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How Can I Love the Church that Hurt Me?

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

Seven days after I came into the world, my dad became the pastor of the church that I would grow up in. Unlike my siblings, I never knew a time when my Dad wasn’t a pastor. I quickly learned that people either hold pastor’s kids to an unreasonably high standard, or wait to see when they rebel and fall off the rails.

I didn’t like either.

If I could get away with not having to tell people what my dad’s job was, I would. I did not like being scrutinized. All I wanted was to figure out what I thought about God and church without an audience. By the time I was 20, I had reached my conclusion.

I knew the Bible was true, and I had no problem with God. But I didn’t like Christians, which was slightly problematic seeing as I was one myself.

I could understand non-Christians hurting people. I could even get my head round Christians lashing out in the heat of the moment. But Christians deliberately hurting other Christians?

There had been times as a kid in church when I was the only one who got told off for something a group of us had done. As I got older, I listened to people gossip about my family; their caring tones and concerned faces were merely a cover to finding out what they could from me. Eventually, I narrowed my world to just me and God. I let people in so far and no further. I kept hidden the things that were really important to me as much as I could.

When this kind of hurt led my dad to leave the church we were at, I decided that I had had enough of Christians. God might love me, but His people definitely didn’t.

As I found out about other things that had happened in our church over time—things that were unjust and that hurt my family—my hurt turned to anger. The more angry I felt, the less I felt I could go to God, and the more my relationship with Him deteriorated.

I was stuck in limbo. I did not want to walk away from God because I loved Him and because I knew that the Bible was true. But I did not want to associate with His church, since that was a painful place to be. It became so painful that I finally realized that I needed to do something about my attitude and how I was thinking and feeling.

Passages like Hebrews 10:25 and John 15 convicted me. They told me that the church is God’s plan. Jesus told His followers to “abide in my love” (John 15:9), which sounds great, until He explained that to abide in His love means we have to obey His commandment—to love other Christians (15:12). That part I’m not so thrilled about, because it means opening myself up to potential hurt again.

Because I’m still very much working through this, it’s not been something that I’ve talked about much with my family. But here are a couple of things I’m finding as I address my flawed thinking:

 

1. Christians hurt each other

It may seem obvious, but none of us are perfect, Christian or otherwise. So we will hurt each other; I hurt people. I can feel as defensive and hurt about my injuries as I want, but at the end of the day, I have hurt other people too. I need to be forgiven just as much as I need to forgive.

In Matthew 18, Jesus answers Peter’s question of how many times we should forgive people by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant. The story goes like this. There’s a servant who owed a massive amount of money to the King which he couldn’t pay back. The King rightly wanted to throw the man in jail, but the servant pleaded for mercy. The King, in an amazing act of grace, cancels the servant’s whole debt. The debt-free servant now bumps into a man who owes him a small amount of money and demands that the money be repaid then and there. The man can’t pay, so the debt-free servant throws the man in jail, ignoring his cries for mercy. Word gets back to the King, who is royally furious, and he metes out justice and throws the unmerciful servant in jail.

This story has in some ways haunted me since I was a kid, because I really wanted grace for myself, but I have a hard time giving it out. I was thinking about all this recently and I came to the conclusion that if I met the people who had hurt me and my family back then, I would want them to know that I didn’t hold it against them.

It’s unlikely that I will ever see them again—life has taken me a long way from them—but that doesn’t mean that I can’t forgive them. Forgiving them means not wanting bad for them but praying for their good. And for the relationships I have with Christians now, it means being quick to apologize when I get things wrong.

 

 2. There is no higher standard

Other people may have been holding me to a higher standard of behaviour because of who my dad was, but God wasn’t. God holds us all to the same high standard that none of us can meet. And just as none of us can meet that standard, all of us are offered grace because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus’ blood paid for all of the times we mess up and hurt each other.

Every time we don’t meet that standard, there is grace to make us right with God again. So when I feel like that higher standards are being applied to me, which still happens sometimes, I can put my mind at rest by reminding myself that Jesus has paid for my sin. I don’t have to try and earn my way back in. It’s comforting to know that God isn’t waiting to catch me out, but is waiting with grace and forgiveness.

  

3. We can choose how we respond

I may not like it, but living in this world means that at some point we will get hurt. What we do with that hurt is what counts. Rather than burying how I feel and holding on to resentment, I’m trying to remember what Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:32, that I have been shown grace for the times I’ve failed.

