Sometimes, we forget that the church is full of broken people. We forget that they are sinners, just like us. We forget that they are imperfect, prone to wander, and any other negative adjective that we could apply. However, we do remember these things about ourselves. And, in doing so we place some unrealistic expectations on other people.
- We expect others to be perfect Christians.
- We expect others to forgive us when we are not.
A season ago, I found myself in a predicament. I consider myself an observant person. I can usually read people well, and I really REALLY try to avoid drama. Yet some how, there I was. Knee deep in gossip. What is worse, is that in my attempts to try to fix the situation… I was drowning myself.
My first mistake was that I didn’t recognize gossip for what it actually was. What I thought I was hearing were concerns, and that I was being asked to step up and help facilitate change to happen. Instead, what I allowed to happen was an engagement in gossip with no actual problem solving.
We need to be hyper aware that not all conversation is positive. Even things like prayer requests can be a cover for passing on juicy gossip. Criticism of the church, Pastor, or ministries in the church are not always constructive. Quite often others will feed us their “issues” because they are not brave enough to say it directly to the person in charge. Instead of being thrown under the bus, we then walk out in front of it willingly.
My second mistake was assuming that they were coming to me because I was a person they trusted, and could help fix the problem. I ended up woven into a web of conversations, and stepping up into role that I never should have. It was not my place to solve their issues.
In a flurry of panic, the last thing we need to do is try to solve everything ourselves. Especially if we are not the person who is immediately involved. We can not become an open ear to everyone’s complaints about someone else or the way they are leading. Instead of taking it all in, and then stepping up as a representative of the group… we should be pointing each individual voice in the right direction. As my husband reminded me: “If it was so important to them … they wouldn’t have called you. They would have gone right to the source.” Clearly, it wasn’t that important.
My third mistake was the assumption that, because I was serving in ministry, that those I was serving with would be honest and upfront. After a pretty tense incident, conversations began. Trying to diffuse the situation myself, and find a possible solution, I engaged in the conversation and tried to pull everyone together. Ultimately, when pressed on what happened, I was the only person who didn’t back-peddle. This lead to a crack in my relationship with another leader, a distrust toward those I was serving with, a hit to my credibility and reputation, and influenced my attitude toward the church I was attending.
When we assume that others will be as honest and forthcoming as we would be, we are just going to set ourselves up for disappointment. Why? Self preservation is human nature. What happened when Adam and Eve at the apple? Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the Serpent. When push comes to shove, people will protect their own self interest, even at the cost of their relationship with you or risking your reputation. Just because we are serving in a church together, we shouldn’t assume these things will never happen.
My fourth mistake came in the form of promises that I made. As each person approached me, conversations began with something along the lines of: “This is just between us…” I thought I responded correctly, by giving a caveat that I would only step up if each person was willing to speak their mind openly the next time we met. With their agreement to those terms, I felt that the promise was safe to make… because, at the right time it would all come out. I was very, very, very wrong. In fact, that right time never presented itself. Now I was in between a rock and a hard place. I had opened my mouth, but I was left standing alone.
In this situation, I was left with two choices and I didn’t like either of them. I could choose to keep my promise, and let my own reputation fall to ruin. Or, I could break the promises I made and throw each person under the bus. This was a no win situation, especially at the time because the question meant preserving myself or my relationships. How could I be angry with them for throwing me under the bus, and then turn around and do the same thing? Yet, on the other hand, if I kept that promise… I was allowing myself to go down in flames and potentially ruining any future ministry service.
I was hurt. Truly hurt. Deeply hurt. Hurt that I would be accused after having a flawless record of leadership. Hurt that I wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt. Hurt by those who I considered friends. It was going to have a huge impact on me over the next year, but it was also going to usher in some truths and lessons I needed to learn.
Now, I have a keener eye for gossip and the many forms it comes in. I’ve learned how to deal with “talk and chatter” as it comes my way. I’ve learned to never put myself in that position again, making a promise that would back me into a corner. I’ve learned more about the need for boundaries and avoiding assumptions.
