“Raise your hand if you have not been hurt in church.” Just this week I heard a friend of mine ask that of a large group of committed Christians. No one raised their hand. The family of God, like any family, is messy. But that doesn’t mean the hurt is not real. And when the wounds are especially deep, how can you recover from church hurt?
Like any family, the family of God can be dysfunctional. And each of us, as sinners, can be part of the dysfunction. The most important thing is to not settle for the dysfunction. Church hurt may leave you wanting to withdraw from people and from God. That’s understandable. But what’s next?
We hear frequently about deconstruction–Christians who turn their back on the church and on God. If your view of God has been skewed by people perpetrating harm in His name or behaving in ways that are nothing like God, your view of God and church may need to be deconstructed. You may need a new God. And that may be a critical part of reconstructing–finding your way back.
But back to what? These three elements will be critical in answering that question as you recover from church hurt.
Healing doesn’t happen simply because time passes. That truth became especially real to me as I walked through the journey of grief after my husband died a few years ago. But healing does not happen without allowing for time. After a physical injury or major surgery, for example, there is always a recovery period. Time is absolutely necessary!
People who are not experiencing what you are may easily try to dismiss your hurt or tell you to “just get over it.” And like with grief or recovery after surgery, you can’t “just get over it.” There are things you could do that would slow down or complicate your recovery. You can take steps to help your recovery along. But there’s a very real sense in which you can’t speed it up.
With church hurt you need time to grieve what you had hoped church would have been. You may have lost personal relationships, or realized that the relationships you thought you had were not “real.” Your mind and soul and perhaps even your body need time to ask questions, process feelings, and find your footing again.
And also like with grief or recovery after surgery, what you do during that time makes a lot of difference. That’s what the next two points are more about.
Too much busyness and constant input from media and people will delay your recovery and cloud your soul. Your mind needs time in solitude in order to process all that’s happened. Journaling, reading, thinking, taking in the beauty of nature, music, or art–your soul needs some nourishment that can only come with solitude.
This may be more important than ever if part of your church hurt included getting worn out in excessive religious work. You may need some real rest. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
God rarely if ever adds His voice to a cacophony of sound in your head or in your world. The only way you will hear from God is to get alone with Him and allow your soul to become still. You may not be sure you want to hear from God right now. You may be afraid of your own thoughts and feelings. But becoming still will be the place where your heart can find true healing. And when you’re ready to hear from God, that’s when He will be able to speak to you.
There’s a difference between solitude and isolation. Church hurt has almost certainly come through people, and it’s natural to want to withdraw. Solitude is healthy and restoring. But isolation will derail your recovery and keep you stuck.
You need a few healthy people to walk with you. That may be a good friend or two, or a Christian counselor, who can just listen. You don’t need someone to fix you! But you do need to feel heard. You may never be heard by the people through whom the hurt came, but one or a few humans truly hearing you will bring much healing to your soul.
A small group is perhaps the most fruitful way for this to happen. That’s not the kind of small group book study popular in many churches. What you need is three, four, five other followers of Jesus who truly know you. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done to find or create such a group of friends, but it will be the best use of energy ever.
I believe God puts people in our lives for a reason when we need them. Think about the people you know. Who might be safe? Test them out by sharing just a little, and say something like “I’m not looking for you to have answers, but would you be willing for me to just talk with you as I process this?”
And the first person, or the second or the third, doesn’t work out, don’t give up. I know you don’t want to keep trying, but your efforts her will be worth it.
Time. Solitude. Safe people. Those critical elements will make recovery from church hurt possible.
What’s next? There’s absolutely no question that you can find your way back to God. More accurately, God will patiently and lovingly keep making Himself available to you. To Him you’re not lost; you’re a beautiful creation in the process of being transformed.
And what about finding your way back to church? A question for another post coming soon.
Your Turn: If you’re wounded, where are you in seeking to recover from church hurt? Have you allowed yourself time? Are you embracing solitude? Have you diligently found a few safe people? Leave a comment below.
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Being hurt in the name of God creates deep wounds that need care, tending, and time. It is possible to find connection, growth, and healing regardless of how difficult things have been.
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