This is a guest post from LDS Woman at the Well. It was originally posted on her blog and it is about choosing which foundation we want to build on and about her own struggles and issues and resolutions. The original formatting has been lost, but you can read this essay in the original [here].
I wish to write to those that have been offended or disappointed within the Christian Community. You may be moving in the direction of leaving your church or you may have already left because of those offenses. Over the course of a month, I have received hundreds of letters from former or inactive LDS members courageously sharing their story with me about why they chose to leave the church. I hear you and I want you to know, I understand.
I know often when we are offended or hurt within our communities, we feel alone and isolated. I want to share with you my story so, maybe, you won’t feel so alone. You do not suffer in the abstract. You hurt because real people hurt you and real offenses and disappointments have occurred. My prayer is not to downplay your hurt, but to acknowledge it and to provide a perspective. One offended soul to another…..
As a former exotic tattooed dancer/model, I stand out. Because of my past or my look, I have been an easy target for people with ulterior motives, either it be immoral reasons or I am charity case (I needed to be fixed). In both cases, the pain runs deep. The last offense within the church left me shaken because it came from people that I considered friends or at the very least, moral upstanding beings whom I believed in a small capacity cared about me.
I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.
Grudgingly, I watched General Conference and rolled my eyes (a lot) because I am rebellious by nature. I was incredibly angry. Every avenue I took felt like a dead end road.“The church is perfect but the people aren’t” and “let it go” were the go to responses and it did nothing to quench the flame of revenge I had building within me. In fact, it only fueled it. I have always been really turned off by God in the Old Testament. I found Him to be emotionally unstable. One minute, He is wanting to annihilate the Israelites and the next He’s like a wounded lover crying in the corner…and nope, He’s back to vengeance. Now I get it. Is there any emotion as powerful and raw as that of betrayal? I hurt deeply and I almost left my faith because of it. But, here’s the sad reality and a truth I needed to learn….sometimes Godly people just do UnGodly things.
I spent a lifetime basing my worth on what people thought or said about me. IF I was told I was loved, then I was loved. IF people were orbiting around me, then I was special. I was important because I had someone’s attention even if it was bad attention. When the attention stopped, so did the love I had for myself. I couldn’t handle it. My heart was inside my community instead of inside the Creator of that Community. In a moment of frustration and anger, I cried out to God and clear as a bell, I heard Him say,
“Nikki, you are going to need to learn and understand that MY love and what I say about you is enough.”
Listen, the only thing that matters is what God says about you. Everything else is someone’s opinion from the Bishop to the Ward Librarian. I had to learn and relearn, confirm and reconfirm that truth about what God says over me. All over my house, all over notebooks and notecards…scriptures indicating my worth in the eyes of God.
No person can take away that worth and God forbid, they even try. Just because your world rejects you, it doesn’t mean that God rejects you. We have to claim God’s love to the core of our being that it literally becomes apart of everything we do and say. We need that truth sink in so deep, it’s written on the “fleshy tablets of the heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)
We can’t keep running into our community, looking for something, looking at mortal men and women to fill a space only God can fill within us. We all have this God shaped hole inside of us proof of our existence in eternity before this life.
And yet, we wonder why we are so disappointed when people fail to live up to that expectation. Only God can and should be God to us. I encourage you to ask yourself this question, “am I truly living my life played out to an audience of One or am I looking for a standing ovation from the masses?” If the answer is “no” to One and “yes” to the masses….You will be offended again within six months. If you’re like me and you base your identity within the world and your world turns on you, it will feel like your life is over. The world teaches us that our identity is based on our status and power.
Without these things, our identity is null and void. We are nothing. If you play by the rules of the world, you will do anything to keep that status. As a dancer, I learned all about the manipulation and hustle of society. You will stab people in the back, lie, steal, cheat, ignore…anything to get ahead or get your way. When you are rooted in the Kingdom of God, though the loss of community is still painful, there’s a knowledge that with pain and rejection, the Kingdom of God is near. Christ frees us. As Christians we can take or leave power, recognition, and status. Why? Because the things of in the world don’t control us anymore. People’s opinions are just that…opinions. My heart no longer hears it and receives mortal men and women opinions as proof of my value.
I always hated the slogan, “the church is perfect, but the people are not.” (You will never hear me use it) Mostly because I believe WE, the people, ARE the church. The Gospel is perfect. Oh, it most certainly is the GOOD NEWS, but the church….we are an embarrassment. God took a gamble dwelling inside imperfect creatures. We run the risk of representing Him wrong and diluting who He truly is. We become the caricature of God that people reject. When I almost left the faith, it wasn’t God I was running away from. It was His people.