In totality, when I reflect back on that season, the biggest mark on my heart came from the assumptions I made. If we are being honest with ourselves, this type of scenario isn’t uncommon. It happens in school yards to corporate break rooms. My biggest assumption was in the notion that this wouldn’t happen in the church, not among my family of believers. Not among those whom I called friend, and served with loyally. I was holding a group of people to a higher standard, because they called themselves Christians and we served in the church together.
My heart was broken over the situation, and it took me a long time to forgive. To forgive those who I felt betrayed me, to forgive myself for allowing it to happen, and even to forgive those who doubted me. But, I have forgiven. All of us. As the Lord walked me through this fire, and refined me… my eyes were open. I could understand where each party was coming from and why they responded as they did, right or wrong. Including myself. I was able to recognize my part, finally, and ask for forgiveness. I’ve grown from it, and become a better leader for it.
But, I was hurt. I felt hurt by the church, and those I served with. What you learn in these types of situations is the imperfection of the body. Just like in the scriptures, no matter how close we are to God and how much knowledge we have about His Word… we are still human. Just as much as others in the church failed me, I failed myself. Just as much as I need forgiveness and grace, when I mess up… so do they.
Our churches are full of people who are in various stages of their walk, and our flesh still gets the better of us. If Christ could die for the sins of man, why wouldn’t I forgive my sisters in Christ for being nothing more than a flawed human being. If I want forgiveness for all the times I mess up, I set the example when I forgive. This doesn’t mean I neglect the lessons I have learned, that I forgo healthy boundaries, etc. Not at all, we are warned about wolves dressed as sheep. But not every offense is from a wolf, sometimes it comes from the sheep who is a bit smudged. Sometimes, sheep bite.
When the church, or members of the body, hurt us… it is tempting to run. We want to leave and find a better place. We may run to a brand new church or away from the church altogether. Let me assure you, where ever you decide to run… imperfect people are there. They are in every church, every office building, every community center, and every home.
Let’s not assume to the worst of people, but we should be cautious to not expect perfection out of them either. Be quick to forgive, and forgive as you would hope to be forgiven. And, ultimately, learn to forgive those who have not asked your forgiveness.
When I reflect back on that season, to date, not one has ever apologized. I went through all of the emotions. I wanted to get in their face and call them to the carpet for their part. That was when I was angry. I wanted to look them square in the face and simply state that I was disappointed and let down. That was when I was hurt. I wanted to go to say that I could never trust any of them again. That was when I was grieving. But, I didn’t. I simply waited. Surely, over time, at least some would feel bad for what happened. There would either be an admission of guilt to leadership or at the very least an apology to me. That was when I was patient. But, nothing ever happened… no apology or admission ever came. So, I lingered. I had to be willing to forgive those who didn’t believe they needed forgiveness or who were too ashamed to ask for it.
There I found freedom. There I found peace. It was there I could let go, more forward and reconcile my relationship to the church.
As I took a break from this post, to give it fresh eyes, I popped over to facebook. Another writer (more well known than myself) was also writing on forgiveness today. In her piece On Forgiveness and Freedom , Jen Hatmaker quoted from a book:
In Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend wrote: “When you refuse to forgive someone, you still want something from that person, and even if it is revenge that you want, it keeps you tied to him forever. . . . [Forgiveness] ends your suffering, because it ends the wish for repayment that is never forthcoming and that makes your heart sick because your hope is deferred (Prov. 13:12). . .Cut it loose, and you will be free.”
The moment I finally had enough of clinging and lingering in my expectation of an apology, and forgave… it was done. I do not believe a single person involved intentionally set out to hurt me, I don’t believe they could have known the ripple effect their choices would make. Christ asked for God to forgive those who persecuted him, stating “they know not what they do”. This is what I choose to believe about my experience with hurt in the church, I choose to see the best in them, letting go of my hurt by forgiving them, and then by setting my sights on the road ahead vs. the path behind me.