Jesus, Jesus, there are those that say they love you
But they have treated me so goddamn mean
And I know you said ‘forgive them for they know not what they do’
But sometimes I think they do
And I think about you
If all the heathens burn in hell, do all their children burn as well?
What about the Muslims and the gays and the unwed mothers?
What about me and all my friends?
Are we all sinners if we sin?
Does it even matter in the end if we’re unhappy?
~Jesus, Jesus by Noah Gundersen
It’s too early in the morning to be awake, but I can’t sleep. I’d like to be curled up in bed with my new husband, enjoying one of our rare moments of quiet, but my brain can’t rest, so my body can’t rest. It’s the same thing keeping me awake.
Wondering if it would have been easier to just keep lying.
It’s been six months since we’ve been to church. I have never in my life gone this long without being a part of a church community and I hate it. Part of it is my fault. An affair with the worship leader will hurt a church in a significant way, and the hurt and anger directed toward us in those early months turned us into hermits. I hid myself away, I shut people out. Maybe I should have been more open then, I don’t know. Pain and fear don’t allow for much rational thought.
But eventually there’s a desire to abandon the path of the recluse and to make our way back into life. To begin the difficult, but necessary journey of repentance and reconciliation.
This has been far more difficult than I imagined.
I knew it was going to be hard to go to people I had wronged and ask for forgiveness. I knew that some would be skeptical of my words. After all, I didn’t go back to my family, instead I married the man who I had the affair with. Being sorry for lying about an affair isn’t nearly as acceptable as being sorry for the relationship.
But I wasn’t prepared to be shut out. To have texts and phone calls and messages go unreturned. I didn’t expect to be told that we should not return to our church. I didn’t expect people who called me family to treat me like a stranger.
I am frustrated this morning because while I want to believe in reconciliation and restoration and redemption, it seems like that is off-limits to us.
This is not to say that everyone has cast us off. There has been grace and love along the way, and it seems to come at times when I need it most, when the weight of shame feels like it’s just too much to carry. A card, a text, a vox, a kind comment on Facebook or Twitter. Something to let me know that I’m still cared for by people who knew me “before.”
But there are times when I feel like the only possibility for reconciliation in the larger context of the Church is if my second marriage fails.
A few weeks ago, I read this poignant, powerful post at A Deeper Story by Andrea Levendusky. There are parts of her story that echo my own, but for the most part, it caused me deep sadness because I don’t want my marriage to Rich to end in divorce. I don’t want to forgiveness and redemption to happen only in the wake of more heartache, more brokenness. I don’t want conversations to occur only because the situation that makes us uncomfortable is out of the way.
Once when I was experiencing disbelief at the vitriol that was being pointed our way, Rich said to me, “We should have expected this. When did you ever hear about a worship leader and his new wife being allowed back at the church where they had the affair?” And the truth is, he’s right, that’s not how that works. You don’t get to go back.
But why is that the case? Why is judgment more important than mercy? Why is it better for a couple to remain isolated from the people who know them, who can offer help into their new relationship? How do we preach on the prodigal son when our response to sinners who want to come home is, “We think it would be more comfortable for everyone if you were a part of another church family”?
It’s upsetting that the answer to Rich’s question is “almost never” rather than “there are churches that do that?” It’s frustrating that grace is something that surprises us rather than something that is conventional.
It makes me sad, and more than a little bit angry, that our default expectation for sinners is one of rejection within the Church. I’m angry that it seems like the only time redemption can be achieved is through failure.
I want my anger to be turned into something beneficial. So I know that part of the way that I can change this narrative of a graceless church is to extend forgiveness to those who I feel are undeserving. I can give people time to come to grips with the hurt and pain that they are experiencing as a result of my actions, even if I don’t believe that my actions particularly have anything to do with them.
But I will not accept that I have to ignore my pain in order to validate the pain of others. I will not accept mistreatment of me or those I love because of my past decisions. I will not accept that silence is my only option. I will not accept that the only way I can experience redemption is through failure.