Cheeseburgers, the Internet, and Jesus

Jun 8, 2016

[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? 

13 Comments

  1. Lea

    Oh Michele. This is excellent. I believe all pain, suffering and struggle is ultimately a reminder that only God and He alone can bind up our wounds, heal a broken heart and be the only one who KNOWS all our ugliness and scary things and still never leave us or forsake us. We are ALL human! And we WILL be hurt and cause hurt despite our best intentions. But if I could shout from the rooftops everyday for the rest of my life, I would say, GOD IS LOVE! He knows your pain, and He LONGS to wrap His arms around you. He knows your deepest, darkest self, and He longs to illuminate it with pure and cleansing light to empower you. He will NEVER leave you nor forsake you, He is for you, He is ever present! All we have to do is….call upon Him. We can’t expect people to fill a void that only God can. And in my generation (I’m 34) I’m finding we have a sad disconnect with the fact that as vitally important as the Body of Christ is, it CANNOT replace our personal relationship with Jesus. But dear Jesus, help me please, not to cause the kind of hurt that turns one of Your precious children away.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I agree, Lea. We do have “a sad disconnect” with that reality. Ironically, it’s often the pain that redirects our affections to the right and worthy place. Thanks for your encouragement here.

      Reply
  2. Jackie Hobbins

    A friend of mine told me, “Its a good thing we don’t always agree with our church. If we did, we could easily start confusing church with God.” It is a reminder I need to go back to often. Thanks for your words Michele!

    Reply
  3. Brenda

    This whole story rings so true. And also the truth is that the older you get, the sad reality is that you will be hurt by Christians, and churches and people who love God…. The other truth is that I will hurt and disappoint people too. A reminder as we grow older how important it is to keep our eyes on God and keep on persevering until the “race is won.” Thanks Michelle for keeping it real and keeping my eyes on Jesus.

    Reply
  4. mandy

    I appreciate your page and your perspectives. However this blog post seems to discount the depth of difference between church relationship and simple products or services. And while you acknowledge that bad religious experiences happen to us all, many of those who leave have much deeper hurts. Those should be heard, understood and reconciliation should be fostered.

    I have many Christian friends, and several who have left their faith tradition. None of them have left easily or lightly. None of the stories I know were as simple as a one time bad experience, or spotty connection. Church is often a familial thing, a legacy thing. If it isn’t it is still a deeply ingrained thing. SO the decision to leave ones faith decision is a difficult one.

    I have a friend who was molested by a youth worker as a child and hung in there and as an adult brought her children and served in many volunteer capabilities. When the youth worker was promoted despite multiple claims of molestation, she felt her church did not value her as an individual. And did not value the worth of persons over politics.

    I have another friend who had multiple miscarriages and kept her faith and her church connections strong throughout those years, until the comments about the “the sin that must be in her life, causing God to punish her in this way ” became too frequent, too widespread. Her definition of God no longer was in sync with those in her congregation.

    Many Christians today judge and condemn homosexuals, who were born different and still believed they were made by God, perfect in his sight, until a majority of religious leaders convinced them otherwise.

    And the single mothers who work tirelessly to provide for their children but can not do so without the aid of state insurance and food programs, they hear church leaders say every day they should be ashamed, and they have brought their poverty on themselves.

    There is a whole lot of ugliness out their masquerading as “Christianity”. Until the Church of Jesus Christ is restored as HE taught, children of God will leave broken, and worse they will be turned away by a wall of judgement, indifference, and ignorance.

    Lets not take their pain or their decisions to leave lightly.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      So many truths in what your write, Mandy. Heartbreakingly so. It pains me deeply, these horrible abuses of what should be a beautiful gift. I was a divorced woman, single mom, and now three time cancer survivor. I’ve heard well-meaning Christian people disavow my message because of my divorce as well as try to pin some kind of responsibility on me for the cancer I endured. In addition to that, I’ve walked with a dear friend though a horrible sexual abuse by a church leader. Please know I am not taking anyone’s pain or decisions lightly. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      I hesitate to write a post on complex topics like this one, because the risk of misunderstanding is extraordinarily high. It is impossible to cover all the intricacies and unique stories in a 700-word post. Perhaps I should stick with something easier, like “3 easy steps to preparing a 30-minute dinner.”

      On the other hand, after nearly leaving my faith multiple times for valid reasons, I feel a deep compassion for those who are questioning and searching. My hope is they find the unfailing love of God, even if they don’t find a church.

