Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
Friendly fire is a military term referring to inadvertent firing towards one’s own forces while attempting to engage the enemy, particularly when the result is injury or death. Another term for friendly fire is fratricide, a word that originally refers to the act of a person killing their brother. Unfortunately, sometimes our experience with “organized religion” or with other Christians has felt a lot like friendly fire. Instead of receiving Christ-like love and grace in the midst of our human struggles and failings, we have encountered judgment and condemnation.
I know a young woman, let’s call her Angie, who was raised in a church, but is disillusioned with Christianity. Her mother-in-law is a new ager. She is kind and caring and treats Angie with love and respect. Angie’s mother attends church every Sunday and has made no secret of her disappointment with Angie’s life choices. She corrects her parenting skills and housekeeping deficiencies, harps on her regularly for not going to church, and is often too busy when Angie needs help or emotional support. Who is more “Christ like:” Angie’s mom or mother-in-law? Angie is a victim of friendly fire. In her mother’s attempt to bring her back into the fold, she has pushed her further away.
Unfortunately, in a well-intentioned attempt to battle back the forces of darkness, people in the church sometimes fire a direct shot at one of their own. I know other victims of friendly fire:
- Parents of a child with leukemia who were told by some in their church that they didn’t have enough faith.
- A woman whose high profile marriage ended in divorce and was shunned by some in her church instead of receiving Christian care and love.
- A young woman whose church refused to baptize her baby because he was born out of wedlock.
- A couple who was told by their leaders that they weren’t tithing enough of their income to the church.
- A woman whose gifting was met with jealousy by some leaders in the church instead of being affirmed, developed, and celebrated.
Our wounds feel deeper when we are hurt by people in the church. Perhaps it’s because we expect more from them. We hold them to a higher standard and we’re shocked when they don’t meet our expectations. Unfortunately, everyone is human and will fail you at some time or another, even those closest to you. Trusting in people, even Christians, and expecting them to meet all our needs and never make mistakes will only lead to disappointment and separate us from God (Jeremiah 17:5; Psalm 146:3-4). We can’t confuse the heart and nature of Jesus with the words and deeds of people in the church or people who call themselves Christians. Unlike humans who are works in progress, Jesus demonstrated perfect love and compassion. He said anyone who has seen Him has also seen the Father (John 14:9). The only One you can trust entirely without fail is God. Only God will never leave you for forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
When fellow Christians fall short and I am hit by friendly fire, I try to take them to the throne of God’s grace instead of the throne of judgment. Judgment is God’s job, not mine. My job is to choose forgiveness and extend the same love and grace He extended to me (Matthew 6:14-15). (Forgiveness does not mean I have to continue to subject myself to spiritual abuse or any other form of abuse.) Remember, our battle is not against people, but against “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world” (Ephesians 6:12). The best way to disarm our enemies is to “heap burning coals of shame on their heads” and to conquer evil by doing good (Romans 12:20-21). When someone takes a shot at you, choose to pray for them. When I have extended grace and prayed for those who wounded me, I have seen God come in and begin to work on their failings and change their heart and mine.
Finally, as a pastor, if you have been wounded by friendly fire, I want to apologize on behalf of the Church. I encourage you to go to God for what only God can give. No shadow of shame will ever darken your face again.
Father, forgive me for holding onto bitterness toward the failings of other brothers and sisters in Christ. I receive your grace and trust you alone to heal my wounds. Amen.
Excerpted from Peace For Each Hour by Mary J. Nelson; Copyright © 2012; ISBN 978-1938388170; Originally published by Comfort Publishers; Unauthorized duplication prohibited.