I fractured my ankle a few weeks ago. Since I live away from my family, my main circle is my church “connect group.” At first, I didn’t go into detail about my injury so people didn’t know how serious it was. But when they found out, I only received texts to say, “I will pray for you for quick recovery” or “Hope you’re well.” No one (except for two people) came to visit me or thought about helping me with food, laundry or whatever.
I felt so disappointed that I have decided to cut all contact with everyone. I never struggled this much in my life and had to go back to my home country to have my family take care of me. Now that I am back here, I do not want to hear from anyone. I am still struggling but managing to do a lot of things by myself. I know I have to forgive them, but I don’t know how.
This is a big connect group (around 35 people) so I don’t actually know everyone well. Some people in particular disappointed me and didn’t meet my expectations. I know I’m not completely innocent in the matter. But they do say that you know who your friends are during difficult times. Some people tried to reach out to me when I moved home. But I ignored them. What should I do?
I’m glad you wrote. It’s evident that you are hurting, both physically and emotionally, from the pain of injury as well as relational disappointment. It sounds like your “connect group” is similar to what we might call a “small” or “home” group — and is intended to be the means for getting to know a few people well within a large body of fellow believers. Such groups can be a great source of comfort, prayer support, and physical help in times of celebration as well as great need. Ideally, they’re the place where believers live out the “one another” verses in the New Testament. It’s not surprising that you would hope your “connect group” would offer to serve you in tangible ways following an injury. I’m so sorry you were left alone in a time of great need.
I’m also sorry that you didn’t feel free to share with them about the extent of your injury. Often we are most hurt by people who never realize they are offending us. One necessary ingredient in a well-functioning, biblical church body is transparency. If we don’t tell people what we need, how we’re feeling, or what we’re struggling with, we can’t be surprised or disappointed that they don’t know. Even the best connect groups are comprised of fallen people: people who sin. That includes anyone who knew of your need and ignored it, but it also includes your response to their inaction.
It’s possible that the people in the group feel stung by your rejection, wondering what they did that so offended you. Is it possible they didn’t realize the extent of your inability to care for yourself? Or that everyone thought that someone else was pitching in to help? Did they know you needed help with meals? Had you contacted the group leader(s) to ask for visitors? For prayer?
It sounds like what you expected them to do for you was more than what they knew you needed, were willing to provide, or were capable of giving. That may be because the group is too casual and doesn’t spell out member-care, because it’s too large or disorganized, or because you were too reticent to let them know of your need.
At a minimum, if your church’s precedent for member care is meals, visitors and household help, it would be incumbent on you to be sure they knew of your need. Then, if they failed to help, it would be up to you to talk to your group leader(s) about your situation. The Bible shows us what to do when a fellow believer sins against us. Matthew 18 lays out the step-by-step process. What concerns me, however, is that you didn’t ask for help, and then when help didn’t come, you grew frustrated and angry, taking offense to the point of cutting off all relationship with your church.
You feel like your group members acted unlovingly, but it sounds like you have, too. People say “you know who your friends are during difficult times,” but Scripture says “a friend loves at all times.” Have you loved your connect group members enough to call them and explain why they haven’t heard from you? Have you believed the best of them? It’s possible they didn’t know how great your need was. It’s possible that they were struggling with trials of their own. It’s easy to see when other people haven’t loved us at all times; it’s much harder to recognize when we haven’t loved others that way.
Whatever the breakdown, whether one of communication on your part or of Christian charity on theirs, the question remains: What should you do?
You say “you know you need to forgive them.” And you do. But it’s not for their sake, but yours. Until you let go of your disappointment and unmet expectations, you will continue to suffer emotionally. Bitterness not only eats away at you like a poison, it’s a sin. Ephesians 4:31 commands believers to “[l]et all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” And Hebrews 12:15 cautions us, saying, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
Even if they never ask for forgiveness, letting go of your bitterness is essential for the sake of your soul. Withholding forgiveness is serious. Jesus said, “… if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). No matter the extent of someone’s sin against us, it’s nothing compared to our infinite sin against God. Because Jesus became sin for us on the cross, we can forgive others. Only in remembering this — and in placing our faith in Him — can we forgive as we’ve been forgiven.
I pray God will set you free to forgive and be forgiven.
Copyright 2014 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.