January 13, 2012

When Ministry Brings Wounds

We once got an anonymous letter in the mail that said: Dear Kyle & Christine, You suck. Or something to that effect. I read it once, showed it to my husband, tried unsuccessfully to figure out who sent it, and then tore it into tiny pieces and threw it away. Otherwise, I would have memorized and stewed on every word.
I handled that one a lot better than the first one we received. The first one, another typed, anonymous letter, informed my husband that he prayed in public wrong and schooled him in how best to do it. I read that one several times, studying the words carefully, ingesting them into my soul. The next time I went to church, I looked at every person and wondered if they had written the note, if they were the ones evaluating and judging everything we did. That letter, coming so early in our ministry, rattled me, causing me to shrink back a little in what God had called me to do.

In life, all of us have those silent offenses and still-sensitive wounds that threaten our joy and productivity and breed cynicism and emotional walls. I dare say it's ten times harder in ministry. From where I stand as a pastor's wife, this is a make-it or break-it all kind of issue; churches and ministry families rise and fall based on how the pastor and the pastor's wife handle the inevitable wounds that come along in ministry. I was reminded of this recently by comments from two women in ministry:
Angel said, "I loved what Jen had to say (in this interview), although I do experience loneliness in hearing and caring for people, and not talking about it with others sometimes makes me feel isolated."
Beth Moore said on Twitter: "Some of you mentioned this AM the story about the man in the airport years ago whose hair I brushed...Wanna know something? If it had happened today, I pray I would still have done it, but I never would have told it, or at least the same way. I was totally naive. I had no idea that if you felt God had spoken something specific to you, you'd be labeled a mystic. I'm more afraid to tell things now. It hasn't shut me down from telling things. I just tell them scared. And maybe with greater attention to the words I'm using...Some said, 'Why be scared?' Because...IT IS SCARY OUT THERE!! Pray for those out in the thick of it. Your teachers, pastors, & leaders. They get hit constantly and misunderstood."
These women express two things common to ministry: loneliness and criticism. Often, they go hand-in-hand as ministry wives must privately process criticism. Sometimes we even still have to interact (nicely) with people who have offended or hurt us or who continually complain about our husbands.

So what to do? 

I find it helpful to categorize wounds/criticism/complaints/"helpful" suggestions and respond accordingly. 

There are the silly nicks or surface wounds, the stuff like those anonymous notes from fringe people. My response: figuratively (or maybe literally) roll my eyes and move on. Tear up the note. Turn off the unhealthy thoughts. Give a very limited audience to the constant complainer who only speaks from their own wounds.

Then there are the cuts that draw a little blood, but heal quickly. Enjoyable, loving, gifted people leave the church. An invitation doesn't come. Someone offhandedly takes a jab at the church or at the hubby. People just want stuff, but don't want a relationship. My response: sometimes I go to my husband for perspective and sometimes I go to friends outside the church. Mostly, I try to see the hurts that aren't outright criticism as God's protection. An invitation didn't come? Then God is freeing up time for something better, like rest or family time. With criticism, I have to remind myself that 1) I am not responsible for the church 2) we're never going to make everyone happy and 3) church isn't about making people happy. Move on.

There are the wounds that are needed and good, the "wounds of a friend". Most people are afraid to approach a leader, thus the anonymous letters in the mail. But when someone comes to us face-to-face in love and genuine concern, we are wise to receive and process what they have to say.

Then there are the wounds that cut so close to the heart that we think we might not make it. Or the ones that come from behind like a stab in the back. These hurt the most because they're personal and we don't usually see them coming. These wounds are deep and take a really long time to heal. Like years. I've had a few of those in our 12 years of ministry and, let me tell you, they were difficult to get past and they negatively affected my ministry until I did. It was not until I stopped replaying the offenses, confessed my own part of the problem (even if it was just in my heart), forgave each time it came up in my head (which was alot and for a while), and trusted the Lord to deal with the offense in His time and His way, that the wound healed.

We have to deal with our wounds, otherwise bitterness takes root, grows, and chokes the life out of us. They keep us from fulfilling our calling.

We can't always share our wounds, but God knows them intimately. He knows them intimately and He heals them intimately. He knows who writes anonymous notes and He deals with it. Ultimately, we can't protect ourselves from nicks, cuts, and wounds, but we can trust Him when they come. After all, we're doing all this for Him anyway. We must choose to care more about His will and His pleasure than what anyone does or does not say to us or about us. Easier said than done, but it's the only way out of our bitterness, our fear of man, and our wounds that "won't" heal.

Question: Have you ever had someone basically tell you that you suck? How have you handled those wounds?

I'm also happy to announce the winners of Jen Hatmaker's book, Seven. They are Jamie Lockhart, who "liked" the blog on Facebook, and Angel Haynes, who followed me on Twitter. Thanks, ladies, and enjoy the book! Email me to work out details on getting it to you.