Walking Wounded

I see a flaw in the plan

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.

The Hurt

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.

  • Tim

    So many deep hurts that we can weep together over. In so many ways your story resonates with mine. It’s goodto know we’re not alone. Bless you for your honesty and integrity. Praying.

  • I understand more than you can possibly know. This is where my husband and I were for a very long time, and we would still be there if not for the church we have now. Thank you for your honesty. Praying for you.

  • I don’t like when people throw out “I understand” all the time because I feel like it’s rarely honest, however, if I may, I genuinely feel I can understand or relate on some levels. For the abuse aspect, I was actually sexually abused by someone who was apart of my last congregation, so the hurt from that alone has left many scars and much bitterness and pain. The leadership was sinister, and the people didn’t seem to care about searching for truth.

    I’ve had painful experiences from the past three churches I have been a part of, and after that, it’s hard as hell to go back or think of joining a new one. Especially when it feels as though yes, no one cares about our hearts.

    That being said, you’re not in this alone.

    Thank you for your honesty.

    • Altha Satterwhite

      Don’t give up. I finally found one that shares hurts (really listens) along with joys that come. I don’t know where you live, but if you happen to be in western NC, I can give you the name and place. I live in another state now, but maintain close ties with “my” church.

  • AARON!
    Wow.
    Wow.
    Wow.
    You said what I feel.
    Different stories. Same pain.
    Church mistress. ME TOO ME TOO.

    I have felt used and have been used.

    This is an amazing post chronicling a very real existence of dysfunction in churches….where I go with it is this: it is the system of church that sets us all up for hurt and abandonment. Maintaining the system is much like maintaining a business. We want family, a tribe, not to be workers in a religious industry, but that is what we got. So how can we proceed with our unquenched thirst for tribal gatherings and songfests and feasts?

    I for one am convinced that we must create them, find them, nurture uneasy forms of xtians being together, like on blog forums and bars and mental health clinics. Like at work spaces and living rooms and email boxes. I know it’s cliche, but I think it’s true — We Are The Change We Have Been Looking For.

    I adore your heart. I feel your pain. You are not alone. Keep telling your story for your sake and for the sake of those readers who are finding you and being comforted that they are not alone either.

  • kimberlyklein

    Those times when I feel a resounding, “Me too!” welling up inside…for me, those are holy moments. Thank you for that.

    Your courage to write openly and honestly is inspiring to me. Thank you also for that.

  • First of all: HUGS! Your story mirrors my husband’s. He never went back to church after being used and abused as a church mistress. I found a good church. I support him completely because I know how deep his wounds are. No advice here, just lots more HUGS.

  • I am sorry you were treated this way. I’m sorry it happened more than once. They were wrong to behave that way. They did not handle themselves or the situation in a way that valued you or their relationships with you. That was real shitty of them. You are not alone in your hurt or your feeling of isolation. Why is it that people who are in positions of leadership, people who have the potential to most inspire and encourage us are so often the people who end up being least relationally qualified to be there? I know we’re all “the body of Christ” and whatnot but sometimes being a part of that body sucks.

    As a side note, in my experience, this type of thing where it seems you’ve suddenly dropped off the face of the planet is a common occurrence among people employed by churches in various ways. It’s like we don’t know how to treat one another when the relationship changes, like we think we’re not supposed to make eye contact anymore. People somehow think it’s disloyal to stay in contact with a former pastor or leader. I don’t get it, but that’s what I’ve seen and experienced. Again, even though it sucks and you’d rather NOT be in the company of others who are living through it, you’re not alone. ~ Nita

  • Aaron, thanks for your radical honesty. Sadly, I think many people (like me) have felt the continual sting of being used for what we bring to the church, instead of being loved for who we are in Christ. But nobody talks about this. Not without anger and aggression and other emotions that “demand” a response from those who have escaped the wounding by the body of Christ. But you just lay it out there — as always — and say, “This is my story. This is why I am who I am.” I respect that greatly in you. Even if you hadn’t asked for us to not give advice, I wouldn’t have any to give. Praying for you to find a home, my friend.

