I have been wanting to tell this story for some time, and I’ve hesitated as I did not want my story about hurt and forgiveness to hurt anyone else, but I keep feeling compelled to tell it – someone out here must be full of a world of hurt, and I do want to help you lay it down! And if anyone reads this story and you were involved in any way, please know you are forgiven and loved and I thank you for teaching me a lesson I very much needed and would be able to use as I walk through this life of pitfalls and relationship issues and people and pain.
I was young, probably about 20, and my husband and I were helping with the youth of our church. We had a class one night, on a Wednesday night, and one of the leaders was talking to the kids about how they seemed flippant about their spiritual destiny, were disrespectful to the church and the leaders and were just way too casual with the way they were approaching life. He was crying and telling them that he loved them and that he wanted to KNOW that all was well with their soul – it was really a wonderful spirit, and the teenagers were responding, some of them crying as well. The pastor’s daughter, however, was not crying, and you could see her boiling, ready to explode. That was a sort of common occurrence, her explosions. At the time, I thought she was just spoiled and needed discipline, but now having had teenage daughters myself, she could have just been a typical teenage girl, going through hormones that were overwhelming and she didn’t deal with them well. Either way, it wasn’t pretty.
I knew then that the look on her face would meant trouble of some sort, but I sure never anticipated what took place after. Before 24 hours had passed, we had received a call from the pastor that we were to “come in” to see him to discuss what had happened in youth on Wednesday. Now, I promise you, the ONLY thing that happened in youth was a very honest and open discuss about whether the kids were actually saved, not just playing church. It was a needed and spiritual discussion – actually, what are youth leaders there for, if not to point youth to a Savior who can save their soul?
Well, getting called in, we knew, wasn’t good. The main actual youth leader was as floored and upset as we were, but of course, the problem being the pastor’s daughter, very touchy. We got together and prayed before we went, but it was tense. The pastor had told the actual youth leader that he was not going to have the meeting without him having a deacon present with him, and we balked at that, so we were all fighting before the meeting even occurred. All over a salvation message!
It probably needs to be said that I personally had felt uneasy with our pastor – and yes, I know, I was just a 20-year-old who knew very little – but he would talk constantly about, “I married a pastor’s daughter, all my brothers are pastors, my brother-in-laws are pastors, and I’m a pastor too!” It was just off – no talk about his call to preach, how God reached down and spoke to him, the usual kind of thing, and I always wondered if he was really called, or if it was just kind of the “thing to do.” All that aside, we went for our meeting, and it went terrible – I mean terrible terrible terrible. He ranted and raved and we sat in shocked silence, feeling more like we were seeing the devil act out than we were a called man of God. At the end of the meeting, he suggested we go pray, and by that time, we sure were ready also. At the altar, the spirit of God was just not there – I don’t know that there have been many times in my life when I have felt such a spiritual battle openly warring. He prayed that we came to our senses about how to act and what to say to teenagers and that we repented for our actions and all this stuff that was just wrong, wrong, wrong. We left out of the church feeling like we had just had an encounter with the other side, but we were walking out of our beloved church, the church I had grown up in, where I got married, where I was serving and wanted to serve…..
At this same time, we had these best friends that we had so much fun with – we would play cards every weekend, take trips together, drop by each other’s houses unexpectedly, laugh and laugh – we all went to church together, and life was just so good. We had recently bought our first home, and we were going to have a Sunday School party at our house, so we spent the entire month before trying to get the house into “show ready” mode – you know the deal, washing, scrubbing, putting up a volleyball net, mowing the yard, all the things we should do anyway but wait until we’re having a party to do
Everyone in our Sunday School class had signed up to bring something, so we’d have the whole deal once everyone put their food together. I forget what our part was, but perhaps just drinks or something. The time for the party comes, and no one is there – I mean NO ONE. About ten minutes after the party is supposed to start, one person comes, and she says she wondered if the party got cancelled or something, and we said we sure didn’t know if it had, but we wondered also where everyone was. We called our friends – and right before the phone was answered, you could hear a “Shhh, it’s them.” We asked where they were, why they weren’t there, and got an excuse of some sort, but something just didn’t feel right. Matter of fact, looking at our table all set up to receive food, with just hot dog sauce on it, no hot dogs, no chips, nothing else, we KNEW something was going on.
