Wow! I really, really dislike being put in a position where I feel the need to be defensive. I want to be confident and self-assured. I try to make the best decision I can in any given circumstance, and I want the people I love to come along side me and support me. I’ve never expected everyone to agree with me, but knowing that I have someone who would go to the mattresses for me…well, we all could use a person like that in our corner.
Yesterday I felt the need to get on the defensive against a judgmental attack. My blood pressure rose, my heart began racing, and it took extreme self-control to keep from crying (or yelling). Here’s the setup: Despite being fired from a job that I loved at the church we presently attend, we have remained a part of the congregation. I was deeply hurt over being replaced so the new pastor could “go in a new direction”, but I know I did nothing wrong and that I always gave 120% to my job. There are a number of things that draw a person to a church family. We attended our church before I got my job, and we’ll continue to attend as long as this is where God has us. And now the challenge: Yesterday I was talking with a family member about my commitment to our congregation. She knows that this isn’t the first time we’ve encountered conflict with the church family, and it won’t be the last. After all, it’s a family. I told this person that it wasn’t in my nature to walk away. However, several years ago we did leave a church—the mega-church most of our extended family still attend. We would never have left, however, if we had not been asked to do so. And it was her questions (and her indifferent shrug) that caused my defenses to rise.
“Who told you to leave?” she asked. She knows the answer to that question as it’s been covered a hundred times (or so it feels). “Pastor (insert name of Junior High Pastor)”, I said. “Well,” she snapped, “he asked Dallas to leave.” So, when the pastor told me to not bring my 14-year-old son back to church because he was “too hard”, what should I have done? We spent anywhere from 8-12 hours a week in church because Tom and I served in a number of ministries. We were on the church campus twice on Sundays, Wednesday nights, and on Thursday nights for choir rehearsal (as well as occasional meetings or Bible studies throughout the rest of the week). Whenever we were there, our kids were there. Should I have left my already struggling 14-year-old son at home alone for 12 hours a week? I doubt anyone would have called me a good mom if I’d made that choice. I reminded my family member that when I sat across the desk from that Junior High Pastor he continued, “I think it’s time your family leaves this church.” "He's the one who made us leave the church", I told my relative. She shrugged her shoulders and looked away.
When we left that church we gave our reasons to only a few close friends, as we never wanted to tarnish the reputation of a man. We also shared our sadness with our family. The gossipmongers went crazy! According to them we left because we moved to a new city, because Tom and I were divorcing, because of a misunderstanding surrounding a phone call, or because of some egregious sin I was accused of committing. Of course, there was no truth to any of the rumors.
I look back now, and I see that all of my children were at a crucial spiritual crossroads at the time we left that church. Sadly, the decision made by the pastor (and then supported by the senior pastors) deeply affected each member of our immediate family. For starters, I spent many years battling deep depression. When we left the mega-church, we left our friends and social circle. It was the loneliest time of my life and I continue to fight the ravages of depression. My children were not old enough to really understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people. All they knew was that their brother was kicked out of a church - a church! My kids watched as their mother was the subject of gossip, cruelty, and then was left lonely, sad, and abandoned by her “friends”. They made a choice, at that crossroads, to turn their backs on anything God-related. I’ve written before about life’s hurricanes. They whip through our lives and damage everything in their wake, and then they never look back to assess the damage or aid in the clean up. Being abandoned by the church was a hurricane that left unimaginable destruction and it has taken years to rebuild our lives. The only thing we’ve ever asked for from our families is that they acknowledged that what happened to us was wrong. They’ve never been able to do that, and yesterday my family once again intimated that our leaving the mega-church was something we didn’t have to do. I was again left feeling that the many years of pain was something I brought on to my own family. I reiterate what I said at the beginning of this blog—it is NOT in my nature to walk away, and we wouldn’t have done it if we’d had a choice.
Conflict is a part of life and there are right ways and wrong ways to handle the conflict. The mega-church handled it very, very badly! How great it would have been if someone had walked through the fire with us and defended us in the way the Bible teaches we ought. The fact that that didn’t happen, however, has not stopped the healing process. No doubt, it’s been slowed quite a bit by inaction, but the healing is now almost complete. We’re doing great now—really we are! Please don’t open old wounds by questioning once again why things happened the way they happened—unless of course you want to express sympathy (something no one has ever done). I can’t go back and you can’t go back. I don’t want to go back! Let the healing continue. Thank you.