My honeymoon period with the Church has ended.
Did I idolize the Church when I first discovered the beauty of it? Probably a little bit. But more so, I like to think that, with my big new faith, I was seeing the Church for all it was meant to be. It was a place to see God’s love and grace in action.
Fast forward five years and I’ve ended up jaded and hurt. I’ve experienced a lot of Christian talk and not a lot of Christian action. When articles would pop up in my newsfeed about people being hurt and walking away from the Church, the general idea in each would be “The Church is full of broken people, you should expect to get hurt” and “Of course people in the Church are hypocrites—we’re all sinners.”
That’s all true. We are all broken. We are all trying and failing miserably at many things. We will all inevitably hurt others—myself included. I will admit to being a certified expert in doing the wrong things.
My frustration with all of this lies in the fact that everyone seems okay with it. It’s treated as if this is the fact and we can’t change it. But are we really trying? What are we, as a part of the body of Christ, doing differently than we did last year to improve our relationships? How are we loving our brothers and sisters better than we were last month?
The Church is made up of us all—each individual one of us. I’m confronted with the fact that, if I don’t try to change the hurt and hypocrisy, I’m setting a pretty low bar for the Church. Instead I desire for the Church to be people that the world can look at and see Christ.
In an effort to create my own small bit of change, three things I’ve decided to do differently are:
Sometimes when I’m hurt by someone I’ll keep it to myself. At first it can appear that I’m being a good Christian by not making an issue out of something small. If I am truly hurt or offended by someone, though, it can be healthier to have a conversation about it. By avoiding the issue, unresolved feelings can turn into bitterness. And that leads to more things to confess.
I’m most interested in open, honest connection with people. The more we pretend things are okay, the more lies will build up. That can only lead to disconnection and hurt.
Don't just ask about people, love people.
When I was going through a dark spiritual valley, I kept getting told that so many people love me and that person after person was asking about me. The funny thing was that no one was actually telling me directly that they loved me nor were they coming to me and asking me how I was doing. That caused me to stop and reflect on how often I “ask about” people.
Asking a friend about another friend is quick and easy. It allows me to get a baseline on how that person is doing from a distance without commitment. It also gives a false sense of connection that the person in question never actually feels. When everything in life is good that might not be a big deal, but when your friend is hurting, an honest connection could be the encouragement they need.
Most people know the adage that when you assume, you make something not so good out of you and me. When we assume what a person needs, it can make situations worse. I’m not talking about surprising someone with something nice, I’m talking about truly supporting or encouraging others. One of the most caring things said to me by a friend when I was hurting was, “Even though I don't know how to act or what to say when you're struggling, I do want to be there for you. Let me know if you think of ways I can do that better.”
Even though she was telling me she had no clue how to help, it was an honest, heartfelt expression of care. She didn’t try to fix my problem or assume that I needed anything. She offered her friendship and the space for me to express what I needed. That’s a model I want to follow. I want to stop assuming I know best and allow those around me the space to express their needs and to feel loved through it.
Loving one another sacrificially is hard. We can maintain our status quo and be okay with the fact that people are getting hurt, or we can challenge ourselves to act differently. It will take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but I believe in the Church and the broken people within it. My baby Christian ideals about the Church may be a little hardened around the edges, but I still hold hope in God’s plans to use those in the Church for His glory.