We don’t remember every compliment or encouraging word we receive, but we do struggle to forget the words that wound us and times when we feel betrayed.
I Was Preparing to Be a Pastor When Other Pastors Hurt Me
During a season where I was preparing to serve as a pastor, I was wounded and betrayed.
As a seminary student, I was required to take a practicum class. This course included three components – a classroom experience each week, a set number of ministry hours in a local church, and a regular meeting with a feedback group who observed you in your ministry context.
The classroom experience was discussion-heavy, with a lot of interaction reviewing the experiences we were having, along with exploring other case studies. This setting was supposed to a safe space to share, without judgment or condemnation.
During one of our conversations, I felt comfortable and began opening up about the struggle I was having with burnout. I talked about my struggle to just go through the motions and battle I was fighting against cynicism, frustration, and disillusionment.
The response I got from one person in this class was complete disbelief. “But that’s not possible”, they said. “You’re studying the Bible for your sermon prep and teaching classes – that has to be helping you spiritually.” I said, “No, actually, I feel like I am just doing it for the people I’m teaching. It’s not really sinking in for me. I feel like I am feeding other people but not getting any nourishment myself.” The back and forth between me and this man continued for some time. As I talked about how everything I was doing was “out here” (as I moved arms away from my body like a swimmer doing the breaststroke), I talked about how nothing was happening inside me (pointing to my heart). I can still remember the shock on his face when I shared that the only time I was reading my Bible and praying was for my work at the church or for class. It wasn’t a great place to be, but that’s where I was living.
Sadly, the sense of judgment I felt from this one individual is something I can still taste today. A place that was supposed to be “safe” where I could be vulnerable became a place of rejection and judgment.
Have You Been Hurt in a Space Where You Felt Safe?
Have you been there? Maybe your context is different, but the experience is similar. You believed it was okay to be vulnerable and transparent, yet when you took those steps you found it was far more dangerous than anticipated. Instead of being accepted and affirmed, you discovered rejection and shame.
Betrayal, disappointment, and wounding seem to be universal human experiences. In teaching a class recently, I asked for a show of hands from the attendees. “How many of you have been wounded by someone who loved and trusted?” Every hand in the room went up. “How many of you have wounded someone you loved?” Every hand stayed up.
We long for a sense of love, acceptance, and affirmation. Honestly, I have yet to meet an over-encouraged person. Regardless of where we come from, these are the things we each live for every day.
7 Healthy Responses to Our Wounds
We all need a community where love and encouragement abound, in us and through us, but many of us have experienced the exact opposite of these in a community like that. The communities we’ve been a part of – whether communities of faith, families, friendship groups, etc. – they’ve often been the places where we received our deepest wounds, instead of our deepest embraces.
If this is the case, what’s the answer? I think there are some helpful actions you can take in response to your wound.
1. Acknowledge the wounds.
Living in denial will prevent any healing. Telling other people “it was no big deal, I’m okay” prevents you from processing the hurt and disappointment. Obsessing over the wound is not helpful, but denying its significance is not helpful either.
[Tweet “Obsessing over the wound is not helpful, but denying its significance is not helpful either.”]
2. Forgive the wounder.
As hard as this may be to comprehend, we have to forgive those who hurt us if we want to experience a meaningful life in the future. Forgiveness is not about the person who hurt us – it is about us. If we (the wounded) stay bitter, the other person (the wounder) does not suffer the consequences. We suffer the consequences! If you struggle with forgiveness, then you’re the person I was thinking about when I wrote my ebook, Forgiveness: From Myth to Reality.
[Tweet “Forgiveness is not about the person who hurt you – it is about you.”]
3. Accept that you will be wounded, even betrayed, again in the future.
This may sound strange, but I think we battle cynicism so intensely because we live life so naively. Our idealism sets us up for a violent collision when our naive worldview crashes into reality.
My naïveté about that classroom environment and my expectation of a different experience made the hurt, disappointment, and betrayal so much more painful. After that night, I stopped sharing with any vulnerability in that classroom because I was uncertain how I would be received. I had been hurt by family and friends before this – I did not anticipate that the wounding I had known there could happen here. And it became difficult to forget.