Believe me, I know home is not always comfortable and being in a community is not easy. In every community there can be a sense of healing and acceptance, but there will always be betrayal and hurt. In the Gospel of Luke (6), Christ identified His community, naming His disciples, one by one. Even Judas, the traitor. By definition “traitor” literally means to “hand over,” and there will always be someone within your community who hands you over to something painful or unwanted.
As soon as we have community, something is bound to go wrong. It might be more than one person “handing you” over to something and sometimes, I may be that person. Being together doesn’t mean we will always be in harmony and some utopian fellowship, rather it’s a place where we can affirm and reaffirm the truths about who we are to God, His children.
It’s a place to confess our weakness and offer forgiveness. It’s a place where we let go of our ego and learn what it’s like to serve others. Love each other through the stereotypes. It’s a place to learn true humility and sometimes that takes a lot of humiliation. Sometimes we are close, sometimes not. Sometimes we feel fulfilled, sometimes we are left empty. But we can be faithful in our community. We are invited to sit at God’s table, not by ourselves.
Lastly, that place of falling became the place of my Calling within God’s kingdom. I don’t think I would have dove into the scriptures and leaned on God as much if God hadn’t taken my crutches away. God knew what I needed before I even realized it. I needed to stop relying on my man-made gods of human approval and turn towards the Living God who crushes all idols under His feet.
The hardest thing I ever had to do was to pray for those that hurt me and continue to do it. I learned by praying for our enemies, we do something they can not do. By praying for those people who hurt me, I stood beside them and pleaded to God for their behalf, which standing beside them in unity is all I really wanted in the first place. The demon possessed never asked for a cure, someone had to ask for them.
And what would have happened to Saul/Paul if Stephen had never prayed for his enemies? (Acts 7) Forgiving those that have hurt us is unnatural. If it were natural, it wouldn’t be a commandment. We would just do it. But, who has ever heard of “survival of the weakest?”
True forgiveness is an absorption of someone’s debt. If someone came into your house and broke your favorite lamp, you have two ways to respond. You can demand a repayment or you could say, “don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” The lamp is still broken. Someone will still need to pay for it. But, you have taken that payment on yourself.
Likewise, at the loss of reputation, friends, etc to benefit the other person, you absorb that debt. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” It isn’t easy, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be. I knew I was changing when I approached my offender and asked for HIS forgiveness, though I have never received an apology. And I knew I was follower of Christ, when I worried more about my offender’s needs than my own.
As someone who has lived an incredibly selfish life, for the first time I acted unselfishly and out of true love for another person with no expectation of something in return and whether he (the offender) deserved it or not. Believe it or not, that in and of itself was worth the offense. Jesus truly met me within my breaking. I couldn’t have asked for a more solid proof of God’s love for me and how He is changing me.
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
If someone were to tell me they were leaving the church, I would beg them to reconsider. The church needs Reformers. People who aren’t afraid to stand up and fight for injustices and the wounded within the walls of our buildings. We are God’s only option to stand up and speak out and speak for those too hurt to speak themselves.
God didn’t leave us a Plan B. We are it. My heart lies within the sex industry and getting my sisters out and into the arms of a loving Savior. But, my purpose within the church is to make sure that when those girls finally take a leap of faith and step into the church, they feel loved and accepted. My job is to protect them and the only way to do that is to be brave enough to allow myself to change from within, rise above every offense and stay in church.
We can breathe new life into our environment or we can breathe life into our wounds. The choice is ours. I’ve stopped asking myself “why me?” and focused on the “now that this has happened, what can I learn? More importantly, where can I change?”
Brothers and sisters, I realized this important truth, we simply do not know what’s going on in someone else’s life. “Spiritual wounds are not easily visible, except with inspired eyes” (President Eyring) Hurting people hurt people. We may be the only way some people meet the real Jesus. If I sought out my revenge, I would have pushed them out of their faith like they almost did to me. God, thank you for tying my hands behind my back before I made that fatal mistake.
When I was at my lowest, I emailed my former bishop and friend for advice and he said something I will cherish,
“Nikki, I would say roughly 75% of all people have only surface courage, which easily collapses when called to stand up when standing is difficult. The same people are genuine most the time, except when being genuine may cost them dearly….”
I pray I am always so genuine, so courageous and so full of love that even if it cost me everything, it would be worth it. Because true Christian love cost Jesus everything and I follow His example.
Friends, God is worth it, therefore His church, His people are worth you staying with it. Don’t give up on it.
“…lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take rest in safety.” Job 11:15-18