A note from Michelle: Many of us haven’t been inside a church building in months because of COVID-19. We may find ourselves rethinking our involvement in our congregation, checking out other congregations from the comfort of our La-Z-Boy, or discovering that we’re not missing church services very much. Others have already disconnected from church because of dysfunction, politics, division, or a faith shift. Midlife often brings those questions and challenges to the fore. It did for me, and was part of the impetus for the study and conversation over the span of a more than decade that led to me writing Becoming Sage: Cultivating Maturity, Purpose, and Spirituality in Midlife.
But my initial spiritual crisis in my early 40’s was marked by the writing of two books about the parables. I reflected today on Twitter about why those stories Jesus told were about the only thing that held me together when my church experience – and nearly, my faith – was on the verge of falling apart. I’m sharing the gist of the thread here because some of you might find yourself in a similar place. Please know you are not alone.
Others may not be there, but know someone who is in deconstruction mode when it comes to church, faith, and life. I offer these thoughts as a prompt that may help you to ask what it might look like to walk alongside someone who is in a place of spiritual change or trauma.
I’d been through deep #churchtrauma, and was processing the Fundy and Charismatic dysfunction I’d experienced (and in which I participated). I’d been the subject of gossip, I’d been shunned, and I had lots of questions and few answers.
Why didn’t I just walk away? I wanted to, to be honest. Every time we’d visit a new church, I was on adrenalized high alert, watching for warning signs of the garbage I knew was lurking just under the polished surface of a Sunday service.
I was in a constant state of hyper-vigilance when it came to spiritual things. Those I trusted to listen to me did not try to “should” me back into cheerful Sunday attendance or demand I try to recapture a state of lost innocence when it came to the church.
I read only the parables in my Bible for months on end because I just wanted to hear something simple from Jesus that didn’t get hijacked to serve either prosperity teaching or culture war.
It was all I could handle of Scripture, and it was more than enough.
Eventually, I got some counseling, which helped me understand why these deeply dysfunctional systems attracted and affected me the way they had.
So, a word to those walking alongside someone wounded by the church: Even if a person says things that sound scary, like they don’t believe in God any more or they hate all Christians, they need Good Samaritans who won’t abandon them while they’re bleeding and alone.
I will never be the same as I was before all the crap happened. Nor should I be. But I am still here. My scars are a part of my story. My faith survived, though it was in critical condition for a long, long time.
Deconstruction doesn’t have to end in de-conversion. But it requires friends and church leaders (of those wounded ones who find their way into a church again) to understand what a Good Samaritan does and doesn’t do. It is messy, thankless ministry without a sure-fire formula.
A Good Samaritan is not the healer. They are the companion, the burden bearer, and the true friend that will schlep a wounded one to safety. They are the ones who don’t care if they get spattered with blood and barf. It is thankless work without guarantee of a happy ending.
But Good Samaritan work is what the good news looks like to a person damaged by those who have twisted the gospel for their own ends.
If you’ve survived #churchtrauma, what counsel would you add?
Cover photo by John Price on Unsplash
Hard-won truths here which will minister to many. Thank you for sharing. Blessings.
I’d make #churchtrauma a specialized form of moral injury. And it’s unfortunately true that the work in developing moral injury as a treatment category is happening almost entirely outside the church.
I agree. Interesting! If there was a group who could speak best to moral injury, it SHOULD be counselors who understand the dynamics (and gifts) of the church.
Keep reminding your self that God is who HE said he is and requires what HE said, not what the church or leaders say He is and what they say He requires.
Most importantly, read the Bible as it is. Don’t read into it what you have been told! Then read the verses in context. Too many leaders pull verses out of context (and unsurprisingly) make it say what THEY want.
This is a good word. Trying to remove the filter a bad church leader has placed over God’s word is a hard, important step.
Be gentle with yourself.
Sometimes there isn’t a Good Samaritan around, or sometimes it takes a long time till one comes by where you’re laying there – wounded. Until then, it’s you and whatever thoughts, ideas and feelings you’re left with about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and sometimes, as you point out, they aren’t very positive or up lifting. Sometimes it seems all of the Christian faith is against you or has abandoned you or both. It’s easy to use all that to beat yourself up just like the “robbers” did – and worse.
Michelle, you did a wonderful, brave and strong thing. The Spirit led you to a series of scriptures that He knew would work on all the wounds you had and bring you back home. If they were the anchor that could hold you through the storm, that’s what the Lord sent you, and you had just enough faith left to grab hold and hang on.
Please pray for me, I’m still in my time of struggling over effects from two toxic church experiences. I’m having trouble letting the Samaritan (or two) the Lord has sent my way minister to me. Hurt, bitterness and anger keep pushing them away. Pray for us all. And my husband too. He was hurt even more deeply than me and is also still fighting the effects of those two toxic churches.
Bless you for delving into this issue and offering to aid those of us who are facing the same challenges.
Pearl, I am so sorry for what you’ve been through – I, too, have two devastating church abuse experiences in my past. It was after the second one that I found myself in deep darkness. I am praying for you as you and your husband grieve. It is painful and confusing when it seems like perpetrator church leaders seem to be getting away with spiritual murder.