In the beginning we sat near the back. I would have said it was because of our young son — just in case we needed to go to the nursery to check on him. But if I’m honest, it was because I wanted to be closer to the exit.
My husband and I were visiting a new church for the first time in many years. We’d been at our previous church for over a decade, and when we left, it had been under painful circumstances. As I considered joining — really joining — a new church, I couldn’t help but wonder, What if we commit ourselves here only to be hurt again?
We continued to show up week after week, but I continued to plant one foot squarely by the door. Sure, on the outside I chatted warmly and even agreed to help lead a women’s Bible study. But on the inside I felt stiff — like I was wearing a suit of armor.
And then I met Jessica.
She was about my age with searching eyes, a gentle voice, and a set of difficult circumstances. She came to Bible study each week with an eagerness that was palpable. Jessica wanted to learn, and she knew she needed Jesus.
One week when we divided into smaller groups to discuss a passage from 1 Corinthians, one of the women stated how grateful she felt for the sanctification process. Most of the others nodded in agreement, except for Jessica. Her eyes clouded with confusion, and she began pouring over her Bible.
“Ladies, let’s back up a second,” I said. “Let’s clarify what sanctification means. Who would like to explain it to us?”
For the next few minutes, the women shared their understanding of the term, opening to different passages in the New Testament to illustrate. At first Jessica listened quietly, but then she began asking questions, and soon, a wave of understanding crossed her face. She smiled and left the study that morning with fresh confidence — in both her understanding of the Bible and in Christ’s promise to make her more and more like Him.
And that’s when it hit me: Church is not about me. It is about sharing the love of Jesus with others.
In my hurt and disappointment, I had made the church into a community that owed me something. If I pour out my time, energy, and heart, then I expect good in return. However, this was not Jesus’ approach at all. Rather, He chose to love the Church no matter the return.
And if I really wanted to be the Church — the very body of Christ to a broken world (1 Corinthians 12:27) — then I would need to love it as He did.
I drove home from Bible study with fresh eyes. Yes, there would be pain in the Church on this side of heaven, but I could trust Jesus to carry me through any circumstance. As Isaiah 49:10 declares, “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Piece by piece I began to lay down the walls of defense around my heart, asking Jesus to heal the tender places. And for the first time in a long while, I exhaled — not because I felt better, but because my awe in the goodness of God outweighed the hurt that had been holding me back.
Maybe you’ve experienced pain in the church, too. Maybe you find yourself reliving past hurts, reluctant to step wholeheartedly into new relationships or serving opportunities. If this is you, I encourage you to lay your wounds before our heavenly Father and lean on His promise to heal the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). You may need to meet with a counselor, seek to resolve a past hurt, or set a boundary for your safety. Whatever it takes, your brave work toward healing will be worth it.
And when you are ready, ask God to fill you with courage for the good work He has set before you (Ephesians 2:10). Stepping out may feel vulnerable and hard, but because of our Savior — the One who upholds us — we can choose lives of courageous love over self-protection.
The Sunday after Bible study that week, I slid into my usual pew toward the back of the sanctuary, but something in me felt lighter. I was free — not from the sting of hurt but from the weight of shielding myself from it. Trusting Jesus with my heart, I took a deep breath. Lord, I’m all in.