Go get a cup of tea. We need to talk.
I’ve got some deep wounds I think it’s time I come clean about. If I don’t talk about them, they will never heal. There is a reason for my bitterness, a reason for my cynicism, a reason for my untrusting of the church. There are places I have been wounded so deeply that eight years later the hurt is still fresh. I need to speak about these things, about the ways I was let down, ways I was disregarded, ways I was left bleeding and fending for myself. I need more than to just vent though. I need your ear. I need you to hear what I am about to say to you. I need you to listen and to accept, to be with me in my pain and not try to offer me explanations or rationalize away the events. I don’t need a therapy session. I need you to be here, pay attention to me, and still love me when I have told you of my wounds.
I need you to respect how vulnerable I am about to make myself to you.
Can you do that? Can you give me compassion, sympathy, but not pity me or patronize me? Can you listen with ears to hear, with eyes to see? Can you hold the weight of my tears and the bloody mess I am about to show to you? Can you not disregard the pain I feel because you don’t see what the big deal is?
Can you embody the incarnation to me and be with me in my suffering?
I respect you if you can’t. It is a heavy thing to be with someone where they bleed. Sometimes that is too heavy, too much. Perhaps it is too soon in our relationship for something this serious. Then again, you have listened as I told you about my mental illness, about my feelings of worthlessness. You have been with me as I have peeled away layer after layer of pretending. You have given me the strength to keep digging, to keep sharing, to keep being honest. I value you enough to entrust you with the wounds in my life.
Don’t forget to drink your tea.
I have always felt like the churches mistress. Good enough to keep around but not important enough to share with the family. Side action that is never brought into the light for fear of disgrace. Sure, that might sound melodramatic, but none the less it is how I feel. The church has never fought to keep me around. When I have retreated into my shell due to bitterness, burnout, and hurt, I have been left to my own devices. Whenever I don’t give to the community, put my shoulder to the wheel and keep myself engaged, I am left to float away. No one comes after me, no one wonders where I have gone. At least they never come looking for me.
It doesn’t matter what sermons I have preached, what worship I have led, what classes I have taught, what Stations of the Cross I have put together: as soon as I stop giving in my relationship with the church, I am forgotten.
I believe in community, in congregations, and in the church itself. I always have. I don’t believe it is good for humans to go about this spirituality walk alone. We need each other.
I wish I had ever felt needed by the church. Instead, I felt indifference. The most significant interactions I had with pastors, church power, and leadership were all moments that wounded me deeply.
Once, I attempted to plant a church. One of the pastors backing the effort asked me to come into his office to talk. He proceeded to tell me that for a long time he had had trouble accepting me as a Christian because of the mess of my life, and now he was having a hard time accepting me as someone who could help other people do this Christian life. After years of work and sweat and mess and repentance and faithfulness, I now had to defend my faith and my qualifications to plant a church. There was no one to come to my aid. I was left to do this all alone.
When I was the worship leader for a different church plant, I had my heart-broken. The girl I was dating at the time decided that she couldn’t be with me because she couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t lead her into heresy. All because I was asking the question “What is gospel.” When I told my pastor friend about this, the pastor I worked with every week, the pastor who had counseled my relationship with this girl, who had set us up and knew how in love I was, when I told him, I received a nonchalant, “that sucks man.” Nothing else. No defense of me, no hug to hold a broken heart. Not even a validation that I was being faithful and used by God where I was. Nothing.
The only man I consider to have mentored me in any fashion in this Christian life never reached out to me after I left the congregation to plant a church. Four years of weekly meetings, prayer sessions, discipleship classes, sending me to preach in other churches… Four years reduced to nothing. Even now, I see him on Facebook, and he still has no idea what my life is or how my family is.
These are my stories. I have more. Do you see why I feel like the churches mistress? Can you hear why I hurt?
In the Wild
I don’t “go to church” these days. The rhythm of my family’s weeks doesn’t line up with Christian standard time. I often joke that I am a wild Christian because I don’t belong to any tradition or congregation. Truth is, I am a lonely Christian. I long for a community that gives a damn about my heart, my hope, and my health. I want a congregation to be a part of, to have a place, a home. But I don’t have that.
I do have my friends. We gather in bars, coffee shops, and on Twitter. We text, Vox, and Facebook each other. These are the people I believe with, hope with, and love with. This is the community I have, and I am grateful for it. Still, it is so chaotic and disconnected, my people offer me company in the wilderness but no home for me to find. I don’t want to be ungrateful for the amazing people I know, but the reality is I still carry my wounds and my hurt and my longing for a place. It’s not their fault; it’s how I am broken right now.
So here I am, a wild, hurting believer, unsure of how the Holy Ghost shows up and where I may find grace. Here I am, bloody from my time with the church. Here I am, wounded yet still trying to walk the Way.
I lay myself out on the table for you to see that you may know me, wounds and all, hurts and bitterness. You need to know that there are those of us who walk wounded. I am not the only one with stories of hurt from the church. I am not the only one cast aside, abused in some way. There are stories worse than mine, more painful and bloody. In the wilderness, you will find lots of these stories. These stories and our efforts to heal are what knit us together as a tribe. A tribe of wild, wounded believers just begging to be seen, acknowledged, and embraced by the communities you boast of.
So what will you do with us? What will you do with me? You are the church; will you treat me like a mistress to use and abandon? Will you add to my war stories? Will you leave me alone with my wild tribe? Or will you be grace, prove that love wins, hold out acceptance and love, and even come out into the wilderness to and set for us a table, even in the midst of our pain? I can’t tell you what to do, how to love. I won’t presume too. I respect you far too much. You have heard my hurt, and you must wrestle with these questions just as I do. You have your own hurts, your own wounds. Maybe you’re not that far from the wilderness. I can’t speak for you. I can only share with you where I hurt, and offer to listen as you share your hurts with me. This is how trust works.
I hope you enjoyed your tea.