"Barbara, don't you believe the power of God can save your marriage?" asked my pastor as he looked straight into my eyes. I was in the midst of a divorce and broken.
"Yes, I do," I mumbled. "But it has taken me over three years and much prayer to remove my children from an abusive home and decide to raise them alone. In fact, it is the hardest decision I have ever made."
"Barbara," my pastor replied, "the problem is you are bitter, resentful and hostile."
I was dumbfounded. I grasped the chair to keep from falling over. After what seemed an eternity of silence, I raised my head. "Pastor, you are right. I am bitter, resentful and hostile, but I am firmly convinced that my God is big enough to handle these emotions. My feelings do not frighten him." I rose from my chair and bolted out the door.
The following Sunday the morning sermon was titled "God Hates Divorce." The content seemed too familiar and I realized I was listening to the private details of my life being broadcast from the pulpit. I had literally become a sermon illustration! I slid down into the pew. I wanted to disappear. The next Sunday the sermon was titled "What Happens When We Harden Our Hearts." Again, I heard the details of my life being scattered throughout the sanctuary. When I rose to leave, one of the deacons walked up to me and asked if the pastor was talking about me. I nodded and quickly scurried out of the church.
That evening my children and I ate dinner in silence until my daughter, Serena, blurted out, "How could Pastor be so mean to us?" My other two children echoed her question. I was thinking the same thing, but I wasn't sure my children needed to know that. I didn't want to plant the seeds of my bitterness in their hearts. "Lord, some wisdom, please," I pleaded. "Speak the truth in love," was what I heard. "Serena, I really don't know why Pastor did what he did. It's hurt my feelings, too. And yes, I'm also angry. But I know that if we hold a grudge, bitterness is going to take root in our hearts and rob us of knowing Jesus in a much deeper way." Those were words we all needed to hear.
Though this painful incident occurred 15 years ago, it still causes me great agony. I share it not for you to become enraged toward that pastor, but rather to challenge you (or someone you know) to not do what I did. Despite the message I gave my children, I made a dangerous decision that Sunday. For the next two years, I withdrew from Christianity.
During those dark, lonely years, God in his mercy and loving kindness brought people into our lives who loved us unconditionally. They walked alongside us and listened. And then listened some more. Slowly, I realized I had fused God with the church. I "forgot" that God is always perfect and people are always imperfect. My hostility was the leaven that had infiltrated my soul.
These tender friends did not use Scripture to confront me or reveal how much I had backslidden. Instead, they provided consistent nurturing, allowing me to once again hear the voice of my Lord. Out of darkness, he spoke, "A bruised reed [I] will not break and a smoldering wick [I] will not snuff out" (Isaiah 42:3). The Lord began to blow on the dying embers of my heart. I looked upward toward heaven and found relief.
If you are struggling with emotional pain received from the hand of another, and it seems as if God is not just, please do not let go of his hand. Call a friend. Get involved in a support group. And yes, stay involved in your church. Do not walk this single-parent journey alone. Remember the seeds of hostility can infiltrate the souls of our children, too.
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