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  • Writer's pictureMegan Greenwald

Church Hurt.

I don't mean the term that has emerged in the last decade that expounds on all the ways that the Church (big C or little) has failed someone. With that reframing, read the title again but as a simple sentence. Church hurt. And I finally feel the release to talk about it.

Whenever Dale and I's relationship began to get more serious and we knew that we would be planning a future together, our lives naturally began to merge more and more. My family became like his, his like mine, holidays got busier as we now shared them with each of our families and an additional family that has taken Dale in as their own. Another thing that we needed to figure out as our lives continued to collide is what church we would attend. This was pretty much a no-brainer as Dale had been serving as the worship leader at his church and he sensed a calling to that place. I, however, was not excited about this decision and often even questioned whether God had made a mistake. You see, there was a relationship within those church walls that demanded attention, an elephant in the room that I desperately did not want to acknowledge but one that tormented me as I refused to do what scripture demands whenever harmony is lacking between two believers. Week in and week out, I choked back tears as I walked through those church doors and beelined for the car as soon as we said "amen"so that the floodgates could open. Bitterness, comparison and insecurity were the songs that hushed the hallelujahs coming from my lips. For months, I would sit in the car after service, angry and wondering why God would lead me to this place where a friendship was mangled and broken before it ever even existed. I'd not asked for these complicated set of circumstances, where insecurity concerning one relationship had taken over my ability to foster any other relationships in that place, yet here I was longing for belonging while refusing to let myself be accepted. Church went from being the life-giving place where I had always felt most like myself to a battleground where I was always drained from the fight. Church hurt.

One Sunday started out just like the rest, I was forcing myself to put one foot in front of the other until I made it to my seat and was simultaneously attempting to worship and silence the shouts of the enemy when a verse popped into my head. "So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go, and be reconciled to them, then come and offer your gift". Knowing (and dreading) what the Lord had asked of me, I met her at the bottom of the stairs following service. The very first conversation we ever had was a humbled one where we both sought and offered forgiveness from different offenses. I would like to tell you that as tears were shed and an awkward hug was exchanged that the burden was lifted, but the truth is that this was a summer day in 2021 and I still cried leaving church every week until Easter Sunday of 2022. I know now that this acknowledgement of hurt and the lengthy process of healing are both signs that genuine forgiveness was taking place, but I still didn't understand the continuous struggle between my flesh and my spirit. I stepped out in obedience and did what the Lord required, yet still had a very active role in making daily choices that reflected the forgiveness that had been exchanged, something that my flesh constantly thrashed against. I knew, and voiced in my life affirmed, that the bridging of this relationship would be such a testimony of something that only the Lord could do as to the world, we make very natural enemies. The actual enemy was also very aware of this and did everything in his power to keep us at odds. As much as I knew that it would be beautiful for the Lord to use this situation for our good and His glory, it seemed more like a dream that was too good to be true. I couldn't imagine much more than a polite "hello" and soft smile in passing. The hurt was real and healing seemed so far from possible. Just when I'd gain some ground in one area, another life would pop up in the next.

Though my hurt was amplified in the church building where our lives overlapped, I carried this burden far beyond that church property. I used to drive a distance to work and one thing that I passed twice a day on my route was the school that I knew she attended and as silly as it may seem, bitterness and anger would rise up in me daily at that red light. I used to react to this by crying out "help!" to the Lord to try and snap myself back into reality but as I began to realize the enemy's pattern I decided to replace that landmine with a landmark, making it a place of prayer. Each day as I'd drive past the school entrance I would pray, sometimes a blessing over her career or relationships, sometimes a prayer for myself to be guarded from the schemes of the enemy that try to divide, sometimes prophetically over the too-good-to-be-true bridged relationship. Slowly but surely my rock solid heart began to soften towards her and our lives began to overlap in another area: I started to desire to be involved in the lives of young people that were pursuing the Lord, a calling that I had previously given up on, as serving in this way would mean showing up in an area that I very much deemed as her space and did not want to invade. It was a Wednesday and we had decided to grab lunch in efforts to get to know each other better since the enmity that existed between us came uniquely before we had any relationship whatsoever. Knowing that I would see her twice in one day, once at lunch and again at youth that night, I prayed to be prepared for the battle that I knew would once again play out in my mind. As I could've guessed, thoughts of bitterness, comparison and insecurity began to flood my mind and I prayed in desperation; "Lord, please let me see myself the way that you see me, and let me see her the way that you see her". I was driving as I cried out to God and then He showed it to me; a beautiful vision of her and myself, standing side by side and clothed in white robes, each forgiven of every wrong with identities rooted in the righteousness of our Savior. There she was, clean of every offense that I'd ever held against her, and myself, also scrubbed clean and unstained from every bit of anger and bitterness that I had wallowed in for so long. The Lord in His kindness had given me a glimpse of what was to come of our relationship, a kind of hope that I could hold onto as I continued to follow His leading to untangle the mess in my heart.

There are so many cliches around forgiveness and reconciliation, catchy little sayings like "I'll forgive but I'll never forget" or "hurt me once, shame on you; hurt my twice, shame on me" that insinuate fake forgiveness at worst an guarded, partial forgiveness at best (and trust me, in my wrestling I've been guilty of a few sayings similar to these). There were stages in my healing where I very much held the stance that I would be selective as to which areas of my life I'd let her into in an attempt to hang onto bitterness and shield myself from vulnerability, but I believe that this "forgiveness" with strings attached is a byproduct of the world, and not that of the Kingdom. Charis Counseling Center has put language to the pseudo kinds of forgiveness that my heart was tempted to settle with by saying; "Fake forgiveness is offered with a smile covering clenched teeth. It's an attempt to gloss over an offense and pretend everything is fine when, in truth, unresolved hurt and resentment remain. Whereas premature forgiveness is soon cast aside, fake forgiveness is usually held onto as though it were the real thing. Sometimes people get so good at being fake forgivers that they don't even realize they're doing it. They profess forgiveness, but find themselves experiencing feelings of anxiety, anger, or depression they cannot explain".

I have come to experience that Jesus offers a complete kind of forgiveness, first that I am forgiven of all of my sins once and for all on the cross of Calvary, and second, that just as I have been offered this messy, blood stained gift, I am to offer it to (and seek it from) others, however complex that may be. Jesus actually demands that forgiveness be offered by His people (Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 6:14-15). I used to think that this was an impossible task that my Savior had placed on me, but I now can hear the love tone in His voice as He beckons me to keep my eyes on Him, agree that the burden is heavy, and allow Him to lift the backpack full of rocks that is my unforgiveness down off of my shoulders. He loves me so much that He can't stand to see me weighed down. This demand for forgiveness is actually an announcement that He wants His people to experience the freedom that comes from restored relationships with God and people! We have an eternal hope that one day, Jesus will make every wrong thing right and sin will never taint again. Until then, we have been entrusted with this beautiful and bittersweet ministry of reconciliation that declares "on earth, as it is in heaven". Our pride must be swallowed as we take the first step to offer forgiveness in humility and in recognition of our own sinfulness, and once we do that, the journey toward healing and reconciliation has only begun. We must take steps day in and day out to silence the enemy's say and choose the truth about the situation, and the truth is that forgiveness has always been costly, but oh so worth it.

Last week, the community of ladies that I get to lead the youth group with prayed over one another, and my sweet friend, termed "her" throughout this blog, prayed blessings over my marriage and expressed gratitude to the Lord over the journey He has led us on; one of genuine forgiveness, offered after hurt from the offense has been acknowledged, and accomplished not in a moment but in His perfect timing.

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