Picture of the inside of a church

Unfortunately, a good number of people raised in church have left the church, and most often, not because of theological disagreements but rather because they’ve been deeply hurt. They’ve been told they’re too much or not enough, and have been shut down when they honestly express their emotions and struggles. Others have experienced the toxicity that almost always comes when the unhealthy and emotionally and spiritually immature are placed in leadership positions.

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A few weeks ago, the lead minister at my church and another pastor discussed the pain many have experienced in the name of religion and then apologized for wounds they, intentionally or not, inflicted on others. And while I thought briefly of various hurts I’ve experienced throughout my faith journey, that wasn’t the primary message my heart received. Instead, God brought people to mind that had scars because of me. Those driven from rather than to Jesus, because of my behavior. Caused by fear, defensiveness, and pride. 

I knew God wanted me to follow my pastor’s lead, and so I did. I began reaching out to those I knew I’d hurt. Women who, through my actions, words, or lack of, I’d made feel unvalued and unseen. And it didn’t matter whether or not I’d had provocation. If their sin or dysfunction had triggered the sin and dysfunction within me. Granted, there’s a time and place for honest discussion, when wounds remain. 

But mine had healed. And besides, in these situations, I’d been the leader, the one who was supposed to model what it looked like to live and love like Jesus. To get my needs met by Him, to find my identity in Him. Ultimately, to receive strength and encouragement from Christ and a close circle of mature and Holy Spirit empowered peers.

I neglected both, people were hurt, and God wanted me to take responsibility for the pain I’d caused. To make it clear, though I may have represented Him in my role, my behavior had not.

He wanted me to live out His commands in Matthew 5:23-24, where Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against  you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (NIV).

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And so I did, and I can only hope my honest apologies helped heal those wounds my words and actions created, wounds that may even have driven them, for a time from the church. At the very least, I hope they were able to see Christ’s love and grace more clearly.

We all have a responsibility to create safe, healthy places where people can experience God. And we all have areas of dysfunction that threaten those same safe places we’re prayerfully trying to create. This means, you and I will hurt people along the way, and we’ll also get hurt. When others wound us, may we seek comfort and healing from Christ, refusing to retaliate and grow bitter. And when we’re the ones to cause pain, may we own up to every behavior that taints the image of Christ within us. 

Connect with Jennifer Slattery on Facebook and Instagram.

If you’ve experienced church hurt, you might find the latest Faith Over Fear episode helpful.

Living in the Victory of Christ – Ep. 114 Faith Over Fear

When our world feels out of control, uncertain, painful, and chaotic, it’s easy to feel like a victim of our circumstances or the sinful acts of others. But God wants us to live in courageous victory – the victory Christ already won for us when He died on the cross and rose again. Those who are in Christ, therefore, are always coming from a place of victory. This victory isn’t something we must earn or acquire ourselves but rather, it’s something we receive, hold tight to, and learn to live in. Find Jennifer at: https://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.comhttps://www.instagram.com/avapennington3/Find Kelly and Wholly Loved, at:https://www.WhollyLoved.comFind Wholly Loved Ministries at:WhollyLoved.comJoin the private Faith Over Fear Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/442736966614671Join the Private Wholly Loved Community Group (also on Facebook):https://www.facebook.com/groups/443325386241769Group Discussion Questions:1. What resonated with you most in today’s episode?2. Did Jennifer share truths you weren’t familiar with or had forgotten? If so, what?3. How do you feel knowing, in Christ, you are more than a conqueror? 4. What in your life might fall under “more?” (Meaning, what are you struggling with in regard to which you want to remember your victory?5. In today’s episode, Jennifer stated, from Scripture, that all who trust in Christ for salvation are cherished, held, protected, and guided children of God. Which of those truths do you most struggle to believe, and why do you think that is?6. What are some things your fear has “stolen” from you?7. In what ways have you fallen into an “orphan” mentality (as if you’re all alone and uncared for)?8. In what ways might God be working to restore and rebuild you?9. What is one action step God is calling you to take in the next week? (Right this down somewhere prominent to help with follow-through.)
  1. Living in the Victory of Christ – Ep. 114
  2. How God Brings Beauty through Our Pain – Ep. 113
  3. How You Can Break Free from People Pleasing – Ep. 112
  4. How to Increase Your Resiliency – Ep. 111
  5. How to Have Peace When God Is Silent – Ep. 110

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Jesus routinely elevated, honored, and welcomed those society pushed to the fringe or rejected outright. Can you imagine the emotional healing He must’ve brought to those individuals? The message of love and grace that He sent them?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched one young woman in particular experience a similar journey. For years, most of her church experience, actually, she was told that she was too much—too loud and intimidating, too intense, too dominant.  

