Are you silently suffering from the aftermath of your church being torn in two? It was many years ago now, but the memories burned a painful yet necessary lesson into my heart. I wish I could say that I was blameless in what happened, but I can’t. My intentions were good, but I was blind to the fact that I played into the enemy’s hand.
The consequences were devastating. Long term, trusted friendships were severed. The harvest of years of work lost. My seat in the church empty for a season. Trust in myself and others destroyed.
I began to believe lies. I believed that I was abandoned and rejected. I believed that there was no help for me.
I also believed that we had legitimately been wronged, and perhaps to some extent we had been. I kept looking over the horizon, longing for the day when “they” would come and own their part in what happened. Confusion set in. “Why couldn’t we all just get along? We’re all believers, right?”
I recognized that there was anger constantly just under the surface of my emotions. Like a volcano ready to erupt. I was constantly exhausted, as my sleep patterns had become erratic. The dark season of grief that I was in went on for 3 years. I kept trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened. Finally in an act of desperation, I took all of the broken pieces of the puzzle, laid them at the foot of the cross and said, “Lord, I cannot make sense of this. Please take all of these broken pieces and make sense of them, because I can’t.” The season of grief was put on a shelf, but from time to time the Lord continues to put another puzzle piece in place. With each piece comes more understanding and healing.
If you are in the place I was in, I hope my long season of grief will help you move more quickly toward healing than I did. Here’s some things I’ve learned:
Acknowledge your loss.
A season of healing is called for after a church split. It’s easy to miss the reality that church splits send those involved into seasons of grief. When someone loses a loved one to death, we don’t expect them to go on as if nothing had happened. We expect them to take some time to grieve and to process. We don’t expect them to run at peak performance. We understand that they need some TLC and some time to heal. Those who’ve just been through a church split need to give themselves a break. Take time to seek wise counsel. Make a coffee date with a trusted friend. My husband and I attended a church for 2 years with the mindset that we were there to heal. We didn’t volunteer to serve during that time. We allowed ourselves time to soak in the sermons and the fellowship. We gave ourselves time to process. Even then, it was a longer journey than we hoped it would be. Grief cannot be rushed. We have to let it run its course. And it will. It won’t always hurt this bad. The waves of grief will get further and further apart. The sun will come out again.
The next step is to process the pain. We all need a refuge when we’ve been through a painful experience. Church splits can feel devastating to our emotions. You may have lost multiple long term friendships. If you were among those who left the church, you may feel spiritually homeless. After we had left our church, I was determined to not give up on the body of Christ. I joined a women’s Bible study at another church. The problem was, walking into ANY church was now a trigger for pain. One morning I attempted to go into the sanctuary, only to break out in deep sobs in the foyer. I felt humiliated and left for home as quickly as possible.
Maybe you’re in a similar place. Feeling like you’ve lost your place in the church at the time when you need help the most. It may feel wrong to speak, at the same time that silence feels wrong. You do, however, need to find your voice in order to process the pain. The enemy may have scored a touchdown against you and your church, but you ARE NOT without help.
There is always one place where it is always safe to say what’s in your heart. It’s in the presence of God. He is your safe place, your refuge. He already knows what’s in your heart anyway. So just pour it all out. The good, the bad, the ugly. Tell God if you feel abandoned and rejected. Tell Him if you feel betrayed or angry. Tell Him if you feel shame. The next time a wave of painful emotions come crashing over you, get in His presence. Start with worship, and then identify your emotions. Tell Him every emotion you’re feeling until you can’t think of any more. Then ask Him to help you.
Bring your time with God full circle by declaring that your hope is in Him. Declare His faithfulness. Without this vital step, all we’ve done is gripe. If you want to walk away from your time with God comforted, this step is absolutely vital. Without it, you may walk away from your time with God feeling like your heart has a gaping wound. When we take the time to declare that we trust Him to help us, the Comforter comes to us and binds up the brokenheartedness we feel. It moves us forward on our journey toward wholeness.
Another important piece of finding your voice is asking God for His perspective on speaking to people. Ask God for marching orders: “What am I supposed to say?” “Who am I supposed to talk to?” “Who can I seek counsel from?”
Voicing your pain in the wrong places:
In an attempt to find healing, I tried processing what had happened with family. I kept saying the same thing over and over, thinking the outcome would be different next time. But it wasn’t. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome? If you’re doing this, STOP! Get a new game plan from the Lord. Processing with someone who isn’t part of the problem or part of the solution is veering into slander. Let’s not go there, and if you’re like me, I had to repent of it.
If you’ve been through a church split, don’t give up! It may take everything in you just to get up on a Sunday morning and go to church. You may feel abandoned and betrayed by the church, but the solution is NOT to isolate and quit. You may need to go church out of sheer will power. You may not want to be there. The enemy loves, loves, loves it when he can get one of God’s children off to themselves, isolated from the body. It makes us a much easier target. Take heart, it will get better if you persevere.
My journey back was long and hard. I had tolerated things I shouldn’t have. I went through a season of being disciplined by the Lord. It wasn’t easy. God loves us too much to let us go undisciplined. But He doesn’t leave us there forever. He restores and He reestablishes us if we will endure correction.
If you have done nothing requiring correction, put your hope in God to be your defender. He will give you justice as you hope in Him.
“…Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you harmony with one another in Christ Jesus, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring glory to God.…” Romans 15:5-7
Blessings to you,
Resources for healing after a church split:
When God’s people let you down by Jeff JanVonderen