my counselor spoke the words and cast a bright light into the darkness of my understanding. I was in another abusive, dysfunctional family in the church. When we haven’t done work around our childhood trauma, we will return to what we know. Ever since the day my eyes were opened to the truth, I have tried to go back to church, but the traumatic reminders have been too much for me. I really did try to move past it. I reached out to others in the church who continued to tell me that I needed to be in church to heal. Thankfully, I had a few friends who didn’t tell me this and have continued to be “the church” for me even when I don’t go. They are the hands and feet of Jesus. I still miss the structure and the community of attending church, but I do not miss the feelings of guilt for struggling with my mental health, nor do I miss others trying to fix my thinking. I miss the friends I could call on to pray, the meals we shared together, and the feeling of working together as a family. I do not miss the judgments, the advice to just do this or that. There is much that needs to be deconstructed in church environments if we want to truly minister to the hurting. There is a huge need for churches to do this. Insanity is doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result. We need to look at the cycle, and see what we need to change. Even after all I have experienced, I still want to believe that we can do church in better way. Yes, we are messy, but can we continue to look at our messes and allow God to do a deep cleaning that’s more than a five minute altar call? Healing is a process. Grace,mercy, and forgiveness are part of the process, but not the end of it. Can we start to listen rather than fix? Can we allow Jesus to come in with His whip and run out the abusive people from taking advantage of the vulnerable? Can we tell the truth to one another? May God give you all much grace and peace. Again, thank you for sharing. 💛
Jen’s Facebook post:
For those of you with a complicated relationship with church right now:
I was a Church Baby from the womb. I came up through the youth group, church camp, See You At The Pole, purity culture, Acquire the Fire, DC Talk, rededicate your life to God subculture. I went to a Baptist college and got married at 19 because sex and young adulthood only belonged to marriage.
I was a pastor’s wife through several iterations of church: conservative pull-entirely-out-of-the-evil-world church, cool church with SNL clips on Sunday mornings, missional church that was entirely outward facing (I started that one with Brandon). I’ve spoken and taught at every type of church, denomination, ideological space, and power structure.
I haven’t virtually attended church in six months, maybe longer.
To be immediately clear: I love my weird little church that has evolved into something with much more depth and courage. It is a trustworthy space with beloved people. It is a good neighbor to our city.
But I started that church with a partner, so now I feel a strange disorientation, a founder whose life veered shockingly off course, alone with the ghosts of the sanctuary. And as it has become clear the last five years, most of what I was taught as gospel standards turned out to be entirely optional, able to be abandoned for power, or greed, or lies. To put it succinctly: church confuses me. I am adrift inside it for the first real time in my life.
I remain stubbornly attached to Jesus, devil be damned. Something inside that connection stays tender and gentle and true. He is the center that holds for me. But even that relationship is different.
My therapist Carissa told me Friday: “You are now able to be known by Jesus in entirely new ways. You have never experienced his love for you in these broken places, because they have never been broken before.” So that is new. That is a new side of Jesus I am figuring out, the one who loves me in shattered places, the one who understands the sanctuary ghosts and lets me watch CBS Sunday Morning instead of church without shame.
Church to me right now feels like my best friends, my porch bed, my children and parents and siblings. It feels like meditation and all these leaves on my 12 pecan trees. It feels like Ben Rector on repeat. It feels like my kitchen, and my table, and my porch. It feels like Jesus who never asked me to meet him anywhere but in my heart.
I guess I am holding space this morning for anyone for whom church feels complicated; struggling with your own ghosts. Jesus is near and good and dear wherever you are, however you are. Outside the sanctuary but also inside it too, because he will be found by those who are looking. Wherever you meet Jesus, and his people, and his love for the world, and his ways, and his healing work, it is good.
It is good.
You are good.
Jesus is good.
This is all I know for now.
Let us learn how to love one another better ❤. Please feel free to share your story.
I found a helpful resource recently about church trauma that was helpful if anyone else is suffering with trauma as a result of church:
Also, this organization has many helpful resources for others who may have experienced similar trauma.