While I do have chronic illness with Fibromylagia and herniated discs, the first thing that came to mind was when I suffered a concussion. So I chimed in with my comment sharing my personal experience. Several years ago, after being diagnosed with a concussion, I attended my church about one week after my brain injury. Truth be told, I didn't want to miss a Sunday service. The noise level or bright lights never occurred to me, until it was too late.
On that morning, when my husband and I sat near the front row, I was astounded at how obnoxiously thundering loud the worship band was. While their music was great, it was as if we were at a rock concert; not church. And the intense flashing bright lights had me seeing double.
Suddenly, I became physically ill. I was nauseated and dizzy. My head pounded from a migraine headache. The room started spinning in vicious circles. I thought I would pass out. My negative symptoms became so dreadful, I needed my husband's assistance to help me leave the sanctuary to go home.
Let's fast forward to my Facebook comment sharing this experience on my friend's post. No sooner had I written my concerns about the intensity of worship music and light effects when a stranger who doesn't know me, doesn't have a disability, and who never suffered a concussion, accused me of "church bashing."
Excuse me, but let's get the record straight. There's a big difference between sharing a legitimate concern versus lame church bashing.
This post that you're reading now is something that's been burdening me for years. First and foremost, church hurt is real. We need to address it. We need to examine it. We need to find productive ways to move forward in effort to heal from it.
The initial question about how the church can welcome and meet the needs of their disabled/chronic pain members is only a tip of the iceberg. There's so many complex layers that require a closer consideration. Today, I will touch on a few legitimate issues within the church. However, the root of the problems are deep and reach beyond a single blog.
According to Reach Right Studios, "A shocking 86% of American churches are either declining or plateauing. There are two common themes among these church statistics - attendance is down and many people are seeking different ways to worship."
Essentially, if we ask 100 people from all walks of life, religions, ethnic and educational backgrounds, and financial status what their main reasons are for leaving church, we will most likely get 100 different responses. Each story is unique. What I discovered is that while our specific reasons may differ, the one common thread is people, young and old, have been hurt by the church.
Years ago, my friend Barb attended a small church, which had a Christian school. Her dad happened to be the pastor of this tight knit community. When she was in junior high, a group of teenage boys who were her classmates, gang-raped her in the school building. (Name changed for privacy.)
After tearfully telling her parents about the sexual violence, her father demanded she not speak a word of it to anyone. To not share it with the police, the congregation, the school principal, her friends, nor the perpetrator's parents. He insisted she not expose the truth because those "good Christian boys" were the kids of powerful and prominent deacons as well as donors.
Simply stated, the church wealth and reputation trumped truth-telling. Barb was forced to remain silent. To pretend this vicious act of evil never happened. For years, she felt as if God abandoned her. That her father and church deeply hurt her.
As a young girl, I will never forget what my mom shared with me. It has been forever ingrained into my mind. During my mother's childhood and teens, she was raised in the Catholic church. From kindergarten to twelfth grade, she attended a Catholic school.
Each week, after my mom misspelled words, the nuns ruthlessly whipped her with a wooden stick. They were merciless. And they scared the daylights out of her!
Whenever they practiced math, which my mother struggled with, the nuns would publicly embarrass her, criticize her, and tell her that she was stupid. Oftentimes, my mom's knuckles would bleed for days following the wicked beatings.
Eventually, my mother grew up, got married, and had five daughters. Despite her negative experience in the Catholic school, she remained a devout Catholic. She continued attending church. When I was two years old, my dad divorced my mom to marry the "other woman." During the early '60's, this stirred up quite a fuss. Not to mention, a whole lot of gossip.
Upon the Catholic church catching wind of my parent's divorce, the priest scolded my mom. Then he hissed, "You are not welcome here anymore. You will burn in hell!"
No doubt, this negative experience not only shaped my mom's faith and beliefs about God, but it definitely had a ripple effect on my siblings and I. She felt condemned because she was cast out from church. Therefore, my sisters and I were not raised with religion or church. Based on our mother's nightmare with the Catholic church, it left a sour taste in our mouths.
Looking back, it's nothing short of a miracle that each of my sisters and I came to know Christ as our Savior. One by one, the Lord had His hand upon our lives. And to our own surprise, when I invited our mom to join us at the Billy Graham Crusade in 1993, she agreed to go. This is when God softened my mom's heart. And she accepted Jesus into her life during the Billy Graham's alter call. It was a powerful answer to prayer!
For over 26 years, I've been a dedicated servant of Christ. From the moment I became a born again believer, I've volunteered, served in many capacities, gone on a missionary trip, coordinated ministries, and been in leadership positions.
As an extrovert, I've enjoyed meeting new people from all walks of life. To give hope to the hopeless. To reach out to help others not feel so alone. To share the love of our heavenly Father.
Yet, through the years, I've seen the church fall short. There's been everything from legalism, hypocrisy, sexual assaults, church cliques, misinformation about the Bible, to downright unethical practices happening in the Christian community. And it breaks my heart because it breaks God's heart.
The power within the church to burn impressions of Christ onto peoples’ souls is awesome, yet awful. For those who find their faith tangled in a head-on collision with the church is like being in a tragic car accident, leaving them the walking wounded. They're numb, broken, angry, and filled with grief.
Without going into details, I have been hurt by the church. Not just once or twice, but countless times. This has led me to run into the tender arms of Jesus. To fix my eyes on Him. Because at the end of the day what matters most to me is not rigid religion. Instead, what's of vital importance to me is my close relationship with Christ.
Today, I may not know you or what you've gone through in the church. Your true story may be unlike those shared in this blog. But it doesn't minimize the authentic wound you've been facing. Or the battle you're still wrestling with.
For those who have not encountered a negative experience within the Christian community or church, consider yourself fortunate. Please understand that if you hear or read about someone who had been hurt by the church, the last thing they need is another believer faith-shaming them or blaming them. It's as if you stabbed them with a knife in their heart that's already a bloody mess.
Stop suppressing them. Stop mocking them. Stop silencing them. Stop telling them to get over it. And for the love of Jesus, stop accusing them of bashing the church or being offended. They may have good cause for how they feel. Ultimately, it's between them and God.
In addition, I ask you to put yourself in their shoes. To consider they are sharing the truth. That they may be correct when they say they're hurt by the church. Try to imagine what it's like to be condemned, harshly judged, mistreated, or violated by church members. And then told that you're concocting a story, whining , or complaining. As if you don't matter. As if you're unworthy and of no value.
Healing the deep wounds from church hurt starts with grace. To give people the benefit of the doubt. To listen to them. To clearly communicate. To genuinely take time to hear them. To pray for one another. To ask God to restore our church and those who have been hurt by it.
Today, be the change. Be willing to make a positive difference. Be the bigger person. Choose peace. Choose hope. Choose reconciliation. Choose love. Be the hands and feet of Jesus. Give grace, mercy, and compassion.
"The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18 (ESV)