It is a difficult thing to speak of hurt. It is a challenging thing to witness to brokenness. In my own life I have found the importance of putting our hurt into words - speaking of pain is what builds the bridge from one person to another to say- you are not alone.
And so I open my heart today because I see more and more the pain people have experienced in following Christ and being hurt by His followers. I know that pain well and sometimes I think it gets swept away - under the rug, far away, deep into the recesses our hearts.
Have you been hurt in ministry? In church? By people who declare out loud that they love Jesus Christ?
If yes, then you and I, we have rowed in the same boat, oars moving right along together. You are not at all alone. We have been hurt by people sitting in our congregations, by people in leadership positions, by clergy, by religious, by people well-known and liked by entire communities of people. It is highly likely that if you have ever belonged to a church community, it is something you have experienced.
I was once in a worship band that held an entire meeting to discuss their opinions about me. I was not invited to defend myself. I carried a high school campus ministry program by myself, while teaching classes, while running retreats and loving endlessly on 450 teenage girls while one of my greatest friends battled cancer - and was called unworthy to address my students at their final Mass because some disagreed with the way I did ministry. I witnessed nuns treat a dying woman with such little care for her heart I still cannot speak of it out loud to this day. This is the short list. There can be some unimaginable pain in ministry.
Sometimes people have motivation to hurt and sometimes they do it without such intention...but a wise person once shared one line that has stuck with me forever...Unintentional pain is still pain. Unintentional hurt still hurts.
It steals the joy right out from under you and takes the wind clear out of your sails. It can bring you to a screeching halt... why do I work in ministry or volunteer my time if this is really what it can be? How can I follow this Jesus who has followers who approach me with disrespect, who can say terrible things about me, who can be incredibly critical of the attempts I make at building the Kingdom here on earth? Why do I stay in the Church if it has people like this?
It is a challenging thing to approach - a painful thing to speak about, because it is often hard to describe what it is like. It is difficult for people to share their wounds for fear of sounding uncharitable or whiny, but this hurt is real and if left untreated, can impact one's life and faith for far too long. In my own life, at times it has felt like a small sting - other times in has felt like burns - not burns on the skin but burns on the heart. You know, the old scene when someone leaves the iron on a shirt too long, and it leaves that distinct black burn mark? It's like that. And sometimes it feels like it takes an eternity to carefully scrape off. These hurts can only be healed when they are given to God - to allow God to place His perfect healing power over all these places of discouragement and ache.
I have met some who wonder that last question...why do I stay in the Church if it can be so painful?
It can feel like a valid question in the midst of deep sorrow, but there is one truth that will remain a constant in my life. I refuse to leave the Church even when Christ's followers treat me horribly. Why? Because I refuse to let human folly drive me away from the Eucharist.
There is an important distinction that I have had to continue to make - I hear many people say that they were hurt by the Church - when it is not the Church that inflicts pain. It is not the Catholic Church who hurts us but the imperfect people in it - the ones sitting on the altar, in the pews, in the administration building at the school, in the parish center. We are all imperfect in many ways, and in the same way that I do not blame the mother with the screaming child at the grocery store for her child's behavior - I will not blame my God for the behavior of His children. I refuse to let humans derail my love for the King, my passion for young people and the Church, and His plan for the entirety of my life. People can say mean things about me, call me incapable, unintentionally or intentionally hurt me - I will not walk away from the Bread of Life.
If you are currently navigating this kind of hurt - I want to apologize to you today. I am sorry. I want you to know that God wants only to pour out love into your aching heart. I am always comforted when I take one step back and look above all the followers and look at the One we follow. He has never been and never will be a hypocrite. He is accepting, kind, forgiving, merciful, and loving - He is the one this faith is about and He is the one who knows His Church is made up of messy, imperfect people and He is the one who says to all of us who have been hurt,
I love you. Keep. serving. anyway.
It takes a conscious choosing to refuse to become bitter - to hold up a stiff arm to cynicism as it tries to wrestle you down - to remember...there are a thousand more dedicated, selfless, holy people for every one person who has ever hurt me. But it is a worthwhile and life-giving choosing, and I choose it while I say out loud...All of my life, in every season, You are still God. I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship.
There are millions of absolutely exquisite humans working to build the Kingdom - let us live and remember them. Let us live to love the ones who hurt us, to pray for those we find it difficult to pray for, and to love one another as Christ has loved us.
Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Ephesians 4:32