My husband and I sat across from each other on the couch one Sunday listening to our church’s sermon as the world slowly halted and everyone was told to stay at home during the pandemic. What was thought to be two weeks of home church was now four months. As the singing ended, my eyebrows went inward and through a squint, I blurted out, “I just don’t think I can shrink myself anymore to walk back in those church doors.” I surprised myself, and I could see my husband’s eyes saying I had shocked him as well. Thus began the long and tediously painful road of removing ourselves from a community we had been a part of for a decade.
If you’d told me I would be one of the many voices talking about church hurt this year or any year, I wouldn’t have believed you. Our church has its issues, but it’s our beloved community! And we were fiercely protective over it. But one of the blessings of time away from the comfort of routine and physical places was just that: time — time to actually ponder, dig in, and stop avoiding much needed conversations. Honestly, there were only so many Netflix shows to binge and rooms to reorganize before we had to deal with the many wounds from those we loved the most.
I believe one of the most difficult things to experience in life is relational pain. It reminds me of Paul and Barnabas having such a deep disagreement they went their separate ways!
And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other . . .
Acts 15:39 (ESV)
It’s easy for me to feel alone in this except even Jesus was wounded by the very closest of His friends — namely, Judas. He was in His very small circle of twelve friends. Jesus taught him. He ate meals with him. He invited him into His places of worship. I can’t help but think of how intimately Jesus knew his friend and how agonizing it must have been to be betrayed.
And even though Jesus knew it was coming, it didn’t stop Him from loving Judas or inviting Judas in. I bet He laughed and cried with him. I bet they joked on the roadside about a tent falling on them in the middle of the night and how Peter thought it was the rapture (okay, I made that up). I bet they saw many miracles together, and I can imagine Judas wasn’t heartless towards Jesus. He probably really cared for the man he spent so much time with. That’s what makes the hurt so much more hurtful.
I say all this to humanize relational conflict and pain, to see the layers and complications, and to know that when we feel alone in our hurt — even from those we have championed for years — Jesus understands. He understands that we will get hurt in relationships and yet still want to show up. He understands that we can be irritated and angry with the church but still build the church and send more out to be the church. The dichotomy is astonishing when you think about it. As believers, we have a hard time holding space for both the people and places that hurt us and the desire to still be drawn to love and champion them. We feel that if we say these hurts out loud and really acknowledge them, it somehow means we are rejecting our community all together.
But as I read the gospels, I see the complicated life Jesus lived and what He experienced relationally — the intense joy of His friendships, the compassion for those He loved, the way He treasured the church and those inside of it. And on the flip side, the betrayal by close friends, the hurt, the loss, the rejection. He was no stranger to life as a human, and more than that, He decided it should be documented, talked about for centuries, passed down from generation to generation.
To show us that He gets it, that despite the pain, the church is worth fighting for, that relationships are worth fighting for, and that we are worth fighting for. We are the Church. The Church is His bride, and He cannot help but love her fiercely. This brings me great validation to be able to name hurts but also great encouragement to still fight for friendships and community even though they’re messy.
And I hope it encourages you if you find yourself sitting in a bit of a mess like I am. He is looking you in the eye, hand under your chin saying, I do understand. And I am making a way through this.