Hey friends. Oh, I have missed you! Sorry for my long… long… long absence. But to celebrate my ever so late arrival back into the bloggersphere, I’m going to get super personal and weird! Get ready ‘cause here I come. I’m here to talk about something that isn’t the most popular thing to discuss, especially amongst church-people. You see, I think oftentimes Christians try to hide their flaws from the world in fear that people will be turned off to Jesus altogether if they see Christians make mistakes. The whole “why should I believe in your religion when you’re the same as me?” line that is all too familiar to Christians everywhere scares us into thinking we have to hide where we mess up to make sure people think we Christians have our crap together. But I think the beauty of the gospel is that in front of God, we are totally naked, all of our closet demons and our swept-under-the-rug sins totally visible. Only when we are completely vulnerable does God do His perfect work. We can’t just say “here’s this, but I’m not going to share this because that’s too personal” or the ever so common “that’s going to hurt my witness.” Because guys, we are all just people. That’s the reality of it. We are all trying to figure it out, and I think that pretending that we have our crap together is so much more harmful than being honest. When people who don’t believe what we believe look at us living our lives and messing up like we are bound to do, they’re going to call us hypocrites, and that is when they say “why should I believe in your religion when you’re the same as me?” We shouldn’t be trying to hide anything. We are all just people, only Jesus gives us the hope and joy that nothing else in this world can. The difference isn’t that Christians don’t mess up and people who aren’t Christians do. Everybody messes up. Everybody does things they aren’t proud of. But we as Christians can give Jesus our shame and guilt and pain. Sure, we still mess up, but we don’t have to live in it. That is the difference.
So, on that note, I’m going to talk about my experience of being hurt by the church. If we are honest, I think a lot of us, whether we have any kind of faith or not, can say we have been hurt by the church, or we have hurt. Or we have experienced both being hurt and hurting. When I say the church, I’m not necessarily talking about a particular church, I’m talking about followers of Jesus as a whole. People who call themselves Christians. That can be in a lot of different scenarios. It’s taken me a long time to step up and talk about this because I think deep down I am scared of it happening again, but I think it’s more important for me to talk about things that need to be talked about than keep myself comfortable and shielded by judgment. So here I am, taking a big gulp of air and diving right in.
Not very long ago, a little over a year, I was bullied by the church. I can honestly say that now that I think about it. It wasn’t just a few comments here and there. I was beaten every day for a good eight months of my life. Beaten down deep in my soul by other Christians. I was told my thoughts on the Bible were invalid, stupid, and irrational. I was gossiped about by people that were in authority over me every day, I was looked down on and whispered about in the hallways, and I was told to my face that I was not a Christian if I didn’t support a certain political candidate. I was headed down a “slippery slope” straight to hell. I was told that by buying into or even researching the idea that the earth was not created in seven 24 hour days, I was blaspheming the name of God. I was given a bad grade on my tests for answering opinion questions about the government wrong, and taught to believe a weird hybrid of God and the American Dream.
I endured so many racist comments, sexist comments, discriminatory comments, and ignorant, hurtful, painful comments, that I almost completely walked away from God altogether. I had next to zero rational conversations, just me trying to make sense while I was being yelled at. I was a punching bag, completely vulnerable, and everyone knew it. I had to walk out of classes to cry in the bathroom, and a few times, I threw up. A few times, I left in the middle of the day. I almost decided that if these people were what this whole God thing was about, then I wanted no part of it. I almost chose to completely become and accept what I was being told I was: a heathen, an idiot, a God-hater, a blaspheming, ignorant liberal. I almost decided that if this was Jesus, if this was it, then I wanted absolutely no part in it. Almost.
I almost did. But here I am, standing here saying I believe in God, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in Jesus, and I believe the way I was treated has nothing to do with the love and grace that Jesus has given me. I know that while I was walking down those hallways, crying between classes after being yelled at about my “stupid” opinions, Jesus was holding my hand. He was shielding my heart and He was strengthening my belief in the Jesus I knew. He was whispering in my ear the whole time “I am sorry,” “I love you,” and “This is not me.”
So, what do you do? What do when you’ve been hurt… so hurt you want to abandon everything that has to do with the people that have hurt you and run away? Well, I’m not sure anyone really knows how to answer that fully, but here’s a few things that have helped me:
01| Recognize we are all human, and all humans need grace.
It’s easy to be so angry and spiteful that we turn into what hurt us so much. You know, fight fire with fire and create some kind of gross explosion of hate. I tried that for a little bit, but all that does is hurt you and hurt you and hurt you again. That doesn’t mean I don’t get angry about it every once and awhile, thinking about it. But I can’t forget the fact that these people are just people. They’re just trying to figure it out, and a lot of them really believed what they were saying was right. I had to give them grace, because they deserve my wrath just as much as I deserve the wrath of everyone I’ve ever hurt, but Jesus would give them grace, so I will give them grace solely through the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s all I can do. A wise woman told me today, “Not accepting the gift of Jesus will torment you for eternity, but unforgiveness will torment you for your whole life on earth.” I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to be tormented by unforgiveness, because I now know that forgiveness is essential to our growth as believers in Jesus.
02 | Recognize when relationships are harmful to you and know when to give up.