  • harrisco

    Aaron – I am sorry you have experienced such bad treatment in the church. I think wounds are deepest when they come at the hands of those who are supposed to care and protect. The violation then is also an insult to our willingness to be vulnerable and fully human. Some churches simply do not handle vulnerability and imperfection well. Others hide people who prey upon the vulnerable. It is sad the damage churches cause, in both these ways. You stand in the company of many others who went to the church looking for hope and grace but left it with bitter tears. You all deserve better than you got. I am sorry. I hope, though, that you will find ‘church’ of a different sort now. If you stand among the wounded, the brokenhearted, the weary, with your humanness shared rather than denied, you will have, I think, gotten closer to really getting what this incarnation thing was all about than most people ever do. It is a path of tears and blood, though–and the enormous pain you feel is a high price to pay. I pray for grace amid the brokenness, for you and for all who are walking with grief and loss and the memory and presence of pain inflicted by those who should have cared but did not.

  • Man I so relate. You deserve all the things that you wished for and didn’t get: the hugs, the support, the love, the affirmation. I have a few similar stories as well about church. I have also been on the other side: the one to disappear and disappoint.

  • Reading along, Aaron. Hear some of my own feelings mixed up with yours along the way. Thanks for sharing.

  • i always appreciate your authenticity and honesty, aaron. i feel your hurt in your words. i am sorry the church purporting to be the bride of christ has treated you as it has. if i could, i’d offer you a hug and beer. someday soon i will.

  • I am there…in the same place. In fact, I’ve been working on a somewhat similar post just today. Thank you for sharing. It’s always good to know we’re not alone in our wounds.

  • My antennae are always raised. I don’t think it’s the body of Christ, but the culture within a certain gathering of people who claim Christianity as a religion. I have been hurt deeply by leadership and those under leadership.

    I pray for those who have hurt me and I keep hoping I will someday find a gathering where people like me who are “different” are accepted and loved. It’s so important that people like me are allowed to express hurt without being judged.

    In the interim, I try to reach out to those I see who are hurting. Some day we’ll all be at the same table (the body of Christ) feasting to our heart’s content.

    I’m thankful for your courage Aaron.
    Thanks for the tea 🙂

  • Andy

    Thank you. The tea was lovely. Lemon and Ginger is fantastic.

  • We don’t know one another, but I’ve been enjoying your blog since I found a link to your wife’s guest post a couple of months ago. It is true and honest, and appreciate it. This post is no exception. You’ve put words to a struggle that many feel as we try and reconcile how the church sees us with how Christ sees us. This is not meant to be a piece of advice. I try not advise people I don’t know, nor offer advice that was not requested. I find that sort of practice to be vulgar and awkward. I can say that in my ongoing struggle with feeling like, and being treated like: “a little something on the side” the book “The Cure” has been of great help. I’ve also found that that is not true for everyone who has read it. Thanks again for your honest words. It is no simple irony that honesty is a rare find in the circles who claim Christ…

  • Heather Goodman

    This is exactly how I feel too.

  • I honor the blood shed here. It is a rare and holy thing to spew it, even in a virtual space within the only community we know. I know because I’ve been there. Too often others have cliche’d me to death and I no longer wanted to tell my story, but my story, too, was killing me. It had to come out into the light where I could see it better without the confines of my own diluted soul with its walls of anger and resentment. I kept pressing on, telling it, on my own blog. I threw up until there was nothing left. I had moments of validation when other ‘Christians’ said nasty, awful things to me about how I didn’t even know Jesus. Who the fuck says that to someone they don’t even know. I am a firm believer in the walking wounded. Thank you for writing this. And when the need to vent comes again, write again. From a different place and a different mood and a different view. There are too many who lurk and do not comment who need to know where you are, what it’s like for you, and how you walk through the landmines of shit and find the garden of grace. It’s not all plastic and shiny, happy, Jesus stuff. It can be dark and hard, but holy nonetheless. Thank you, again.

  • Richard Birney-Smith

    I love the Church but have to accept that she often she does not love me back. I am fortunate that I belong to a loving, faithful, inclusive parish community. But I am now ready to return to service as a professional church musician. At 72, the Church seems unable to see that my skills are still intact. A friend reminded me yesterday that Nelson Mandela achieved his greatest service after the age of 77. We must constantly remind ourselves that God loves us even when the Church appears to discard us. We are called to be saints. I like Nelson Mandela’s definition of saint: “…a sinner who keeps on trying.” Thanks for the cup of tea: taking and giving the opportunity to share stories.

