Galatians 6:2 ESV Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
This article was written by a young lady who has suffered the pain of being rejected by friends and by her church. What was her crime? She and her family escaped an abuser father/husband. For that, they were shunned – marked as “unclean.” Their burden was not borne by the people around them who claimed to be fine Christians, and for that they will one day have to give account. Instead of putting the wicked man out in obedience to Christ (see 1 Cor 5), they put the victims out.
Many thanks to Tiffany for sharing her story with us. Here she is:
So, you have left church. These people who used to be so close now act like you are a stranger or look away awkwardly if you chance to meet in public. These are people who have probably hurt and abandoned you, people you are probably better off not being close to anyways right? They betrayed you, they caused you so much pain, so why does it hurt so much when you would even welcome them back into your life?
I had a friend from my previous church who I would talk and pray with most weeks. At first, I felt incredibly honored that this girl would ask me to spend time with her, to pray with her, to be her friend. I was so excited, and it absolutely meant the world to me, being 14ish. She was one of the ‘big girls’ that I and the girls from my Sunday School class looked up to. As I got older and I realized my dad did not love me I opened up to her one day. I did not tell her he was abusive; I hardly knew what that word meant, but I told her there were problems, he was not the charming man and wonderful father he appeared to be. She was surprised, shocked. She was very sympathetic and asked if I was maybe reading into things too much. I assured her I was not and she seemed to accept that.
From then on, I slowly opened up more and more as I learned more things about abuse and how he treated me, though I was always careful since I felt that telling her these kinds of things would be frowned upon. But I shared with her because that is what friends do, that is what makes a friendship, being there to listen, help, encourage.
Time moved forward, as it does, and I was older, the age gap did not seem like much of a gap, especially as most of my friends were older than me, so I felt like we were equals, like we should be sharing equally. She almost never shared her life, her troubles, or even joys with me and felt that keenly when I realized it. I thought maybe I was not being a good friend and I should try harder, ask more questions about her life and how she was, however, when I did, I always felt like I was invading her privacy and her answers never felt genuine. I realized she was not my friend. She was an acquaintance, I felt like I was her charity case.
I saw what she was like with her real friends and she treated them completely differently from how she treated me. But I decided I wanted to be a true friend, and maybe someday she would see that, and let us truly be friends. I was faithful to our meetings, I shared very personal things with her, I tried to arrange times outside of our prayer time to hang out, though it never worked for her. I did my best to be what I believe a true friend should be.
My dad had been gone for some time, the divorce was in the works and he had a fiancée. He had stopped attending church over a year previously, and by now people knew he was gone, though we had been forcibly forbidden to talk about anything regarding him. He showed up on the first of the two Sundays the classes presented what they had learned throughout the year and he was welcomed with open arms. The pastor could not get back there fast enough after the morning Sunday School to give him a hug and say how missed he was.
I left the sanctuary shortly after he came in and stood outside waiting for it to finish and for my family to come. We left. I had many problems with that church, and had for a long time, but I told myself I had reasons to stay. However, I knew that moment when he was not only allowed through the door but exuberantly welcomed I would never set foot in that church again. I also knew we would be shunned.
So that night I emailed my friend I told her I would not be attending church anymore. She knew my story, she knew what horrible, horrible things he had done to me and the hell he was currently putting us through with visitation. I did not expect to hear back from her. But I did. We got together and talked for over 3 hours about why I had to leave and she claimed she wanted to remain friends, though she told me that it may be a good idea for me to move and that church came before me. I was just shocked she wanted to keep in touch at all. I few weeks later I emailed asking if she wanted to go out for lunch. I got a curt reply stating this was not a good time for us be friends. I was not surprised. I kind of expected to get a reply like that, though maybe a little more thoughtful. I was at the library and had to leave and walk around the block, sobbing for the better part of my walk.
I get various responses when I see people from our old church out in public, from the rare smile and ‘hello’ to a glare, to awkwardly avoiding my eyes. The point of all this being we are now shunned. It is ‘wrong’ to be friends with us. Knowing all the problems that I had with that church, having been hurt and treated wrongly so many times, by so many of those people, while we still attended, why did it hurt so much. I wanted to get out, to leave. I believe it is because despite everything I had some form of connection/relationship with each person from there. And I believe it is unnatural to behave towards another person like that. It can cause so much mental anguish.
When so many people turn on you like that, people you knew for years, people you were close with, people you smiled at every Sunday, when all those people turn on you it can make you question if there really is something wrong with you. When you just disappear without a word and not a single person calls, texts, emails. You are bound to wonder if anyone ever liked you at all. If they are glad you are gone. And if your church family can so happily let you go, does everyone feel like that, do people at work hate you, do relatives wish you would just disappear too?
In situations like this it is not uncommon for the church to be all you have, an abusive husband often isolates his wife, and in consequence of that his children as well. When the church shuns you there is often nowhere else to turn, and those few people you may have you may now question and wonder if they will be the next person/people to abandon you. Shunning is often deliberately used to dishonor a person. It has been compared to having a ‘social death penalty’ and has been used as a powerful and very harmful psychological tool for those in power, be it the leader of a country, an employer, a pastor or a spouse/father. Being shunned has led to PTSD, depression, self-harming, and even suicide. It can take years of therapy to heal.
No wonder it hurts. You were a part of a community, you probably spent many hours helping, possibly with planning events, cleaning, teaching, even simply preparing meals for a potluck, and you probably spent days and months of your time there, sitting in the pew and hanging around after services. That was time and effort you put into being a part of that church community, or ‘family’ as they like to put it and how it should be but rarely is. It can feel like years of your life wasted, and unappreciated. Years you spent with people who should have been like family, but were, in reality, not even a good friend. It is OK to feel hurt, even devastated. That is natural. And now, hopefully, you have time to heal.
The first step to healing is learning why you feel how you do and knowing that it is OK. Even though I knew that girl was not my friend, I expected her to dump me even after our long talk after leaving. It still hurt so, so, much. It took a long time to heal and I still don’t know if I truly have healed. I almost never think about her now, but when I do, I still wonder how a person can treat someone like that. I know I am not the first person to be shunned by that church or by her. How they can be so blind to the pain they are causing? I could write more about that, but that is not what this is about right now.
True Friendship is not about being there when it’s convenient, it is about being there any time you are needed, even if it is a bad time, even if you have painful things going on, even if you are busy. A true friend will always be there to lift you up and encourage you, to be happy with you or to be sad with you. And to be a true friend you need to be prepared to do the same for them.