I’ve been in counseling for about five months. I take that back. I’ve been in counseling since college on and off. But recently, since my fall, I’ve been in counseling for five months. It’s been very productive.
If you’ve read my blog, you can tell I have a bunch of mixed emotions. Anger, unforgiveness, despair, depression, anxiety, and whatever the heck else is swimming around in my mind.
My current counselor, Ivan, has been wonderful. He’s helped me a lot. He told me he was an agnostic, but that hasn’t hindered the counseling process. He has seen a lot of pastors and sympathizes with my plight. We’ve made a lot of headway. Especially yesterday.
I’m still hurt and angry with what happened at Angel Falls Baptist and the way everything turned out. Let me explain. Yeah, I committed adultery. I hurt those people. But some part of me wants them to seek me out – not all of them – but the ones who said they loved me and cared about me. I want them to seek me out and let me know they forgive me.
I sent out a letter to the congregation about two months ago. Only one couple responded. I told the church I was sorry I let them down. I let them know I had no excuse for what I did. I’ve had plenty of people tell me that it takes time for people to forgive.
Angelica has forgiven me. I’ve blogged about people “forgiving in their heart.” I wrote the head deacon a special letter and let him know that he had a particular responsibility to seek me out. No response. I laid all of this at the feet of Ivan yesterday.
I told him that it made me angry and hurt that I spent all those years pouring my life into those people and that they could be so angry at me. I had received angry text messages, emails, and Facebook messages from them. I told him that it really came to a head in the past couple of weeks because Lydia wasn’t invited to attend the AFBC VBS. (She is still related to about half the congregation there). If Cynthia had cheated with a plumber or electrician, the people at AFBC wouldn’t have batted an eye. But since she cheated with me, they were angry and unforgiving.
I told him with great emotion that it was a horrible double standard. That the church shoots their wounded pastors and leaves them for dead.
He looked at me and said, “Did it ever occur to you that you loved them more than they ever loved you?”
I was shocked for a second, then my shock turned to hurt. “I guess that’s possible.” I didn’t want to think about it, but it started to make sense.
Ivan continued, “What do true friends do when their friends make mistakes like you made?”
I said, “They love them and look past their mistakes. Like my friends at my secular work. They didn’t bat an eye. They just loved me regardless. They looked past what I did and moved on. Even the two pastor friends I had and the couple in church who still loves me – they didn’t hesitate.”
He sat in silence for a moment and said, “Is it possible that they never really bonded with you?”
Wow. Then I said, “That makes sense to me. That would explain why in almost a decade of ministry there, I was only invited to eat in someone’s home only twice. I was only asked out to eat after church only twice. They were a tight knit group. I felt like a hired hand most of the time.”
He said, “What does it take to bond or start a friendship with someone?”
I said, “You have to open up and be yourself, you have to let someone in, you have to spend time with that person.”
He said, “Exactly. Did they ever try to reach out to you like that?”
I was getting irritated, “No. But Lord, you would think after a decade of doing their loved one’s funerals, their kid’s weddings, baptizing their grandchildren, going to their bedsides when they were sick, and God knows what that they would love me.”
He said, “No, not necessarily. Like you said, you were a hired hand. They didn’t place the same importance on the relationship that you did.”
I was becoming broken in this conversation and he could see it. Then he asked, “Help me understand something. You have told me before how judgmental you were before your fall. How would you have responded if someone you knew had fallen before this had happened?”
I said, “Harshly. But it depends on who it was. There are some who are close to me that I would have gone to battle for. But most I would have been harsh on. It was all black and white for me.”
He said, “I don’t understand that. Everyone makes mistakes. We’re all human and we have no right to judge another, do we?”
I said, “I know that now. I was wrong to do it, but I thought I was right and I did it anyway.”