  • Altha Satterwhite

    Been there; know the feelings. Fortunately, I found a wonderful, loving, caring, sharing church but unfortunately (for age and health reasons) have had to move away. But I still stay in contact with them and they with me. I miss the church community closeness, but cherish the love . Pray that you’ll find such a place where hurts can have a chance to begin to heal.

  • I understand what you are saying. I have been through an abusive situation at a church that we attended for 25 yrs. You can read my blog post about how I’m dealing with it at http://sharonscrapbook.blogspot.com/2013/01/trends-and-fads-in-church.html (For other posts on my beliefs, scroll down and look for “Bible” in my list of categories and it will bring up all my posts.). We still haven’t found a church and don’t know if we will. But I’m still a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ. I have suffered with depression throughout my life so I can relate with you there too. But, my God has helped me when I honestly don’t know how I put one foot in front of another. I’m still standing and I give Him the glory for it. People make a mess (myself included) but it’s not people I’m trusting in. Jesus never has let me down. Even when I was so overwhelmed and couldn’t find Him. Later, I can look back and see Him clearly. God is good! When I was 11 yrs old I was so depressed that I begged God to let me die. When I was a teenager I didn’t think I would make it to 18 yrs old. I was suicidally depressed. I went through it again and again but I’m still standing at the age of 54. That’s a victory for God! If I make it to a natural death, what a victory. And it will be all due to HIM!!!! I, too, would love to find a church. I believe in it but we shall see.

  • Renee Barney

    I have been in church for 40 years and it has always been this way- the pain the agony – similar but different than yours but in our own unique stories – . After our last ‘social cult, church planting church”, I think we are beginning to understand. The church is the body of Christ and we do not preach enough of Jesus’ parable of the tares sown with the wheat. There is no church and non-churched – there are only believers and potential believers and only God knows the heart – so learn to love the people you are with at home, work and school (first corinth. 13:1-4..ish) and then pick your 7o and your 12 and 3 that you are drawn to – you like – the Holy Spirit is all over “like” and being drawn to, mutually – stay away fro the church programs (maybe) but live your life – and live out His life. The problem is we were taught the church gives us community and we need to give it – that context is just not in scripture! Be with those you love and build you up and go and do likewise. The people in the building aren’t anything but people.

  • I so resonate with your pain. I’d be your friend. I am a “wild” lonely Christian who just can’t stomach going to church anymore. I most recently wrote about my painful church history here http://www.creating-mom.com/my-church-story-the-cheat-sheet/
    If I lived near you, you bet we’d be meeting in bars and coffee shops to talk about grace, forgiveness and our anger. I guess for now we’ll have to gather on Twitter.

  • Maggie Dee

    “I have always felt like the churches mistress. Good enough to keep around but not important enough to share with the family.”

    Ain’t that the truth?! I was good enough to sing in the choir and in small groups. I wasn’t good enough for solo parts or to teach Sunday School. And I was good enough to parent most of my children – except the one with special needs. My pastor was very instrumental in having said child removed from our home and placed for adoption. I feel like the church broke my family.

    We’ve found another church; I can’t imagine not attending at all. I vowed to spend a year doing nothing; so far it’s been nearly a year and a half, and I’m beginning to feel healed. But reading the quote above put my feelings into words after all this time; thank you.

    I’ve always loved the music of Steven Curtis Chapman, because he writes with such incredible honesty. There is much to be said for the Christians who say exactly what they think and how they feel. I don’t think there’s any true healing possible without that honesty factor first; I think covering it up is like bandaging an infected wound. Truth is like a balm, and it’s nothing to be scared of: it removes the infection, I think.

    God bless you!

    • I agree with you about SCC’s music. Honesty. It’s interesting to see how he has grown and changed when you listen to his early stuff. I think he and his family were incredibly brave to go out in public and talk about the death of their little daughter. Adversity can break us or make us stronger. I think SCC is stronger.

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