When Pain Makes it Feel Impossible to Connect with the Family of God

People gathered in a home. It may feel impossible to connect with the family of God.

After being deeply hurt in church or experiencing spiritual abuse you want to hide. Your body and soul may recoil at even the idea of connecting again. There may be some part of your logical left-brain that “believes” connecting might be the “right” thing to do, but it feels impossible to connect. Your inner being is certain doing so would destroy you even more.

Connecting with God again may be a huge challenge when the harm you experienced came through people acting in His name. It may be a long and difficult journey to find a “new God.” But it may feel even more impossible to connect with the family of God again here on earth.

Logical theological pronouncements aren’t much help if you’re walking through spiritual trauma. Simply saying “Forgive, forget, and go back to church” just hurts more. If you are close to someone walking this journey, please don’t do that.

But if you are the one living with such hurt, what do you do next? How do you go about beginning to connect again? Should you even try?

Contemporary Distortions of “Church”

This may upset some people, but a large part of what the western Christian subculture thinks of as “church” bears little resemblance to what Jesus was talking about when He said “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Showing up on Sunday for an hour or so to watch a great music production and listen to a feel-good motivational speaker does not make it “church.” I’m exaggerating to highlight the point.

Some may protest that their variety of “church” is the “right” one. But whether you shout with a worship band or sing hymns as a congregation  isn’t the difference. Size has little to do with it. As important as preaching is, different styles of presentation don’t make the difference. Church politics doesn’t either; different church structures have been debated for over 2000 years.

For some who have been paying attention the last 2 years of the Covid-19 pandemic have provided opportunity to deeply wrestle with what “church” is and what it “should” look like in the 21st century. And a good theology of “church” is desperately needed.

After that short rant, here’s what you connecting with the family of God again does NOT mean. It does not mean you must return to attending and/or volunteering at an institution that brought you deep spiritual harm. It does not mean God’s pleasure with you or your eternal salvation is decided by how often you enter the doors of a physical church building. Whatever guilt you feel from other Christians shaming you because you are wrestling with spiritual trauma is not from God.

Too many Christians bring out Bible verses such as “don’t forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25) to exert emotional/spiritual pressure on others to fill the seats in their church or give money to support their institution. They forget we’re talking about Jesus’ church, not theirs.

The Family of God

The early church did not believe being a Christian was defined as showing up in a certain location each weekend. They saw it as a lifestyle, a new way of living, being a member of the new family of Jesus. That impacted what they did 24/7. The gospel spread to the then-known world without seminaries, church buildings, Christian media, or anything else “we” often consider “necessary.”

But one of the most vital aspects of being a follower of Jesus is that you connect with other followers of Jesus. That’s what being part of His family means. God did not design us to live, grow, or thrive alone. It’s impossible for a human being to become the fullness of who God intended them to be without connecting with others.

Just keep in mind that may look different than what you have been led to believe through being in church. Family is messy, at least every family comprised of humans. And the family of God is no different. But they need you and you need them.

So how do you begin to do that with it feels impossible to connect?

Rethinking Connection

There are absolutely Christian leaders and churches who are making disciples the way Jesus intended. If you’re in such a church, value it. And there are many Christians seeking to make their church more like what Jesus intended. God may be stirring you up to do just that.

But that’s probably not the next step Jesus would invite you into if you’re walking through spiritual trauma and deep church hurt. You need to share your story with a few other followers of Jesus who can hear you, see you, and let you feel felt. You need them to, as one old song said, to “hold the Christ light for you.”

Choose to open your heart to the possibility that there might be safe people in the world. Not perfect people, but people who have good hearts, who can understand and see you, and who might have strength and soul nourishment to offer you.

I believe this usually means a small number of people–2, 3, 5–who already know Jesus. It looks like getting together in someone’s home where you can cry and laugh together. You truly get to know each other. Their faith brings you healing. And you may not yet realize it, but you will be valuable to them also.

How to Find Connection

I realize this may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, but it’s worth it. Think about the people you know. If you’re up for praying, ask God to show you who He might have in mind. Make a list of some people who might be safe.

And then reach out. This is where it will feel hard, but do it anyway. Call someone or text them. When you talk together say something like, “I’m struggling with something. I’m wondering if you might be one of the few people I could connect with about this. Would it be OK if I shared something with you?”

Then share a small part of your struggle and observe the response. You’re looking for someone who figuratively or literally leans forward. “Oh, that sounds really hard. Tell me more about that.” And see where it goes. Give yourself permission to hope and try.

For some, it may be some time before you walk through the doors of a church again. God’s not upset with you. But it will be worth the effort to connect with a few others in the family of God. Your soul will benefit in ways you may not yet imagine.

You may enjoy listening to or watching my interview with Dr. Lina Abujamra about some of these ideas.

Your Turn: Does it feel impossible to connect again after spiritual abuse or deep church hurt? Will you take the step to imagine what connecting in a new way might look like? 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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