[guestpost]Originally, this post began as a post on my Facebook page. I didn’t think much about it, merely thoughts I’d been pondering spilled out over the course of a minute or two. Little did I know. As of today, well over 33,000 people have viewed this post, and hundreds liked, commented and shared. The response is telling. Thus, the reason I’m bringing it to you. Regardless of where you fall in the whole “religion” question, I believe the conversation is a worthy one. Thanks for taking a risk to have it with me. With love for you, Michele [/guestpost]

When Troy and I settled into our overnight flight home from South Africa, we planned to watch a movie and fall asleep. What we didn’t expect was the brief conversation with the young woman sitting next to us.

With a few exchanged words, we discovered she attended a Christian school located only a few miles from our home (what are the chances?!). She’d been in SA on a mission and was returning home like us. We chatted for a minute, then settled in for the long flight. When we arrived in London and stood to leave the plane, we asked her if she planned to do any more mission trips in the future. Her answer stunned us:

“No. I had a bad experience at that Christian school. I don’t really want to have anything to do with religion anymore. I’m done with it.”

Caught in the rush of hundreds exiting the plane, we told her how sorry we were but could say little more. Within minutes, we went our separate ways. Now, nearly two weeks later, I’m yet haunted by her words. How I wish I could go back and listen hard to her story! I can only imagine the pain that led her to such a decision.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the like. Truth is, I get it. I’ve endured a few painful “religious” experiences that made me question the sanity of sticking with it. Even thinking back on those dark days tempts me to pull away.

But as I’ve thought about that girl and prayed for her aching heart, I keep coming back to this one thought:

When it comes to bad experiences, we often throw away faith far quicker than anything else.

For example, if I went to a local McDonald’s (or Burger King, Wendy’s, etc.) and had a terrible experience—everything from the customer service to the quality of the food—I may never go back to that McDonald’s again but I won’t disavow cheeseburgers. NOT ON YOUR LIFE. Why? Because I love cheeseburgers, even if a group of ridiculous humans can’t figure out how to serve them up well.

Or …

How about Internet Service Providers? I’ve lost track of how many horrible experiences I’ve had—at least a half-dozen in the last two weeks. And yet, you and I both know that I’m not likely to walk away from the Internet forever simply because organizations can’t figure out how to deliver it well.

All I’m saying is this:

First (1) We’re wounded, you and I. Our church interactions have left us bleeding. However, this isn’t all that different from our experience with families. I know of no one who hasn’t been hurt by someone they call mom or dad or brother or spouse or child. It’s the nature of human interaction. Thus we shouldn’t be surprised when the same happens within the greater church family. (NOTE: When those “wounds” turn gross abuses, accountability and consequences are necessary. The film Spotlight shown a bright light on this.)

But, (2) We also desperately want to believe—need to believe—that our God is bigger, better, and more beautiful than our experiences with His creations. We ache to know a breathtaking Faithfulness, a staunch Trustworthiness, such that our hope is restored that things won’t always be this broken.

My friend, if you’ve been hurt, you’re in good company. I know of no one who has invested her heart in a church family without it getting wrenched a time or two. Find a different church if you need to. Or a different school. Or a different group of Jesus-followers to hang out with. If one church has broken your heart, find another that will help you heal it.

But whatever you do, don’t throw away cheeseburgers altogether. Jesus is the prize, the worthy object of your affection. Not the gathering of people who try (miserably) to follow Him. 

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How can your church experiences—both positive and negative—deepen your faith? 

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