When the Church Gets It Right
By Colleen Carmichael (a pseudonym), See the Triumph Guest Blogger
I sat in the parking lot for 30 minutes, and had my first panic attack, before getting up enough courage to get out of my car door and walk through the doors of a new church. I was three weeks separated from my abusive husband and could hardly speak a coherent sentence. I had been told not to return while separated, to my previous church and that the only source of reconciliation was to return and submit to my abusive husband.
That wasn’t going to happen.
However, I also knew that I, personally, needed thefellowship of a church, the body of Christ to get through this devastation in my life.
A thousand thoughts rushed through my mind as I opened and walked through the door of the church.
Would they accept me?
What will they say when they find out I’m separated from my husband?
Will they understand that his abuse is killing me literally, figuratively, mentally and emotionally?
Will they care?
Is there a bright flashing sign above my head that reads: “Unwelcome. Failure. Worthless.”? It sure felt like it.
When I sat down in the back of the church on a Wednesday night, I had no idea the love, acceptance and support I would receive from this group of believers.
They were kind.
They listened and encouraged me to follow God.
They prayed with me.
They prayed for me.
The first time I met the Pastor, I blurted out; “I’m separated from my husband due to infidelity and abuse. I don’t want my marriage to end in divorce, but I can’t guarantee that it won’t. Is that going to be a problem? Should I leave this church?” I’ll never forget the gentleness and kindness in my Pastor’s eyes when he replied without missing a beat: “Absolutely not! We are a church that worships and celebrates a God that can take the ugliest and most difficult parts of our lives and redeem them as we continue to follow Him. You are loved here and we will walk this road with you, if that’s what you would like.”
I knew in an instant that I was home. My heart began to relax. I silently thanked God for this body of believers who were healthy enough to see the truth of the situation and know that God loves me.
My heart began to heal a little bit that night.
In the four years following, I have continued to grow and heal in this church. I have been wrapped up in the love God has for me and have been ministered to and encouraged by the wonderful people in that body of Christ. Each week the pastor speaks truth and I know that I don’t have to worry about being manipulated by half truths.
One Sunday, I almost fell out of the pew when the pastor was preaching on marriage and he said: “Men it is NOT okay to abuse your wives!” I mean, we all knew that it was wrong…. but I’m not sure I’d ever heard it that clearly from any pulpit! That was the first time I’ve heard my pastor say that, but it isn’t the last!
As I’ve healed and made healthy decisions about my future, the pastor has stayed engaged in my life. When he asks how I’m doing, I know he genuinely cares. For the past two years, I have received a scholarship to complete my Masters in Education. I needed someone to be a sponsor for me with the scholarship team…know who stepped up and has served in this position, sending in quarterly reports on my progress? That’s right, my pastor. Know who answers tough questions that roll around in my heart and need Biblical perspective? My pastor. The women in the church include me in their activities, groups and being a part of their families. I attend a Life Group of married couples, who allow me to “do life” with them. We celebrate and encourage each other. I get to see healthy marriages and they get to see a woman walking with her God.
The incredible thing is that this is not the only church that has supported me in this process. My parent’s pastor has also stood with me, guided me and helped me through some very difficult, heart-wrenching decisions.
Never did either of these pastors, from a conservative denomination, shame me or label me with guilt or shame. They both understood, that abuse was not God’s plan for anyone’s life and blaming the victim for the abuser’s actions would only destroy the victim. Instead, they built me up, in their own ways and through their own congregations to understand that I was truly loved by God and my life continued to have a purpose. They even helped me forgive my previous church who had hurt me so deeply.
Today, I am grateful that a panic attack did not stop me from walking through the doors of my now church home. I am grateful for men of God who lead congregations that are committed to following Jesus and loving the hurting, not out of some societal fad but out of a deep love for the grace and mercy that they have received through Jesus.
For the past couple of years, I have decided to move forward by clinging to what is good and letting go of what was bad. How can I hold onto anger and bitterness towards a church that acted out of ignorance when I have received such unconditional love, grace and acceptance from the churches God placed in my life? These churches have allowed me to grow, flourish and heal in my journey of recovery and that far outweighs the hurt of the past.
To these churches who got it right…who understand what it means to help those who are victims and survivors, I am forever grateful for your generous love, leadership and encouragement in my life! You truly embody the love of Christ!
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