For the last six months I have been suffering in a very painful silence. My suffering is something I was not even sure if I should discuss because of deep wounds and reopened scars. As I shared some months ago I was given the opportunity to work in ministry. Over the moon excited to share my gifts, talents; the opportunity to share my love and faith with others. Allowing God to use me as his tool to share the Kingdom and do His work in this world. What I wasn’t prepared for was how damaging Christians can be to one another. What I wasn’t prepared for was the desire to leave Jesus because of Christians.
Do you recall the day your parents told you that Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and even that the Easter Bunny were not real? Such a magical let down to have your whole world shattered in an instant. The magician revealed his tricks. The mysticism, the heightened feeling of wonder that something so great and marvelous existed beyond out wildest dreams and imagination.
The Blessing of Suffering
My stint in ministry was very similar to this feeling. The blessed feeling to be able to share my story and bond with others through community and fellowship. The reminder that we are not alone, each of us have a common struggle, looking for the one thing in our lives for which we will feel complete that our purpose in life and on this Earth has been fulfilled. Sharing love with the world in the name of Jesus was short of awesome. While I was not in any pastoral capacity, the ability to minister was gifted from God because of my gift of transparency and communication. Sharing the love of Jesus by telling His story, his story in my life, those of others; how His power was moving in this world, to touch lives and make the world that much of a better place in His name. I knew of the typical grind involved with flying a desk, but I also knew of the great rewards that God was calling upon me to carry out for his Kingdom in my limited capacity.
What I wasn’t prepared for, based on my expectations of people, was to have my identity and character assassinated. Suddenly being a broken human was a horrible tragedy and lacked merit in the workplace. Suddenly my story was invalidated because my walk in faith had not taken place since birth. Lunch invites that were meant to be personal times of bonding and reprieve, from the daily spiritual toll that can weigh on anyone working within the Kingdom, became about reprimands and discussions regarding how I “should appear”, how I “should act.” Opportunity for fellowship and community were less about fellowship and community and more about enforcing a hierarchy mold of how a “Christian” should look, act, exist.
Each day though I carried on in diligent prayer that this was not about me, asking for discernment and strength. Each day I went to work with a smile on my face and heard the still, quiet voice tell me “you can be the change.” Each day I went home in tears. Sitting in the solitary silence of introverts in retreat to closed office doors. Each day I pressed on to be more involved, asking where I could share my gifts, finding opportunities where my gifts could be exploited for His good. Each day I made more of an effort to not let the introverts determine my day, creating opportunities to socialize, grow in community. Each day I felt my extroverted self dying a bit inside, the words of man came in the form of “I’m not good enough,” and the actions of man where I always felt excluded and as if I did not fit in because we were not the same. I embraced my slow death in the form of tears at home at the end of the day, I prayed and thought maybe this was my blessing to suffer.
The Call to Suffering
My first official day was greeted with what was called doughnut day. Doughnut day was where I had dozens of doughnuts delivered to my desk to allow the staff the opportunity to partake in a sweet treat while introducing themselves. A chance for community. I was pumped to have people come say hello, like an immigrant off the boat into a new land. Sadly, no one wanted a doughnut. Sadly, no one wanted to visit. This was my first sign that I need not have any expectations. So I tried to not let this singular moment define the rest of my experience working in ministry. Chalking up that maybe not everyone was a fan of the confectionery breakfast treats. I used the next few weeks grasping the lay of the land.
Diving head on into a new position and new career path, I sought out people in each ministry who glean knowledge. Training was in the form of sink or swim. A figure it out and do not call me sort of experience. As a self driven person I used this as an opportunity to blaze my own path and add my signature to a ministry in need of the energy and edge I brought.
Wrapping up my work in a matter of a few hours so that I had twice as much time to socialize and ingratiate myself into my new environment, the culture, the people. I took the opportunity to not sit at my desk. What better way to get to know my fellow coworkers and Kingdom servants than through walking through the halls and buildings while completing my small daily tasks. Day-in-and-day-out I walked the halls, head up, all smiles, ready to meet new people, ready to say hello, ready to make new relationships.
My optimism was greeted with opposition. Where are you? What are you doing? Why are you wearing that? Scowls, slant eyes, condescension and the overall feeling that you seemingly did not exist or fit into the environment. What I thought might be enemy opposition was just opposition of that of broken people. Insecurities, expectations, the inability to relate and the lacking capacity of empathy. My denial was overwhelmingly blinded to these possibilities. I began to believe, accept that maybe I did not fit in, that I was not good enough because I was not a Christian (without break) from birth, that I was not good enough because I wandered the wilderness before coming back to my Father.
Daily devotionals became a part of my routine to tell me I was good enough in Christ. Countered by life coaching that told me I was called to suffer because I was not worthy. Conflicted. Struggling. Struggling in what I was even to carry out as part of my job; was I someones personal assistant or was I suppose to use my gifts that I was told was the reason I was hired, to carry out the message of the Lord? I was struggling. I was lost. I was floundering and I made attempts to reach out. I made efforts to understand. Still ending my days in tears in the short drive home. My feelings no longer mattered. Who I was no longer mattered. My involvement in fellowship and community was no longer for His glory, but for another’s personal glory.
