God Is Not Threatened When We Leave The Church

{By Nacole Simmons}

It happened standing in Wal-Mart with my daughters. I was buying a lipstick and rubbed the pretty coral color that I fell in love with onto my lips. I didn’t notice the brand–that smell. That’s when the memories came flooding in. Memories of being the focus of ridicule at a school in a whole new state, the memories of the poems left on my desk that said, “She wears socks with her clogs in winter. She’s in a bubble and thinks no one can reach her, because her Daddy’s a preacher,” and they giggled at me as I turned red and crumbled up the loose-leaf paper taken from one of their cute binders. But there are darker ones.

Dark memories of a 21 year old youth pastor, who came into the sanctuary when I was playing piano and put his lips on me, held me from behind. He befriended my father, came over to the house, and when we went downstairs to play ping-pong, he forced me to sit on his lap.

And the hits seemed to keep coming. I became chronically ill after having my fourth child. And there were people in the church who wanted to pray for me one Sunday. I made it known that I didn’t want it, that I felt uncomfortable with such a spotlight on me. They assured me it was fine, and it was in the midst of this prayer circle that I was told there wasn’t grace for this sickness, this depression, this anxiety, and that God was asking me to please come back home, to come back to where grace abounded for me.

I recoiled at this. Because I knew that God had not left me and I had not left him and the last thing I needed was for someone in the church to tell me that my illness was because I had done something wrong. The insinuation was that it was a direct result of my having left God. But I knew then, and I know now– that none can pluck me from His hand. It’s not possible.

I did feel very far away from God, and what I needed at that moment in my life was for someone to gently remind me that God was still with me and loved me beyond imagination.

That day left me aching, a hole wide-open in my soul, cold bitter wind blowing through. It left me confused about prayer, and unable to utter any words toward heaven. Prayer had been a means, as far as I could see, to hurt others. And I became bitter and maybe I let my words sting, too, because all I could see was people who wanted to hurt me.

I could tell you more stories–I have lots of them. I could tell you about a time my husband and I were asked by the pastor to be elders  because he was leaving and the church needed someone to help run things in his absence. We hesitated, but we loved our pastor, so we agreed. A short time later, we found out that the leadership of the church had sorely treated our pastor, and was the cause of him leaving. Our hearts were broken. We resigned, left the church, and never looked back. But we won’t talk more of that.

What I want to tell you is that because of a lifetime of those memories, my husband and I have chosen to take a time for healing. We tried to visit several different churches over a long period of time. We tried to be open-minded, but we were so wounded, that all we could feel was heartache and pressure and guilt. We did not feel God there. We heard condemnation in the sermons; we felt ostracized by the pressure to join the church or go somewhere else attitude.

Who knows how long this will take–this staying at home to heal?

But I can tell you what I do know. I have felt more of God and come to know Him and myself in such astounding ways– ways in which I never imagined I could know God–right at home.

I feel God most in my children. I see His glory in their faces everyday. They are like angels. They also mirror my sin. When I’m angry and say the wrong things, the hurt, fear and worry is evident on their precious faces. They don’t hide things as well as adults and they don’t lash out as quickly. They have not yet learned to be screwed up like us, you know?

Lilly looks up at me, raises her arms, calls out “Mama” in the sweetest, tiniest voice, and I cannot help but lift her up to my heart. Is this not God?

When Isabella smiles at me, her dimples shining, a mixture of shyness, pure joy and some slight mystery she doesn’t want to completely unveil, the sunlight illuminates her milky white skin, and in that light, all I see is perfect, gorgeous flawless angel. Perhaps the face of God, for surely this beauty surpasses that of the angels. Yes, surely, the face of God.

I am convinced He gave us children so that we could see how beautiful we are to Him, just the way we are, in all our human splendor. He doesn’t love us after we get right, after we stop smoking our cigarettes, after we stop listening to that awful music, after we stop gossiping. He loves us just the way we are. He loves us now.

We are His beloved.

These days, I feel that. I feel Him when I’m cleaning house, tidying, scrubbing up someone else’s mess, tapping into my ingenuity and finding more efficient ways of making a safe, restful abode. I feel Him close when I’m nursing a child recovering from surgery.

