When Church Is A House Of Pain

The title to this blog post sounds mighty negative. I get that. However, my goal in sharing what you are about to read is that it not be another post bashing the bride of Christ.

To the contrary.

I love the church and have much I owe her. I have not always gotten along with her well–there have been many days when she frustrated or made me angry.

But when you are dealing with mistake prone people–family and friends even who are as damaged by sin as the next guy (the next guy being me), you’re going to find flaws. And where you have flawed people, you will find pain–self-inflicted as well as inflicted by others.

As Uncle Si would say, that’s a fact, Jack!

I have written before about the pain and anguish felt as the result of people who didn’t handle the hurts and disappointments of others very well. Especially those who are struggling with death and loss.

Obviously, everybody’s story is different. But for most, the initial days, weeks, and months after the funeral is over are just the beginning of new adjustments, new levels of anguish, and trying to rebuild. Frankly for me, the second year was harder than the first. I don’t know why, it just was.

To illustrate how it works for some, read what Pam McCutcheon says about the aftermath of losing her son….

“I have a confession.  Please don’t judge me.  I haven’t attended a church service for over three years.  My relationship with God is strong and my faith is not in jeopardy.  But church is a house of pain, on many levels, since Max was killed.

First and foremost, my grief lives deep down in my soul.  A vulnerable place.  That same place in my soul that I tap in to when I worship God.  The tears naturally come.  And I refuse to “play” church and keep a happy face on.  I bawl when praise music starts.  God is fully worthy of my praise.  But (He already knows this, it’s well discussed territory), I am mad at Him for the decision to take Max to heaven at 18. I cannot sing about the faithfulness of God when I know very well I feel like He betrayed my trust.  I cannot sing about His goodness, even though I know and believe He is good.  Not in public.  I know others cry in church.  But I don’t have a ‘pretty’ cry.  My face gets red, I am vocal, and I melt down.  I’m a spectacle and truly, I don’t want people gawking at me when I’m that exposed.  It was much easier for me to sing “I Surrender All” when it didn’t require me surrendering my oldest child to death

Secondly, I have been betrayed by those who genuinely love and follow Jesus.  Some do not know how to minister to grieving people.  Some can only do it for a short while. I’m not talking about those people, although they have hurt me because I truly needed them and they weren’t there.  No.  I’m talking about the horrible things said “in the name of Christ”, or “telling the truth in love”, both phrases thrown around with too many cliches that have no meaning or power in my grief.  I am not going to get too specific because I hope to mend those fences someday, even if I have to wait until I reach eternity for unity again.  The self-righteous, smug, advice-givers inflict the most damage.  And they are not the reason I stay away from church.  But they certainly contribute to the church being a house of pain.  I do not doubt that they love Jesus, but they surely don’t reflect His heart for grieving people.

Do you know what Jesus did when He came upon the sisters of Lazarus right after he had died?  The sisters were angry with Him, yelling, they told Him that if He had been there, Lazarus wouldn’t have died!  Did Jesus say “but he is in heaven, a better place”?  Did Jesus say “you might damage your witness by grieving so outwardly”?  Did Jesus say “here is some Scripture”?  NO.  Jesus simply WEPT.  He wept with them.  He was deeply moved and He wept.  Even though He knew He was going to resurrect him that very day.   He wept out of love.  (John chapter 11)  I pray more would use His example and not say damaging things, but simply weep with those who weep.
The man who asked me to write a blog on this topic has this to say in HIS blog – ‘I discovered that theological arguments, debates, and discussions matter little to people living on the jagged edge of holding it together or losing it entirely. And, I discovered that more “church members” are in that category of folks than we could possibly imagine.’ 

And finally, if you (as a church) are looking for people to minister to, please humbly accept my suggestion to start with your own congregation.  There is plenty of pain in your own back yard.  Talking of grand mission trips are fine, but only if you are taking care of your own too.  Know someone in pain in your congregation but don’t know how to help?  Take a meal, send a note of encouragement, organize a group to come over and surprise with a cleaning crew or a day working in their yard, take the kids out for an afternoon so the parents can be alone for a few hours, call them for lunch, meet them for a walk, ask questions that allow them to talk about their pain rather than avoiding them.  The gestures don’t have to be big, but they need to be ongoing beyond the first days of crisis.  People in pain look around at the others in church and beg to be helped, yet it seems easier not to get involved or bring “it” up.  Please do.  Get involved, bring it up, JUST DO IT.  Otherwise, your personal church is a house of pain.

I will attend church again.  I want a place to belong and feel loved again, a place that I can contribute my gifts and talents to.  But not yet.  Just not yet.”


Even though everyone does not have the same grieving experiences, those are hard words to read.

And, in an effort to help the church be what she should, may I humbly suggest… We can do better.
We can.

Part of my mission in life is to help those who hurt and those who might minister to us.

Here’s the second rule to follow: when striving to help the hurting, patience is the key, along with lots of mercy, grace, and compassion.

And the first rule is even more simple: use hugs and actions. Words just muddle it all up!

God bless us all.

Please remember my in-laws in prayer… Joan Brown is very sick and Bob is keeping a bedside vigil. They have experienced so much loss…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

43 thoughts on “When Church Is A House Of Pain

  1. This is so true, Les. And we need to remember that even though years may have passed the pain is still there. The person down the pew from us might be about to have their heart break again. If we can’t cry together in church, then what are we really doing there?

  2. I agreed wholeheartedly on your words and on her words. Church can be a house of pain not just from the death of a person physically but from the death of a marriage. Prior to my divorce, I was the bubbly, outgoing, social butterfly. I was a church secretary and I knew everyone’s name, what was going on in their lives and tried to help them and the church however I could.

    At the death of my marriage, church became a house divided. His side. My side. There were a few who tried to stay neutral and to love us through, both of us. But it became divided. I experienced some of the most hurtful things while going through my divorce by the people I had served and loved with my whole heart.

    Today… well, I’m cautious. I am no longer the social butterfly. I serve, but I’m reserved. I stick closer to serving the kids than the adults. Yeah…. church can be a house of pain. AMEN to this post.

  3. Oh, THIS, on so many levels. I’m in a new church, where nobody knows me, or what happened to me or knows why I cry (in fact I don’t think anybody has noticed) but that makes me feel a little dead inside, because you should be able to share that deepest pain with family. Les, I think that the 2nd year being worse is normal, it was certainly my experience. After that I guess we just grow accustomed to a certain level of pain.

  4. Les, I so needed to hear this for many reasons. I want burden you with my grief. Just know your message made a difference in my life today. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your thoughts and heart.

  5. Les,you dont know me. I heard about your tragic loss from my neice that worshipped where your bro/billy preached.It “broke”my heart.It was almost unbearable for me to know that you&your family was enduring that type of pain. I prayed for you then&I pray for you all to this day. Love&Prayers,Vicki

  6. Thanks for the reminder…my husband still does not trust “church people”! When lied about by an ex, the church believed her lies, she has been hurtful to all their children who want nothing to do with her. While he does not (yet) want to forgive the church, I trust God and rejoice before Him in community with believers.

  7. Your friend shares some wise words…It is difficult to know what to do, when to do it, what to say, when to say it, how to be quiet and where/when to be quiet with a grieving person. She is gracious to forgive those who simply do not know what to do.

    Sending prayers for everyone who is grieving today.

  8. Pingback: Trauma Makes People Uncomfortable | The Common Room

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