How to Avoid Heartburn

Avoiding spiritual heartburn.

Jean Coleman is a pastoral wife from Laurel, Maryland, and the editor of The Pastor's Helpmate, a newsletter for pastoral wives. This article appeared in The Pastor's Helpmate.

As I walked down the hall toward the sanctuary, I saw Angela coming toward me. Forcing a smile on my lips, I greeted her with a simple "good morning" as we passed. She said nothing, just returned my smile and kept on going. It was obvious to me that she was also wearing an artificial smile. What a silly game for two mature Christians to play!

Have you ever had someone in your church who just doesn't seem to like you? Angela has been a member of our church for many years, and to my knowledge I have never done anything to turn her against me, but an invisible harrier exists between us that must be ten miles thick. I have tried to leap over the wall, break through it, and even find a way around it, but to no avail. Angela just doesn't like me!

"What's the answer, Jack?" I asked my husband. "I've tried to be friendly. I go out of my way to strike up conversations with Angela, make over her children, admire her new clothes, and compliment her on her latest hair style. I have prayed with­out ceasing over this situation for years now and nothing has changed. The woman hates me and I don't even know why."

Ever encouraging, Jack replied, "Let's face it, Angela doesn't appear to like anything or anyone. She certainly doesn't like me or my leadership style, and has made that very clear. And in all probability she doesn't like you simply because you're my wife," he concluded.

"Then why doesn't she just leave and find another church?" What a simple solution that would be! Sometimes I feel like the Apostle Paul who prayed three times to have the thorn removed from his flesh. I have prayed at least three thousand times and my thorn still remains, Obviously it is a learning experience to teach me patience and long-suffering. Like Paul, I will come into the knowledge that God's grace is all sufficient.

I don't want to sound judgmental, but Angela is really a most disagreeable person who walks around with a big chip on her shoulder, almost daring you to knock it off. How I have tried to love this hateful woman, but she makes it so very difficult with her caustic tongue and negative attitude.

In all fairness to Angela, I must admit that she has never caused any of our members to pack up and leave. She has few close friends in The Tabernacle and for the most part stays very much to herself. Her animosity seems to be mainly directed toward Jack and me, and her disdain toward us as leaders is unmistakable. A short conversation with her can leave me shaken and distraught.

As I pondered the Angela situation in my heart, I finally came to an understanding of how this challenging member affects me. She gives me spiritual heartburn! This simple revelation has set me free from all sorts of condemnation and guilt regarding my relationship with Angela and has even allowed me to feel love in my heart toward her. Nothing has changed at all except my understanding—but what a difference it has made!

Spiritual heartburn? How can a member cause spiritual heartburn? Let me explain. Angela isn't really a "dangerous" member in The Tabernacle body. There is absolutely no way that I can classify her as a spiritual cancer seeking to bring destruction and death to this church. She is not out to destroy the church, but simply has an irritating personality that causes people to feel uncomfortable when they are around her.

No, Angela is not a killer, but she can sure cause heartburn! Just like there are certain foods that can cause me distress when 1 partake of them, there are also certain people who can bring uneasiness and pain. Once you are aware that they don't set well with you, then you can use wisdom and not over-indulge.

For example, I love Mexican food, but Mexican food doesn't love me! Occasionally Jack and I will go to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, but before I pick up my fork, I double-check to make sure I have some antacid tablets in my purse. And then I am very careful that I don't overeat the offending foods, but Lake only small portions.

And as a pastor's wife, you are going to find that not every one in your congregation is always palatable. Although you may have purposed in your heart that you will love every member with the love of Jesus, there will always be one or two who are going to be hard to swallow and just don't set well with your spirit. There is no way you can go through life completely avoiding people who don't agree with you, but I have learned from experience that they are much easier to digest when you take them in small doses.

And don't forget that God provides a spiritual antacid—His wonderful grace is always sufficient ,As we walk in the spirit filled with patience and forgiveness, His grace is available when Mrs. Heartburn strikes again.

Perhaps it doesn't seem very Christian to imply that as a pastor's wife you should avoid prolonged contact with a contemptuous member. God forbid that I have offended anyone with this suggestion. But what is the acceptable solution when you have prayed and prayed and prayed, reached out in love, humbled yourself, and turned the cheek over and over again? What should be the response when your hand of fellow­ship is refused time after time? Do you continue to allow yourself to be battered and bruised as you come against the wall of hate that has been erected? Perhaps peaceful co­existence is the only answer in this situation.

It's so easy to come under condemnation when you experience rejection by a sullen member. We find ourselves asking, "What have I possibly done to offend this person?" And certainly this is a question that we need to ask ourselves. It may also be a question that we need to ask the disgruntled member. But when there is no apparent reason for offense, then we need to come out from under condemnation and walk with our heads held high as children of God.

Remember it is the devil who condemns. The Holy Spirit brings only conviction, and with that conviction, He always provides a solution—a way out. Condemnation can cripple us in our walk with the Lord, causing us to limp along with a vague feeling that something is wrong, but not knowing what it is. Conviction, on the other hand, clearly points out your sin and then shows you the way to repentance and forgiveness.

When Jesus had confrontations with the Pharisees and those who opposed Him, He didn't come under condemnation. The scriptures tell us that Jesus often withdrew from them. He didn't argue with them or try to win them over to His way. He simply backed off from them. If something disagrees with you, why open yourself to heartburn?

Have I given up praying that Angela will someday change her attitude? Of course not! With God all things are possible! You can he sure that I'm going to continue to smile and say "good morning" every time we pass in the hall. Breaking down the wall between us is worth risking a little heartburn every now and then.