I was walking home from work and it was a cold evening. I had on my long black jacket with the hood up. My face was buried in a text.
My right elbow was clipped by a side view mirror and I spun around to the left. I managed to keep my feet, but it took a moment for the brain to catch up.
"Did I just get hit by a car? I just got hit by a car."
As I came to my senses, I looked up and saw the profile of the illuminated walking man. Definitely had the signal. My turn for sure. I realized I probably needed to make contact with the person who just hit me. I felt fine, but it's hard to be sure when you have adrenaline pumping through you.
It's funny. My older brother talks about how even cars have body language. When I looked and saw the car slow, slow, stop it was clearly deliberating: "am I going to stick around like a good human or drive off like a piece of shit?"
I'm sorry to report that the car and the person within chose the latter.
I still remember the sinking feeling of watching the car drive off. I tried to be quick enough, grab my phone to capture the plate. I took a few running steps, but it was way too late.
Unbelievable. I couldn't fathom how someone could be so cold. My hope in humanity was way more bruised than my elbow.
These days, I find myself looking more than twice when I cross the road. I used to have faith in crosswalks. Why not blatantly put my head down and text? I'm safe here. Nothing will hurt me, because this sacred area is shielded from all intrusion. Not.
So when I was hit, it was all the more shocking, because I totally had my guard down.
I've seen this happen time and time again in church.
Pastors are unadulterated beacons, lights that point the way to the greater light of Jesus. Isn't that right? Well, it's what we hope. It's often what we're taught. Whether it's spoken or not there's a message that goes something like "this guy has the direct line to God the father. He's says all the right words, and in fact, this guy will behave just like God if you get close."
Ugh. We couldn't even put that amount of pressure on Oprah before she cracked.
"Woah! Back off!" she's say. "My job is just to get people their own shows and help them sell books. I'm not all that."
But the pressure and the message are there. When God is being represented things get so hairy, right?
But some of the pressure is fair, I think.
Hey pastor, you're up there behind the pulpit, slinging a Bible around. You ought to know something, and you ought to be helpful, at least to some degree. Even if you're not claiming to know everything, there's there's still the obvious fact that I'm in the pew and you're not.
What I'm getting at is this: it makes sense when we put all or some of our trust eggs in a pastor basket. It feels natural. They are set up as trustworthy; we ought to be able to trust them.
But sometimes this goes horribly wrong.
I've been shamed for not serving in church hard enough. In my youth I attended a church where the pastor was having an affair for God knows how long. Tore the church up. I've heard of pastors publicly humiliating young women during church service for out-of-wedlock pregnancy. I've heard of a church where people were held hostage until they tithed. Then there's alter boys.
I don't know who you are, but maybe you resonate with some of these stories. Maybe you felt completely sucker-punched by someone you trusted without hesitation. You got clipped by a car in the safe zone.
Now, before we go any further, give me your full attention if only for a second.
On behalf of them, as a member of the Christian family, I'm sorry. Your pain is real. It didn't get there on its own and I'm really sorry.
But this isn't a pastor bashathon, either.
I've been on the good side of healing prayers, gorgeous wise counsel, listening ears, free breakfast, gifted cars all because of pastors and church. A lot of good happens because of crazy, messy church and more specifically because of pastors. It's true. There's some bad and there's some good.
So lemme just point something out real quick.
When God called Eve "Eve" and Adam "Adam" that really just meant "human". The first couple was the prototype, the example. God said "Wow! They look just like me and as far as the rest of creation is concerned, they are me”. Now, we all know the dynamic duo stumbled right out of the chute, but that sort of adds to my point.
We are ALL given the task to look and act like God. That's a human thing — not just a pastor thing. We all have the assignment and we all mess it up at some point.
And you know what our most amazing loving God does? He forgives.
That's right. Adam and Eve blew it, didn't look like God there for a sec. But Jesus got it right, and what did he do? He owned a big fat mess that wasn't his. He forgave.
Thus, you're right when you say "pastors should be nice and not abusive!" I agree. You're saying "that doesn't look like God at all!"
Just look back up and realize your part of the picture.
You can say, "we all need to look like God and I'm going to do that by choosing forgiveness."
Doesn't matter who deserves what, who owes who what. Forgiveness starts now.
And here are some tips:
Take as long as you need
Forgiveness doesn’t, nay shouldn’t, happen overnight. You’re a human. Whether or not you are very in touch with your feelings, hurtful things still hurt (shocker). Give it some breathing room. You need to check in with yourself, put your ear to the door of your anger room and figure out what’s really going on in there. Don’t make it any bigger or smaller than it is. Just study it and be honest.
Choose it; don’t feel it
Now that we got all that feely stuff out of the way, let me remind you that forgiveness is a choice. Feelings can catch up later. If you’re speaking to a nasty bitterness monster, all you have to do is declare the right thing over it. You don’t have have to change its form immediately. Tell the truth to that guy, as in “monster we’re choosing forgiveness again today”. Eventually you’ll be amazed at how it transforms on its own. Promise.
Jesus, forgiveness is often a long journey. Thank you that you are a professional forgiver and you’re patient with me through my journey. You walk alongside me. Thank you that no matter how much I forgive, you always forgave more, yet you have compassion for me still. Amen.