Sometimes we don’t get a choice in the environments we are in. I didn’t really have much of a choice. But if you do, do not subject yourself to things that hurt your soul and tear you down. You don’t have to. I’ve put myself in circumstances I did not have to be in and waited a really long time to get out of them, all because I was worried of what would happen if I did. We are scared to jump, because we don’t know what’s going to be at the bottom. But please, if you know you’re in an environment where you aren’t growing and you are being hurt over and over again, jump. If it’s a church, a school, or a group of friends… try as hard as you can to mend it, but if it won’t be mended, know when to draw boundaries. We are not called to subject ourselves to soul hurt over and over again. We are called to guard our hearts, so guard yours and don’t let it be broken down by the same people. You are allowed to walk away when enough is enough.
03| Don’t ever let someone else’s negative opinion of you become your opinion of you
There were a lot of times I questioned if I really was all the things I was being told I was. Am I really heading to hell if I believe this? Am I really ignorant or stupid? Am I really not good enough? Do I just not get it?
So many lies have been spoken over me in my lifetime, and for a long time, I let them define the way I saw myself. Learn from my mistakes and do not believe the lies people plant in your heads. Don’t believe them. God Himself looks on you with love and compassion and He calls you His. So that is what you are. You are loved, You are His, and you are absolutely not the lies being spoken over you. His still, small voice is whispering in your ear all the time that you are valuable, but you have to silence the louder voices to be able to hear it.
04| Don’t abandon your faith
Now, I say this hesitantly. That’s because really, sometimes you have to redefine what your faith is. I abandoned the idea of God that I had in my head for a really long time, because I realized the more I learned and the closer I became to Jesus that a lot of the things I tied to His name have nothing to do with Him. I redefined my faith, but I did not abandon it. I almost did, but I did not. Instead, my faith was strengthened and tested over and over again, and now I know Jesus on a level so personal I can’t even explain it. He stood with me and proved Himself over and over again against all odds. It is purely by His goodness that I was able to hold myself together and walk through the fire with my head up and my heart in tact. Please, don’t give up on that. You know deep down what is Jesus and what is not. A little tip: God will never make you feel like you are not good enough. He will never make you feel stupid or inferior. He is not mad at you. Those are lies. Listen to the still small voice, He will show up when you ask Him to.
The Bible is all about love. I think that’s the whole point of it all. But I’ll reference one of my very favorite verses:
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2
And that is it. We can have all the gifts, all the things, all the knowledge… but if we don’t have love, we are nothing. Love is the reason for all of this. Love is the reason we are here on this earth. We are here to love other people no matter how many times they hurt us, no matter how many names they call us, no matter how different their lives are, we are called to love. How often do we forget that? How often do we focus so much on figuring out the mysteries of God or the answers to every question that we forget the simplest, truest thing about the God: to love, to love, and to keep on loving. That’s the reason for all of this. Without it, we are literally nothing. As believers, nothing we do matters if we do it without love. Nothing. I don’t know how else to say it, and I think this subject is a little too raw for me to be able to coherently articulate, but guys, just love. All we have to do is love, and the rest will come. If you lose sight of love, your faith is literally pointless. It means nothing. Nothing means anything without love.
For all of you that have been hurt by the church: I love you, and I am so sorry. I want you to know that you are valuable, you are loved, and you are so incredibly captivating. Your thoughts and your words and who you are is so special. You should be celebrated, because you are the only person in the world like you. I am sorry someone made you feel like you weren’t enough. Those things that made you feel that way… that is not God. God is not those things. He loves you, and He loves you so desperately He is staring at you with eyes as big as the ocean and arms outstretched just waiting for you to stop looking at all of these things labeled “Jesus” and finally look to the perfect, unadulterated man of sorrows and run to Him. You’re enough. You’re absolutely enough. If you have any questions about this, please reach out to me, I would love to sit down with you over coffee or skype and talk about God’s grace and freedom through these really tough, really weird circumstances.
For all of you that have hurt: there’s grace for you. I have been right there on the other side of it, too. I know where you’re coming from. It is so easy to be so caught up in the details that we forget about the people behind their crazy ideas or actions. Satan rejoices when the church turns on itself. Don’t let him rejoice. You have to choose to love. You just have to. Without love, you are nothing. I’ll say again, none of this means anything if you aren’t loving, and that’s just it. And the Bible says,
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:45
Don’t turn a blind eye for someone being hurt. Even if you aren’t participating, you are called to reach out. If it weren’t for the people who saw me being hurt and stood by my side, I would probably be an atheist. And I am not saying that lightly. It matters. What you do matters. Be mindful of what you say, and be mindful of how others are being treated.
Alright friends, sorry for the super heavy post today. That was just on my heart, and I really felt like it was time to share that with you all. My little sweet Sunshine family. I love you guys, I really do, and I want to be here for you. If you’ve struggled with similar things, please leave a comment down below or email me here. I want this to be a community of people loving people. That’s what it’s all about, after all!
Thanks for being such amazing readers! All of you truly are such a blessing to me.
These photos are by the most wonderful woman and photographer, Carter Gekiere (instagram here, website here). By the way, if you’re interested in contributing your creativity to In Search of Sunlight, whether it’s as a photographer, writer, editor, or whatever else you have up your sleeve, I am all ears. You should make your way over to my brand new contribution page riiiiiight here. Love y’all.