The following post is from Laura Statesir, Director of Family and Youth at The Marin Foundation.
I was sitting at a table in the food court enjoying some Chinese food when a friend of mine posed this question to the group, “How do you get over someone?” After a short pause in which most of us recalled the pain of past loves and how we moved on, my friends began blurting out responses like, “Give it time,” “Stop talking to them,” and “Go on a hot date.”
If you’ve been alive long enough and if you’ve ever loved someone, you’ve probably also experienced the heartache of breaking up. When a relationship ends it can be paralyzing. Grief, anger, and hurt can consume your every thought. Almost all of us can relate to the difficulty of getting over someone. There is practically an entire bookcase in the self-help section devoted just to this question.
But what do you do if it is the Church that has broken your heart? How do you get over that? This is the question that many in the LGBTQ community are asking, having been harmed, judged, condemned and simply not loved well by imperfect human beings in their churches. And they are not the only ones asking this question. Parents of LGBTQ children who have been criticized for loving their children or blamed for causing them to be gay experience this heartbreak. Divorced men and women, unmarried pregnant women… there are many who want to know how to get over their church wounds.
What do you do when your church breaks up with you? When you feel like you are receiving more damage than love from the Church? How do you heal from this hurt? How do you get over this offense without losing your faith? What can you do so that one day you can experience a healthy relationship with the Church or that church again?
I think my friends were on to something:
Give it Time – As they say, “Time heals all wounds.” With each passing day the pain should fade and become less acute. However, the key is to use that time wisely. Use it to examine your feelings. Identify and meditate on the reasons why you feel what you feel. Allow yourself to be angry, sad, confused, hurt, and the alphabet of other emotions. Pour out your sorrows and questions to God. Let yourself journey through the grief process, the back and forth. Don’t run from your feelings, embrace them.
Stop talking to Them – Sometimes it is best to stay in and wrestle with your church. If all LGBTQ Christians who are harmed by the Church leave then we lose our ability to be a voice in the Church. However, sometimes a full break is necessary for your own mental and spiritual health. Continuing to interact with those who have hurt you could simply wound you more. Keeping ties with the Body of believers that has harmed you might slow down or halt your healing. I am not suggesting you abandon your faith or to never go to church again. There may be a time in the future where you are strong enough to interact with and form friendships with that church again, but in the meantime take care of your heart and protect it from further damage. Do not return until God leads you and you feel safe. Take refuge in the Lord and allow God to fill the vacuum those relationships leave behind.
Before you stop interacting with the broader Church or the specific church that has hurt you, it can be cathartic to get some “closure”. Letting your church know why you are leaving or taking a break may not change their hearts but it will allow you to know you’ve been heard. Express your feelings and be honest but try not to start an argument. Again, it’s not about changing them, it’s about opening a door to understanding by sharing what you’ve experienced. Perhaps in that honesty and vulnerability, your church will begin to recognize how they have wounded you and God may have more room to work.
Go on a Date – This response from my friend was given mostly in jest but there is an essential truth nonetheless. While rebound relationships tend to be a hot mess, it is important to hope that you will be loved again and to open yourself up to that love. For those harmed by the Church, the hope is that there is a place where you can belong and a group of Christians who will love you for who you are. So find a new Christian community that does support you. Take your time to look, to test, and to make sure it’s a safe place. Don’t rush into a new relationship but do take that risk. If you don’t, you may build walls that can never be knocked down.
On the other hand, if you seek validation and love only from the Church, you will be hurt time and time again. In a romantic relationship we seek validation and love from that one special person. In the Church, many LGBTQ Christians fall into a trap of seeking validation from others, specifically the straight Christian community. Instead, seek your validation from God and from those who are willing to truly journey with you in this.
Maybe the final step is one that my friends failed to mention, which is to find a way to empathize and forgive. Try to understand why the members of the church who failed to love you acted the way they did. Put yourself in their shoes and ask where they are coming from. Were they intentionally trying to harm you or are they simply acting out of what they genuinely believe is the best way to love you? Once we begin to see the factors that led to someone’s actions, we can more easily understand those actions and eventually forgive them.
Getting over someone is really about allowing yourself to love again. For Christians, getting over the Church and the ways it has hurt you is really about allowing yourself to engage with and be loved by other Christians again. In the end, I have found that both of these are worth the time and effort.