I tried to keep it together the best I could, but it was very obvious that somehow everyone had decided not to come to our house – why would they do that to us? Who does that to someone? What did we do? We sat there at our table, with the one person who showed up, trying not to cry, just bereft, feeling like we didn’t have a friend in the world. All that work for our party, all that excitement of getting ready – and somehow everyone had decided not to come – that couldn’t be a random accident, it had to be planned. What? It got worse. My mom calls and says, “What’s going on? Are you guys sick? We just drove by your friend’s house and everyone is there. Did you have to change the party”? I couldn’t keep it together any longer. I began to cry, and we sent the one person who wasn’t in on the “don’t go to their house” plan home. I cried all night – I mean all night. It wasn’t bad enough that our Sunday School class did this to us – it was at our BEST FRIENDS’ house! How could they do that to us? Were they sending us a message? It sure felt like it – if you dared to cross the pastor or express upset at something that happened (no matter how crazy it was), you needed to go.
I prayed all night, lying awake wondering how I was going to go to Sunday School the next morning – or should I just not go? What do you do when you’ve been betrayed like that? I just couldn’t bring myself not to go, and I was having trouble bringing myself to go. It was like a tightrope I walked all night long. By morning, I couldn’t take it anymore and knew I had to go and face everyone. Remember, I am 20 years old, not 40 or even 30. It was tense, it was awful, I cried all through Sunday School, I just couldn’t help it. No one would look at us. I cried all through church. Came home, and our friends called and said they were sorry – they didn’t know why they did it – they just thought that the argument we’d had with the pastor meant we may leave the church ……
It took me days and days to come out of the funk – where did I go from here? My church had basically given me the word that it was time to go, I didn’t respect the pastor in the way I should – that was true – but to lose my best friends, oh, to lose my friends, I just could not bear it. The loss was immense – and honestly, that friendship has never been replaced in the last 30 years. Never have I had so much fun and loved a friendship so much. I knew that my insides were going to be ripped out if I did not deal with this thing, if I did not lay it down, if I allowed a grudge to grow inside me toward any of those who had participated in this, but everything in you begins to say, “But I didn’t do anything wrong, how can anyone treat someone like that, who does that,” blah, blah, blah. It all added up to a bunch of “I’m right, they’re wrong” that led to NOTHING, led to NOWHERE! God showed me that, that if I harbored these wrongs in my heart, if I dwelt on them, if I allowed them to occupy even a smidgen of my thoughts, I was not following His commands, I was not in His will. I could not lose my relationship with the Lord over this – I would not allow that! I got on my knees and I laid it down, begging God to take any seed of bitterness that could grow in me away, to replace it with a love and forgiveness – and HE DID IT! He is so faithful that way – all we have to do is ask, and amazingly, the peace can fill your soul.
When Tom got saved, he told me he could not believe the peace, the absolute peace that came with having your sins forgiven. He dared to say, “Why didn’t you tell me about the peace?” I could have poked his eyes out – I had told him and told him and told him, and he had even told me the reason he was drawn to me was because of the way I lived my life. Then he says “Why didn’t you tell me!” Why do people not understand the peace of God? Is it because we don’t show it to them? Is it because we “church people” stay as torn up as the world does? Is it because when they hear us talk, it is no different than anyone else? Oh, I pray that isn’t so.
God taught me about forgiveness early in my life, and I thank Him for it – and I thank my friends for stepping up to the plate instantly, saying they were sorry – and meaning it – and loving me once again, still loving us even though we did choose to leave the church, and still loving me today. Did God know that less than a year later, I would deal with having to choose to forgive or not forgive my husband for the unforgiveable to hold my marriage together? (Not Tom) Did God know I would need more than a measure of human forgiveness to face what was coming my way? He DOES know – he knows when we need forgiveness, and he knows when we need to give forgiveness. I believe the peace that comes from forgiveness is a true miracle, because it does not come naturally, that you lay down the counting the wrongs against you and the sins of others.
Oh, Lord, help us to live so that peace abides in our tongue, in our life, in our actions so that the world does not believe that the “church people” are the worst, hurting each other and refusing to forgive…..I pray God begins to call to you to lay those grudges down, to forgive those that have done the unforgiveable, to love those that are unlovable. It does them no harm when you harbor unforgiveness, but it will tear you to shreds. Please, I beg you, begin to lay it down so that you can live life to its fullness and have the peace that passes understanding!
My name is Teresa Evans. I am a wife to Tom, a retired Circuit Judge, and I am a court reporter by trade, a mother by God's grace and a lover of Jesus Christ. I've grown up in a family blessed with many miracles, and have received multiple miracles myself.