I want to share one of the most painful parts of my life with you. I shed tears writing this out. It is not pretty, it may even anger you. As with most stories I tell, it’s not really about the story, but what comes after the story. It’s about the Grace and the way God can use everything. By the way, the names have been changed to preserve as much anonymity as I can muster for those involved.
|photo from here|
“For we know in part and we prophecy in part… For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will fully know fully just as I also have been fully known.” I Corinthians 13:9,12
When I was 17, I began a relationship with the youth pastor. Jake was 21 and brand spanking new at leading a youth ministry. I was young, I knew that there was a “call” on my life to leadership and ministry, and, if I am perfectly honest, I was completely mesmerized by the idea that a youth pastor was interested in me.
To condense a two-year story into a couple lines, we dated for a few months, I broke it off, we started dating again 6 months later, Jake proposed in front of the entire church, we were engaged for 9 rocky months, and then I broke it off for good.
It’s 10 years later and I still remember sitting in the living room of my older and wiser friend, Carla. Jake was out of town, Carla's husband was out of town, so naturally we had a sleep over. Donned in pajamas and feet up on her couch, I found myself pouring out the difficultly of my relationship with Jake. I asked her if before she got married she ever found her husband unattractive or if they fought a lot. She looked at me with wide-eyes. “Oh, Amanda, David and I may fight occasionally now that we have been married for 4 years, but, when we were dating, I wanted to be with him every second, found him good-looking, sexy.” She paused, her voice lowering as she felt the weight of the words about to come out of her mouth. “Amanda, that’s not what it’s supposed to be like.” Carla’s bold words gave me freedom. I saw it. My young mind may have believed Jake to be “God’s Will” for my life, but her words caused me to look back and see all the times that God had gently been trying to lead me out of that relationship. Jake was not what God had for me.
I took the matter to prayer and a week later broke off the engagement. It was not a pretty break up. Jake was the youth pastor. I was a youth leader. I hurt him. He hurt me. It was ugly.
I am not quite sure how to put the pain I experienced during that break up into words. Jake abused his position. He abused the pulpit. He flashed around his victim card automatically making me the bad guy. I started seeing Jake when I first started going to the church. I had only ever been his girlfriend or fiancé, and now I walked around with a scarlet H for “oh most wretched Heart-breaker of the Holy man.” Without rehashing the gory details, bottom line: a youth pastor, ex-fiance or not, should not have been able to behave the way that he did, moping and moaning about the girl who broke his heart to anyone who would had ears… even once using the pulpit to air his pain. I was still on his staff and I still went to his church.
Disclaimer: It’s not like I was completely innocent or anything, there were a couple times when I took out all the ugly in me (and him) and strung it up on the clothes line to dry in a way that only a hormonal, bitter and hot-tempered woman could… in some very inopportune moments (like in front of interns or right before a youth service). And that isn’t mentioning my once flirtacious nature that no doubt tormented Jake’s broken heart.
It was not a smooth break up. At. All. And while it may be difficult for me to paint a fair portrait of the entire ordeal, we were both in need of Grace. And it does not matter who needed the most Grace; it didn’t then, and it doesn’t now. Ugly is ugly, and God’s Grace is sufficient for it all.
I wanted to leave the church. I wanted to go where no one knew my name. I wanted to go where the youth pastor hadn’t colored the picture of me, where my side of the story could be heard, where I wasn’t the black widow, she-woman man-eater that wooed men in with her good looks and witty humor only to stab them in the heart and leave them bleeding. I wanted a clean slate, a fresh start.
God asked me to stay.
It was one of the hardest, most uncomfortable, and most awkward times of my life. It took years to get over the pain that Jake caused me in the months that followed our break-up. It took years to get over the hurt that the church caused me through all of this. BUT…
God is Just, and God redeems. In staying, I got to see the God of Justice redeem my name. I got to see Truth win out. In being the despised one, I challenged my pastor, Jake, and the rest of the church to learn how to love me, and, even better, I learned how to love me. I met and fell in love with my husband at my church. And it’s not just the meeting him that I got out of being obedient to God’s call to stay; God used the entirety of this ugly situation to keep Michael and me hidden from each other until the exact perfect moment. Mike thought I was, well, evil for breaking his youth pastor’s heart. I, well, didn’t think of him at all. Three years after the break up God gave us both a fresh set of eyes. We got to have a grand romance—in sweeping whirlwind fashion—that I wouldn’t even consider trading for a smooth and rosy-colored church history. God transformed me so completely, that when I walked down that aisle to promise my life to Michael, the woman who broke Jake’s heart was not present.
“And every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit”
God pruned me with the shears of humility. He used the sharpness of someone I had hurt to cut out the pride in me. It hurt. It was not some quick process. It took years.
God used all that pain and injustice for good.
I keep hearing on the internet and in life of people who are giving up on the church. I hear people talk of needing fresh starts. I hear people talk of wanting a different church because the one they are at doesn’t “feed” them or they’ve been hurt by it. I have heard stories of injustices wrought by the church. I hear of abuses caused at the hand of those in authority. It’s terrible. Surely the church shouldn’t inflict pain. And I don’t have all the answers. But I know that God is able to use it all for good. ALL. I am not pretending to know what God would have you to do, but I will submit this: God uses the church. God’s Grace floods the most painful places in our lives. God is able to redeem. Restore. His Grace can cover it all.
Yes, church is occasionally messy. But we were made for each other. We need each other. We need each other’s brokenness too. Perhaps it is that God uses the broken edges of people’s lives to prune away the pride in our own. We need to work out our faith, our hope, and our love (especially love) in the midst of people who are occasionally rotten and rotten to us. We can only see in part this side of eternity, each one of us a part, and a part of the body of Christ. Some parts crying out, “Grace!” Some crying out, “Righteousness!” Some crying out, “Justice!” All of us crying out for the day when our hearts can truly be home, all needing the other parts to get as close as we can to the whole, seeing as best as we can through the mist. We were made for each other.
Will you give Him the messy circumstances? The pain that has been unjustly brought to you? Will you allow God to work it all together for good? Or will you allow the devastating places in your life and the rotten people to rob you of the good that God is able to bring you? Will you allow it to harden your heart so that you are unable to receive, unable to see, unable to hear? It may take years. It most likely will hurt. But, oh, dear friends, He loves YOU. He is Gentle. And He is Able.