His heartbeat is so loud there. Because I believe one of God’s most powerful and prevalent attributes is Creator. And Provider. And Protector. And Jesus was first and foremost, Servant.

I feel God’s thick presence hovering like a rain-filled cloud when Husband comes home, and tells me the house looks nice, and I can hear it in his voice–he’s happy. And if you knew our history–me, the terrible, awfully stubborn (I like to think I’m a free bird) housekeeper; him, the perpetual pessimist–then you would know what a miracle this is that I’m happy doing mundane tasks, and he is supremely happy with items strewn everywhere while I light candles and deep-clean.

I feel God as close as my breath when I’m a screw-up. He’s there, reminding me I’m hurting myself. But He’s not disappointed and he’s not angry. Like a gentle father, he prods me toward love and health and wholeness. But He is so patient while I’m floundering and trying to hash things out. I’m a slow learner.

It can take us a long time to learn things He wants to teach us. It can take years to heal from church-damage. My dad used to call himself damaged goods. I don’t know if he feels the same way now, but I know it’s a process. Soon, I shall ask him where he is in the process. It’s been almost 15 years since he and my mom got out of the ministry and he still can’t attend a membership class. We talk about where we are in these healing years, and it helps me.

Talking to him reminds me that firstly, God is concerned about our happiness and our ability to work out our purpose He’s created us for on earth. If we have a family, that is one of our greatest purposes He’s put us here for. And they are our people. Together, we are the body. God has placed them in our hands to care for, to learn from, to confess to, to be sharpened and changed by, to find fulfillment and joy and edification in.

God is not as concerned about church buildings as He is about our purpose being worked out in our primary roles. He is also very concerned about our relationship with Him. And He is not threatened by us taking time to heal and work out the details. His time is not like our time. Because where we choose to worship? In the grand scheme of the vastness of God and eternity, is a detail. A very small one.

God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever–amen? His word and his Church will not change by our leaving a building. We are not forsaking the body or His word, by choosing to leave for a period of time to recover, whether that time be several years, or if we must leave traditional church for the rest of our life. Perhaps we will worship with a group of trust-worthy friends in a park on Sunday morning, or a field under the stars, the bon-fire glowing and beer in hand as we sing old hymns and share where we are in this weary life and this crazy ride called faith.

And however and whenever we choose to worship, He is there, and we are not forsaking Him, or His Body–the church–because we ARE the body. And we are the church.

If God is not threatened when we go up to the mountain to be alone, to recover, and to refuel, to remember who we are, Whose we are, and why we are here– just the way Jesus did–then neither should we be.

And friends, hear me: when our brothers and sisters are hurting, let’s not tell them this is a result of them walking away from God. Let’s not make God so small. Let’s remember the holiness of God, that He does not change, and remind ones who are hurting that He is still here. He is for them.

Let’s not tell them they have forsaken the church, or God’s word. If they {seem to} hate the church for a while, God can handle that. Let’s be big enough that we can handle it, too. Let’s expect that people are going to get hurt. Let’s not stand around, hoping no one gets hit. It’s going to happen. 

So when it does, let’s be ready with hands to hold their hands, arms to gather in and embrace, and eyes to look deep into souls, and let’s allow time to stand still for a moment and acknowledge and enter into their pain with them. Let’s let them know we are always here, while they’re healing. And keep your ears open.

Because it’s there, you will hear a soft whisper. God is right there in the midst of you.

holding hands from kelli woodford

{photo credits: Church~~ Cindee Snider Re / Community of hands~~ Kelli Woodford.}

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nacole simmons2

Nacole Simmons is a non-conformist, fashion-loving southern mom of four girls, wife to one good, steady, car-building man. Rebellious by nature, she calls herself a Jesus-follower, grace-seeker, and introvert, who adores spending weekends reading books in the hammock. She’s honest to a fault, and speaks straight to the elephant in the room because she doesn’t do small talk well. A lover of the hurting, the shunned, and the unchurched, she’s convinced Jesus was serious when he said he came for the sick. Stuffing the sacred just doesn’t cut it, so her words often edge toward the radical, the raw, and the real. This is holy ground, and you are invited in. Kick your shoes off, let’s conversate over hot tea {or coke or wine or whichever adult beverage you prefer}. She’s hangs out on Facebook, her blogSix in the Hickory Sticks, and Twitter.

