When Church Hurts Like Hell

To the weary one, who has gone to church hoping to feel encouraged, accepted, inspired, but instead came away wounded, beaten and bruised…you are not alone. And I am so sorry.

I wish that never happened to you. I wish that never happened to me. I wish that never happened to anyone. Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

Why? Because people. That’s why.

People hurt. And the church is people. And so, church hurts.

No, that’s not how it’s supposed to be. But nothing in this fallen world is how it’s supposed to be. Not even the church. Not even God’s people. Which is probably why the Bible teems with reminders, instructions and commands about how to get along, how to do this thing we call community, how to live broken and love the broken.

Have you ever seen someone create mosaic art by hand? They begin the long process by mixing earth and water to mold the tiles, which are then dried, cut and fired. The artist then breaks those tiles into smaller pieces – cutting and chipping, sanding edges or sharpening a point, pressing the pieces into a muddy sort of clay before washing them clean. Hundreds, thousands of broken pieces fit together to reveal one, complete, stunning master-piece.

When the sun is shining and I believe God is good and my spirit overflows with gratitude, that’s how I envision community: broken lives on broken lives – with all our imperfect shapes and sharp edges and rough surfaces – being fit together and made to shine. In the hands of the Master, we become a Master-piece.

That’s on a good day. And with spiritual eyes that see through the veil of a fallen world.

But on a bad day…oh, on the bad days, I am fractured glass sinking in mud. Like quicksand, it pulls me under. On every side I am pressed and scratched and pulled and scraped. I want nothing more than to escape. What beauty, I wonder, could ever come of this? Hopeless. On bad days, I am hopeless.

Because sometimes church hurts like hell.

Sometimes going to church feels like stepping onto a battlefied. You come armed and armored, like you’re bringing your fists to a pistol war. And if, like me, your church is not only your spiritual home and family, but your place of work, there’s no escape. Which has been both a challenge and a gift. When church hurts, it’s complicated.

So I’m not going to pretend I have answers for you, certainly not from behind a laptop in my bedroom at 2:00am. Every situation is different and I don’t know why you’re hurting. But I do know it’s complicated. So complicated that sometimes even you don’t understand it.

I’m not going to wear you down with empty words and platitudes like:

  • God will work this all out… or
  • Imagine the good God will bring out of this… or
  • Your view of God is too small, your view of people too big… or
  • Trust God more… or
  • Just forgive and you’ll be free… or
  • All you should want is peace…

Because we know the truth, don’t we? We know that:

  • Not every broken thing gets fixed.
  • The good may never outweigh the pain.
  • Sometimes people block your sight of God because the problems they cause consume your time and energy, the pain they cause screams in your ears while God is silent and the shadows they cast devour light faster than you can run to the next golden shaft.
  • Trusting God doesn’t always prevent disaster or despair. Just ask Jesus.
  • And, honey, we know – oh, do we know – that even freedom from the spiritual chains of unforgiveness does not mean freedom from pain or consequences.
  • And maybe, just maybe you want more than peace, more than words and feelings and apologies…maybe you want justice, maybe you want restitution, maybe you want resolution, maybe you want something more.

No. I’m not going to pretend that I have answers for you. I can only share a little of my experience, of the places where healing began – I say began because even as I write this I feel so fragile, like I’m balancing on pointe shoes on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

It started with the words of a friend…ok, more than one friend…several friends who all said a variation of the same thing…which I figured was a sign that perhaps I should pay attention:

“Nichole, I know you’re hurt but please don’t stay away when there are 400 other people here who love you.”

Like seed scattered on soil, those words sank down, sprouted and took root.

And so began a slow, tentative, terrifying journey of rediscovering community. This has been a time of small places…

  • of worship nights at the feet of a friend on the hardwood floor of a farmhouse
  • of creating and dreaming and doing and being with people whose laughter has become my laughter
  • of phone conversations and lunch at Panera and texts with one word: “praying”
  • of spontaneous trips to the farm for ice cream with friends who are like family
  • of skipping the evening session of retreat to swing on the swings and play in a pirate ship for yet another epic Perreault GNO
  • of relearning how to receive and taking the risk to give
  • of remembering what it is to be liked, what it is to be loved

And I have found that these are my people. And these people are my church.

Yes, in this fallen world, we hurt one another. But I have been reminded that even in the rubble of broken hearts, people give and people laugh and people hope and people help and people love. Poor and worn out, they give. Tired and hurting, they laugh. Fragile and desperate, they hope. Weak and burdened, they help. Broken and imperfect, they love.

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I am being scraped and pressed and scratched and pulled. And I am being washed. Like cool water on an open, unclean wound, these small spaces, these gentle times have soothed my injured soul.

Because at its heart, the church is more than people. The church is the living, moving, breathing home of Jesus Christ.

Broken for us, He loves us in our brokenness. For He knows that we are nothing more

than earth and water, dried beneath a blazing sun, refined by a raging fire. He lifts us up. He shapes and chips and sands and places us where we should go. Then, gently, He washes us clean.

A million, million broken pieces fit together by His hand.

One day. One day. One day. Together, we shall see His masterpiece.

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13 thoughts on “When Church Hurts Like Hell

  1. Your writing is ALWAYS so timely! God has truly blessed you with an amazing gift. Thanks so much for sharing your heart with me!Hugs,Liz

    in God, whose word I praise,in the LORD,whose word I praise-in God I trust; I will not be afraid.What can man do to me?   Psalms 56:10

  2. As always, well and eloquently written. Even on those days you feel like broken, muddy glass, we see you as a Master-piece in the beautiful kaleidascope of our community. I’m blessed to be another broken piece near yours. My prayer for you and others who struggle with broken hearts and occasional feelings of hopelessness is from Psalm 51:8
    “Make me to hear joy and gladness. Let the bones which you have broken rejoice.”

  3. Awesome piece. Very inspiring and a good reminder that even though church can hurt us through people and other issues, it can also be just the place we come together to worship God and lay our troubles before him.

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