Dear Church Hater
DEAR CHURCH HATER
Christians were the ones that had loved me the least and had hurt me the most. Christians know better, why aren’t they doing better?
BY SARA KERNAN
I am hardwired for tears. Of all the emotions, I always find myself in either extremely loud joy, unnecessary worry, and/or tears.
When I was three, my parents had to drag me out of the Anchorage Zoo because seeing the elephant, Maggie, alone and contained reduced me to tears (Maggie has since moved to an elephant sanctuary in sunny SoCal). In elementary school when my parents read me Christmas Shoes, I tearfully demanded to know why my parents would think I would like that story and cried for hours (to this day that song wrecks me).
I hate that I cry. I cry when others cry, my heart breaks if yours breaks. I try to remind myself that Mulan didn’t cry saving China or Hermione was too smart for tears during the war against He Who Must Not Be Named, but here I am, a blubbering mess.
As I have grown to understand my tears, I see them as strength as they generally are for others. A few years ago, I prayed to God, “Break my heart for what breaks yours." I have seen this prayer answered in my life as I am able to empathize with others and have a heart for people. While I may not have many strengths, God has given me a heart for people. If you are crying, I'm coming over with cookies and cocoa to cry with you.
So, you can imagine my shock when I realized that my tears were drying up. I wasn’t doing the one thing I did well: loving people. I found myself numb in church, lethargic in compassion, and ambivalent about almost everything. Bitterness became my idol in place of Jesus. Having grown up in the church, I was taught that doing more is holier. No one said that explicitly of course, but my overflowing schedule was applauded when really I was looking for affirmation and a sense of place at the root of much of my busyness. I quickly busied myself in ministry and with believers with no boundaries or self-care. My anger towards Christians and the church festered as I felt used and taken advantage of when really I lacked boundaries and an ability to forgive believers for being human (like me).
My anger wasn't born overnight. I grew up in the church and have loved Jesus as long as my memory allows me to recall. Baptized at 11, first mission trip completed at 14, served ministries in high school, accepted into a Christian college –– I was following all the right steps for loving God’s people well. I did love people well. Except for when people started to hurt me. And often those people were other believers.
Like the man who asked if I was going to the college just to get my M.R.S. degree. The people that misused Scripture and bad theology to hurt people I loved. The kids that would say unkind comments about my appearance growing up. The silence from those close to my family when we walked through the pain of loss. The ones who compared my anxiety to demonic possession. The believers I tried to open up to about my struggles who told me to stop talking, to do more, to pray more.
It was like I had been silently keeping score, under the mask of loving people.
I loved you fiercely, and in turn you say that to me?
Suddenly I was treating my service and love for people as a commodity and no one was buying. I felt taken advantage of. And not only was I stewing over feeling taken advantage of, I was simply hurt. Each hurt just reinforced my anger at people and ambivalence for the Church. Surely this hot mess of a global community was not what Jesus had in mind.
Underlying these feelings remained the reality that I was trying to love people outside of relying on God and the result was hate.
My anger was mostly directed at other Christians and the Church. Christians were the ones that had loved me the least and had hurt me the most. Christians know better, why aren’t they doing better? I became tired and didn’t want to love people because it was hard, and people hurt me. What was I getting out of it? It was when I finally came to the end of myself that I finally fell to my knees. In a gentle manner of tough love, I felt reminded of my humanity by God’s greatness. Gently, God reminded me of the times I’m hard to love and I felt overwhelmed by lack of love. I had shut down and given up. Did Jesus shut down and give up when he thought of me on the cross?
Because there are times when I am self-absorbed and don't care about others. When I put my emotions above everything. When I do things just for appearance. When I hurt people with thoughtless comments. When I am quick to anger and quick to speak. When I...
While I was busy treating people as they were unlovable I forgot of the grace given to the unlovable parts of me.
God loves me in a way that knocks the breath out of me. Being loved by God feels like torrential rain in a season of drought, the very ground under me cannot keep up with a little something called unconditional love. I had let my anger brew and became the oldest brother in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32 NIV), bitter at everything and everyone. God let me get to the end of myself (perhaps I was more lost than the prodigal son all along?) to realize the place to be is with the Father, running towards others with extravagant love and grace. And as he “was filled with compassion” (Luke 15:20 NIV), I wanted to love people again.
I know I’m not alone in these hurts. Hurt people hurt people they say. And sometimes people who we feel “know better” can hurt us the most. But we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19 NIV). And with that, I finally forgave all the areas of anger I had clung to in my life, I breathed in, and I started to love God’s broken, messy, and very human people again. Within a prayer, I felt a shift in my being.
After a season of hate, I was able to cry again.
Dear Papa God,
May I love others as I am so fiercely loved.
May I remember the grace given to me.
May I love in a way that points to you.
PHOTO BY JEHYUN SUNG