- Malinda Oakes
Burned by Past Church Experiences
Out of the blue, the conversation began. It didn’t seem to have a catalyst, the speaker just blurted it out. I could hear the pain and resentment in her voice as she spoke, “I grew up in a Catholic church. My parents were very strict. Every Sunday morning, they got me and my siblings up, got us dressed, and took us to church and dropped us off for the 8:00 a.m. mass. They would never come in themselves, but worse than that they would not come to get us after mass was over, which meant we had to stay for the next one. I never understood why my parents didn’t come in if they thought it was so important so, I grew up with a lot of resentment towards church. We finally figured out that church was just my parent’s weekly babysitter – and THAT’S why it was so important to them!”
It was easy for me to understand why the woman developed resentment towards church… and towards her parents.
Then she continued, “Then, when I got married and my husband and I had our own children, we started going to a Pentecostal church because our neighbor was the pastor there. To tell you the truth, we never really got used to it. People would get up and run around the aisles. It was always a little freaky to us when people started speaking in tongues. My husband sustained an injury while we were there. At the time, I worked third shift full-time as a nurse, we had three children and we were accustomed to tag-teaming everything! To have my husband “out of the game” had a huge impact! While he was recovering, I would come home from work, bath the three children and then my husband, get the children dressed and fed, get the older children off to school and then start administering the prescribed treatment that my husband needed. The treatment had to be tended every hour. I would drift off to sleep and my youngest would wake me when the chime rang indicating that it was time to tend to the treatment. This went on until the older children got home from school and I had to get each of them to their sports practices, pick them up when it was over, get dinner and then go to work to have this demanding cycle start all over again. This continued for ten weeks! It was absolutely exhausting as I got very little sleep. At church, the pastor of the Pentecostal church regularly had the congregation divide up – the men with the men and the women with the women – to give prayer requests. I was really getting worn down and I spoke - for the first time in all the years we attended - asking for prayer for myself as I was trying to carry the entire load for our family without my husband’s help. An older woman immediately scolded me, ‘I don’t know what you’re complaining about! In my day, I did all that every day!’ My eyes welled up with tears and I thought, ‘In YOUR day, did you also work full-time caring for the sick all night long????’”
My heart went out to the woman speaking. My spirit groaned. She doesn’t attend a church regularly now nor does her family. I silently said a prayer for God to heal her heart and my thoughts went to a Scripture found in Proverbs 12:18 “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” I’m sure the older woman who said those cutting words would take them all back if she knew that by speaking, she contributed to this family walking away from church, but it is too late now.
Our words are powerful! In fact, Scripture tells us that, “The tongue can bring death or life”! (Proverbs 18:21) The critical words of a hard-working older woman in that church so many years ago did not bring life to the younger woman who told the story.
My mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” Again, there is a Scriptural basis for this old saying. Proverbs talks a lot about the power of words. Words can give life, encouragement and healing to the hearer.
Proverbs 10:11 “The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain;”
10:21 “The words of the godly encourage many."
12:18 “the words of the wise bring healing."
10:32 “The lips of the godly speak helpful words”
Ah, the beauty of this is heartwarming - to think that carefully chosen words could give life, encouragement, healing and help to one who journeys this life beside us! Isn’t that what the Christian life is all about?
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that words can also ambush and destroy the hearer.
Proverbs 12:6 “The words of the wicked are like a murderous
ambush, but the words of the godly save lives."
13:3 “Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.”
Jesus’ brother James challenges believers: “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring [for others]…” (James 1:26-27)
How are we caring for those with whom we interact? Do our words build them up? Do our words encourage? Do our words bring healing? Are our words helpful?
I feel conviction. Do you?
If we are honest when we evaluate ourselves while considering James’ challenge, each one of us will find ourselves coming up short at times – unable to control our own tongue. We have all made this mistake. In chapter three verse two he says, “Indeed, we all make mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect…”
As in every area of our Christian walk, when it comes to consistently speaking words of life, encouragement and healing we find ourselves powerless to do it on our own and desperate for God’s help. May this Psalm be the prayer of our hearts, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord.” (19:14)
“So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:19)