My journey of faith began in a family of faith and a family of worshipers (the Bible often calls the church a “household” or “family.”). My parents loved God and made assembling with other lovers of God a priority for us. They reminded us often that it was a privilege to assemble with other Christians, that in some nations it was definitely not a right to do so. While I have discovered that some communities of faith may be more toxic than healing, healthy faith develops best in community. There are times when we may need to go alone in prayer to express our pain and hurt to the Lord, but sometimes the occasions when we hurt the most are when the church that we thought didn’t care awakens to its responsibilities. Singing with a congregation, even listening if the pain is too great to sing or the song evokes particularly emotional memories, allows other believers to speak words of grace and love. Even when one’s presence challenges others to forgive or consider whether they should allow you to participate, growth in relationship to God and his people occurs. We all sin (Romans 3:23). We all need forgiveness. Assembling together allows others to bear one another’s burden (Galatians 6:1-2) and remember that being a part of Christ’s saved people is not an exercise in isolation nor about feeling good all the time about other Christians. Romans 15:1-3 says, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.'” We worship together to praise God, but also meet together to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). We should not gather as a church to hear a speaker verbally scourge the suffering, but we should search the scriptures together and pray fervently that we may help the damaged person heal and return to active service. If a person’s (or group’s) presence threatens the spiritual stability of the congregation, then we meet and discuss face-to-face how their actions endanger the health of the community while remembering to check our preferences to see if they align with the word and will of God.
Because my parents encouraged me to make assembling with Christians a priority, when I encountered a difficult time in my life when it would have been easy to suffer alone and stop “going to church,” I kept going. I found it hard to pray at that point in my life and it was difficult to sing some songs. Some sermons were harder to hear and some well-meaning brethren just did not understand what I was experiencing. Still I kept assembling and I continued to read the Bible regularly (Strange, I think, that I found it hard to talk to God for a while but still was willing to listen to him). The small congregation embraced me and helped me to heal, using me when I was willing and my work would help others. Some told me that my presence encouraged them. I survived spiritually because that church and my family of origin loved me.
Some hurting people have hurt themselves, and as part of the healing process, must realize and articulate the part they played in creating their pain. We call this repentance and confession; both acts are essential for spiritual healing. If they have never done so before, they will need (as did the apostle Paul) to wash away their sin in baptism (Acts 22:16). Some may be unable to reverse the effects of their actions; just as a physical amputee learns to function without a hand or with a prosthesis, they can learn to function in their new reality. Other hurting people have been abused – verbally, physically, or emotionally. They don’t need more abuse. They need love, and lots of patience.
So, if you’re hurting spiritually, don’t try to solve your problems in isolation. Reach out for help to a community of faith, a church that takes God, Christ, and the Bible seriously, but that remembers also that it is the family of God and the body of Christ, an entity that heals rather harms. If you’re within such a group, and someone confesses difficulty, pain, or sin, don’t rush to ostracize. Pray and study to learn how you may help this person to heal and to grow up to become the healthy disciple God wants them to be. As Paul the apostle wrote, ” Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). In the end, we all have fallen short, and that is why we need a family, a church, where we may heal and feel safe.