Because of the mercy shown to me, I am slowly changing how I respond to people who have hurt me. I’m working on not being quick to judge but being quick to forgive. It’s hard because that’s not my nature, and maybe it’s not yours either. It all feels a bit backwards. But God has shown forgiveness and mercy to me, and in turn I’m trying to do the same.

 Like I said, I’m still working on this, and most of the time I don’t respond in the way I know I should. But I’m learning to take it back to God and let Him continue to work on my heart.

 

I’m a long way from those churches I grew up in, and if I could, I would still keep my Dad’s job a secret. I’m still afraid of being hurt, but I’m trying not to let that fear get in the way. Mostly I fail, but I’ve not given up and I don’t want to. The church is full of broken people who will hurt one another. But they are also God’s people, loved and forgiven by Him.

The church is God’s family, that you are welcome to be a part of. It’s a place that is meant to help us grow in our walk with Jesus, because it’s easier to keep fighting sin with others than when we try to go it alone. It’s not a perfect place, but it’s a place that is worth sticking with. No matter how bad things got or how painful they were, I didn’t want to give up entirely on the church. And I still don’t.

2 Tips to Date in A Loving Way

Does he like me? Did he just flirt with me? Does his reply mean something more?

Should I ask her? What does her silence mean? Should I confess to her?

When it comes to interacting with members of the opposite sex, it’s likely that such questions would’ve crossed our minds before. After all, a friendship blossoming into a tentative relationship is bound to generate a measure of uncertainty in our hearts: Is he the one? Is she into me? What should I do?

And with most of our conversations taking place through a screen—what with instant messaging and social media—we can miss out on subtle social cues that usually guide face-to-face interactions. Unfortunately, this means that misinterpretations and miscommunication are more likely to happen, creating even more anxiety over what our crush may have said (or not said).

These days, an entire vocabulary has been formed to document the amorphous nature of not-quite relationships and patterns of interactions.

There isn’t just ghosting—the act of completely disappearing from someone’s life after losing interest in them. There’s also benching, where you become a plan B for someone who wants to keep their options open; and cushioning, where you’re still in contact with potential suitors even after having exclusively committed to someone else. Not to mention other dating terms such as slow fading, breadcrumbing . . . and you get the point.

But what does God think about these situationships—where it’s more than a friendship but not quite an exclusive relationship? While the Bible doesn’t explicitly lay down laws for dating, it does give us commandments that can be applied to dating.

In fact, we need to look no further than what Jesus says are the greatest commandments in the Bible: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

American pastor Richard Phillips and his wife Sharon write in their book about dating, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts:

“In dating, this requires us to honor God first. Many Christians approach dating mainly in terms of pursuing romance and meeting their emotional needs. Far too few think of it as an opportunity to honor God and grow in grace.

“What about loving our neighbor? This commandment requires us to put our dating partner’s holiness ahead of our happiness. If you are dating someone and the relationship does not grow into marriage, the least you can do as a Christian is to ensure that dating you was a spiritually beneficial experience.”

In the light of modern dating, this means asking ourselves: What would the most loving action be towards him or her?

Here’s two points to consider when it comes to making sense of your feelings:

 

1. If you like (or don’t like) someone, make it clear.

Don’t leave someone hanging. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get to know someone better before expressing your interest in him or her. But be careful about what kind of impression you’re making on the other person, and consider how he or she might be feeling in the meantime.

Conversely, if you don’t like someone, make it clear. Don’t flirt with them for the fun of it, especially if you know that this might create unnecessary ambivalence. Song of Solomon 2:7 tells us not to “arouse or awaken love until it so desires”.

For example, if you know that someone is likely to feel terribly hurt if you openly reject them, a more loving option might be to drop more subtle hints. This might mean politely turning down offers to meet or waiting longer periods before replying their messages.

Similarly, you might want to consider gently and lovingly telling them that you’re not interested in a relationship, if the situation calls for it.

While you might feel uncomfortable, presumptuous, or afraid of hurting them, remember that it is our duty to honor them as a fellow believer, brother- or sister-in-Christ, and child of God. If that means causing some hurt now, it’s better than causing him or her even more hurt by revealing it only much later on.

Ask yourself: Am I relating to the other person in a way that honors God and him or her? Are my responses clear when I express how I feel towards this person? Or are my responses leading them to draw the wrong conclusion?

On the other hand, if someone you like is sending you mixed signals—ignoring you one moment while flirting with you openly the next—you might want to consider two options. Either frankly ask how he or she feels about you, or step away from the relationship if you feel that the other person may not have honorable intentions.