      THANK YOU for your kind heart and deep compassion for those who are hurting. We need more like you. ~MC

      Reply
  5. Belle

    I left my church after years of being hurt and being horrified by how the people there treated fellow Christians and unbelievers. One day, as I stood in the foyer of my church and witnessed yet another unkind berating of a teenager, I thought to myself, “I must never bring anyone to this church again.” Then I thought, “Well, why are you staying?” I have never regretted my decision.

    I did not leave God, but if the majority of the people in your church are awful people, why stay? I went to other churches of my denomination but they were all the same. I even visited a different denomination, but I felt I didn’t really belong because my beliefs were different.

    I’m very happy worshipping God at home. There are many online resources to listen to or read. I find many places to witness to others of God’s love. My husband and mother live with me and we pray together.

    I’m glad you are praying for that young lady. She is young and inexperienced, eventually she may understand that God is wonderful even though people are not.

    Reply
  6. Linda Cowan

    Michele,

    Thank you for sharing that approach church and the pain we have endured while there. We have had several experiences in church that rocked our boat a little or enough to go searching for another place to worship, but our experiences at our last church sent us fleeing. We didn’t have the strength or desire to look elsewhere. Both Steve and I were raised in the church and went every Sunday of our lives…until now. I agree with what you are saying and maybe I will look again to find a better “cheeseburger” at some point. My biggest hurt right now is wondering if my actions took my daughter away from church as well. That’s another story altogether. She is an adult, making her own choices, but as a mom, I just wonder how things got to where they are today. Thank you again for your insight and sharing.

    Reply
  7. Sue

    Truth is when my husband died and I fell ill, I even wondered what I did to deserve that. It took a long time to work through it-in fact, I still am. There have been hurtful comments made at a vulnerable time, but I know those comments came from imperfect people, not from Our Lord or his Son. They have provided a place at their table for my husband and will make room for me too. Not giving up on faith, but may need to find new Christian friends who practice it differently.

    Reply
  8. Randall

    The difference here is pretty significant. When was the last time you looked for absolution from a cheeseburger?

    I appreciate the sentiment – but I think its a bit much to assume the only way to love or be known and accepted by God is through a Christian church. For those who are happy, safe, welcomed and caring of others – not that I’ve ever found such – they should count all four of their profound blessings.

    For the rest, if Jesus lights you up, and you have a personal relationship which animates and activates the best part of you – stop searching… you have arrived. And if Jesus is not your catalyst – so be it. You can be a whole, entire and complete person engaged in making the world better without sinning for six days and seeking forgiveness for an hour on Sunday.

    Without the context and canvas the missionary lived, it is not acceptable to pray for her return to a Jesus denominated church. It is instead enough to pray – or think if you like – about the conditions she endured which shook her faith in those institutions that traffic in redemption while mostly requiring it themselves. Church is broken until the leaders stop proclaiming themselves superior and we stop allowing them to elevate themselves above and in front of the flock.

    I hope you find God is waiting for you – and that you are strong enough to seek, answer and find fulfillment.

    Reply
  9. Lauren Gaskill | Making Life Sweet

    What a truly beautiful post, Michele. You are SO right! Love the cheeseburger analogy and praying for hearts to be mended, healed and restored. <3

    Reply
  10. Kitty

    I and my prince are 58 and 60 years old respectively. We recently left the only church we’ve ever faithfully attended (since both our births) for reasons that, if were recounted here, would only give praise to the devil. Months after our departure, my sister and her prince were bullied and ousted as well. I cling to the fact that God is still God, that He gave His only Son to be my Redeemer, that He and He alone, is worthy of my devotion, that one glorious day Jesus will return to reign victoriously as King of kings and Lord of lords. He mandated us to go and tell, and we are determined to carry out His commission because we love Him. Although we are “homeless”, we are not orphans. My trust is in my Father God, who invites me to climb up into His lap and tell Him about the evil that abounds in so-called religious organizations, on the local as well as the global level. Woe to the one[s] who would lead away anyone who is little in faith.
    “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Luke 17:2

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. - Piano Pantry - […] I love Michele’s metaphor: “When it comes to bad experiences, we often throw away faith far quicker than anything…
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  3. Friday Favorites: July 22 - Courtney Westlake - […] This post by Michele Cushatt speaks such truth about religion and faith. […]

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