by Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts
Editor’s note: The Letter was written several years ago and is an excellent example of how we feel post church after being abused.
It’s been about a year now. A year since I went to counseling. I only had a handful of sessions. You’ll read about that in parts 3 and 4 of my story which I plan to make public within the next few days. One of the last things my counselor suggested was that I write my then-pastor a letter – not to be sent, of course, because, well, it wouldn’t have mattered. But just to tell him all of the things that I wanted to say but couldn’t because he wouldn’t meet with me. This letter captures the essence of what had happened to me and my heart for wanting to have a God-honoring conclusion to this story. I’m still waiting for that.
I realized a few days ago that one day, one of us will attend the other’s funeral. And when that day comes, I wonder how the one left behind will feel? Will there be regret? Relief? Sorrow? Joy? A wish that more had been said? Or less?
If that moment were today, and I was sitting in that pew, I would be wishing that you could have known my heart. That I always saw you as a great and good man. That I always believed that you saw me through a glass darkly and if you could just swipe away the muck that had been hurled toward me, you would see me as I really am.
Not that I am perfect – I am a perfect mess. but that over all, I am hard after God. Just as I believe you are. That’s why, unless I am forced to by circumstances beyond my control, I will never give up on you. Never turn my back. Never walk away. As long as I am confident that you are hard after God, too.
Not that you are perfect – no one knows more than I that you, too, are a perfect mess. But, I also know that it is in our determination to extend to one another that same amazing grace that has been granted to us through Jesus, that we, no matter how close or far apart at any given moment, are the rarest of compatriots . . . we who have forgiven much.
Still, the questions haunt me. Questions I was too frightened to ask in the midst of the hell that I was living. At least not face-to-face. I came from such a hellish place and carried it with me. Perhaps my first mistake was in thinking that you understood. How broken and battered I was. So wounded that even the tenderest of touches was met with distrust and self-protection.
Yet, I always trusted you to do what was right. I thought, if you just knew what was happening, you would put a stop to it. I listened to your words about grace and forgiveness, restoration, reconciliation, and I thought you would champion those things . . . even for me.
So, when the beatings came, I looked to you. To rescue me, I suppose. To step in and say, “No, this is wrong. This has to stop.”
I was always told that you were aware . . . when I was ostracized, uninvited, told I didn’t measure up. But I didn’t believe it. I had heard your words and I believed that you believed them. I know you did. But believing and living, as we are all too aware, don’t always walk hand in hand.
I was too afraid in those days to speak with you face to face, and even those few times when we did speak, I was too timid to ask the hard questions – the “why?” questions or the “what have I done?” questions. I was a frightened animal, cowering in the corner.
So, I wrote my questions to you. Believing that you were aware of the judgments that had been placed upon me, having been told you were – and how could you not know? Yet, never have my questions been answered. Avoided. Ignored. Tacit agreement, I told you, was my conclusion.
And so, the haunting. When did this start? With the church we attended before? With the letter from the mother regarding Phillip? With Phillip himself? With the Personnel Committee? With the many others who told me I was not allowed to participate? Or was it with me? Because I asked? Because I kept asking? Because I wanted – no needed – answers? Because I didn’t understand? Because I refused to just go away? (I am rare, index, am I not – for not going away?)
Also, I wondered, “Why only me?” When I was drawn into your office and accused of having inappropriate conversations about leadership, it was only me. Not the other two women involved in that conversation. Only me. You named them as having been involved in the conversation with me, but you only accused me. I don’t understand.
And why weren’t my accusers present? Why didn’t you send them to talk to me first? One-on-one. Like Matthew 18? Instead, you listened to their eavesdropping accusations and you accused me. Remember when the woman approached you and told you what are conversation had really been about (menopause!)? You apologized to me. You wondered why someone would want to hurt me by telling lies about me.
And hurt me they did. Over and over. For years. With no explanation. I begged for help. I begged for answers. My broken and bloody spirit cried out for mercy. It never came.
I truly believed that if just once you had been a champion for the things you preached; if just once, you had said, “This isn’t the way we do things here. We don’t ostracize people,” that would have ended it.
But you didn’t.
And I didn’t understand.
I am not perfect – I am a perfect mess. But no one ever sat down with me and kindly told me what I had done wrong. No one gave me opportunity to know so that I could apologize. No one told me so that I could make amends.
It haunts me.
I asked, and asked, and asked, and asked the only person I felt I could trust . . . you.
But you never answered. Tacit agreement.
Still, I trusted you.
Through all of the ostracism, through all of the avoidance, through all of the years and years and years of paying for sins I had no awareness of. I trusted you.
It took someone else to finally bring me to my senses about the whole thing. I was still believing that if you would just talk to me – if you would tell me the “why?” – I could take whatever steps were necessary to make reparations and find closure.
Her questions startled me.
“Why do you want to talk to someone who doesn’t respect you?”
“Who refuses to meet with you?”“Who doesn’t answer your questions?”
“Who allows people to talk to you that way?”
“Who allows people to treat you that way?”
“Why do you want a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you?”
I had never considered that it all comes down to respect. That somewhere along the way, I had lost your respect – or, perhaps, never gained it.
It took hearing those questions for me to realize that, yes, if you had any respect at all for me, you would have stepped in and said, “No, this is not how we treat people.” If you had any respect for me, you would have insisted on meeting before I had a chance to ask. If you had any respect for me, you would not have watched me sit in church week after week, month after month, year after year, and watched me weep without once inquiring as to why I was so broken.
You didn’t need to ask. You already knew. And your lack of respect for me wouldn’t allow you to reach out and minister to me.
No one ever knew. No one ever saw. The ways that you, too, ostracized me. You would always smile and wave and shake my hand when people were around. You always responded to the trivial. But those deeply impaled wounds – those you allowed to fester and weep. For years.
Still, I thought, “If only he knew my heart . . . ” And I believed your words . . . and I hung on . . . and I kept trying . . . and now I understand . . .
You were behind it all.
I am not perfect – I am a perfect mess.
You are not perfect – you are a perfect mess.
And there is a Jesus in me that never gives up; never gives in; never lets go; and so I am accepting you just the way you are. Without knowing “Why?” Without being known.
I am hard after God.
You are hard after God.
I believe that.
And we are rare ones, we who stick it out even if we don’t stick together. We are rare ones who don’t walk away, who love anyway – through and in spite of and no matter what. So, even though you have tossed me aside, in my heart, I still walk with you.
And I pledge to you my respect.
Because I am hard after God and that is my heart.
One day, one of us will attend the other’s funeral. And if it’s me sitting in that pew, I will mourn deeply.
Because I have loved deeply.
If it is you sitting in that pew, I pray you will do the same.
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