I’ve had a long relationship with the church. In all the years I’ve known her, have been a part of her, she has made me cry. Wounded tears, grateful tears.
Even as a little girl, when my dad poured out his heart as a shepherd, was rejected, and abused – I cried. When generosity arrived in a huge cardboard box full of Christmas gifts for our struggling family – I cried.
The tears have always been there, throughout my childhood, in the early days of marriage, even now. I could fill in the details of deep wounds, a lack of love, and disappointment. So can you. And I could tell of inspiring forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and generosity that brings me to tears as well. I hope you can too. And of course sometimes I’ve been the source of tears, and I imagine if you’ve been in church any length of time you may have been as well.
I can’t recall ever speaking to a person who couldn’t say the same thing, the church makes them cry. This side of heaven that reality will not change. Deep community begets deep emotion. The variable is what we do with our tears.
I understand the temptation of walking away. Five years ago I gave serious thought to it, away from my husband, away from ministry, away from the church. But God was gracious, he didn’t scold or abuse, he gently reminded me that while I would be walking away from the most painful aspects of my life I would also be walking away from the very best.
He gave me the courage to stay and face reality. Ever since then he has been making me brave. Life is full of paradoxes and the church is no exception. The people of grace often aren’t. A place of safety regularly isn’t. But brokenness can be turned into amazing beauty. Weak people are made strong and become powerful leaders, defying human wisdom. I’ve seen all of these things take place. Yet Jesus overshadows and defines all paradoxes with the truth of himself.
This has become the passion of my life, to see a body live like this, to be a part of the dance:
“He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” Ephesians 4:15 MSG
Isn’t that beautiful?! I can just picture her, a ballerina dancing as she worships, a mama bending low to nurture and serve, a broad shouldered father standing ready to protect. The whole unit moving with purpose and joy; not afraid of repentance or ashamed of strength. It would be a sight to behold! In this lifetime I’ve only caught glimpses, promises of what can and will be. But it’s enough to keep me going and learning the steps. It makes the tears worth it. They are an investment and in the end I’ll receive my prize:
“Let us celebrate, let us rejoice,
let us give him the glory!
The Marriage of the Lamb has come;
his Wife has made herself ready.
She was given a bridal gown
of bright and shining linen.
The linen is the righteousness of the saints.” Revelation 19:8 MSG
Some of you, I know, have experienced real abuse at the hands of church people and leaders. I am not advocating returning to an abusive situation. Not at all. Rather I would recommend talking to a Christian you trust about a church they go to and joining them. Or even meeting with a Christian friend for prayer and bible study to seek healing before joining church life again. But one thing I do know – God himself is communal, he made us that way, and life in him can only fully be experienced with others.
The church may make you cry, tears of pain – tears of joy. How you reconcile the tears with Jesus’ call on every believer’s heart to live as part of his community will shape your journey home. Ask him to make you brave!