If It Was So Bad, Why Did You Stay?

Posted: January 16, 2015 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Once in a while, I get this question. It’s not so different from years ago when I asked my mother the same thing.

My father died of colon cancer when I was three years old. My mother rarely spoke of him except to say that his death was the best thing that could have happened to us – his four children. Back in those days, you didn’t challenge or question adults, so I would listen to her comment and wonder what she meant. Was it because he was so ill or so maimed by his disease (he lost most of his intestines and wore a colostomy bag) that it would have been difficult for us? That was my assumption.

Then, when I was about twenty years old, my sister, who had taken an interest in geneology, was filling out a book that had a page for each parent and grandparent – stories about their lives, interests, etc. Since my father wasn’t there to give her information, she was asking our mother about him. Mom refused to answer and my sister kept badgering her. “Why wont’ you tell me anything?!?”

Finally, in frustration, my mother blurted out, “Because he abused me! And he abused you kids! Mostly your brother, but he was mean to all of us!”

And it all came tumbling out. How he knew how to inflict pain without leaving marks – mostly by wrenching her arm up behind her back. How he beat my brother almost daily and often made him ride in the trunk of the car. How she would have to sweep the driveway with a broom if a neighbor or salesman came by while our father was at work because if he saw the tire tracks, he would accuse her of affairs and hurt her.

“Why did you stay?” I asked.

And her answer was all about her hopes and her values. She valued marriage. She valued family. She valued our father. She valued the opinions of the community. She hoped that with enough time, with enough love, with enough forgiveness, with enough trying, he would one day trust her, believe her. Change.

“Why did you stay?” they ask me when they read my story or when I share it over coffee.

My answer, like my mother’s, is all about my hopes and my values.

I value my faith. I value grace and forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. I value patience and kindness, goodness and faithfulness. I value commitment and loyalty. I value unconditional love and faithfulness. I value truth and honesty.

I hoped that what I believe would actually come about, that God would work everything together for good because I love Him. I hoped that with enough time, with enough love, with enough forgiveness, with enough trying, one day things would . . . change.

It wasn’t until after we were tossed out that I realized that my hopes and my values were not shared by the leadership of the church – nor even those who had called themselves my friends.

They had no interest in grace or forgiveness. They had no interest in reconciliation or restoration. They had not been truthful or honest, kind or good. They had no sense of commitment or loyalty to me.

I came to realize that no amount of time, no amount of love or forgiveness or trying on my part was ever going to bring about any kind of change in their opinion or actions toward me. Because they don’t value those things – at least not for me or even people like me (because now I know I have not been the only one). They were not interested in changing their position toward me, the ostracism, the judgment, the punishment, the shunning.

They did not – nor do they still or they would have taken appropriate steps to reach out to me and my family – share my faith. A faith that allows God to work everything together for good. Because that promise is only to “those who love Him.”

The pastor even acknowledged to my husband that I was the only one who had tried – in all of those years – to rectify the situation, to extend grace and work toward healing. Today, I see that as his admission that he and all of the other leadership who contributed to my spiritual abuse, that they do not truly believe.

In the end, God has worked everything together for good for us by removing us from that abusive situation. But I am convinced that if the pastors and leadership had the same values that I have, the same hope that I have, the same faith that I have, the God-honoring outcome would have been a testament to His amazing love and grace.

  1. Daughter of God says:

    This is such a powerful article. “If it was so bad, why did you stay?”
    is a question a friend asked me when I left my church after attending
    over 20 years. I too valued (and still value) respect of leadership,
    hope in God to work things out, and extending grace to my offenders.
    I never wanted to just give up on this church; these people were
    my family and even today when I see one of them, I am happy to see
    them. But I’ve realized I may have to “love them from afar”.
    It’s been over a year since my last attack, and no one has ever
    contacted me to see if I’m even alive. I contacted the pastor by email
    to see if we could meet and I could find out what was really going on
    and his only reply to me was “touch not God’s anointed”…..
    No dialogue, no agreement to meet, no regard whatsoever for the
    pain I was, and still am, going through. Churches today are so far from
    the churches from generations ago. It’s more a power play than
    anything else. Of course, there are exceptions. There are great churches
    fulfilling the call of God, reaching out to people and getting people
    saved. But I guarantee you, they are few and far between.
    A note: I have not found a church yet and will not go looking for one,
    unless God calls me to. a particular church, I will rest in the knowledge
    that HE will never leave me nor forsake me. I will continue to love HIM
    and be as kind to others as I can be, with His help. Abuse is never
    acceptable, especially by those that should love us and don’t!!!

    • Ellen says:

      Daughter of God,
      Thank you for writing. I am so sorry that you have experienced pain and abuse at the hands of those who claim to represent God.

      It sounds as though your experience is very much like mine. I hope you will have a chance to read my story and follow my journey on this blog. And if you ever would like to share your story, I would be happy to “listen.” You can email me privately at whenchurchhurts@yahoo.com.

      I like you, am not pursuing finding a new church. God will put us where He wants us to be, if He has a place He wants us to be. For now, I believe He wants me to be right where I am – sharing my story as a way to give help and hope to others, and taking care of my family, and those whom my life touches.

      Always remember that you are loved and nothing can separate you from that.


      • Ellen, thank you for your kind reply to my comment. I’ve never seen it
        until today. I soak up any encouragement I can get from other believers,
        since I’ve done a lot of suffering in silence. Friends who’ve never been
        through this “don’t get it”, and often think we are being overly-sensitive.
        Today, about 10 months after my first comment, I still have not “found”
        a church, but that’s okay. I trust God and realize He knows exactly
        where I am and the most important relationship I have is with Him.
        The scripture that says “If my mother and father forsake me, God will
        take me in”, could mean a biological parent, but in my case
        it means a spiritual parent. My first pastor was supposed to be a
        spiritual father to me but he totally dropped the ball. I came from a catholic
        background without any real training in the word of God. This pastor should
        have been the one to train me up in the word since I got none of that
        from the catholic church. Instead, he used me as a scapegoat to take out
        his own frustrations. His wife is snooty and only has her little group of women
        that she is friendly to. The thing is, so many of my extended family members
        go there now, since I asked my young cousin to attend and she has invited
        others over the years. Now since I left and they stayed, when they see me
        at a shower or a family gathering, they have little to do with me. These are
        the people I’ve grown up with, but they shun me just like the rest of the church
        does when they see me somewhere. I was invited to a woman’s gathering there
        a few months ago by a woman I hardly knew. Apparently she remembered seeing me
        at the church at one time and wasn’t aware of why I had left. Just the fact that she was
        friendly to me in the store was uplifting. She is one of the very few that are; it was in
        that store that I saw her and she invited me. It also just happened to be on my birthday.
        I went because it was on a Sunday evening and my sweet husband
        was watching a ball game on t.v. There was a handful of women I was hoping
        would be there.(None of them were) I believe in keeping peace
        with brothers and sisters in Christ
        (love your enemies!!) as much as it is up to me, yet when I got there I realized
        I was not welcome and treated like an outcast, especially by the pastors wife.
        Nothing has changed since I officially left almost 3 years ago. If you leave their
        church for any reason, even if it was their fault, they will shun you and treat
        you like an outcast!! Please keep encouraging those that have been wounded
        in the church…there are many that need to know others have been through the
        same thing, and that God is faithful! He is close to the brokenhearted!!

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