Treat others as you would want to be treated (Luke 6:31). Just as you don’t want to be left hanging—or ghosted, breadcrumbed, or cushioned—don’t do to them what you wouldn’t want to be done to yourself.

 

2. If you’re unsure about how you feel, commit it to God.

There may be occasions where the relationship isn’t always so clear-cut. You might be ambivalent about how you feel towards someone, especially where his gestures or her words might possibly indicate something more. Do you really like him or her, or is it something else that’s fueling these feelings—infatuation, desire, respect, loneliness, idealism?

I’ve felt this way countless times over the years, thanks to the adolescent longings and raging hormones of a teenage girl. How I pined, cried, and moaned for the affection of one boy or another!

It was only when I became a Christian that I found that there was a better way: casting my cares and worries at the feet of Jesus, who loves us with a love no boyfriend or girlfriend can offer us.

Before entering into a relationship or even entertaining the thoughts of entering into one, it’s important to seek the Lord for discernment and wisdom on how we ought to relate to the other person.

I wrote this in my journal a few years ago when I developed a strong crush on a classmate I had just gotten to know:

“I find it so difficult to see a trace of that spark or non-spark; in that I cannot tell whether or not he feels the same way. Surely if he did, I could tell? Yet no, I see nothing (and therefore continue to believe everything) that might come to be. And this is the worst part: not knowing yet believing it to be so. Since he has shown neither interest nor dis-interest, I continue to hold on to this hope, which is a potentially devastating thing to do. Already I catch whiffs of him everywhere I go, and he is continually brought up again and again in my mind, reinforcing the infatuation I feel.

Alas, what I feel for him has neither been encouraged nor discouraged. And so what I am left with is this budding of love, one that is continuously being fertilized by his frequent presence, watered by all that we have in common; and thus it grows just as our friendship grows.

Where this friendship will lead me, I do not know. But I pray with all sincerity that God will keep and guide me, that ultimately He will give me His stamp of approval or rejection; and in the meantime will reveal to me more about him, that I may decide for myself whether or not this can develop any further.”

God eventually did reveal something to me: this person was a non-believer who already had a girlfriend, which I only found out a few months later. Yet the process of committing this situationship to God daily—by choosing to commit my anxieties and uncertainties to Him, seeking His wisdom and will, and praying for Him to guard my heart—helped me to overcome the hurt and disappointment upon finding out.

It may be tempting to brood over whether the person you like feels the same way by overanalyzing every little thing they say or not say.

But don’t take things into your own hands. If it is meant to be, God will reveal it to you, and the other person (if he or she is a believer). If it’s not meant to be, God will reveal it too. I find that this is such a simple but deeply comforting truth, as someone who’s personally prone to overthinking and worrying.

So trust in the Lord with all your heart, and He will answer whatever desires, worries, and questions you have, in His perfect timing and according to His perfect plans.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.

Be not wise in your own eyes;

fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your flesh

and refreshment to your bones.

— Proverbs 3:5-8

Hurtful Words I Needed To Hear

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

Every Wednesday, I meet with a team leader and my colleague Abigail* for lunch fellowship. Though it’s just the three of us, we thought to heed the call in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Two weeks ago, our leader was on sick leave. Deep down, I was not very keen on meeting Abigail alone as I found her a rather defensive and self-centered person. But Abigail was keen to meet so I relented.

That day, Abigail brought food from home to heat up in our office pantry before fellowship. While she was in the pantry, another colleague, Jacqueline, asked if I wanted to join the rest of the team for lunch. When I told her that Abigail and I were getting ready for fellowship, Jacqueline said in a friendly manner, “No, you should join us for lunch. You don’t have to go for fellowship since your leader is not here. Anyway, both of you don’t really get along, and you always grumble about Abigail anyway. You should join us, learn about the other gods and be open.”

Jacqueline’s words cut like a knife. Yet, I knew exactly what she was referring to. For the past couple of weeks, I had been complaining about Abigail behind her back, telling others about her selfish attitude and lack of team spirit. Still, Jacqueline’s words hurt me and made me feel like a failure. Though I had claimed to be a Christ follower, I had given in to my flesh and neglected the Spirit.

A few days later, I came across John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The words struck me and I thought of the earlier incident again. I knew for a fact that God was using this passage to speak to me.

