Tears rolled down my face as I confessed my agony to a friend: “I love God and I love the church, but I don’t want anything to do with God’s people right now.”
It was a shocking confession that came after a deep betrayal in ministry. Someone I loved had turned on me with terrible accusations and lies, attempting to humiliate and discredit me. I was reeling.
My pastor stood by me, but his support could not heal the wound. I was face-to-face with the reality that sometimes loving your sheep hurts. I did not know how to handle the pain, so I considered stepping away from ministry altogether. I had lost the courage to be a shepherd.
However, God had other plans.
Fast-forward a few months and everything has changed. I’ve stopped crying, and I’m leading with more passion than ever before. My heart is completely healed. I never imagined I could heal this quickly or this well. What made the difference? God did. Healing wasn’t an easy process, but it didn’t take him long to accomplish it.
Do you find yourself in a similar situation today? If so, these three phases of the healing process that the Holy Spirit helped me through might also help you:
1. Take off the mask and get real with God.
Most leaders are mature enough to know that offenses, bitterness, and unforgiveness are unacceptable. Sometimes that means we guard against offenses so well that we mask our own hearts. We may even try to convince ourselves that we have not been hurt.
Such was the case with me. Since I had the mindset that I should not become bitter or offended, I struggled to admit how angry and hurt I was. I even told a friend that I had no reason to confront the one who betrayed me, that I had nothing against her. I was just going to let it go.
Yeah, right. My bravado was a scab, a mask.
It took me a few days of praying and bleeding to admit to myself and to God how devastated I was. It was only then that I could start receiving comfort from the Holy Spirit.
I believe that many believers put on masks as I did. We learn to “do church.” We follow the rules of perceived spirituality and do what it takes to get our jobs done. We may be shattered and broken on the inside, but we maintain our image at any cost. We play our fiddles while our own personal Rome burns.
It’s time to take off the masks and get real. If we can let God’s light shine into the dark places of our hearts, he can heal the festering wounds he finds there.
2. Release the offender from your expectations.
I expected people I loved to love me in return. I expected people to whom I had been loyal to be loyal to me. I felt that I deserved to be treated well.
My expectations made the situation worse. When I didn’t get the treatment to which I felt entitled, I reacted badly. I was able to release the betrayer from my expectations only after God showed me Jesus’ example. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first…Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you” (John 15:18, 20).
In studying these verses and others, I came to admit (grudgingly) that I am not entitled to good treatment. I am not immune to persecution, and I have no right to be outraged when it occurs. Jesus said that if we will follow him, we must take up our crosses. Pain will be part of this journey, and I cannot expect to be exempt from it.
Jesus suffered but still looked to the Father. When I saw his example, I suddenly understood that the battle raging in my heart was not about how other people treated me. I had to forgive, let go, and move on because my battle was about getting right with God myself. It was a liberating revelation.
3. Soak in the words of Jesus to get your joy, courage, and drive back.
My desire to be a shepherd had been totally sapped by this situation. After I forgave and let go, I still needed the courage to jump back in with my flock and trust that God would sustain me.
I had no idea how to regain my joy and inner drive, but God knew. He took me to John 6:63, in which Jesus said, “The very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Taking his words literally, I dove into the words of Jesus in the Gospels. I found that God was true to his promise. As I absorbed Jesus’ words, I began to feel my heart’s engine clicking, sputtering, and finally roaring to life. The Holy Spirit used God’s Word to restore my courage and willingness to love people. Although healing has taken time, I found that the words Jesus speaks truly are spirit and life.
I am not the only one who has experienced pain in ministry. If you are hurting after betrayal, please know that it doesn’t have to end this way. You too can find comfort, healing, and renewal in Jesus. Jesus bore our sorrows on Calvary so that your heart could be healed.
Is healing easy? No; I believe it requires transparency, release of your expectations, and time soaking in the words of Jesus. However, the investment in your heart and ministry is worth it. You can have your passion for sheep back. Loving your sheep doesn’t always have to hurt.
Have you experienced betrayal in ministry? If so, how did you find healing?
Jamie Rohrbaugh is a writer, Bible teacher, intercessor, and unlikely worship leader from Chattanooga, Tennessee. She holds a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga and a Master’s in Biblical Studies from Berea Seminary. She is married to Bruce, and together they have one cat. Jamie blogs at http://www.fromhispresence.com/.