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?