The past few weeks, I’ve been hearing stories of people who’ve made mistakes yet are still going to church despite. People who could have very easily turned to shame yet instead went to their pastor and community in a contrite spirit. And also people who are still going to church even if, perhaps, they don’t quite see yet that there may be error in their choices, or that, at least, God might have better for them.
This makes me so happy.
It is not for me to judge. But my point here, why this makes me happy, is that these people are STILL GOING TO CHURCH. They are not following the enemy’s common tactic when we have sinned, to pull us away from the very community who can help us get healthy again, who can love us through the struggle or sin, who can help us to forgive ourselves so we can move forward.
We need our family. We need our Christian brothers and sisters.
Today, a friend posted on Facebook a quote about church being a hospital for the hurting, and indeed it is. NONE OF US are perfect. We are all sinners. We have all stumbled. We need each other.
As someone who stayed away from church for years because she felt ashamed (read: unequally yoked relationships that led to unhealthy compromise and sin), who would occasionally go to a church service but fall away again because she felt like a BIG FAT HYPOCRITE, I know of which I speak. However, as I have grown to understand God’s love for me in a deeper way, I see that shame is the enemy’s tactic.
- Are you staying away from church or your Christian community because you are ashamed? Because you are hiding something? Please, reach out to the pastoral staff, a Christian counselor, or a trusted friend. (Just one word of counsel: I once reached out to a trusted Christian friend at this tender point in my life, and she responded in rejection, by leaving our friendship, which led me even further into depression and withdrawal from community. This friend had her reasons, but I want to remind you that Jesus is ALWAYS THERE, even when humans disappoint. No matter what, He will never leave you nor forsake you. He is there 24/7, and He says in His word that “a bruised reed He will not break” [Isaiah 42:3, NIV]. If rejection should happen, it’s okay to cry out to Jesus. He knows our hearts and will comfort and soothe us through the pain.)
- Do you have a friend who is struggling through a sin? Are you worried about him or her? Galatians 6:1 (NIV) says: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Other translations use the phrase “gently and humbly.” Regardless, we must tread with love when sharing our concerns about another’s lifestyle or choices. Sometimes we need to speak the truth, but we must do so in love wrapped in prayer. My number-one piece of advice is to first take the situation to God in prayer, and ask for His help in your concerns. Case in point: I once felt God strongly telling me to share my concerns about a girlfriend’s relationship (I had seen harmful behaviors and was worried, in all honesty, for my friend’s safety). It was days before her wedding, and telling her my concerns, even in as gentle a manner as I could muster, resulted in the loss of our friendship. However, years later, out of the blue, this friend called me. She was in a new relationship with a sweet, Godly man who treasured her (now her husband), and her previous marriage had turned out to have many of the traits I feared. She thanked me for being a true friend and looking out for her, and our friendship was restored. Sometimes, God does call us to have those difficult conversations with those we love who are in harmful situations, but we must proceed prayerfully and with a humble spirit.
But please, all this is to say, don’t stay away from your people. We’re ALL a little messed up, and we need each other.
And from someone who’s been reentering church, I will add that it’s like taking vitamins. Each week I am growing stronger, with my excitement for Sunday mornings returning.
The enemy would like nothing more than to keep you isolated and in shame. Please take that first step. There are people in your church and Christian circles who will love you through your situation.
And too, let me add that my church was once a hamburger place on Friday nights. No joke. My neighbor was a Christian and became a friend during another time I was avoiding my church because yes, again, I was in a relationship of compromise. LouAnn listened without judgment as I shared my story and my struggles with loving this person yet not loving who I had become. She shared parts of her story with me. Each Friday we would take our Bibles and read over hamburgers and sodas (yes, Northern girl said “soda,” but she wasn’t sure you’d all know what “pop” was). Anyways, those Friday nights and that friendship—that community—strengthened me and eventually gave me the courage to leave that unhealthy relationship. Seeing my friend’s passion for God, how real their relationship was, and the joy she found each day inspired me. While LouAnn and I maintained our friendship and our hamburger Fridays, I eventually returned to my larger Christian community with a renewed spirit.
But those Friday nights were church.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
—Matthew 18:20 (NIV)
Will you give church a try this weekend? Maybe make it sweeter by arriving earlier and getting a coffee (most churches have free coffee), or plan a nice activity as reward afterward. Celebrate your steps back into community. It is brave. You can do this. You are just as worthy as anyone else to be there.
I once wrote on a slip of paper this phrase about the story contained in Nehemiah (an awesome book of the Bible you should read because IT’S AWESOME): “The people kept building despite the enemy’s taunts.”
The enemy will do everything in his power to keep you in shame, to keep you from the very things that will help you, such as community.
Keep building, even if you hear his taunts in your ears. Keep building. Keep going. Eventually, you’ll learn to ignore him, and his voice will have no power.
Praying for you and sending love!