Have you ever bought a box of strawberries and opened it up to find one rotten strawberry? Of course you have. We all have. When that happens, we don’t throw away the entire box of strawberries. We assume that there was one bad fruit in the bunch and go on eating the rest of the strawberries. When it comes to church hurt, too many people have found one or two bad strawberries in that box of strawberries and have decided to throw away not just the whole box but, in their pain, have made the resolve never to eat another strawberry again. It doesn’t make sense.
I used to think that church hurt was a wound that would heal and leave a scar and that eventually everyone got better. Church hurt is more like a latent infection. Once you get it, it’s always there. Like mono, it can go dormant for a long time, then just like that, stress will flare it up. The flares can be sporadic or recurrent, and each is accompanied with agonizing pain known only to those who suffer from that same pain.
Is this how Christians are supposed to act?
Typically, when you’re asking that question, the answer is a resounding, “No, it’s not!” Christians are supposed to love, not wound. But while we can’t control what other people do to us, we can control our responses to the pain they inflict on us.
“Forgiveness” is a hard word to hear when I’m still feeling the weight of the inflicted pain. Instead of forgiveness, I want to talk about revenge and vindication. I gravitate toward Psalm 35 where the psalmist takes comfort in God destroying his enemy. I don’t prefer Christian sermon clichés about letting go of my pain. Pain can be a security blanket of sorts. It reminds me of the reality of my wounds. Pain validates my wounds when no one else will.
Here’s what I am learning about forgiveness:
There’s a time to be angry, and a time to let go.
There’s a time to lament, and a time to surrender that anger that’s about to destroy you.
There’s a time to say the words of forgiveness, and a time to feel them.
There’s a time to talk about your wounds with others, and a time to stop.
There’s a time to forgive, and a time to forgive again, and again.
And then there’s a time to bow the knee before the Father in the darkness of night and confess that there is a fate worse than living angry with God, and it’s to live without God completely.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, it’s best to leave.
But leaving and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive. You can leave and still hang onto anger or you can leave and find the freedom that your soul needs. That freedom is found in forgiveness. Forgiveness is a matter of your heart. You can forgive someone even if you never got a chance to hear them tell you they’re sorry. Forgiveness is about putting your whole weight in the goodness of God, who will never let it go. He made sure of that by allowing Jesus to take the brutal penalty of our pain on His body on a cross. Because He was wounded, we can be free.
Adapted from Fractured Faith: Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction by Lina AbuJamra (© 2021). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.