Navigating hurt from your church family, your chosen family
God sets the lonely in families… (Psalm 68:6). Through the blood of Jesus, we have been given the chance to not only have a relationship with God, but also be a part of a body of believers as a chosen family. Church in many ways has always been viewed as my chosen family.
Growing up my parents chose the church I attended, but I definitely viewed these people as family and still do in many ways. Within the church family I grew up with, we experienced things as children, youth, and young adults together that we didn’t share with anyone else. Sadly, growing up I often put leaders on a pedestal where God alone belonged, so when leaders did things I didn’t understand, it hurt.
No one truly prepares for their church family to break their hearts.
Thankfully, when my first heartbreak from my chosen family happened, God spoke so strongly to me and met me personally. I never felt alone and He instilled a desire within me through this difficulty to seek Him and His ways and not to ever again put all my trust in church leaders.
Instead of running from Him and the church, I sought his Word, dug deep and sought to understand God’s heart in the hurt I was feeling.
Since then I’ve been blessed to serve with other church families. We’ve had so many amazing experiences, built great relationships, travelled to foreign countries, and simply done life with our church families. As time has gone on, I wish I could tell you that I didn’t experience another heartbreak from my chosen family. However, at times I allowed myself to be blinded by ignoring warning signs and flaws in others and myself that lead to another heartbreak. So, I found myself at a place of heartbreak once again by becoming so embedded in the good that I ignored the bad until it hit me personally.
It was easy to ignore the bad because this church family loved us and loved our boys. They changed our boys diapers, taught them about Jesus, helped us when we were sick, pushed us to grow as leaders and teachers, and much more. So, when God hit us with the word “Move forward” after a time of frustration and hurt at this church, I was devastated. We were supposed to move forward yet, I was still processing how my chosen family hurt me. I had stayed in a church in the past after a time of hurt, why couldn’t I stay now?
I wanted my strength to be renewed while staying at the same church. However, God required obedience. We had to walk out in faith and move forward.
It wasn’t easy. I am a trained “non-crier” as a Licensed Mental Health Therapist, but when we left this church and I couldn’t stop crying for months. The grief caught me off guard for many reasons. Initially it was tough because of the sudden stop in some ways to ministry with one church family and trying to find our place with another church which lead to a whiplash of emotions. Even to this day years later as I write this my heart still aches a bit.
Thankfully, God used many things to heal my heartbreak. First of all, the first church we visited was starting their “Forward” campaign the day went and this felt like God speaking to us audibly! Also, within a few months, my current pastor preached a series called “Between Here and There”.
I learned how God can use me in the “in between” times of life.
Also, during my bible reading time God led me to the story of Jonah. I’ve heard it all my life, but during my “in between” time, God showed me Jonah’s “in between” time, which was on the boat with other sailors. During this time, Jonah led these men to the Lord although he was dealing with major frustration. I challenge you to go read Jonah 1. The men at first cried out to their own little “g” gods before asking Jonah about his God. Once they knew about Jonah’s God, they believed and cried out, “Lord…” How powerful is that?
God used Jonah’s “in between” time to lead these men to Him!
God also sent people along the way to encourage me to keep going. Another pastor at my current church said to me, “Don’t give up, keep going, because God has so many for you to minister to now and when you get “there”. God never wastes our pain. He doesn’t plan or intend it, but he can use for good and to make beautiful things.
When you’ve been hurt and your heart has been broken, it is easy to want to quit. Let me encourage you today as someone who has been there. Don’t quit. Keep going. Ask God where you are supposed to serve next and how He wants to use in you in the meantime.
I promise He will renew your strength as you forgive, keep going, and continue loving His family.
Dr. Natalie Atwell is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and professor. She runs a private counseling practice in the Charlotte, NC metro area and teaches graduate counseling courses at Liberty University. Dr. Atwell speaks at businesses and churches upon request and considers it an honor to have a front-row seat in the healing of others through counseling. Hopeful to share the joy and peace of a relationship with Jesus and others, she seeks to contribute to a wider audience through writing.
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