You may have noticed a subtle shift in how I've communicated the title of this blog series. In my very first post I said something like... I've Been Hurt by "The Church" ... and Survived. Whether or not it made it to the post, it definitely made it out on Social Media, and that is exactly I want to head with this post!
I have now had the 'privilege' of sitting on both sides of the table in this matter. I have been both the Pastor and the parishioner. Interestingly enough, I have experienced as much hurt, disappointment, and loss on both sides, and if I'm being really honest, with all things being equal, I'm gonna go ahead and say I've experienced more sitting on the Pastoral side. This is also a life stage thing. Now I've got a family, I've got two little boys and a beautiful wife, and when you hurt me, you hurt them, or if you hurt them you hurt me. When it was just me as a single, then you hurt me, and the collateral damage is at a minimum. Now, the stakes are higher.
Have you ever noticed that when you hear little kids playing that there is a lot of talk about things being 'fair?' They love this idea of equity. But I have noticed something else, they love to change the game, change the rules, and ensure that fairness somehow always ends up in their favor, and if we take a look at ourselves, I think that it is pretty safe to say that you and I play the game of life the same way.
If someone does something to wrong me, then I want justice. I want the full weight of the law. I want whoever is judging this thing to throw the book at you. And if they can't throw the book at you, I would settle for them throwing a book at you. But maybe it's just me? Conversely, if I do something wrong, I am looking for the maximum amount of grace allowable under the current system. I will tell you why I responded that way, how I'm feeling, I want you to consider my life circumstance, and even the pants that I'm wearing, I am looking for any plausible reason for you to extend me grace, because just like those kids at the playground, I want things to be fair... for me.
So when I hear someone say, "I've been hurt by the church," then everything within me just wants to turn to them and look at them square in the eyes, and say, "WHAT DO YOU EVEN MEAN BY THAT!?" Because when the rubber meets the road, we discover that what they actually mean is that they have been hurt by a person, or they have been hurt by a couple of individuals. The other thing that I have is discovered is that these hurts are always cumulative. When you get into thee conversations it isn't any one thing, it's weeks, months, or years worth of hurt and offense that has now bubbled over and interestingly enough has turned into a very pointed stick in and of itself. You know the kind carried by angry mobs.
Let's just clear the air here. You were hurt by a person. And if it wasn't just one person, it is a couple of people, or a group, or a whole bunch of individual experiences that you have rolled into one collective experience, but at the end of the day, a person hurt you.
Can I ask you something... have you ever hurt somebody?
The overwhelming answer is always... YES. If you say NO, then you and I will just quietly agree that you are lying.
Can I ask you another question... have you ever hurt somebody and felt bad about it? Have you ever hurt someone and felt good about it? Have you ever hurt someone, and knew that you've done the right thing, and made the right decision, and though you feel bad about how they feel, know that the decision you made was best for everybody involved? Have you ever hurt somebody and recognized that you have made a mistake?
The answer to all of these is of course, YES. And if the answer isn't YES yet, then rest assured, at some point in your life, the answer will be YES. The reality of working with people is that where there are people, there are emotions, and where there are emotions, there is potential for pain. The Church is a collective of imperfect people following Jesus. It is also described as the Body of Christ, and the Bride of Christ. There is the universal church, the national church, the regional church, and the local church, and within that local church, we have to understand that the Church is not the building of our local community, but in actuality, we are the church. You are the church. So if you've been hurt by the Church, you are going to have to be more specific, you were hurt by an imperfect person.
I am not denying your hurt, I am just trying to humanize the person who has somehow now become your sworn enemy, and who personifies all of the reasons why you are not the person who you want to be today.
In order to use your pain as a platform to move forward, you have to realize that whoever hurt you is not the reason you are where you want to be. Your circumstance is not the thing that is holding you back. The reality is, you are the only person getting in your own way. Each and everyone of us is responsible for our own lives, and we are responsible for our own hearts. We have to keep our hearts and lives open and understand that in spite of whatever we have gone through we are not crippled by our circumstance, we are crippled by our response.
I went through a fairly difficult period a couple of years ago, one that was quick and abrupt, and though the writing may have been on the wall, it was also rather unexpected. I found myself propelled forward whether I wanted to walk into the future that quickly or not, I was moving on. It took me some time to process, but within a few months I came to this realization. I CANNOT BE ANGRY ABOUT THIS. I could only be angry if I felt I was displaced from some place that I was supposed to be, against my own will, but the reality was, that I was propelled quickly and bumpily, like a plane flying through rough turbulence, into my future, and even though I picked up a number of bumps and bruises along the way, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. So I couldn't be angry, because in reality, I didn't want to be there nor was I supposed to be there for the long term.
My friend and mentor, Mike Love, said this, "No matter who you are, what you do, or where you go, you can always be a class act." And I wholeheartedly believe this. In the case of most of our offenses and hurts, especially the ones that result in transition of one shape or another, these wounds have been caused by people behaving badly, or circumstances not playing out as any of those involved anticipated. Emotion, fear, pain, unresolved issues, all of these things bubble to the surface, and most of the interactions that result in us getting hurt could be avoided by all sides staying calm and choosing to focus on being a class act.
In my situation, I recognized, I didn't have a right to be angry, because I am right where I am supposed to be, but I am definitely entitled to my opinion that it could have been handled better, and it most likely would have been better for everyone.
Pastors are people who work with people. Pastors are people who work with people in the best and worst moments of their lives. Pastors are people who also have emotions, families, and responsibilities. Pastors are people, and people hurt people.
For 99% of us... YOU WERE NOT HURT BY THE CHURCH, YOU WERE HURT BY A PERSON. If you think that others didn't support you, or should have taken your side, then you have to recognize that it wasn't the institution that hurt you, it was PEOPLE who let you down. For all of us who feel like things aren't fair, we have to remember that fair is sliding scale arbitrarily decided by us. Ask yourself, if I had done to someone else what was done to me, how would I feel? Why would I have done that? What would have caused me to make this decision? Because life is funny, and history repeats itself, chances are, whether you like it or not, you've done exactly what was done to you, to somebody else.
Saying all of this, I want you to know that I believe that you have experienced pain. I believe that you have experienced great pain. I believe your situation could have been handled better, and that things were said on both sides probably didn't need to be said... I just wanted you to take a step back and understand that you are a person, and the person that hurt you, regardless of their position, is a person. We all make mistakes, and their is undoubtedly fall out and consequence to what happened, but please, please, please, please, don't let this thing hold you back from accomplishing the thing that you were created to do... PLEASE... do not hold on this offense and this pain, LET IT GO... PLEASE forgive, and don't punish yourself over and over and over again, by replaying every word that was said in your interaction. Work towards forgiveness, and it will be work, it will feel like work, but the best thing about hard work is the feeling of accomplishment when the job is done.
LET IT GO.
Brett Esslinger is a Husband, Dad, Son, Brother, Pastor, Speaker, Leader, Writer whose life goal is to help people unlock their potential and fulfill their life's purpose.
Follow Brett on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook: @brettesslinger and of course over on Snapchat at: brett.esslinger