We do not need to live with a sense of pessimism, expecting the worst to happen daily. But when we look forward and recognize how deeply our broken world will touch us all, we respond to hurt and betrayal differently. Frankly, being vulnerable puts you in a place where you can be hurt.
4. Recognize the consequences that come from refusing to be vulnerable.
For you, vulnerability may not come easily. Many men I’ve met struggle with being vulnerable. For some of us, we do not let anyone in too deeply because we can’t risk being wounded or hurt again. However, when we refuse to be vulnerable, we lock out the bad – and the good – from penetrating our hearts. We prevent the wounds – and the love – from getting in deep.
One of my all-time favorite lines from a book comes from Frederich Buechner. In The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days, he wrote,
To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do—to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst—is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from. You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own.
[Tweet “When we refuse to be vulnerable, we lock out the bad – and the good – from penetrating our hearts.”]
5. Think about vulnerability like you do food poisoning.
When you think about your options when dealing with the risk of being wounded by another person, it might be helpful to consider our response to food poisoning.
If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you know the violent pain that repeated vomiting can cause. Whether it’s one trip to the bathroom or several, watching your last meal make a return visit is enough to make most of us want nothing to do with eating for a long time. However, hunger eventually returns and we remember that eating is essential to survival. We cannot decide to never eat again after food poisoning; if we do, we are signing a death wish. We can choose to risk a bad meal or we can starve ourselves.
(Sidenote – many of us write off the restaurant or food which gave us a terrible night or weekend. In the same way, many of us forgo showing up or being honest with people in certain environments because of past pain. It makes sense.)
The potential for pain, though, is part of the bargain. It’s a risk we have to take. When we accept that we can be wounded (by food or by people), we also accept that we can be known, accepted, and loved (or delighted, amazed and wowed) – the things we want so deeply in our souls. If I had stopped eating after my bouts with food poisoning, I would have missed out on some amazing meals. I also would have missed the very nourishment that has sustained my life.
[Tweet “When we accept that we can be wounded, we also accept that we can be known, accepted, and loved.”]
6. Wisely keep pursuing relationships where you can be vulnerable.
When trust is broken, the wise and prudent thing to do is not trust the same way again without seeing reasons to believe that trust is warranted (a repentant attitude, a pattern of changed behavior, etc.) In the same way that I likely might avoid the food or the restaurant associated with my food poisoning, it’s often wise to consider our future actions in light of our past experience.
In building a space for vulnerability, we must be patient. Trust is built over time. We increase trust as people show up in the same way consistently. Time doesn’t magically heal pain; what we do over time creates space for healing.
However, if people are going to be transparent in a group setting at any point, someone has to go first. The first person to be vulnerable is often the most courageous, giving a gift to other people by making it easier to share. A moment will come where we have to risk again if we’re going to build a sense of community that is real, honest and true. Someone will have to risk; why not you?
[Tweet “Someone will have to risk; why not you?”]
7. When you experience a healthy community, give thanks for it constantly.
If you have ever had an experience of this kind of community and lost it, you know the sense of gratitude that develops for what you once had. And if you found it again, then I don’t need to tell you how much you rejoiced for it.
We often only appreciate what we had after we lost it. But what if we could be grateful as we were experiencing the gift? I love how the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church, saying “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” When we become disciplined enough to give thanks constantly, we recognize the gifts when we experience them, not after we lose them. As our sense of gratitude grows, so does our desire for generosity. If I’m thankful for something, I’m also likely to share it with others.
A community where we can be loved and known is a gift meant to be shared with the world. Regardless of what we believe about the world and God, we all know that we were meant to live in connection with people in a way that we could be our true selves without fear and become our best selves without condemnation. To live the lives that we were created to live and live out the purposes we were intended for, we will need others. In the words of Buechner, “You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even prevail on your own. But you cannot become human on your own.”
[Tweet “To live the lives that we were created to live, we will need others.”]
[callout] If you enjoyed this post, then check out my new ebook, Forgiveness: From Myth to Reality. I wrote it to unearthing the lies we’ve been taught about forgiveness and discover the real thing for ourselves. [/callout]