I hate to admit that I have a lot of experience healing from church hurt. Someone asked me how I have learned to love well. My response came without thinking . . . “Because I’ve had to forgive a lot.” Have you been hurt by someone in the Church? Maybe it was a leader, a pastor or another believer. Maybe someone lied about you, stole from you, betrayed you, shamed you, ridiculed you . . . I get it.
A married pastor was inappropriate with me. My pastor’s daughter plagiarized a message I wrote and preached it at a large women’s conference a few months later. A famous Christian comedian and speaker hired me to do some work and then refused to return my calls and pay me the $2,000 he owed me. Someone whom I admired got a letter from my attorney to stop using my trademark; he then used some gaslighting techniques to intimidate and shame me. A pastor at a church asked me if I was being a cougar with a younger man I was friends with. An elder pulled out my shirt and looked down the back (without my permission). A married man and leader at church used an opportunity for a hug to kiss my neck and touched my behind. I was molested at church as a child. Yeah, I get it.
Our Decision to Hurt or Heal
I could write a whole post on each lesson God taught me through every one of those experiences. In fact, it feels very vulnerable to even share them because for the most part, I have never shared outside of my closest circle. Recently, I have sensed God asking me to share because with vulnerability comes healing, not just for those who read it, but for me too. I’ve always operated from the idea that it’s good for me not to share those experiences with the world because I want to honor those people – who God also loves very much – and I could trust the Lord to “work all things together for good,” which is all still very true. There is wisdom in leaving things in the hand of God because none of us are without sin. I later learned that I also wasn’t sharing these experiences because of shame. I was afraid if I told people, they would wonder what was wrong with me or wonder what my part in it was. Sometimes, there are not two sides to a story and the truth is just plain ugly. However, when you’re healing, you don’t want to take on one more challenge, especially the one of explaining yourself. I want to make two important points before I continue: 1) None of us are without failures, so we must be careful not to cast the first stone; 2) Everyone is loved by God, no matter what they have done.
I want to share the most important thing I learned through these church hurts.
We Get to Choose How We Respond to the Things Done to Us and By that Choice, Decide Who We Will Be
- Someone who hurts: Everyone who does something hurtful is hurting themselves. Will you hurt others out of your pain?
- Someone who heals: Everyone who ministers healing to people has allowed God to heal them. Will you let God use what happened to you for good?
Which kind of person would I be? Would I hold on to unforgiveness until it became bitterness and become someone who hurt others? Or would I be a minister of reconciliation and share in the sufferings of Christ? If we choose the latter, we are also promised to share in His glory and have abundant comfort. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom. 8:17). For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ (2 Cor. 1:5). What if we remember that one of the greatest gifts we were ever given was forgiveness and that through it, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus by crying out, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). What if sharing in the sufferings of Christ was a gift? “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).
When Love Challenges You
Forgiveness is rooted in love. And love is the fruit of forgiveness. Forgiveness starts with love and it results in love. We received forgiveness because of LOVE – God Himself who is love, came to earth in the form of man (Jesus) to love us. He asked us to love others.“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Matt. 22: 37-39). We most often learn to love by exercising it in seasons of challenges. It is in those circumstances where we don’t want to love because it doesn’t come easy. The real test of love is when it cannot be returned. The way to heal from hurt (especially from church hurt) is to allow love to do its greatest work in us at the moment of our greatest pain. If we changed our perspective and looked at the things that challenge us, the people who hurt us, the situations that were unjust, and looked at it as if LOVE was challenging us instead of people, maybe we would be more willing to say, “OK love, be my teacher What can I learn from this pain? Better yet, what can I gain from learning to love well?” “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Three Steps to Heal from Church Hurt
- RECOGNIZE the injustice, pain, rejection, bullying, etc., and validate your emotions by acknowledging it hurt.
I have done this step wrong in the past. I wanted to honor God by forgiving people, so I didn’t want to stop to acknowledge my pain. I thought not holding something against someone also meant to not bring up what someone did with God. I skipped right to, “God I trust you. I’m sorry I’m angry, please forgive me.” My good intentions were misguided. All I did was stuff my pain. I didn’t give myself permission to cry out to God and grieve the loss I felt. It often came up much later in unhealthy ways. So we can’t skip this step. We just meet with God and let Him be our comfort. On the other side of the coin, we can’t stay stuck in our pain. We should share our story with a trusted confidant and receive godly counsel who can help us process it and move on to the next steps.
- RELEASE the gift of forgiveness toward the offender.
When I lead clients through forgiveness, I suggest a few things that help release the pain. Just like when we ask for forgiveness and are specific about what we are sorry for, we should be specific about what we are forgiving someone for. You can say, “God, today I choose to forgive _______ for _______. Because when _______ did that, it made me feel_______. I release and submit all my feelings to You. I forgive them for the consequences I still have in my life because of their actions. I release them from all my expectations and because of the cross, I declare they owe me nothing. I ask that you show them mercy and bless them.” I find when we can ask God how He sees the person or situation we gain more compassion too. You may be surprised at what He reveals. Sometimes healing comes in stages so if it comes up again, it doesn’t mean you did not forgive the first time.
- RECEIVE restoration from God.
God loves to give us things in exchange for our pain. Isaiah 61:3 says He wants, “to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” In verse 4, God promises to rebuild, restore, and renew: “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” We can only receive that which we are positioned for and He can only put new things in our hands if they are empty. Only broken things get restored.
If you have been hurt by the church, I want to say I am so very sorry that happened to you. I may not be able to fully understand what you lost or had to go through, but God does. He hasn’t overlooked it. He is for you. He longs to pour out His comfort upon you. He invites you to sit with Him and cry, complain or question if you need to. I pray His love strengthens you so you may reflect His kindness and goodness to others who need to know Him too. Remember, love is inviting you to experience the power of the Gospel. And the way to get healing from church hurt is to let the head of the Church, Jesus, minister to you.
Jill Monaco is the founder and CEO of Jill Monaco Ministries, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has a passion to encourage people to pursue the presence of God and find freedom in Christ. She is a speaker, best-selling author, and CC credentialed coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is also certified as a Strengths Champion Coach and SYMBIS Relationship Coach. As a Bible teacher and speaker, Jill is known for captivating audiences with her high-energy, humorous approach to life’s serious issues. Her faith-filled and transparent stories encourage listeners to become all that God has created them to be. Jill has developed Freedom Coaching®, a model that blends hearing God, prayer, and coaching tools. Her first book, The Freedom Coach Model® went to #1 on the Amazon bestseller list. Jill Monaco Ministries also serves singles by publishing the online magazine, SingleMatters.com and the program, From Looking To Loving: Find the Breakthrough You Need So You Can Have The Relationship You Want. She hosts the podcast, The Jill Monaco Show: Conversations that Inspire You to Love Well. Jill has been featured on LIFE Today with James and Betty Robison, the Boundless Podcast (Focus on the Family), and has taught webinars for singles with Christian Mingle. She has spoken on stages at Disney Night of Joy, Creation Fest, and the Experience Conference about the need for Bible translation. Her eclectic career includes 20 years as a professional stage and commercial actress, industrial film narrator, and voiceover talent. She sang backups for Perry Como’s Holiday Tour, performed in tours and theatres across the country, and is the voice on several Disney Kids audiobooks. Currently living in Chicago, IL, Jill looks forward to having her own family someday. Until then, she works very hard at earning the title of favorite aunt to her five nieces and nephews. See more at https://www.jillmonaco.com/