Shepherding Through Painful TimesBy Kimberley Davidson
“Pastor,” she reluctantly asked, “…will this church ever become a place where people will understand pain like mine and love people like me?”
The wound was deep in Deirdre’s heart. She had recently returned from a women’s retreat where she confided to a large group of women that her husband (who was on the board) was having an affair. While at the retreat, he moved out.
What hurt Deirdre even more was that none of these women followed up with her or offered to pray with her. No one expressed understanding or support. Some women even avoided her. She wondered, What did I do? Deirdre’s worth as a person was degraded because the very place she looked for love and acceptance seemed to have turned against her. Why did this happen to her?
Deirdre decided she wanted to discuss this dreadful event with her pastor. He should have some answers! she thought. When she left his office she realized he didn’t understand her pain. His advice was to participate in a women’s Bible study. How could she? She was now clinically depressed and couldn’t concentrate long enough to make a simple grocery list.
Deirdre concluded, “Problems and faith don’t mix. The church is for socializing, not our spiritual needs. They don’t understand.” The sad fact is that all churches are not safe places. True, they should provide spiritual nurture and growth, support, unconditional love and freedom to take risks. But churches are only as safe as the people in them.
Often counselors ask new clients if they’ve discussed their problems with a pastor or someone in the church. “Not my pastor?” many people respond. My seminary professor, Beverly Hislop, author of Shepherding a Woman’s Heart, said her classroom is often the first place a woman feels safe enough to tell her story, talk about her pain, and finally feel accepted and understood.
I think what happens in a crisis or painful situation is the body of Christ offers preventative instruction. A woman may be told to memorize Scripture or pray more. That’s valuable and important to daily living, but it’s not timely when she is bleeding emotionally. Women are told, “It’s time to get past this – move on.” When we say things like these, we deny our sister’s burden and actually add to her pain.
But let’s not point our finger too quickly at the church. Most of us are reluctant to ask for help. We tend to do the opposite – send people away when we need them the most. Many people think I don’t want to “burden” or inconvenience anyone.
Paul tells us to carry one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We need that person(s) to come alongside and help shoulder our burden. Once we find a safe place to open up and tell our story and express emotions, the healing process begins because we have brought our story into the light. King Solomon tells us there is a time to be silent and a time to speak (Ecc. 3:7).
I know because I was silent for decades. For twenty years I battled addition to food and alcohol. These were merely symptoms masking depression, masking the fear and rejection I had built up. Addiction was a monster and it took control. I became overwhelmed with feelings of remorse, self-hatred, fear, and worthlessness. I’d swear, “This is the last time.” But it never was.
I was too ashamed to ask for help, so I tried to heal myself by reading self-help books until my head was about to explode. The authors suggested I look within myself. I worked in healthcare and carefully followed medical advice given to other patients. Nothing worked. My life was lies, secrecy, isolation, guilt, fear and shame – a picture of bondage.
Then God pulled me out of the war zone. I discovered He was calling me into a relationship with Him that required giving Him control over my life. That was hard for me; I was used to being in control. But I wasn’t really, my life had become unmanageable.
God had a purpose for my life and I told Him I wanted to follow that purpose. I admitted defeat, and the journey to clean up the emotional began. It was a process. Like an onion, my heart and soul were wrapped with layers of stuff – years of rejection, hurts, and deception. I had to allow God to peel away each layer to do His work in me.
The healing began when I connected to women in my church and we shared each other’s burdens and brought our stories into the light. We became Jesus in shoe leather to one another – we shared with care. God slowly put us back together again.
Sometimes it hurts to see the truth, and I think that’s why God puts other people – shepherds – in our lives. Through them He shows us the truth and continues the work He has begun. They are instruments of our Redeemer.
These stories are everywhere. They’re sitting next to us every Sunday. They’re in Sunday school and Bible study groups. They’re ministry leaders, co-workers, and neighbors. Today there is an epidemic of broken hearts hiding in the dark. Many women have carried wounds for so long that they don’t even see them. Some have looked for that special shepherd, but were misunderstood so retreated back into the dark.
I talk to women every day who, because I risked sharing my story, feel I’m a safe person to talk to, and so they risk sharing their story with me. It’s an honor because it’s hard for women to trust other women. Every woman has experienced betrayal and gossip. Sisters, we need to take that chance and yell, “Help me!” There are godly, trustworthy women out there who will walk with us.
How do we begin to shepherd a woman’s soul? By creating an atmosphere of transparency and vulnerability. I was given a tremendous opportunity to address our congregation. My message said to women in pain, “We know you are out there and we want to help you.” In addition, I was authentic and transparent. By vulnerably telling my own story, I said, “I am a safe person, this is a safe place, and Jesus wants to heal you.”
How else do we begin to shepherd a woman’s soul?
We begin by encouraging her to take her problems to God because God is the only one who can touch that hurting place. Then we encourage her to approach the church family because they can help carry her burdens and, if necessary, coordinate professional help.
We encourage her to ask for prayer and support – you are not being selfish! In Gethsemane, Jesus told Peter, James, and John that He needed their support and prayer. Lastly, we try to stay alongside of her until we see restoration.
Within each church there are a large number of painful issues that women either are presently experiencing or have experienced in the past. Bible studies, ministry teas and luncheons don’t speak to these women. What better way to offer healing and grace than to have a woman shepherd available who can empathize and offer pastoral care. As a woman in ministry, I want to be that loving shepherd that reminds women in pain that there is hope. Hope in a healer – Jesus.