I haven’t been to church in many years. I’ve had my share of pain in God’s house. I got saved in a wonderful little church; at our wedding, the pastor officiated, one of the church members sang, another played the piano, and my best man was the guy that taught me the Bible lessons, the truth about God and my sinful condition. If it weren’t for that church, for those men & women that cared about a long-haired hippie over 25 years ago, who went out of their way to teach me and accept me unconditionally, well then I’d still be smoking pot, drinking whiskey and hating God and religion and everything else…
That’s where the tale turns sad. The pastor was having an affair with the (married) singer, the piano player divorced my best man, because according to the rumors, he was actually gay. The whole church fell apart; the man of God that constantly preached to the women about dressing appropriately to keep the men from sinning, even in their own imaginations, divorced his wife and married the (now divorced) singer. We hung on for a couple of years as we looked for a replacement pastor. Finally, we hired a guy that turned out to be mentally unstable, power-hungry, and systematically “disciplined” all of the church leadership, putting his own people in positions of authority, as the church dwindled down to a handful of families and eventually folded.
Church after church, pain after pain, it goes on: one pastor had all the time in the world to talk to me about the music program but never found the opportunity to talk about my daughter’s salvation, one pastor cared more about the building than the people & refused to let hurricane refugees stay there because they might mess up the carpet, another church was so darn perfect that my repeated attempts to join it went unanswered, and the pastor of the little church where my in-laws attend, after preaching about faithfulness and staying true to your church for years, quit and took a job in another city.
Maybe I’m being petty, maybe I’m just sick of hypocrites yelling at me from the pulpit to be a certain way and then finding out they’re the exact opposite, or being scolded and riddled with guilt about not giving or praying or attending enough. Never, never enough. I tried, I really tried to get into another one, but I haven’t been in church in a very long time. The last time I was in a House of God was at my parents’ 50-year wedding anniversary commemoration. I had to squelch the urge to laugh as the Knights of Columbus came in with their scrub-brush helmets, and the solemn procession of artifacts; the HUGE bible, the equally intimidating giant cross, the swinging, smoking box of putrid odors that reminded me of a funeral. It all just reminded me of Monty Python…
Fast-forward to yesterday, when my 12 year old son got invited to church by a friend at school. He went, and he LOVED it. My wife went too. She LOVED it. It was fun, exciting, and the Sunday School teacher said that they were about to start the Bible classes for the kids, the same classes that I took those many years ago that led me to Salvation. It’s been such a long time, I had given up hope of ever finding a church everyone was happy at, one that didn’t make you feel uncomfortably conspicuous, under-dressed or out of place. There’s only one, teenie, tiny little problem.
It’s my old pastor’s church. The one from the wedding. The one who destroyed my faith and led me on a fruitless quest for a new spiritual home. The one who ruined another man’s life by stealing his bride. His church.
I swear (though I know I shouldn’t), God has such a weird sense of humor. Everything about this is wonderful. I’ve been praying that God would somehow find us a new church, or some way that my two young children could hear the Gospel. And here it is. The perfect opportunity, the only church my son has EVER enjoyed going to, the one where my wife met friends she hadn’t seen for years, and the only problem is me. Funny, huh? I think it’s hilarious. I want my kids to go to church, any church at all, except that one, so of course, that’s the one God leads me to. I just can’t stop laughing.
So what would you do? I know what’s expected of me. I’m supposed to forgive the lying, cheating bastard for all the pain he’s caused, even though he has NEVER apologized & never will, and go back to being, in a way, under his authority, swallowing this pride in the interest of making my family happy and getting them to know God and His son Jesus. I just don’t know if I can swallow that hard. That’s a humongous pill for me. It’s about the size of a crocket ball, covered in spikes and coated with tar. It just won’t go down. Forgive him? I’m afraid I’ll see him, say hi, and land a hard right cross on his stupid smug face. He deserves it, he really does. And I deserve an apology.
But… and there’s always a but… but I’m not going to. I don’t know how, but I’m going to have to find a way to let go of the past, while revisiting it again. Kind of tricky, but I can do it because I have to. Because being a father that cares about his wife & kids is more important that a vendetta against someone who abandoned his. I love my wife and my children. It would pain me for eternity if my entire family didn’t share God’s heavenly house when these clay homes we live in turn back to dust, because of my own sinful pride. I’ve done it before. I spent years hating my schoolyard bully that tortured me all during my younger years. In my heart, I forgave him, realizing he probably had a horrible home life, bad self-esteem, or whatever – it didn’t matter, because as a Christian, I have to forgive, let go, and move on. And so I have.
This one will be much harder. It’s one thing to let go of fantasies of murdering someone for crimes they did as a stupid, ignorant child. It’s quite another to put aside the pain caused by an adult that should know better, that did know better, that did it anyway; I need to see that underneath that tough, obnoxious, manipulative exterior is the same weak flesh that composes my body. I am a sinner, so is he, and I am in no position to judge, I’m really not.
So I guess putting the past behind you is only a nice cliché; to really move on with your life, rather than ignoring it, sometimes you have to face & embrace you own painful memories. Sometimes your past catches up to you, and stares you right in the face. And then you have a choice to make: stay angry and bitter, or forgive & move on. So blast the past – or forgive the pastor…