Five months after my husband and I married, we received Christ as our personal Savior. Only seven months later, John received God’s call to full-time ministry. While John received theological training in seminary, I received advice on how to be an effective pastor’s wife.
Seasoned ministry leaders shared heartwarming stories about their church experiences. They’d frequently say, “Just love the people in your congregation, and everything will turn out fine.”
So, for the past 30 years, I’ve intentionally loved our church members. I’ve cried with heartbroken moms of pregnant teenage daughters. I’ve prayed with angry women whose spouses were addicted to pornography. I’ve comforted grieving widows and I’ve prepared a multitude of meals for new mothers. For the most part, I’ve experienced tremendous joy in strengthening, blessing, and encouraging these women.
However, after loving these sheep, I was hurt by some when they left the church for what I considered trivial reasons: someone spoke unkindly to my son at youth group; the pastor didn’t visit me when I was in the hospital; the worship is too long, too short. And though their complaints had nothing to do with me personally, I still felt betrayed.
Other times, I’ve been hurt by church gossip. Knowingly or unknowingly, these “sheep bites” are just as common in the church as mosquito bites are in hot, humid weather.
I tried ignoring my hurt and disappointment, but the longer I stifled it the more I learned it only provided a seedbed for resentment to keep me from loving others.
That’s when I began to apply biblical principles to foster personal healing.
Don’t be surprised
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Peter 4:12, NKJV).
Jesus likened His people to sheep. Jesus experienced betrayal and misunderstandings from His flock. If Jesus experienced “sheep bites,” should we expect any less? We’re not alone. Jesus knows and understands.
Admit your sin
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16, NKJV).
In addition to going to God, talk to a spiritually mature person you can trust. Confess your bitterness, resentment, and anger. While experiencing a hurtful situation, I called another pastor’s wife. She prayed healing prayers for me and offered biblical counsel. She said, “Whenever you begin to entertain a negative thought about the person you’ve forgiven, practice audibly saying, ‘I forgive you.’” It helped.
Journaling also provides a safe, healthy outlet for wounded emotions.
When we’re tempted to slump into self-pity, Max Luca-do says, “Quit focusing on what others did to you and start focusing on what God did for you.” When we see ourselves standing with our congregation in the same degree of unworthiness, in need of a Savior, we’re compelled to stop pointing fingers.
Embrace the pain and feed on God’s Word
“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7:4). “My soul melts from heaviness. Strengthen me according to your Word” (Psalm 119:28, NKJV.)
Pain will benefit us as we take it to God. With our hearts laid open to God’s Word, we meet our heavenly Father. In His presence, “Abba” rejoices over us with singing and quiets us with His love (Zephaniah 3:17). He is our Mighty God, who offers to rescue us from sin and self. He draws near to broken hearts (Psalm 51:17).
In our sorrow Jesus soothes our hurt. He is our “royal husband” (Psalm 45:11, NLT) and a friend that promises to stick closer than a brother, sister, mother, father, husband, or church member.
With our hearts in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit comforts us. He whispers words of truth that set us free from guilt, shame, and discouragement. Most of my comfort has come from meditating on Psalm 139:17-18; and Romans 8:1, 32, 38-39.
God bestows on us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. And as we begin to praise God, we lift our eyes off ourselves, and discouragement leaves.
Be a blessing
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, NKJV).
During my healing process, there were moments when I felt like retaliating or alienating myself from others. One morning I didn’t want to go to church because someone had made some cutting remarks about me. The Lord encouraged me to do good to her. He whispered, “Take Janet’s place in the nursery this morning.” Janet accepted my offer, and a miracle happened. My heart softened toward her.
I also attempt to build bridges of love with estranged friends by sending an occasional note, a birthday card, or a Christmas letter. When these friends come to mind, I speak and pray blessings on their behalf.
After Jesus humbled Himself, God exalted Him. Likewise, when we walk in humility, God will lift us up. Francis Frangipane says, “The gateway to resurrection power is crucifixion. God will arrange opportunities for you to die to self. You must discern them. Dying to self and its ambition is the means of reaching true spiritual fulfillment. If you react to the opportunity to die with fleshly anger or resentment, you will fail to reach fulfillment. However, if you can maintain your vision even while dying to your fleshly desires, you will succeed. “
Develop an open handed posture
“For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4, NKJV).
Keep reminding yourself that your church and the people in your church belong to God. Love them and loosely hold onto them. The Master Builder is in control. Trust Him to build your church.
Healing requires time, patience, and persistence. A wonderful missionary friend once encouraged me, saying, “Successful ministry is enduring.” If you feel fainthearted in the process, remember God’s kindness to King Hezekiah, who faithfully led God’s people with wholehearted devotion: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you” (2 Kings 20:5).