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.