 

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16 Comments on “God Is Not Threatened When We Leave The Church

  1. Pingback: God Is Not Threatened When We Leave the Church {An Abstraction on Lipstick} | sixinthesticks

  2. Beautiful words from your heart, sweet Nacole. I am with you on every. one. I love your heart so much and I think it is amazing how God leads His children through the same wilderness to heal and learn to hear His gentle Voice and loving character – unlike our experiences. He restores us and makes us new in Him. What a beautiful work! Thank you for your courage to open your healing heart to others. I’m in the arena with you, friend.

  3. I second Paula’s words above, Nacole, each one. It is precious courage and a beautiful work God is doing in you that it takes to write what you’ve written here. The body of Christ needs to hear such transparency, chastisement, and encouragement from its members.
    As one who has healed/is healing from wounds inflicted by the church within a traditional church setting/community, I have many questions for God. I don’t understand why one member heals “outside the gate” and another remains in traditional church community and finds healing there. Your honesty grips my heart, the wounds inflicted on members of the Body of Christ grieve me so. While I may never understand the reasons why so many things within the church are the way they are in this life, I am grateful for the abundant, marvelous, infinite, matchless grace of our God who covers us and cleanses us and keeps us, and indeed reaches us and pursues us BECAUSE we are broken. I come alongside you in agreement in this, His grace is not only available for our brokenness, it is IN IT, it is WHY He came to save and heal us. I love that Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
    I am grateful to be counted among the broken healed by His grace each and every day. I am grateful to know members of His body who know and partake of and extend the riches of His grace as you do.
    Love you much, sister.

  4. I left church 10 months ago. I, too, have had a lifetime of church hurt, beginning as a pk. The first few months were rough…missing church and people being critical. Now Sundays are a relief. Thanks for writing and sharing this post! There are many who need it.

    • Nacole I love you!!! All I can say is that I’m so sorry for your hurt. I know God didn’t intend this to happen so sometimes I do wonder why we did it at all!!! I guess that’s between me, ur Daddy and God. One day we will get those answers I suppose.
      Mama

  5. Strong words here, my friend. And a gentleness that will heal many.

    Thank you for your transparency, your willingness to be seen. Honesty like that is a rare gift, but one that often brings healing in its wings. I believe that is the case here.

    All my love, dear Nacole.

  6. Oh sister! You described me to a t!! I thought at first that it was strange that I felt closer to God when on a walk, sitting on my porch drinking coffee, or sharing a moment with the little ones. But, there it is and I am ok with that. Like you, I don’t do small talk, am brutally honest, and I always talk about the elephant in the room. I am discovering that God gives me this discernment in order to pray effectively, and gives me badness to speak His truth into a situation with His gentleness.
    Thank you for sharing in a relatable way, God Bless Ypu!

    • I stumbled upon your blog by opening first a Buechner door, then a Woodford door, and now, here I am, standing just inside your door. I am deeply grateful for your words – for so many reasons – but mainly because I’ve also suffered pastoral abuse. It’s the ‘secret club’ to which nobody desires membership. It crushed my spirit long before I ever realized it; the wreckage continues to fall around me in sleepless nights, rapid heartbeats, and cold sweats. I’ve tried to integrate church back into my life – different people, a different denomination – but it’s just damned hard. I don’t do the trust thing all that well any more. Worship is different for me now, more muted, maybe. It’s been difficult to know that I know that I know that God hasn’t left me.

      Your post has given me hope and courage, though. I just wanted you to know that.

      Thank you for lending us your voice.

      • There are many pains which leave deep wounds, and we are thankful that you were brave enough to share your story with us. Keep at it. And, also, God is there among His people. It’s more about fellowship than buildings.

  7. Pingback: Warm Wednesday Words: I am a Debtor | Cobbled Stones

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