Over the years in ministry, I’ve heard people tell me time and time again that hurt people hurt people. In my younger days, I think I passed it off as just something that you say to get over moments of frustration. But as I reflect on it now, I realize that it’s very true. Ministries are places where we are surrounded by more people hurting than we ever realize. We talk about it and say this is a safe place for your hurting and this is a place to find healing. But every person’s journey through pain into something that is redemptive is their own journey, and we can make assumptions for them about where they’re at and when they’ll find moments of clarity in that.
I’ll give you an example. There’s a hospital that I drive by once in a while in route to some of our clients. Every time I drive by the hospital there is an equal feeling of being joyful and being sad. All my kiddos were born there, but we’ve also experienced terrible pain there in our family. We’ve lost friends in the hospital. We’ve also seen people healed there. You can say my feelings are rather mixed whenever I have to visit. For that matter, I feel that way in most hospitals. There are other places I feel mixed emotions or strong emotions. I could be sitting in a restaurant and see someone come in who hurt me years ago, and I’m instantly distracted and brought back to moments of pain that happened years ago.
Most people are like this. Our emotions are tied to experiences, and our reactions to those memories can last a lifetime. I can hear a song on the radio that I haven’t heard in decades and I will remember where I was the last time I heard that song. Recently I walked into an old building and the smell brought me back to being in third or fourth grade in elementary school. It wasn’t a bad memory, it’s just that my mind makes the connection.
Sometimes in the ministry world, we make the assumption that because there are spiritual components to church, the people can get over their pain more easily. Sometimes that’s true. But often it’s not. As a leader of a ministry, it is highly possible that you’ve got pain in your past. This part of our growth as part of our ministry journey. The scars and wounds have shaped us into the leaders we are today. Sometimes we are grateful for them, but sometimes there are still seeds of bitterness that find their way to the surface when just the right moment presents itself.
I’m not going to get into the science behind why people react the way they do or even why people do what they do. There’s lots a great research out there for that. I’m merely going to tell you how I deal with things and what I have found to be helpful in this process when those moments come.
Here are three things to keep in mind when the pains of the past find their way into the present moments, or when someone hurts you in a way you don’t expect and things from the past push through and impact your reactions.
One – pain is part of being human
While the Bible tells us that we are created new in our relationship with the Lord, we still live inside a human body which means there are physical and emotional things that cause pain. On one side of the equation this can feel discouraging, but I choose to look at it differently. It means that everyone, no matter their position, level of success, how big they smile, how happy they appear, has been hurt. That reality helps me keep it in perspective that I’m not alone.
Two – learning to find gratefulness even when I’m down
I get that everyone situation’s different, but there is always an opportunity, even if it’s small, to find hope in moments of gratefulness in every situation. We see this in the life of Paul where he’s willing to rejoice while he’s chained between two centurions in a jail cell. There’s always a reason to be hopeful, and there’s always a reason to be grateful. God is bigger than we realize.
Three – put yourself into someone else’s shoes
This is a conversation that we have with our kids often. They get their feelings hurt because someone said something they shouldn’t. We always come back to a question, “Do we know everything there is to know about the person who hurt us?” We can ask these kinds of questions in almost any moment of frustration but especially in moments of hurt. For a pastor, having someone that you’ve poured your life into for years betray you, rally people against you, decide to leave the church, and create pain and dissent amongst many, it’s an incredibly hurtful moment that can impact you and your ministry for years. As leaders were always vulnerable to this type of betrayal and pain. Learning to put yourself in someone else’s shoes doesn’t take anything away. Keep empathy in the mix so you at least have a way to navigate it all.
I wish it was easy to put our feelings in a box for the sake of the gospel, but it’s not. I will say though that it’s important for Christians to process their hurt because the way you hurt others may drive someone away from the Lord. Ask God to help with your pain. Not only will you feel His personal love for you, but you’ll be helping those hurt by the church heal as well.