What brought us there was a job that took my husband off the road, restored my marriage, and gave us a chance to be a somewhat normal family. It was in that desert that we learned so much, grew so much, and fell in love all over again while driving back country roads and hiking along cold, gushing springs.
It was also the first place we encountered small town life, a lot of physical illness, and a cutting, painful hurt from a community of believers.
There's no way for me to recount the hurts that we encountered, and I doubt I could even remember every time I was hurt. I am certain that you could relate to each one we experienced - in several different churches, several different denominations. It doesn't matter really. It's all water under the bridge... or over it!!
The thing that's important is what happened to ME through it all. I learned a LOT about how to walk with God in a new way. I learned to forgive. I learned that people often don't even know that they are being mean, or mean spirited, or hurting your feelings. I learned how to be a different kind of friend to other women. How to let my husband be my friend. How to value people the way that Jesus did. I learned that when I prayed for other people's problems, my own seemed small in comparison. I learned that the body of Christ was not yet perfected, and wouldn't be until He returns, but that's ok - I wouldn't be perfect till then either - so I could love them as we all grew.
Now all of this is looking back on situations best found under "life lessons" and I know that it hurts a little more when the wound is fresh, the scar still showing. I remember. Really. I do.
And perhaps the reason my scar is not showing so much is because of what happened after those "40 years in the desert" - in a sense, God brought us to a "promised land" of a church. I didn't think that they existed, and I'm sure that it's not perfect - but it's the closest that we ever experienced.
Oddly enough, it was a LARGE church. A "mega church" by technical standards. I never wanted to go to one, never thought I'd go to one. What I found here was that they work hard to be "many little churches that meet in one place" through the use of small group ministry. So although there are thousands that go to church, there's a small group to care for you! Actually, we were in several "small groups"- one for our geographic location, I was in one for a weeknight study leading a missions focused prayer group, and one for missions (as a ministry source), and one for women. Whew! And they all loved on me (and I on them!!).
That was another key too - GET INVOLVED! Even if you can't do what you did at the other church, offer to work under someone else in that - or another - area of ministry. I've heard over and over, that 10% of the people in a church end up doing 80% of the volunteer work to keep it going!! Be a part of that 10%!! You'll instantly be appreciated, and it will plug you in to a smaller group immediately!
A "mega church" may not be an option for you, and I can understand that too. Before we had moved, we were driving an HOUR to get to a church where people were authentic (bumps, and all!), the Bible was taught, and we felt we were a part of the body. It was a true SACRIFICE to get to church, financially and time wise, but it was oh-so-worth-it! Nothing takes the place of sweet fellowship!!
I think that they key to forgiving past hurt is to remember the reason we go to church in the first place - not to get close to God - we should be doing that EVERY day. Church should be the frosting on the cake! It's for the building up of the body. So what if the worship isn't "your style" - if God's using you to reach out to others there (maybe other hurt people?) then we can remember that "worship" is an offering that WE bring to God - shouldn't we be able to do that no matter what songs are sung? Should it matter if it's led off key, or routine? Sing louder from the seats - since it's your offering.
I've learned a lot about forgiveness over the years - and I've had to ask God for forgiveness a lot too! Some things I've experienced, and heard others verbalize like this; "UNforgiveness is like taking poison yourself, and hoping the other person will die!" It's true. Forgiveness is the key to the real freedom! When you continue to be hurt, then THEY continue to control the situation, and God doesn't get the glory.
I love the saying that used to play on an radio station years ago, that went something like this:
"Have you been hurt in church, and won't go back? Have you gone to a restaurant and received bad service? Have you gone to a movie that ended up being bad? But yet we still eat out and go to movies, willing to give another chance...but why not church?"
It's true. We hold church to another standard. There may be a season that we need to really draw in to God and focus on healing and forgiving; but to return to fellowship at a church that's hurt you, or a new church, is worth celebrating! Give God the glory!! GREAT things He has done!!