Going & Staying | Church Wounds Part 1
|Image by Alanyadk from pixabay|
Two years ago our family left our longtime church body. It was extremely painful. I’m still not “over it.” When things go bad within a body of believers, it is terribly hard. I’ve struggled to let go. I’ve struggled with knowing what to do, what to say, how to deal with the emotional and relational upheaval.
Plumb sings a song called “God Help Me.” It was popular around the time we left. There’s a pair of lines that says “Help me to go. God help me to stay.” After our experience, I instinctively imagine the inner anguish that must have gone into the penning--the singing--of those words.
We were going. But we were also staying.
We were leaving a church. But we were staying in its community.
We were physically removing ourselves yet were still emotionally tied...or at least I was.
Even though things had gotten to the place where we felt we could not, in good conscience, stay, I loved that church. Leaving about killed me. I still love that church and want good things for her. And yet, we chose to go.
As a communicator, I wanted to explain our absence. My husband and I felt as members, we owed the body that explanation. We went through the proper channels. We tried. But we received no response. It was already hard to walk away. The silence made it harder. And harder still when about a year ago I realized that in our efforts to do the right thing--to go through the proper channels--people were more than likely hurt by US. By our absence. By our silence. I hate that. We didn’t intend for this to happen. In many, many ways, I wish it wasn’t reality. It’s not how things “should be.” But we don’t live in a world of how things should be. We also don’t live in a world of happenstance.
Even in the midst of church angst, God is still sovereign. He is still good. (read more)
Knowing--and believing--those things of my God didn’t erase the grief. I mourned heavily. In the deep recesses of my soul, I learned the value, beauty, gift of lament. I tethered myself to the Psalms, a life-line between my heart and the Lord. It was in this place of unfettered sorrow that we entered the doors of Grace Community Church--a church outside our community--for the first time. We desired some distance. Honestly, it probably fed some of my natural instinct to run away. In those days, tears were always near the surface. It didn’t take much to send them spilling. But for those who knew the reasons behind the refuge we sought, we found nothing but tenderness and care.
While I’m still longing for--at times wondering if it will ever come--closure from the wounding, GCC has been part of the bandaging. We were flooded with the faithful preaching of truth Sunday after precious Sunday. I’ve been blessed in ways I’m still discovering from friendships, conversations, questions, counsel, truth poured out.
And yet, I’ve still found myself looking back at what was. In this way, I can understand Lot’s wife in a sense. (read more) I can’t seem to fully let go of our former church. In some of my efforts to try, I’ve distanced myself from the community--from the place we’re staying. I’ve been convicted of that more than once. The community at large wasn’t part of the wounding. But sometimes it felt like it. Sometimes it was easier to stay hidden in my house than venture to the grocery store where someone might hide behind the banana tree rather than meet my gaze.
Despite that internal struggle, we’ve always known our time at GCC would be temporary. And I’m wondering even now if at least some of that sense of “temporary” was of God and less of circumstance. It would be ever so easy for me--for our family--to settle into GCC. If circumstances were different--if God sent us away from this staying place to the community where we found GCC--we would fully commit. But that’s not what happened.
Remember, we left but we stayed?
Several years ago, before all the wounding came to pass, I remember having a moment of intense clarity...that God loved THIS place--my community--just as much as any other town in the world. His image bearers were HERE, too. In THIS place.
And so, nearly two years after we first visited GCC, we're preparing to pull off the BandAid. You know the feeling that comes before ripping off an actual BandAid? The way we can delay the pain by leaving the BandAid on longer than needed? Well, that’s how it’s been with GCC. We haven’t wanted to rip the BandAid off because we knew it was going to sting. A lot. But finally, with deep breath and gritted teeth, we set a date and yanked. And so it was that we, with sadness, said goodbye to GCC this last Sunday. And it definitely stings. We have grown to love and appreciate its people--its pastors--and transitioning again, when we never sought or wanted a change in the first place, is hard. However, without the hard, we would never have developed these new relationships. I’m sure it will not go to waste. But now, it’s time to return to our own community. Not our original church. But still, to THIS place. This staying place.
And maybe, just maybe, like GCC was our place of refuge--a BandAid--caring for us, sheep without a flock, being God’s hands on the ground for our deep, fresh wounds, this new transition will be a balm to our healing flesh.
So again, God help us.
Help us to move.
Help us to see.
Help us to do whatever you ask.
Give us courage to go.
Give us courage to stay.
(Paraphrase of Plumb lyrics, “God Help Me”)
And to all of you at GCC, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for giving us a place. For giving a space for our grief and our emotions. For watching us take our first tentative steps toward healing, not bemoaning the stumbles. For giving us your ear, your care. We love you!
It is my hope to use this piece as the beginning of a series on wounds, both generally and within the church. Because I anticipate it to be emotionally taxing for me, I am not sure how long it will take for me to write and publish the pieces. I ask for your patience with the process! And as always, you're more than welcome to subscribe to my blog for notifications on newly published pieces.