That no man would want to marry a woman “smarter” than him. These were the messages sent by those in her faith community.  

“I felt like they were talking about all of me,” she said, “instead of a particular character trait. So, I tried to be quieter and tone myself down when I met new people and was in group settings. But that wasn’t who I was and I always ended up being ‘loud and opinionated,’ and so I left the interactions feeing like I’d failed and that everyone probably thought I was annoying.”

The place designed to help her thrive as a confident daughter of Christ became a stifling, lonely environment that led to increased insecurity. She quickly realized, she didn’t fit into people’s preconceived ideas of biblical womanhood. To her, this meant she didn’t fit in the church.

To put it simply, she attends church despite the church.

Praise God she’s now in a safe place where she’s learning to heal. And perhaps most importantly, where she can voice her thoughts, her doubts, and even her pain without fear. A place where she’s beginning to come alive, as God intended—to live fully as the strong yet loving, determined yet teachable woman He created her to be. It’s such a beautiful thing to see.

I thought of her journey, and the stories I’ve heard from numerous women over the years, as I read Luke 8:1-3. Scripture tells us, shortly after a “sinful woman” anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50), “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (NIV).

These once sick and sinful ladies joined Jesus and His male disciples. This would’ve been unheard of during that time. To travel with, and therefore learn from, a Rabbi? That was something women didn’t do. And yet, Jesus welcomed them close and invited them to play a vital—and public—role in His ministry.

I imagine a lot of people misunderstood their actions. Shouldn’t they be home raising children, or helping someone else raise children? What could they possibly need religious teaching for? Why would Jesus even allow such a thing? Or waste His time on them for that matter?

And yet, God recorded their devotion in Scripture, I believe to tell all women everywhere: you’re invited.

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When others push us out, God says we’re invited.

When others misjudge and discount us, God says we’re invited.

When others tell us we don’t fit, we’re not enough or too much, God says we. Are. Invited.

For those, like my friend, who walked into church despite the church—you are invited. And loved. Valued, and in Christ, empowered, and called. God has a plan for you. He didn’t place that spark in your soul, that passion and unique insight, simply to bench you. He’s chosen you to play a unique and vitally important role in advancing His kingdom.

I’m sure for some of you this post stirred up something. Honestly, that’s precisely why I didn’t want to write on this passage. In fact, I sat and stared at it for some time this morning, thinking of all the ways I could avoid it. But again, my husband’s words of wisdom propelled me forward: “If that’s the passage you’re on,” and it is, as we’ve been following Scripture chronologically, “then I’d say you need to write on it.”

And so I did. Knowing some of my readers might not like what I have to say. But also knowing for others, this post might help initiate healing. I’d love to know your thoughts. When have you “gone to church despite the church” and how did Jesus meet you there?

Share your thoughts in the comments below or connect with Jennifer on Facebook and Instagram.

Additional Resources:

How to Heal When You’ve been Hurt by the Church by Cortni Marrazzo

For those following our chronological reading plan through the New Testament, today’s post kicked off day one’s reading.

If you’re not wanting to follow our chronological plan but are still interested in a Bible plan, you may enjoy reading through Ephesians. Find that plan HERE.

You might also enjoy listening to the latest Faith Over Fear podcast episode on having the courage to be vulnerable.

