Last week my kids spent 8 hours on a pontoon boat. It was hot as snot and on the river it's easy to get sunburn. My daughter has red hair and very fair skin and she got the worst burn of everyone. She was fine with it and never really noticed it, or that it had started peeling, until she went to church that Sunday.
When I picked her up after Sunday School she was quiet and sad. "Mom," she said, "the kids were making fun of my sunburn. It really made me feel bad." Then she started to cry. "I have to go to school on Tuesday. If they made fun of me here, what will they say at school?"
Oh crap. CRAP! For so many reasons...C.R.A.P.!
So many lessons learned in one hour of Sunday school that weren't even part of the curriculum:
1) People at church can be no different that people in the world. They can say mean things, make you cry, and make you scared to face "the real world". (Suckfest Lesson I.)
2) Appearance is more important than what's inside. Yes, I know that part of growing up entails grappling with personal appearance. Kids make fun of noses, ears, freckles, zits, bad hair, braces.... But still. (Suckfest Lesson II)
3) People can turn on you. No matter how nice you have been in the past, no matter if you've been friends before, kids (even adults at times) can be fickle. (Suckfest Lesson III)
Did I have an awesome opportunity to teach her about how God sees us from the inside? Yes. Would this have been a good time to suggest that we pray for the (ingrate, evil, hell bound, unsanctified, idiotic) kids (raised by rabid wolves) in her class? Yes. I could have talked to her about how we all sin, that we have to choose our words carefully, that God still wants us to love others (even if they are voluntarily retarded) no matter how they treat us. Of course I could have done all of those things, because all of those things are core truths.
But in those moments, with the facts of what happened to her swirling around me, I was confronted with all the times I stood in her shoes.
The truth is, I have often found myself being treated worse inside the church building than anywhere else. Am I suggesting that the church has never been a safe haven for me? No, not at all. Rather, what I'm saying is that Christians can be just plain mean, under the guise of "in Christian love".
After the birth of my son I dealt with severe post partum depression. It was the darkest, scariest, most vacant feeling I had ever known. Life was all around me, but I was living death. Like the victim of a horrific calamity whose arms are severed, I lost touch with any of the vitality around me.
It was impossible for those around not to notice the crisis. Women in my Sunday School class certainly noticed, both by observing me and hearing our cries for help. My husband became my advocate, asking women in our church to help me in any way they could. We were dignified, not begging or demanding, just asking for relationships, really. Unfortunately that backfired.
One of my husband's friends called him later the same Sunday that we had asked for help. Apparently a good size group of women clustered together were heard to be saying the following, "I am not going to help her in any way." and "Well of course not, that would only be enabling her laziness." and "It's surely a spiritual problem." Needless to say, any depression I had felt up to that point paled in comparison to the abandonment and isolation that descended upon me. Not to mention the embarrassment. Oh, the embarrassment. So in those moments I reacted. I seared my heart closed. I threw up walls made of steel and concrete and vowed never, never to make myself vulnerable again. Of course that backfired, too. Long after the post partum depression went away, situational depression stepped in. I continued my resolve to keep people out. I refused to invest myself in anyone, ever, out of fear, and sometimes out of sheer hatefulness. Essentially, I was stuck in Suckville for over 3 years.
Am I blaming the situation on everyone else? Absolutely not. I surely had a hand in my own demise. Unforgiveness made a monster out of me. What I am saying is a truth we all know too well: It's not impossible to be hurt by the church. By the same token, it is entirely possible to marinate in unforgiveness until we're so soured by it we lose all perspective. That is what I didn't want to happen to my daughter.
So in those moments when she felt so bad about being teased in Sunday School, I said nothing. I held her while my heart cried along with hers. Over the course of the rest of the day we talked about being careful about how we treat other people. About forgiveness. About the possibility that maybe some kids were just curious about what happened to her. About how to respond if she were made fun of again. Then, we made fun of sunburns and called each other "lizard skin" as we pulled molting skin from her face. Sick, I know, but she laughed. Somehow, it made everything okay.
Yesterday was her first day of school. She was peeling worse yesterday than she was on Sunday...but no one at school said a thing, which is good. But somehow bittersweet.
This is a really heavy post for me. Maybe it strikes a cord for you, too. Of course you're always welcomed to comment but if I might suggest something it would be this. The worst thing we can do is dwell on the past - it's okay to acknowledge past hurts, but setting up camp there will do us in every time. I would hate for this to turn into a bash the church session. Instead, supporting each other is what it's all about, for me at least. I would like to know how you have handled your disappointments, good and bad.
p.s. This MUST be said: God loves us no matter how beat up we are, or even if we're the ones doing the bullying. Truthfully, I've been both people, and I'm not proud of that. Jesus will never smack you sideways, be unloving, or make fun of your sunburn. Don't let the ruin of others ruin you. Forgiveness - and maybe moving on - is key.
p.p.s. "Suckville" and "Suckfest" aren't in the spellcheck. Who knew?
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