I knew that becoming whole in Christ meant to deny myself; to deny my former ways, my former life. I questioned the gravity of my denial and suffering, was this inclusive to deny the person whom God made in me? Would it be to deny everything that made me, ME? I began to question what really was my call to suffering.
The End is the Beginning, The Beginning the End
The Chad and I spoke at length regarding my experiences while working in ministry. He told me to quit more times than I can count. I never quit anything. I am not a quitter. Quitting means giving up, giving in, not fighting. I couldn’t quit my church; who quits their church?
I do. I did. The decision did not come lightly. A full week of non-stop prayer resulted in a beautiful feeling of peace that leaving was the best choice. I quit on the concept that I left a bad relationship, not that God did not want me there, but that the timing was not right. I was at so much peace that I no longer had to feel emotionally oppressed. I was at peace that I no longer had to pretend to be something I was not. I was at peace that I am broken, I am a child of God who may not have been on a walk for years and years, but I was at least on my journey of walking in and with Christ in my life.
So why after I left did I feel so wretched? Why was I in so much pain? Why was I so damn pissed off? Why was I cursing my God, telling him to fuck off? Why was I so disenchanted? Why did I no longer wish to attend service? Bible studies? Serve with my community? I no longer wanted to see the faces of the people I had come to love. I no longer wanted to converse. I no longer wanted to hear the “Jesus loves you” minutiae when I felt like people didn’t love me. Why? Why? Why? Dammit God! This is your story, my life is yours, what is your grand plan? Am I to suffer more? I was free from the “religion” I was experiencing, the hypocrisy, so why was I in worse shape than when I worked in ministry?
One morning I stumbled across an article of “10 Reasons Why People Leave Church” and I was singing God’s praises again. Someone nailed every, single reason why I no longer wanted to attend church. Someone spoke truth on why I left my job. Why I no longer could sit in the audience and discern God’s word when the hypocrites were not living the word they were sharing. Above all else I found the reason why I was so hurt, so pained with leaving, so angry.
My church, the people I called my community, my family, we no longer spoke. The texts stopped. The phone stopped ringing. The emails stopped arriving. Suddenly I felt the outcast again, the lack of belonging. Emails and calls were only to see if I would still give of myself to the church. Not a single text, phone call, passing at service or email asked me “Are you okay? How are you doing…like how are you REALLY doing?” Devastated. Even my own life coach when I presented my struggle replied in a dry, let me know what you decide, manner. I felt invalidated. I felt cast out, cast aside, I did not feel love and I felt I did not belong all over again. When I did have a chance to talk about all I experienced, was experiencing I still felt oppressed like no one really wanted to hear how I was truly doing, feeling. Even outside the church I was still reeling from these experiences, how was this okay.
I was waning in my faith. I cried and felt okay to leave the church again. I felt God had left me, what was he showing me in all of this? What was his grand plan? Nothing. No plan existed. What did it matter if I believed? Clearly my walk, my journey, my story did not matter then, what difference would it make now?
“for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Romans 11:29-32
What fun our maker has with working with people to tell the story, to show us the difference. The Chad sat down with me and we had our “come to Jesus” conversation in all my emotional chaos. The Chad basically explained that I was listening to broken people and I stopped listening to God. When I sat in service the mysticism was gone. He said simply, “It’s like mom and dad just told you that Santa isn’t real.” He was right. I was attending service seeing the broken business, the horrible bosses, the machine. I no longer was attending to hear His word spoken to me through these broken people that I love. I put weight and expectation that the people I believed to be my community would love me as I love them. I expected them to have the same level of empathy and heart for people that I have. Speaking aloud the expectations, speaking aloud that people said they act in this fashion, speaking aloud that they do not act with empathy and I had that expectation, healing in the beautiful chaos of emotion.
My dear friend sent me an email helping me see this as well, email is cathartic and dangerous for me. Another dear friend forced me to attend our women’s conference this past weekend. Again, I saw how our Lord works in his time, when He is ready, perfectly timed. The message in short was that we are enough. We are enough in who we are and that God will always love us in all our flaws, that we are complete in Christ.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5
My experience with the church, working in ministry, the interaction with people who I thought were my friends, my community, conversing with The Chad and the women’s conference, my takeaway was who I am and what I am in Christ. I am His messenger of The Story. I was blessed with the amazing gift of transparency, story telling, to share that we have all gone through this mortal struggle of life. He has given us everything when we feel we have nothing. Emotions are valid, we are valid, we mean something to someone and everyone even if you have told yourself that you do not.
I was blessed with the gift of empathy and love and that I have these blessings to share. I was blessed to share and give love, to continue to do so and stop expecting the same of others. To show love for the human connection, to know we belong, we mean something. The blessing to share a story that might be your story, to tell a story that eases the burden of someones story right now. Whether the story is experiencing the loss of faith, the pain of religion, the heartbreak in feeling alone in life where we struggle and think no one knows or cares. You have a place in this world, you have a purpose, stop letting people impact you, stop telling yourself lies and stories, stop letting other people tell you lies and stories. I contemplated leaving Jesus because of Christians. I am thankful that He loved me enough to fight me, to never leave me, so that I may bring His love and His promise to others by sharing my story, by sharing my love for Him and my love for others.
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” Exodus 14:14