"I sense a bit of bitterness towards the church from you as well. How do you get over that? How do you forgive a place that hurts you, but yet is supposed to be the ultimate picture/place of love?"Outstanding question. The short answer is that I'll let you know when I get over it.
The truth is, this is not the first time I've been hurt by a church. I would dare say it has happened, at some point, at every church in which I've served. So I've been through it before and know the process fairly well. And it's no easy process.
The first thing to remember is that, though churches are supposed to be the ultimate picture/place of love, only God truly possesses that kind of love. When we want to see/feel/experience true love, He should be our first choice, not a group of people. But wait a minute, I didn't say forsake church in favor of a Kum Bah Yah experience in the middle of the woods. Church is extremely important. "Do not forsake our assembling together," the writer of Hebrews tells us. The problem is that the church/fellowship is made up of sinners, right up to the pastor. I know for a fact that every church I've joined has had at least one professional sinner as a member: me. This is a vital point to remember. We expect church to be utopia. Heck, most new Christians expect the Christian life to be utopia. It ain't. "In this life, you will have trials," said Jesus. Utopias don't have trials. They have Kum Bah Yah.
In the sinfulness of those that make up a church, you will have 110 agendas for every 100 members. Jesus prayed that we would be one, and occasionally, we are. But the majority of the time, sin is winning with many of the people involved. Sometimes with the pastor, sometimes with other staff, sometimes with various members. Those are the times we struggle. Those are the times that those of us who on that particular day just happen to be in tune with the Spirit have to trust the most. We trust that God will change hearts. We trust that His perfect plan will be accomplished. We trust that tomorrow, maybe more folks will be in tune with Him and we can move forward.
So the question remains, how do you forgive and move past the bitterness? Time and a continual revealing of God's perfect plan. Was it God's will for me to get hurt? I don't think so. Was it His plan for me to get fired? Maybe. Will the pastor who fired me be held accountable some day? I think so. Remember that Cyrus was used by God to punish Israel, but then Cyrus was punished for his arrogance. Judas was a primary instrument in the work of salvation, but he gets and deserves no kudos for it. So first, see the hurt in the grand scheme of God's sovereignty.
Also see the hurt as a lesson in what you will NOT do to people later. Will there come a time when I, as a pastor, must make the choice to fire a staff member? Probably. Will I do it without any warning, no opportunities to rectify, a termination letter that does not match the presented reality, and no severance pay for a family of four with a mortgage? Absolutely not. Even when administering deserved punishment, there can be graciousness. Learn from your hurts.
Finally, pray for those that hurt you. Sounds Biblical, doesn't it? This, I believe, is the hardest. I know when I pray for the man that fired me, it's fake. I don't mean a word of it, unless I'm praying for his downfall. But that isn't what we are to pray for. So I have to pray for his good anyway. Sometimes we have to pray when we don't want to because we have to. If we begin by praying that God will expose the wrongdoing to the ones that hurt us, it will make it easier to move on to better prayers for them. I hope that my prayers for the man who fired me result in him not doing it to someone else, and result in a softer heart for people in general. Our prayers must be for the betterment of the ones that hurt us or we just feed the bitterness. It may never happen, though. The people who hurt us may never change. But we will change because we prayed. Prayer doesn't just change people we pray for, it changes us as well.
Go into every new situation/church with fresh eyes and a fresh heart. Pray that it won't happen this time. Will it? Probably. Don't be naive. But if we go in with our guard up, we won't minister, we won't relate, and we won't reach people. We can't have the attitude that we'll hurt them before they hurt us. We have to be willing to be hurt. We have to come to the point where we can take to heart what James says:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.