Once in a while people who know me, or who have known me a long time will joke about the fact I once hit a church leader. A Pastor. The person who led the church I was going to at that time.
When and if the topic comes up I often laugh and joke about it with them. Usually its brief, and I never go into detail as to actually why I hit him, usually citing ‘he was a tosser’ as the reason.
But the other night, for some reason it came into conversation with a friend, who happens to be part of the wider leadership team of my church, and who is also my home group leader (it one of those round the dining room table conversations at stupid o clock in the morning ones). We had been talking about the church and people who hold a role of authority/accountability when it comes to the leadership of it.
For the first time in the many many years it has been since I did what I did as I was talking about it properly I suddenly became overwhelmed with emotion, and became teary eyed. It came out of the blue. I was not expecting it. Its never happened before.
And I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on that.
I’m not proud of the fact I smacked a Pastor. I’m not proud of the fact I’ve hit anyone.
And yet I realised how devastating his betrayal was.
How devastating this persons behaviour and actions were to me at the time.
I was a teenager. An older teenager granted, but a teenager none the less. A teenager who had stopped being abused by my biological father but who held the memories and scars of what he did to me close. I was a teenager who was self harming, smoking, drinking, having nightmares every night but a teenager who gave the impression I was not afraid of anything.
But I was. Because I was also a teenager being physically abused by my biological brother, at home. And I was afraid of him.
I was afraid of men. Not that I let them know it. Which led to, at times getting into situations I probably could have done without. And that just eventually ended up compounding the fear of men I already felt.
I was known as a ‘challenge’. I was known as ‘difficult’. As ‘too tough to handle’. A label that has followed me around since.
I used to get picked up by one of the youth leaders to go to the church which was about 20 minutes away from where I lived. I used to go on a Tuesday night, and a Sunday. Tuesday nights were their weekly prayer meetings. And the ‘youth’ would also go, and meet up and do other things. One Tuesday night we were late.
I will never forget walking in to the building to find a circle of people, most of the church (about 30 people – it was a small ish community) sitting there looking at me. And the Pastors wife standing up, and telling me they wanted to pray for me. That I would be able to forgive my biological father. My abuser, for what he had done. Because if I didn’t then I couldn’t claim to be a Christian. And if I was proclaiming to be a Christian then these things would not be issues. And that they would be erased from my mind.
See, just a few days before, for the FIRST time in my life, having been being abused since a small child I had worked up the courage to tell someone. One of the youth leaders. What had happened and what was still happening.
And they in turn took it to the Pastor (which years later I totally understand and accept they had to do)
Who, instead of doing anything else decided to ‘take it to the church for prayer’.
So MY SECRET had become public knowledge. The whole church knew.
And I was being told I needed to forgive and forget.
As I stood there, on the outside of this circle, having just walked in the door the said Pastor came up behind me. I was in shock. I was stood transfixed at the Pastors wife stood up in front me and the circle of people all looking at me to realise someone was coming behind me.
And as he came to my side, he put his arms around me, and drew me in for a hug. Big mistake.
I impulsively got my self myself out of his ‘hug’ and hit him.
I went into melt down and was taken out of the church into the car park where I punched walls until I calmed enough to be put into a car and taken home.
I skipped church the following Sunday.
A week on – another Tuesday – the youth leader came to pick me up. Except he didn’t pick me up. Him and his wife gave me a letter from ‘the church’. I was not welcome any more because of my behaviour.
I never saw any of them again.
The impact of the actions of that man, and the church have actually been massive and long running. It was years and years before I plucked up the courage to tell someone again about the abuse I suffered. And even then I was unable to tell them the full story. Just mumble about ‘life being hard’.
I found myself in a position of working along side ministers as I worked for a group of churches and unable to trust them. Unable to be honest. Unable to be vulnerable. And unable to look them in the eyes. For fear of them abusing their position.
My trust in men had already been shot to pieces because of the men in my life who were supposed to care, protect and love but who instead took away my innocence and subjected me to horrendous physical pain.
My trust in ‘Godly men’ was shot to pieces by this Pastor.
So why am I writing about this?
Because as I’ve been driving to and from work this week, thinking about it all/reflecting on it I’ve had to lay it down. I realised that deep inside me I still held anger towards this man and the church. And I’ve had to lay that down. And I want to say out loud that I choose to forgive him, for his actions.
I am choosing to forgive him. Not forget. But forgive.
And move on.
I’m writing about this because I want people to know how wrong actions can lead to major consequences. Which may seem small to you, I don’t know, but which have been massive to me.
I am writing this because I want people to know/realise/understand that whilst people do make mistakes, and maybe this was a mistake on his part, maybe he just didn’t know what to do about someone disclosing abuse that this isn’t how to do it.
There is a right way. And a wrong way. And if you don’t know the right way, find out. Pretty damn quick.
And to say that just because you are in leadership of a church it does not mean you can do what the hell you like.
How atrocious, devastating, and ruinous. A tragedy that being in authority makes some, instead of slower and more careful about their actions, more foolhardy.
Forgiving someone of foolhardiness is a recognition that foolhardiness = willing foolishness + recklessness. Both are personal character problems and sins that need fixing, which is why you’re right not to “forget” but instead to turn his blunders around to help fix others who might err similarly.
Oh my God, the way you were treated was beyond appalling! Even put if you put aside their initial reaction to your painful disclosure, to be turned away from the Church afterward?! My God!
I completely understand why your own reaction to their ‘ridiculous’ suggestions (no matter how well intended) was shock, it’s also easy to see (given your experience with men) why you would react as you did to a male hug, I can see clearly, years on, and without even being there how vulnerable you were, that they couldn’t – is a tough one to forgive….You are incredibly brave!
Take care, Kimmie x
Appalling. Thank you for the graceful way you talked with raw honesty. I am a church leader (for a couple of months still before I switch to being a mental health chaplain); what you said made me wince, be silent and learn. (and thanks for the twitter follow, by the way- your insights will help me to grow and learn as I move into my new role.
That happened to me too, I told a church leader about being abused and they betrayed my confidence and got away with it , even though at the time I was 19, so they had no legal right to go tell my parents. I hear you, I know how it feels and how messy the healing journey after being abused really can be. What’s important to remember is Jesus is not his representatives. Humans ( even pastors) can sometimes get it wrong, so wrong! but Jesus does give beauty for ashes if we are prepared to journey with him to healing. As I say speaking from experience here. One thing though,I know it sucks but forgiveness really is an important step to take for yourself in order to heal. I know that sounds like the most outrageous thing ever to be saying , but please trust me on this, my heart really goes out to you because I have a real passion for seeing God’s daughters get up and fly and you can.
You are an excellent communicator. I wouldn’t be showing any kind of true respect for you if I didn’t tell you the truth as it is, so here it is, you are loved , you are beautiful you can go far and God does have an awesome plan for your life but the first step on the healing journey is forgiveness, its the only way to make the pain stop, it takes a while to go through a healing journey, its painful, messy and you just want it over but its way better then staying stuck where you are. The pain of abuse, cuts deeper then anything. I know that, although I am not going to claim to understand your exact feelings because I am not you. Just know that if you are interested in getting started on this healing journey, completely confidentially then I am here for you. you have my twitter, dm me if you want an e-mail if you do decide you need to talk to someone. Much love hun, take care love Hayley xxx
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