by Lea Gillespie Gant
Direct hit! I let my guard down. I admit it. I became comfortable in my surroundings and allowed my armor to slip. Somewhere between singing in the Sunday morning choir (knowing that the music leader had vowed to leave unless another church member was ousted from the congregation) and hearing a group of church members yelling angrily at my pastor-husband about the pre-school nursery schedule, I realized I had, once again, underestimated the ancient enemy of God’s people. The enemy of Christ’s church. That enemy, who once slithered into the Garden of Eden to accomplish his evil doing, had also slithered into our church. And his presence was frightening.
I remember coming to church at the usual time that day, greeting the usual people as I entered the building, and taking my usual seat. The blouse I was wearing was the lavender one. The one our daughter chose for me. It was cold in the sanctuary. I needed a sweater, but I didn’t have one. Maybe the coldness I felt was the collective mood of the congregation that morning. Maybe it had nothing to do with the temperature of the air. A feeling of overwhelming sadness swept over me, and my heart began to pound. I breathed deeply and slowly, but it didn’t help. Our daughter was sitting beside me, and I kept reminding myself that I was the grown-up. Secretly, though, I wanted my own mother. I felt small.
My husband stood behind the pulpit and preached. I honestly don’t remember the points of his sermon. I just kept looking at his face. All tight and drawn. Those soft brown eyes of his were tense and darting. At one point, I thought my very soul would surely leap out of me and race up onto that platform to hold and comfort him. I wished his mother was with us, too.
And then, of all things, I thought of banana pudding. Those big, cut-glass bowls of ice-cold banana pudding that my grandmother would bring out of her refrigerator on hot, summer Sunday afternoons. We would all fill our bowls and sit around the kitchen table — eating, laughing, and enjoying the company of extended family. There were so many of us together then. Five generations around the table. And oh, how good that homemade pudding tasted! What fun we had at those Sunday gatherings! I missed those days. Loneliness, for those serving in the church ministry field, is more common than most people realize.
The pianist and the organist began to play. The service was ending. Sing. Sing. Sing. I don’t remember the name of the song, but I sang, as I always did. Then my brown-eyed boy on the platform asked everyone to be seated. He pulled a piece of paper out of his burgundy leather binder—the binder he had used in seminary—and began to read out loud what he had written on the paper. My head felt dizzy. I closed my eyes and just listened. Listened to that voice I love read the words of parting. Leaving. Going away. Resigning. And he read. And the congregation voted. And it was done. All those years of service in the same church, done. Just like that. And…no…one…came…to…say…goodbye. My heart broke into a million pieces. After all those years, we were leaving the building as if we were strangers to everyone. I could hardly bear the pain.
I walked outside into the sunshine to get into my car, but I changed my mind. Instead, I walked to the side door of the church fellowship hall. On the grass, just to the edge of the well-manicured flower beds, I knelt down on both knees. I didn’t care who saw me. This moment was about You and me, God. No one else. This was about the breaking of my heart. The crushed spirit inside me. The weariness of years of ministry. I lifted my face to the blue sky. I didn’t see You, Father. In my grief, I couldn’t think of any words to appeal to You, so I just let wet, drippy tears fall onto my lavender blouse and hoped You were looking. If my arms could have reached, I would have grabbed You around Your ankles and just held on. Held on for dear life. I wanted more than anything to touch You. But all I saw was blue sky.
From the time I was a very small girl playing with blocks in the floor of a Sunday School room, I was in Your house. I learned my Scripture verses each week. I memorized that cute little song that taught me to say the books of the Bible in exact order. I got pins for perfect attendance. I kept those pins in my little girl jewelry box and wore them on my little girl Sunday dresses. How I loved church! In the worship services, I held the hymnal high and sang loudly. I witnessed to all my friends after I came to know You as my Savior. I wanted everyone to hear about Jesus and His love! Your house, Your work, being a witness for You, were my joy and purpose.
Then I went off to college and married my brown-eyed boy. He was studying to be a pastor. A life of serving with him in ministry began. One could argue the point here that I was young and naïve. Untrained for the battles that awaited. Looking back, I do realize that I had a lot to learn. I thought church ministry would always be just about Jesus. Leading lost souls to Him. Helping people understand the Word of God and live Christ-honoring lives. Loving people in His Name and being loved back by fellow Believers. I learned the hard way that church ministry isn’t always about the beautiful things of our Lord.
As much as I wish it were not so, sometimes schedules, buildings, grounds, committees, agendas, money, opinions, more money, and even louder opinions drown out God’s gentle whispers to His people. Scripture warns us that the evil one comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen him, the roaring lion that he is, literally devour church congregations when You, Heavenly Father, get pushed aside and replaced by “things.” The evil one delights to see churches, Your people, tearing at one another, bit by bit, until there is literally nothing left. The lost world watches, pointing, laughing, and scoffing as we, Your children, wage battles against each other. Battles fueled and encouraged by our spiritual enemy, the enemy of the Cross.
I heartbreakingly report to you today that casualties are high on the church ministry front. The evil one comes fiercely and ruthlessly upon the laborers. He’s gaining ground. While we allow ourselves to become distracted, the enemy is seizing every opportunity to split churches apart. Father, I am, and will continue to be, Your solider for the faith. Your witness of the Cross and the saving grace You provided. My love for You is deeper now than ever. And I will carry that love, Your love, to as many people as I can. But, precious Jesus, my wounds from the enemy are deep. That’s why I keep reaching to touch Your scars.
Lea Gillespie Gant is a children’s book author for Thomas Nelson Publishing in Nashville, TN, having written the picture book Never Say Goodbye. She has been published in Country Woman magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul’s 2020 Christmas Edition, East of the Web, Deep South magazine, and Kindred Spirits magazine (a tribute publication to the writings of Lucy Maud Montgomery). Lea is a graduate of Blue Mountain College and currently lives with her family in Appalachia, in the shadow of Clinch Mountain. She is a lover of old photographs, beautiful summer gardens, and a really great chocolate pie.