I felt angry, betrayed and gloomy. Several families who joined one of our churches a few years earlier disappeared, then moved their memberships. When they were new members, their enthusiasm for Ken’s preaching and leadership style bubbled. They involved themselves in ministries, sent us little gifts and thank you notes, “just cause you’re such a great pastor,” and genuinely supported us.
Ken contacted each family to find out why. Their answers didn’t comfort us but raised some interesting questions. A couple didn’t like the ongoing strife between lifetime members and newer members, in the battle of tradition versus new ideas. “I just want to go to a church where people are happy all the time.” Is there such a place? (Shoot me that address quick a minute, will ya?)
Another family liked a nearby church’s service times better. True story. Finally, my favorite, came from the woman who said, “We think there must be some truth behind the gossip we’ve heard about you and Sharon. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire dontcha know.” (Disgruntled members, trying to hasten our exit, accused Ken and I of theft and dishonesty. We were cleared 100% by our denominational ruling body, but the power of an evil report……. yikes.)
First of all, we experienced weariness too, trying to help older members understand the idea that the gospel message doesn’t change but methods must. We needed people to partner with us in that quest. Many did, but some wanted to avoid any sign of conflict or disagreements and left. Secondly, if you can disengage yourself from a church so easily for different service times, were you ever truly connected? Third, where do I even begin? Why did this sister listen to gossip about two people she claimed to love? Why did she believe what she heard without speaking to us?
People leave churches, ministries, companies, schools and such all the time for a variety of reasons. Usually, relocation is for healthy, normal reasons. When the reasons are squirrely, it’s a knife in the heart. If you’re a leader, losing supporters and partners, it stings. Emotions churn. How do we respond when someone exits under sketchy circumstances? How do you handle a spouse who deserts, or another family member who severs ties?
Don’t take ownership of another person’s junk. Ken and I are intimately acquainted with our character flaws. They don’t, however, include theft or lying. People made up stories. It happens. Others, who claimed to be our supporters, listened to character assassinations about us. Their idea of loyalty might be off plumb. Their exit proved that.
The pain is much worse when a spouse walks out. Ken and I lost patience with people who told us they were leaving a marriage because they “weren’t happy anymore, and doesn’t God want us happy?” Wrong on so many levels. Maybe your sorrow is a prodigal child. It could be a broken sibling relationship that troubles your sleep. Other people’s choices are just that, other people’s. They don’t belong to us. Trying to own them emotionally is self-destructive.
When people behave in ungodly ways, then leave, don’t carry offense and anger around. Ask God to heal your heart. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling within the loving boundaries of His grace. Let Him show you any areas where you might carry some fault in the situation. Above all, make no place for bitterness to grow in your heart. A friend just said to me today,
“ Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Good word.
Recovering from someone leaving you can take time, depending on how close your relationship was. You will extend it unnecessarily, if you nurture anger and refuse to forgive them.
Trust God to bring restoration when you’ve experienced loss. As one of the main themes of the Bible, I love the individual stories of God rebuilding and renewing what locusts eat away, as Joel talks about in his book. Consider Job, who lost everything except his wife. God gifted him with double the wealth and many more children. David spent years fleeing from Saul even though he was the rightful, anointed King. When he ascended to his throne, his kingdom became far greater than Saul’s. Whatever the relationships you’ve lost, God’s nature is to restore. Please note, I didn’t say replace. Every individual relationship is unique and irreplaceable. One of the amazing qualities about God, though, is His ability to create something new in a place of loss, just as He did in the original garden.
After that batch of folks left our church, God moved in several ways. Some individuals who had been on the church’s periphery became active and engaged. New families joined and began to partner with us. Did I still feel pain about the families who left? Absolutely. Running into them in stores and such did not feel great. In time, my emotions caught up to my will which determined I would nourish grace in my heart towards them, not bitterness.
If someone chooses to walk away from you under poor circumstances, don’t drink the poison of bitterness. Drink the new wine of the Holy Spirit which is made from the best of fruit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23