I needed to love Abigail and accept her, not just on the surface, but completely. I had to stop pretending to be friendly with her, and complaining about her behind her back. This showed disunity between me and Abigail, and disunity between my faith and my actions. How then could others see that I am Christ’s disciple?

I had to change and start speaking words of grace, words that reflected Christ. I needed to fight against my flesh and allow the Holy Spirit to work in me to produce fruits of love, kindness, and self-control.

As I remembered how gracious and patient God had been with me, how He didn’t give up on me no matter how self-centered, mean, and defensive I had been in the past (Romans 8:1), I repented and stopped complaining. I told my team leader honestly about the struggles I had, and she arranged for Abigail and me to talk about it.

Initially, Abigail was upset at me. She felt that I had misunderstood her, and said that she couldn’t trust me anymore. We did not speak for a few days after that. Our leader was very concerned and spoke to us individually on a few separate occasions. Eventually, we both reached a common understanding.

In all of this, I had been too quick to judge and condemn. I also began to realize that Abigail is actually a very nice friend to have, because she is quick to forget grievances and does not hold grudges for long. Subsequently, I also noticed how her attitude towards the rest of us changed; she is a more helpful person now.

I realize now that condemning and complaining had prevented me from seeing the good side of Abigail and learning more about the grace of God. But now I am free. I am glad that Abigail and I both have learned more about one another from this episode, and we are now able to love one another through the grace of Christ. We are sisters in Christ, we have the same Abba Father, and we have the same eternal home.

 

*Not her real name.

Making a Difference this Valentine’s Day

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day.

I understand dedicating a day to celebrating love, but somehow I’ve never been able to reconcile the ideal of love with the paraphernalia associated with the holiday. The deluge of teddy bears, chocolates, roses, and over-priced jewelry, all in alarming shades of pink and red, have often felt more like the trappings of a false and materialistic love rather than a symbol of true, authentic love to me.

Last year was the first time I celebrated Valentine’s Day with a special someone—not that I hadn’t cut out paper hearts, received chocolates and flowers, or exchanged gifts before, but the latter had always just been between friends.

I remember feeling an increasing sense of nervousness and anxiety about actually celebrating Valentine’s Day with a significant other. Approaching the day, I agonized over what I was going to get David, my boyfriend, and what I should write on his card.  We had only been dating a little over a month at the time, so this was the first exchange of gifts and cards for us. I was terrified of messing it up.

I finally settled on giving him a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) poster to spruce up his bare bedroom walls—a major contrast from my own poster-plastered room.  My card included a LOTR quote and a heartfelt message about the difference I had already felt in my life after one month of us dating. I received a bag of chocolates, fuzzy socks, and my own Nerf gun from David (for use in our frequent battles with his nieces and nephews). He also read me a beautiful poem that he had written, which I still have tucked away in the pages of my Bible.  My anxiety turned out to be unfounded; we both loved our respective gifts and cards.

Once this requisite exchange was conducted, we then set off on our planned adventure for the day. We had chosen roller skating for our inaugural Valentine’s adventure since we knew it would be an activity we would both enjoy.  True to our expectations, we ended our session sporting matching ear-to-ear grins.

I leaned against David as we sat on a bench taking off our skates, filled with warm fuzzy feelings and beginning to think my previous skepticism towards Valentine’s Day might have been misplaced.  Just then, we noticed an elderly man approaching our bench.

“Now,” the old man said as he held up his hand when he reached us, “I don’t want to offend your girlfriend or anything, but I just wanted to say that she has the prettiest smile I have seen in a long time.” David and I looked at each other in surprise.

“She does indeed,” David agreed, smiling at me.

“Don’t get me wrong or anything. I’m married, I ain’t a pervert, I promise.  I just wanted you to know that she has one of the prettiest smiles I have seen in a long time,” the old man said with a smile.

“She certainly does, sir, thank you.” David replied.

“Yes, thank you,” I added as the man shuffled away.

It touched my heart that a random stranger had taken the effort to compliment me on my smile, making that day just a little sweeter.

Reflecting on the episode, I believe that the old man embodies what Valentine’s Day should really be about. It shouldn’t just be a day for couples to celebrate; neither should it just be about the roses or the chocolates or the exchange of gifts, whether between lovers or friends. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone took time on Valentine’s Day to sweeten someone else’s day and spread more love in the world? After all, isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do—to love our neighbor as ourselves?

One year on, the old man’s kind comment still stands out in our memories when David and I reflect on our first Valentine’s Day together. And this Valentine’s Day, we want to pay it forward and sweeten someone else’s day as well.