May 14, 2012
“I know what your problem is,” a pastor from my seminary said. A barely perceptible smirk crept across his face. He knew he had me pegged, but I tried to hide behind my plate of hash browns and lukewarm coffee. I didn’t have a problem.
“You’re church damaged,” he said, unaware of my internal dialogue.
That struck me as ridiculous. I may have been church frustrated, but I didn’t see how I could be church damaged. From my perspective back then, the church was just screwed up, burning out pastors and people for the sake of programs.
Who had the damage? Not me pal. The church was the one with the problems.
Looking back on that conversation, I can see that I confused “damage” with something negative, a flaw in my personality. Damage itself wasn’t wrong. Damage just happens.
Damage can lead to conflict and alienation from one another.
Damage is behind those moments when we lash out at others or rant about church on our blogs.
Damage can even obscure our need for healing, as we focus on the pain and the past without considering there can be a future where that pain is healed.
I wasn’t ready to listen to that pastor who diagnosed me with church damage, but he was ready to listen to me. That made all of the difference. He didn’t really care about what I had to say.
He cared about me and my healing. If he cared about what I said, he would have heard another angry 20-something who is frustrated by the church, and he would have defended the church. When he used my words to understand where I was coming from, he could see the deeper story behind my frustrations.
This pastor helped me take my first step back into Christian community. He helped me recognize that my problem wasn’t “the church” per se. My problem was the damage that church had caused in me.
I couldn’t necessarily change the systems that had used me up, let me down, and left me feeling lost. However, I could bring the damage of my past to God and let him heal me. I could become a repaired person who no longer damages others.
My hash browns and coffee failed to guard me from that pastor’s penetrating stare. He looked right through me, but he wasn’t acting arrogant. He had the confidence of a doctor who knew his trade.
For that season, I remained the patient who didn’t trust doctors, though I couldn’t shake the power of his diagnosis in the months that followed. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that you can find healing in the previous source of your pain.