Estimated reading time: 5 minutes:-)
Last night, I was driving home pretty late. Let me tell you, there’s something about driving home in the dark right after it snows that gets me in my feels.
I had just watched movie with Savannah, and after it finished, we talked about how different people in our lives have been hurt by the church.
One woman we know was sold into sex slavery by a woman who “cared” for her from church.
A friend of Savannah’s was told she couldn’t be a leader or tell other students about Jesus because she had same-sex attractions.
My own family was kicked out of church activities when I was really little because my dad was shamed for asking questions about the Bible.
And it just got me thinking about all the times the church hurt people. People God loves.
There was someone in my church that hurt me, too.
I’ve forgiven her, and I love her dearly. But at the time, it really hurt me what she said. And I won’t pretend it didn’t hurt.
I had just started going to church for the first time. I was 16. I’d never been to Sunday service before, so the concept of going to church was really intimidating to me. I felt uncomfortable inside church buildings, because I’d been raised to believe the church would always hurt me or judge me.
I didn’t feel like I belonged in church. And to be honest, I didn’t come across as a ‘churched’ kid right from the beginning.
One Sunday, I wore shorts to church (to be fair, it was a hot summer morning). One person looked at me and said, “you wore that to church?” It was mostly a joke, but I felt pretty embarrassed. No one told me I couldn’t wear shorts to church. It’s wrong? I thought. I haven’t worn shorts since.
The point is, I felt like an outsider. Right from the beginning. And that wasn’t because of anything anyone said ~ they were all very kind and welcoming. But because my idea of church had been so twisted growing up, I felt really insecure going.
After a few months of going to church, I remember this one night, the woman from our church questioned me.
She knew I’d been raised in a family who believes different doctrines, and she didn’t believe I was a Christian.
She asked me a long string of questions about whether or not I was saved. “Have you confessed your sins to Jesus?” “Have you accepted Him into your heart?” “Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins?”
I felt like I was being interrogated. Eventually, at the end of the whole conversation, she still didn’t believe I was a Christian.
At the time, my faith was already on choppy waters. I felt illegitimate going to church because I didn’t grow up going every Sunday. And now, a woman with such a strong faith and such a great relationship with Jesus didn’t even believe I was a real Christian.
For a time, I believed her.
I let myself believe I wasn’t a legitimate child of God. She made me feel like I was adopted, but not in the happy way. Like I was a dirty prostitute picked up on the side of the road and tossed into church because I needed it more than anyone else.
And I know she never meant to make me feel this way. But this was how I felt.
I just remember going to church feeling like everyone was watching me, like they all knew I didn’t belong there. Like they were just waiting for me to slip out those doors and never come back. Who would miss me?
And as I drove home last night, I just sat thinking about this. All the sinful people in church. Every one of us. And in the midst of me, dwelling on how others have hurt me, God tapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t forget about this afternoon,” he whispered.
And I was overcome with emotion, because last afternoon I said some mean things to my brother. I shouldn’t have said them. I hurt his feelings because I was upset. And that’s no justification, especially for the older sister.
And I just felt this shame. I couldn’t judge this woman who’d hurt me; I hurt people just as much as she did. I’m sinful too.
I was overwhelmed at the sinfulness of the people in church and the sinfulness of myself.
And I found myself asking God, “Why do you trust us God? How can you trust us?”
And He said,
“I don’t trust you. I chose you.”
And right away my mind flashed to all the times God said “I chose you” in the Bible. I wracked my brain for the times He says, “I trust you,” but I couldn’t think of any. All I could think of were countless, numerous times He says “I chose you.”
I began to understand the impact of God choosing me. He chose me knowing all the deceitful, prideful, ugly things that would come out of my mouth. He doesn’t want me to say them. But He sees past the blackness that has so consumed me and says, “I choose this one” anyway.
It’s like we’re God’s instruments.
And He’s such a masterful musician, even if his instruments malfunction or fall apart or break, he still manages to bring that sound into his beautiful symphony.
That woman who hurt me? What she said pushed me closer to Jesus’s heart than almost anything. Because I learned to believe what God says about me instead of what others say.
That woman who was sex trafficked? She now uses her testimony to provide therapy, save others who are being trafficked, and bring people closer to Christ.
All these ugly sounds in the moment, they become a part of His symphony.
“I don’t trust you. I chose you.”
He doesn’t trust us to be perfect. Why would God put trust in any human?
He chooses us, knowing we will be untrustworthy, choosing to use us as imperfect instruments anyway.
God may be represented by His followers, but He is not defined by them. If that were so, He would be a pretty imperfect God, wouldn’t He?
No, He chooses to partner with imperfect humanity to grow His kingdom. And that’s something I can’t quite understand, a miracle in itself, but I trust my God knows what He’s doing.
So I just wanted to remind you: as Christians, we are called to bear the image of Christ. And personally, I bear that image in shame most of the time. I don’t represent Jesus well. It’s something every one of us has to wrestle with every single day.
And if you’ve been hurt by the church, be comforted. Jesus didn’t say those nasty things to you. Jesus didn’t shame you. Jesus didn’t outcast you. Jesus is different. And He says different things about you.