Living in the Victory of Christ – Ep. 114 Faith Over Fear

When our world feels out of control, uncertain, painful, and chaotic, it’s easy to feel like a victim of our circumstances or the sinful acts of others. But God wants us to live in courageous victory – the victory Christ already won for us when He died on the cross and rose again. Those who are in Christ, therefore, are always coming from a place of victory. This victory isn’t something we must earn or acquire ourselves but rather, it’s something we receive, hold tight to, and learn to live in. Find Jennifer at: https://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.comhttps://www.instagram.com/avapennington3/Find Kelly and Wholly Loved, at:https://www.WhollyLoved.comFind Wholly Loved Ministries at:WhollyLoved.comJoin the private Faith Over Fear Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/442736966614671Join the Private Wholly Loved Community Group (also on Facebook):https://www.facebook.com/groups/443325386241769Group Discussion Questions:1. What resonated with you most in today’s episode?2. Did Jennifer share truths you weren’t familiar with or had forgotten? If so, what?3. How do you feel knowing, in Christ, you are more than a conqueror? 4. What in your life might fall under “more?” (Meaning, what are you struggling with in regard to which you want to remember your victory?5. In today’s episode, Jennifer stated, from Scripture, that all who trust in Christ for salvation are cherished, held, protected, and guided children of God. Which of those truths do you most struggle to believe, and why do you think that is?6. What are some things your fear has “stolen” from you?7. In what ways have you fallen into an “orphan” mentality (as if you’re all alone and uncared for)?8. In what ways might God be working to restore and rebuild you?9. What is one action step God is calling you to take in the next week? (Right this down somewhere prominent to help with follow-through.)
  1. Living in the Victory of Christ – Ep. 114
  2. How God Brings Beauty through Our Pain – Ep. 113
  3. How You Can Break Free from People Pleasing – Ep. 112
  4. How to Increase Your Resiliency – Ep. 111
  5. How to Have Peace When God Is Silent – Ep. 110

woman sitting on park benchThe heart is a fragile yet powerful organ. Nurture and feed it well, and life and health follows. When we neglect it, allow hurts to sink deep and then fester, bitterness begins to invade every crevice, strangling our joy and peace. That’s not to say we should ignore, suppress, or deny our hurts. In fact, I’d argue doing so only leads to decay. Somehow, we have to learn to feel and to heal. To grieve with Jesus.

And perhaps that’s the difference between those who manage to move forward and those who seem to remain forever stuck, not just in their wounds, but in all the byproducts that come from unresolved, and often fed, past hurts.

A while back, after a powerful women’s event that proclaimed the freedom of forgiveness, of emotional release, I talked to a woman who’s been struggling for years. Maybe ten. Someone in her past hurt her deeply. They betrayed her trust, had abandoned her, and treated her unjustly. She had every right to be angry, and she was.

For nearly a decade, in fact. And her anger was destroying her, imprisoning her, only it didn’t show up as anger. Instead, those deep wounds presented as anxiety and chaos, as depression, sorrow and distrust. We spoke about this briefly, and I encouraged her to grieve with Jesus, following His lead in full surrender. But she couldn’t.

No. She wouldn’t. Her injustice felt much too unjust for her to just let go. I suppose she thought releasing the offense would simultaneously absolve her offender of guilt. She couldn’t see how she was allowing him to hurt her all over again, continuously.

She was letting him snuff out her candle. Her inner spark. What made her her. As a result, she was walking through life not only weakened, but many times, already defeated. And in this, she was robbing herself of the life Christ had died to give her.

Consider the converse. A couple of years ago, a friend called me. “Pray for my heart,” she said, explaining how she’d been wounded pretty deeply. She didn’t tell me how or offer a name, nor did she need to. Instead, she asked me to surround her candle, her inner spark, with prayer. She grieved the hurt, absolutely. But because she invited Jesus into her pain, bitterness never took root.

I’ve heard it said, anger is often a secondary emotion, arising, most often, when we’re afraid or have been hurt. It’s so easy to bypass the hurt, which can make us feel woman lying on leaf-covered groundweak, and jump straight to the anger, which often gives the illusion of strength. But Scripture tells us, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah.  Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:4-5, ESV).

Before we react, God tells us to pause. To ponder. And to trust.

Dr. Allender and Longman, authors of the Cry of the Soul, put it this way: “Anger should lead us into silent pondering rather than direct action. Usually, anger is a starting gun that signals us to leap from the blocks to control, consume, destroy. Instead, anger should be a starting gun that calls us to sit down and think.”

What hurts lie beneath our anger?

