Trusting Jesus When you Feel Forgotten by (or Really Mad at) His Church
There was a two year period where I didn’t want to call myself a Christian.
At the heart of it, it wasn’t because I stopped trusting in Jesus.
It was because I stopped trusting in His people.
I had been part of a college ministry that I later came to realize held my entire identity in the palm of its hand (because I placed it there, not because they took it), so, upon graduating, when I chose a different path for my career instead of joining the staff team, I felt completely lost.
If that wasn’t enough to make me feel like I was drowning (“Who am I and what am I doing with my life?!”), I looked around me...and already feeling like I could barely keep my head above water, I saw shark fins circling. Gossipers.
Ah, gossip. You’ve never, ever, ever experienced this in the church (or, like, in all of humanity) right? Yeah, me neither.
On top of THAT, I was flirting with depression. Again. For the second round. Sweet Baby Jesus, send your angels. It was a lot at once.
Identity crisis. Gossip sharks. Depression devil. All the things.
The full story of how those three things radically changed me for the better is much too long to write about in a blog post (because supposedly, your attention span will only last about 1,200 words in one sitting--which to me seems much too long already. I typically get about 12 words in and-SQUIRREL!).
So, in light of that, here are four truths on trusting that I learned during that season--they are things that got me to at least get back on the road to trusting Jesus (and His Church) when I felt forgotten by (or really mad at) His people:
1. Be a Sea of Galilee, not a Dead Sea. For so long, I felt completely rejected by the Church because I felt like no one was going out of their way to pour into me. I wanted a mentor that thought of me as often as she thought about her own children. One that sat with me once a week over coffee and gave me goals, spiritual challenges, and insight that solved all of my problems (or at least made them better.) There were also weeks where sermons weren’t absolutely mind-blowing and life-changing. And I felt discouraged, because, yet again, I wasn’t being “fed”.
The Sea of Galilee is a lake exploding with life because it takes in water but also gives it out (I want to explode with life, hellooo!).
But nothing lives in the Dead Sea, because, with no outflow, it grows stagnant. Yikes. I’ll pass on that.
Rick Warren has an amazing thought on this: “The last thing many believers need is to go to another Bible study. They already know far more than they are putting into practice. What they need is serving experiences in which they can exercise their spiritual muscles. Serving is the opposite of our natural inclination. Most of the time we’re more interested in “serve us” than service. We say, “I’m looking for a church that meets my needs and blesses me,” not “I’m looking for a place to serve and be a blessing.” We expect others to serve us, not vice versa. But as we mature in Christ, the focus of our lives should increasingly shift to living a life of service. The mature follower of Jesus stops asking, ‘Who’s going to meet my needs?’ and starts asking, ‘Whose needs can I meet?’”
That isn’t to say there aren’t seasons where we really do need intentional, weekly one-on-one discipleship, but what I came to realize is that if I am living in community, sharing my needs and meeting the needs of others, discipleship happens naturally. I am in a community group with a few older moms that meets regularly, and I have often reached out and said “HELP! EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND WHY DOES LIFE SUCK?!”, and because we are already in relationship from being in each other’s lives, they know how to specifically encourage, challenge, and disciple me through that situation.
But friends, here’s the tough part. We have to be willing to get in community, and we have to be willing to be vulnerable. As someone who previously identified as way more of an introvert than an extrovert, I know how terrifying this can be. I still struggle with it sometimes. But I realized that I was confusing my introversion with my desire to stay safe. My “high introvert personality” at times became a crutch and gave me a reason not to be brave and go outside of my comfort zone.
Truth #1: I can trust Jesus to pour into me as I courageously pour into others.
2. What people say about me is none of my business. I did end up confronting some of the people I thought were gossiping about me. Some of them were, and they apologized. Some of them were not, and it was all in my head. But regardless, I have come to not care a whole lot about gossip.
For one, when someone is gossiping about me, it is their soul they are poisoning, not mine. If I am trusting Jesus with everything, then I am also trusting Him to handle the gossipers so I don’t have to carry that burden. What people say isn’t mine to control.
Most importantly, I've found so much freedom in having a consistent character of integrity. In other words, I feel at peace knowing that if someone actually knows me and they hear gossip about me, they will naturally say, “That doesn’t sound like the Gelly I know,” and move on with their life.
Truth #2: I can lay the words other people say about me entirely at Jesus’ feet, and in doing that, keep my peace.
3. Check your expectations. Stop wanting Christ’s Church to be Christ himself. When you worship people the way you should only be worshipping Jesus, or when you put Christians (even the leadership of your Church) on a pedestal, you will always, ALWAYS be let down.The bible says be imitators of Christ. It doesn't say actually be Jesus Christ himself with His DNA and blood type. There can only be one of Him, ya’ll.
We should be holding/encouraging each other to that standard, while simultaneously always creating space in our hearts for how we will, inevitably, fall short.
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” - Col. 3:13 (NLT).
When I hear “allowance” I think of money separated proactively each week for a specific purpose that you give to someone. If I’m making allowance for people’s faults, then my heart already has a space designated for the faults of others. So when I feel hurt, my world isn’t turned upside down, because I never expected them to be perfect in the first place.
I can say, “Here’s how this thing you said or did hurt me,” and also have grace stored up preventatively for times when I am hurt. I can express my pain, extend the grace I have stored up, and then move on. This does NOT mean we become doormats and accept unacceptable behavior. It just means my peace and security don’t depend on how others treat me.
The most important thing here is that my peace never leaves me, not for one instant. All we can do is express hurt and then extend grace. We can’t actually change people--only Jesus does that.
Truth #3: I can trust Jesus to give me healthy, freeing expectations of the people around me.
4. Even when a tree is bare, its root system is still full. As I sat depressed, discouraged and deflated in my spirituality, questioning everything and everyone, I had one friend who was removed from the community I was struggling to trust. I let her in entirely even though it felt risky.
Emily was a faithful friend. She fed me when I could hardly feed myself, and most importantly, she reminded me of truth when I couldn’t see it. We had long conversations about trees! We loved nature metaphors. And she gave me insight that took a thousand pounds off my soul.
In the winter, trees look bare. They look isolated and alone because without their leaves, the distance between them and the next tree seems so much further. But what we don’t see is their root system--more alive than we could ever imagine. Did you know that a tree’s root system is just as big as all the tree you see above ground and sometimes even bigger? It’s incredible.
A barren tree. This is how we feel during spiritual “winters”--alone, gray, and as if every last leaf has fallen to the ground. But a tree is still a tree, even when it’s completely wrapped up in winter; we just can’t see below the surface. In the same way, even if I didn't like saying, “I’m a Christian” because I felt spiritually empty, confused, and rejected, I was still a Christian; I was still me; a saved soul with a root system that the Lord was growing, pruning, and strengthening.
Truth #4: I can trust the roots God is growing in me beneath the surface. Even when I feel empty, He is filling me and strengthening me. Winter won’t last forever.
I don’t know if you’ve felt forgotten by or rejected by the Church, but if you have, let me just stop here and say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the ways you’ve felt your heart get trampled. No one should ever have to feel or experience that ache, but I’m so thankful that amidst all of the ways we hurt each other, we get to hope in a Savior who will not let us down--who stands sturdy when we can hardly stand. As He holds us up, I hope we can reach a hand down and pull one another up, too, even if our hands are shaky and unsure.
Thank you for taking the time to read and reflect with me. We’re a little over 1,200 words at this point, so, thanks for hangin’ in there--you da real M.V.-SQUIRREL!