Most of my life I’ve felt sorry for my pastors and leaders. I tend to ponder thoughts and ideas from every angle possible; but I do all that pondering inside, then ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. Yep, I’m that person. Trouble is, on the outside, I joke, laugh and have a good time. So, it can shock leaders when my deep inner thoughts come out. Because of ‘ugly’ times past with church or a pastor, I hesitate to reveal the deeper side of me.
One particularly painful memory of church involved a pastor who used scripture to shame people into service. I became the person no one wanted to be. I became the person who said ‘no.’ Jud worked his full-time job and then volunteered 20-30 hours per week at the church for this pastor. The pastor wanted me to do more–be more like Jud. Three children in elementary school and the demands of keeping them fed, clothed and maturing filled my plate. At first, I deprived myself of sleep to help the church get its footing. The pastor kept saying, “We just need to push through this immediate need.” I asked for some time off–3 months to be exact. He told me that I was ‘shrinking back’ and needed to stop being selfish. After a couple of years (yes, I am that dense), I realized he would never okay time off for me–there was always one more ‘big push.’ He used scripture to shame me into service. He compared me to Jud and said that I needed to serve so that Jud didn’t have to work so hard. He finally told people not to be my friend or hang out with me because I was ‘dangerous’ and ‘in rebellion.’ Frankly, he may have been right. I won’t pretend that I did everything well and didn’t make relational mistakes. I can use my words for good or for evil. I have no doubt that pastor felt that my words were evil toward him. But, my voice speaks here, not his–he gets to tell his own story.
Finally, after 5 years, we left–not on good terms. Some would say that we didn’t leave the ‘right’ way; however, we left under guidance from professionals. Our counselor and a few close friends said we didn’t leave soon enough.
‘Ugly’ stories like that leave scars. Jud and I got counseling, healed ourselves and our relationship. The scars remain and surface inopportunely. We hired a new pastor in our current church about 5 years ago. The first sermon series he preached was on Daniel (one of our former pastor’s favorite books). The next series, he preached The Kingdom of God (a HUGE message of our former pastor). God and I had some angry words over that one (okay, mine were angry; His were kind, but firm). I informed God that if the next series was Nehemiah, I would leave church–permanently. Five years later (so it wasn’t the ‘next’ series….), guess what our pastor wants to use for a sermon series? Yep. Nehemiah. I haven’t looked at that book since leaving the dysfunctional church. I had considered ripping it out of my Bible. God reminded me that He won’t let any part of that ‘ugly’ experience define me now. He won’t let that pastor color how I view His words. (By the way, at the moment I still despise Nehemiah, so I suppose God’s right to address the topic.) Of all the sermons and shaming, Nehemiah represents how this man leveled scripture against me…often…publicly.
One lesson I’ve learned over my life: Trust God. Not necessarily people…but I can trust God. When I found out about this sermon series, God spoke into my heart that I needed to ask my current pastors to pray for me as we go through the book. Of course, my response was one of submissive repose and quick obedience. I believe my sanitized reaction went something like, “WHAT?! ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” After a lengthy…um…’dialog’ that lasted several days, I grudgingly complied. This part of the healing could be the final tote bag left to unpack of the steamer-trunk-sized baggage that I’ve carried from this trauma. Of the lessons I’ve learned from the ‘ugly’ stories, this one is hard. I know that God matures us through healing the ugliness in our lives. I know that God ‘makes all things new’ and that ‘in Christ we are new creations’ and I am thankful for His creative work in our hearts and lives. I trust Him and the path He leads me.
So, I’m reading Nehemiah and hoping that at some point, I will only hear God’s voice speaking the words.