During my husband's seminary years, my ministry strategy took shape. I attended a few evening classes led by seasoned pastors' wives, who shared a plethora of heartwarming experiences and frequently exhorted us, "Just love the people in your congregation!"
So for the past 25 years, that's what I have done. I have prayed with angry, confused women whose husbands were addicted to pornography. I have cried with heartbroken moms of pregnant teenage daughters. I have comforted grieving widows and have prepared a multitude of meals for new mothers. For the most part, I've experienced tremendous joy in strengthening these loved ones with prayer, blessing them and encouraging them with hope.
However, after dearly loving these sheep, I was hurt by some unknowingly when they deserted the church for what I considered trivial reasons: "Someone spoke unkindly to my son at youth group;" "The pastor didn't visit me when I was in the hospital;" "The worship is too long." And while their gripes had nothing to do with me directly, still I felt betrayed.
Ignoring my hurt and disappointment only provided a seedbed for resentment that squelched my desire to keep loving others. That's when I began applying biblical principles to foster personal healing.
1. Don't be surprised ( 1 Peter 4:12). Jesus likened people to sheep, which are stubborn, simple-minded and prone to wander. Therefore, expect to experience misunderstandings, betrayal and disapproval from people you care for, just as Jesus experiences from us.
2. Embrace the pain (Ecclesiastes 7: 4). Experience the frustration, sorrow and anger. Turn to God with the agony of your hurt and pour out your complaints. Your honesty and humility will uncover any destructive attitude that needs transformation.
3. Admit your sin (James 5:16).) Bitterness, resentment and anger respect no one. Confess these emotions to a trusted friend or mentor. Humbly accept her healing prayers and biblical counsel. Journaling also provides a safe, healthy outlet for wounded emotions. Also, when negative thoughts or feelings rear up regarding someone, practice audibly saying, "I forgive you."
4. Feed on God's Word (Psalm 119:28). Just as you point wounded others to God's Word, so nurture your own soul with Scriptures that speak of God's affirming love, faithfulness and steadfastness. When you lift your attention off yourself to praise God's excellencies, you'll find that discouragement and depression retreat.
5. Be a blessing (Romans 12:21). Resist retaliation and alienation. Build bridges of love by sending estranged friends an occasional note, a birthday card or Christmas letter. Personally inviting them to return for special church events also cultivates love. Above all, speak and pray blessings on their behalf.
6. Develop an openhanded posture (Hebrews 3:4). As God builds your church, trust Him to provide the exact church members you'll need. Love them, and loosely hold them. He rearranges His people to fit His plans, even when it seems as if they left for the wrong reasons.
Healing my wounded heart was not a quick fix. Taking these steps required time, patience and persistence. When I feel fainthearted in this process, I remember the Lord's kindness to King Hezekiah, who faithfully led God's people with wholehearted devotion. "I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you" (2 Kings 20:5).
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.