My hands are shaking, my heart racing. The truth is ugly. A crimson stain in the snow. Yet, I find myself here at the altar. His light is crystal clear, warm and inviting me in…but the darkness feels stronger when I look at those around me; the church. I fight hard. The tears burning behind my eyes. The sense of judgement is overwhelming. What if they saw the real me? The one I’m dying to throw at the feet of Jesus.
Every Sunday is a battle. Outside, I hold it together. I walk through the door in a rush of preparedness. I’m prepared to smile, prepared to act happy, prepared to pretend. What I’m never prepared for is the overwhelming feeling that God is calling me to more. More than the standard of soul-crushing burdens hidden behind our Sunday best. He’s calling me to let go.
I’m a survivor. Of abuse. Of rape. Of nightmares turned real. I’m also a Christian. A believer. Of grace overflowing. His love covers the deepest of scars, the deadliest of sins. His people are not always as quick to accept what they don’t understand.
There’s an unspoken rule amongst many churches, one that we don’t like to admit exists: Come…but come clean. Come at your best. Leave your scars and your dirt, all that brings discomfort, at home. Walk through those doors wearing a mask of joy and show the world what a “good Christian” looks like. Don’t let them see you break down. Keep your pain private. To be holy…be strong.
…but I’m not. I’m not strong, at least not right now. I’m struggling. I’m broken. At times I’m barely able to breathe, the PTSD taking hold as I try to function in the crowd. Flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety attacks, migraines, insomnia…the aftermath of being treated like an object has left me searching for light in the darkness. I’m in survival mode day in and day out and hardly breathe a word of it to anyone. Especially not anyone at church. Why? Because of the hush. The silence that follows stories like mine. Jesus himself spent most of his time with the hurting. He chose to befriend the outcasts; those who carried the burden of shame. Those who had suffered the unspeakable. He suffered with them. He suffered for them. He suffered for me…and, if I didn’t need Him, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be at the altar…broken.
The looks and the whispers that follow my open suffering…they fuel the fear that keeps me so guarded on Sunday morning. Yet, I know I’m not alone. I know that almost every person in every sanctuary is hurting. Every one of us has a dark side. Every one of us has been wronged. We are all there because we need Jesus. So, why hide our deepest hurts?
One in three women in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. One in three. Many of those women are found within the walls of the church. Abuse knows no boundaries.
He calls to me in the midst of suffering, reminding me that He understands. He has paid the ultimate price, but not so that I could be silent. I am resolved. No more hiding. He’s called us to come as we are. Christ didn’t give His all for some perfect version of us…He loved us at our darkest.
So, whether they be tears of joy or of sorrow…I will cry on Sunday morning. I will lay down my deepest hurts and lift up my highest praises. I will bring my real self through those doors and I will not be ashamed. I will come alongside the hurting. I will not let judgment hinder me from being the hands and feet of Jesus to those who may also be one in three. For, only when we come forth bearing our chains, can they ever be broken.