Why do those hurts hurt so deeply?

What lies have we attached to them? We almost always do this. We’re not simply hurt because someone snubs us. No. The hurt often comes when we assign motive—“They don’t value me.”—and then a falsehood—”I’m annoying.”

Pause to prayerfully consider how that’s been true for you. Invite God to unpack your anger, your hurts, to show you everything entangled in them. Then ask Him to replace every falsehood He reveals with truth.

This is how, in part, we guard our hearts above all else, so that the well springs of life might first fill them then flow from them.

Is there something you need to grieve? An offense you need to let go? Will you have the courage to release it? Will you guard your candle, your inner spark, knowing all God has for you is good?

If this post resonated, I encourage you to read my latest Faith Over Fear podcast episode with Leigh Mackenzie on finding the courage to heal. You can listen to our discussion HERE.

Share your thoughts, stories, and comments below and connect with Jennifer on Facebook and Instagram.

I also encourage you to listen to my latest Thriving With Chronic Illness podcast episode on growing closer to Christ. Find it HERE.

woman standing in the darkI spent most of my adult life hiding while presenting an image to others of the person I wanted them to see. The woman I hoped to be but quite frankly, didn’t see myself as. If asked, I would’ve readily admitted I had an unhealthy fear of rejection.

I knew I overemphasized other’s opinions, but I didn’t understand why. Therefore, I continually fought surface level battles that led to short-lived behavior modification, frustration, and, often, defeat.

Galatians 1:10 was my go-to verse, one I prayed and meditated on countless times. Written by a first century church planter who routinely faced rejection and persecution, it says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

And every time I read those words, conviction squeezed my heart, followed by a commitment to do better. But a week or maybe a month later, I’d find myself battling the same insecurities.

I felt defeated. Stuck.

I wasn’t. Instead, I was held, searched, and known, deeply and intimately, by the one who not only sunset with quote pulled from text.saw my struggles but also the root cause beneath them (Psalm 139:1-2). Through a series of painful events, He allowed an inner lie to surface so that He could replace it with truth.

I was a new, and hugely insecure leader at the time, interacting with wounded and insecure women while still, largely, dealing with my own hurts and fears. I thought I could power through, but in so doing, was living but a fragment of who Christ created me to be.

God wanted to take me to a place of freedom. Therefore, He allowed me to land smack dab in three consecutive, ugly interactions where I felt misjudged, slandered, and attacked.

In response, I began to pull deeper into myself, feeding negative thinking that had been dormant yet festering deep within my heart. Lies I’d thought I’d overcome, had long since moved past, but which the God who searches and knows me saw as clearly as the tears on my face. And as He watched, He was waiting for the perfect moment to reveal them to me—so that He could initiate healing.

One afternoon, while I was moping around the house, my husband said, “You’re acting like you did something wrong.”

In that moment, something clicked, and a thought followed, Because I think I’m bad.

As God’s gentle Spirit ushered in, I realized my intense reaction—the reason the three rejections had hurt so deeply—came from a belief adopted early in my childhood, one I thought I’d long since dealt with but that had been far too engrained through years of hurt and failure to uproot easily.

Bowing my head, I offered my pain and the falsehoods surrounding it to the God who “searched me and knows me, when I sit and when I rise;” and who “perceives my thoughts” the reason behind every action and emotion “from afar” (Ps. 139:1-2, paraphrased and personalized.)

God knows and loves you just as deeply, and wants to bring you to a place of deeper healing and freedom. When emotions and insecurities arise, instead of fighting them in your own strength, surrender them to Christ. Ask Him to show you their root and to, step by step and prayer by prayer, push out all that is false, ugly, and painful with His love and grace.

Let’s talk about this! When strong emotions arise, how do you normally respond? How might turning to Jesus lead to lasting freedom? In what ways have you experienced this to be true?

Cover image for Becoming His Princess Bible StudyShare your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below, and make sure to grab a free copy of Wholly Loved Becoming His Princess Bible study. You can do so HERE. For those who live in the Omaha Metro, join me for live teaching at Christ Community Church, starting March 12th. Register HERE.

And make sure to join me for one of Wholly Loved’s upcoming Fully Alive conferences. Find out more HERE.