Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19 CSB
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.
Isaiah 61:3 NLT
I want to share a tender, still-in-progress story with you.
Never, ever did I think I’d be one to write about “church pain”, spiritual abuse, or even how to integrate into new faith communities. But here I am. (To be clear, it’s not Jesus causing the pain or doing the harm. It’s the broken people, like me and like you. There’s no escaping our sin, and all too often it sadly seeps out from those in authority.)
I’ve mentioned parts of my painful and sad and totally unexpected story online, and every time I do, friends and strangers reach out to let me know I’m not alone. I’m loved. I’m welcome. And that so many have their own version and story of the pain church has caused.
I’m both grieved and grateful to know I’m not the only one with a work-in-progress story. Here’s mine.
At 40 years old, I’m attending a new church for the first time in my life.
See, I interned at a church in college, then worked there after graduation, joined as a member, and was fully embedded into the community for the next twenty years. I was married there. Baptized my kids there. Worshipped there. I eventually left my position on staff, but then my husband began working there. He led worship every Wednesday, oversaw the volunteer ministry, and was the glue of the community during Covid. I started and then led mom’s and women’s groups for years. There was hardly a volunteer position I hadn’t held. And our kids were loved, comfortable, and felt at home in those church walls.
But throughout a particular season when we were between called pastors and had interims leading, there was discord. My beloved volunteer team was disbanded, and our tasks redistributed. The moms and women groups I’d led were removed, just a header in the Facebook group remaining. The treatment of some staff members became harsh and erratic. And finally, last summer, my husband’s job was abruptly eliminated. It’s accurate to say when his job was eradicated, our family needed to leave. The job change was not communicated to the congregation, so we didn’t get to say goodbye or thank you — and no one had the chance to say goodbye or thank you to us either.
It was one of the most painful seasons of my life.
And my kids. After we told them we wouldn’t be returning to the church they knew and loved, as their tears fell, they asked where they would go to Sunday school. I wanted to tell them, “Nowhere. We’re done with church.”
I didn’t say that though. My husband and I prayed and talked through tears of our own. Could there be new life for us in a faith community?
We called a friend who was plugged in at a church nearby. We watched their services online, attended in person, and signed up the kids for Sunday school. The first day we walked in there were people we knew from school and sports, even some of the kids’ friends, and it felt like love from the Lord.
Each week I now meet new people, corral my toddler, learn new traditions, re-learn what church looks like, and encourage my kids to do the same.
Unsurprisingly, it’s come with a LOT of feelings.
Some are good. We’ve been very warmly welcomed in. There are fun events for the kids, chances to meet and get to know other adults, and a wonderful team of pastors who shepherd well. To our absolute surprise, other families from our old church left “with” us and several of them attend this new church too, sitting alongside us once again in the pews, which brings me to tears right there in the sanctuary. We very much feel we are in the right place, which is a massive blessing we weren’t even looking for.
And of course, some of the feelings are really, really hard. The first time my husband played and sang with a praise band again, I bawled. The first Christmas service we attended, holding candles and singing Silent Night, I bawled. The first time I attended a new mom’s group, I bawled. The first time we ate dinner there (something we used to do weekly), I bawled, right over my sloppy joes.
Lots of tears. Lots of anger. Lots of grief.
The pain isn’t only the freshness of still-healing wounds. It’s seeing life continue at our old church and feeling like the people we loved who remain there have “gotten over it.” It’s seeing them breathe a sigh of relief that “the difficult season is over”, and they can move on.
Which feels like me and my family are collateral damage. Brushed away, buried behind painful memories, and considered a symbol of a time no one wants to remember.
I’ve never felt so dispensable. Expendable. Disposable.
And yet, I know deep in my heart that I’m not. That there’s space both for that congregation to enter a new (hopefully healthier) season, and for me not to look back. There’s space for us both to be where we need to be.
Friends, writing this takes grit I didn’t think I possessed. And I mean beyond my gritted teeth, which I also have. There’s not going to be a nice tidy bow at the end here, because I’m processing with you in real-time, and healing takes time — a lot of it.
But God promises beauty for ashes. Dancing for mourning. Streams in the desert. And God delivers. So even as we heal, cry, and grieve… we hope.
Because we are not collateral damage. We are beloved, no matter what. Beloved. Worthy of belonging. And never, ever disposable.