I got a thin cut on my right hand last week. It’s a minor cut, nothing a little Neosporin can’t handle. But every time I pick up a marker to write on the dry-erase board, I feel it. Every time I try to peck out a few words on the computer, I feel it.
When one part of the body is hurting, it doesn’t matter how healthy the rest of the body is. Our focus remains on the part that’s in pain.
I’ve endured another injury too — a much deeper cut, one to the heart, and it’s taking longer to heal. And like the cut on my hand, it has absorbed my focus. Too much so.
It’s one thing to be injured by an unbeliever.
It’s another thing to be injured by a believer, especially a leader or pastor.
We live in a fallen world. So it’s inevitable that members of the Body of Christ — even pastors — will disappoint us, betray us, and leave us wondering if continuing with the whole church thing is worth the trouble.
These heart-injuries have a way of festering, though, which can lead to an infection that can spread to the soul. My own heart-affliction is due, in part, to the compounding factor that this particular injury is on top of an earlier one — when my father, who was a pastor, left the church and left our family.
Dad left. And I haven’t seen much of him since I was 14.
When your dad leaves, and your pastor leaves, it leaves you wondering. And it’s tempting to leave church too.
Obviously, the title captured my attention. Because it’s where I’m at. In some ways, it’s where I’ve been at since I was 14. Dad left the church. Left town. Left us.
The church dissolved.
So we left too. Me and my mom.
Then both of my parents remarried, and my step-dad took a new job in the city. So then we left town too.
There was a large church within walking distance of our new home. So I visited. By myself. And God met me there. So I returned. Every week. To the big church around the corner. By myself. In an unfamiliar city.
There was something there, during worship, that I didn’t have words for.
It was His Presence.
I’ve known this Presence for as long as I can remember. Back when I sat on the front pew. When my mom led the singing. And my dad did the preaching.
I’ve always sensed His Presence during worship.
In her book, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about the first time she sensed His Presence too. For her, it was outdoors, in the lush surroundings of God’s creation. She says:
“The Divine Presence was strongest outdoors, and most palpable when I was alone. When I think of my first cathedral, I am back in a field behind my parents’ house in Kansas, with every stalk of prairie grass lit up from within.”
God reveals Himself to each of us in His own unique way. For me, it was His Presence during worship that drew me. Week after week.
If I had just one word to describe what I experienced, it would be wholeness. With God, I sensed wholeness. And I promised God I would never leave.
Now, more than twenty years later, I’m still here. Still pursuing God. Still reading His Word.
But church? That is something else. And it’s something I’ve been tempted to leave, altogether, on more than one occasion.
As believers, we are members of the Body of Christ, and if one part suffers, every part suffers with it (I Corinthians 12:26). Like the cut on my hand, one hurting member affects the rest of the body.
So right now, the truth is, I need healing. I need healing from the wounds inflicted by a church we’ve left.
We attend a church in our neighborhood now. And I’m deeply grateful for the pastor, who preaches the Word, week after week, completely dedicated to the Truth. But the past few years have made me cautious. I sit near the back, hesitant to get involved.
Church, in general, doesn’t feel safe anymore. It hasn’t for some time. So I’ve had a hard time connecting with God and sensing His Presence during worship services. My “Thin Place” has changed. I now experience His Presence — that “Thin Place” where God draws near — when I’m alone with His Word.
God is made most alive in me when I am in His Word.
And deep down, I think that’s been part of His plan all along. God has allowed some painful church experiences to happen in my life because He knows how easy it is for me to lean on the church more than I lean on Him.
So I’m leaning. A lot. On Him. And His Word. And I’m comforted by His Truth, especially this truth that still echoes from worship hymns of long ago:
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking stand
Christ alone is the Chief Cornerstone. And His Body — the Church — is broken, yes, but also redeemed. Just like you. And just like me. And that is Christ-filled beauty.
PHOTO CREDIT: By Steven Snodgrass (Creative Commons)