He looked curious and wanted to know more. “So how is it that the church can treat you like this? It’s supposed to be a place where – if I understand what little I know of Christ’s teachings – where people are supposed to be loved for who they are, right? Weren’t sinners the ones who Christ came after? Weren’t they the ones he would have welcomed?”
Lord, I thought. The agnostic gets it, but the vast freaking majority of Christianity doesn’t get it. The church doesn’t get it.
I said, “You’re exactly right. And I’ll explain it to you. The harsh reality. And it’s horrible. If you are a drunk, an adulterer, a drug abuser or a vile sinner then you get ‘saved’, then the church welcomes you with open arms. They love the fact that you have a testimony. You’re like a trophy in the case.”
I continued. “But if you’re a saved Christian in the pew, already a member, and you sin – you commit adultery, use drugs, get caught with a DUI, sin in any way publicly, then you become an outcast. You’re a shame to the church. And they don’t want you anymore.”
He was leaning on my every word. He was fascinated and shaking his head at this point because he knew it was true.
“And the church doesn’t want you so they kick you out. You know why? Because other churches look at that church and say, ‘Is that man/woman still going there? I can’t believe they tolerate that kind of sin!’ It’s a blight on that church. It becomes a shame on that church. It’s not church discipline. It’s not what Christ wanted and it’s not biblical.”
He responded, “But that goes against what people who preach the Gospel believe, doesn’t it?”
Again, the agnostic gets it. And Christians don’t. We should be ashamed. And he wasn’t taunting. He wasn’t rubbing it
in. We was observing. And he was right.
That’s when he turned it back on me.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I really want the people at Angel Falls to treat me like they did before . . .” I trailed off. I realized the implications of what I was saying.
Before my fall I had been miserable. I was unhappy in that church. We had crisis after crisis. A lot of the people had been complaining about whatever they could find to complain about. Everyone was nitpicking the current situation. Frowns everywhere. I didn’t really want them to treat me like they did before. They were unhappy before my fall. And I told Ivan that.
He said, “See? They weren’t happy before. They never bonded with you. They weren’t your friends.”
I said, “But they have gossiped so much about what happened after my fall. They have so much misinformation. I want to stand in front of them and tell them the facts.” I paused. “But I know what you’re going to say. Showing them the facts won’t change their mind about how they feel about the situation.”
“Exactly,” he said. “It’s like conspiracy theorists. People who don’t think Obama was born in the United States. You could show them a birth certificate and they would still say, ‘Doesn’t matter, it’s fake.’”
He paused for about twenty seconds then said, “What do you have to do, then in dealing with these people? What have you learned about yourself? Some people are built to carry a heavier load than others, and you are one of them. You are able to forgive now better than others. They are not. You’ve been able to understand things better because of your experience. So what do you need to do?”
I kinda knew what he was looking for, but not really. I said, “Put things behind me? Move toward the future?”
He let me sit in silence for about a minute. A very long minute.
Then he said, “You have to accept them as they are.”
Well, crud. He was right. Then he said, “They can’t carry the same load you can. They don’t have the same life experience you have. They haven’t come to the same point in life and don’t have the same understanding you have. You have to be patient with them. You have to love and accept them as they are.”
I broke down. I said, “You’re right, and that’s biblical. It makes me think of Christ. And don’t hear me comparing myself to Christ, because I’m definitely not.”
He said, “I don’t.”
I said, “But Christ came to save people and they hated him for it. And on the cross, do you know what he said? He said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’”
He said, “Yes! I do remember that!”
That’s called a breakthrough counseling moment.
I can’t blame my counselor for believing in a God but not knowing who he is exactly. Especially when he can walk into a church and see such hypocrisy. I see the same thing. But I believe in a risen Christ. And some days, that’s all that gets me through. How can we continue in unforgiveness and shunning our own the way we do and claim to love a Christ who loved all repentant sinners? How can we sit on our rear ends and know that there are people who have left our churches when we should be pursuing them as Christ did?
We should be ashamed when an agnostic understands the gospel better than we do.