I read in an article once, “Church is not the place for infertiles, on Mother’s Day.” The author went on to explain how painfully difficult Mother’s Day at church can be for the one sitting in the pew who remains barren. Roses are given out in honor of all the Mother’s at church. Some Mother’s are awarded pies and cakes for having the most children, the youngest child or like our church did last year,”the mother who has the most toys in the back yard.” And then there’s a sermon to follow on how to be a godly Mom. The infertile woman is sitting there thinking she just wants to be a Mom. She might even settle for being a freak-Mom let alone a godly one.This sermon is hard to hear.
I’m not ready to say,”church isn’t the place for an infertile on Mother’s Day” but I can attest to how painful it can be. From experience. It’s nobody’s fault. Just the way it is. It doesn’t mean the infertile woman shouldn’t show up to church that day and it doesn’t mean a church shouldn’t celebrate and focus on Mothers that day. It just means there might be some women that sit in their pew chairs heavy hearted that day because they’re just trying to survive. And this particular Sunday, church hurts.
We could say this about so many different issues. What about the sermon series on biblical marriage and there sits a recent divorcee who feels like this is just one more reminder of what he/she once had. Maybe a sermon issues a call for husbands to remain faithful to their wives and wives to be faithful to their husbands and there sits a man or woman whose spouse is having an affair. They both know it but haven’t shared it with anyone else. The pain and the agony that only they know. That’s when church hurts but it’s still one of the healthiest, best places to be.
In a different vein, what about the family with a disabled child that comes to church and they quickly realize there are no accommodations for their child. It’s hard enough to get their family to church and then feeling like they aren’t well prepared for can be an added stress. If they are the only family with a special needs child in a church it can quickly feel lonely. And that hurts.
What about the gay couple that you invite to church and the pastor references what scripture says about homosexuality. You might be tempted to squirm in your pew even even though you agree with scripture and what your pastor is preaching. Still awkward. You know the truth could be making that person sad or mad.
So what’s a church to do?
Stop celebrating Mother’s Day? Never preach on Biblical marriage and relationships? Stay away from passages that deal with homosexuality? Avoid families with disabilities because you’re not equipped or don’t know what to say?
No, a church that is committed to preaching God’s Word will remain faithful to that mission even when it has the potential of hurting and making us feel uncomfortable. Because when truth, spoken in grace and love, hits a raw nerve it has the potential to hurt but it’s all part of a process of growth and maturing. Some Sundays it might be a really hard truth for us personally. But scripture is meant to change us. It’s alive and active. Preaching the truth in love, with hope offered, is your pastor’s responsibility even when he knows it will cause some pain.
But I do believe there’s something we as church members can do on these “church hurts” days to show our love and concern for one another. As a Body of Believers we need to be sensitive to those around us and bear one another’s burdens.
So Mother’s Day rolls around at church. What if we stopped to think about the landscape of the people in our church family and asked God to be near those who might be really struggling on this day. Pray during the service for them.
Your Pastor is preaching on the beauty of marriage or painting a very descriptive picture of how important a Christian Father is in the home and you realize this could be painful for the single Mom whose heart is aching on the back row. Pray. Pray for her right then. And hug her a little tighter after the service? Maybe send her a note that week letting her know you are praying for her. Pity is not what we’re talking about. But caring for one another is.
Because sometimes church and the truth can hurt.
And this is when we need each other to come together in community. Don’t walk away when the truth starts hurting. We prayerfully submit ourselves to a church that is committed to teaching God’s word and when it gets tough we have those around us who are lifting us up, praying for us, praying with us and encouraging us to stay the course. That’s what church is, even when it hurts.
Have you ever been to church when it hurts? Without dogging your church, what did it look like? Were you able to be encouraged through the members of your church? If not, how did God reveal himself to you and meet you where you were?
I realize there have been many people who have been hurt by church because of just flat out stupid things that have been said or done to them. This is not what I’m talking about today. Stories of people being abused by church leadership or being looked down on in church because of what they wore or how they looked is sickening to me. There’s no place for that. But I’m reminded that church is made up of very broken people – even the pastor and his wife and kids are broken. Trust me people, we’re all broken. (This would be the perfect place for me to insert a story about how a certain pastor’s kid repeated something in PE that he read at home that included a cuss word and how that got him in deep doo doo. But I’m not ready to share that part of brokenness yet. No, not yet.)
So if you’ve been hurt by church I want to say that there’s still a place for you. Don’t give up. I’m sorry if it hurts right now. But keep your heart open and trust God to work inside you something so beautiful you can’t even imagine. The church was God’s idea and it’s brilliant. Don’t miss out just because it hurts sometimes.