Been missing church? Feeling far away? Made a mistake and feeling judged by others? What do you do when you feel like a dirty backslider?
Shame is one of the most powerful human experiences. It’s that very distinct feeling of ugliness when you’ve either done something you believe to be wrong, or someone else makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong. That sense that you have been a disappointment. That cloudiness where you feel like a complete failure.
Such is the condition of the heart and mind when you mention the word “backslider”.
Backslider is a Christianese term referring to someone who is perceived to have fallen from grace. Where once you may have been actively involved, as people have started to see you less and less, you may have heard the word thrown around. It may have been a word someone else has used to describe you, or it may have been a word you’ve placed on yourself.
And in just trying to find your way through the complex things going on in your life right now, you can’t shake feeling dirty through the whole thing.
What do you do when you feel like a dirty backslider?
I want us to have a fair look at this, as well as trying to find a way forward.
When judgmental people forget what grace means
No doubt the worst element when you’re going through this is the judgment you feel from others. You’re unsure enough of things between you and God, and on top of that, now you have the voice of church people bringing you down.
Isn’t the church supposed to be the place where you’re accepted and able to work through your issues?
Absolutely it is.
I think sometimes when we see behaviour that is “more obviously wrong”, we forget a very important reality.
That is that all of us have sinned and fallen short.
Even the most pristine, holy one among us is just as guilty of wrong as the one who’s made the “biggest” mistake. That’s why it’s wrong for any of us to slam anyone for the things they’ve done wrong.
Because if it wasn’t for forgiveness, none of us would be here. It’s important for all of us to remember that.
And for those who are feeling far away, don’t forget that grace extends to you too, my friend. There is forgiveness for someone who feels as far off as you. Your position as a son or daughter hasn’t changed one iota.
Who is your real problem with?
And so, many times when we feel far off, we take up our main issues with the church, and the people who go there. We are trying to work out us and God, but we’re feeling put off by the comments someone made, or the expectation we feel to be something more than we are right now.
Usually then, the first thing to go when we’re feeling that way is our church attendance. It’s usually a slow fade. If you’re a volunteer, you start volunteering less. Then you start going to less services. Then you drop in every few weeks, whenever you’re feeling up to it. Next it’s only for the bigger events. Finally you’re not even seeing any of those same people any more.
And it’s all because of those people at that place… right?
I wonder then why we stop going to church altogether if that’s really the case.
I mean, if my real problem can’t be in my relationship with God, it must be that church I was going to. But if that were really true, we would have found a new church by now, right? We would have settled, we would have found a place where we could continue growing and work through our issues and find the things we’ve been looking for.
But oftentimes, we don’t. We stay distant. We stop our daily disciplines. We avoid touching the Bible, we don’t listen to those sermons in our downtime anymore, and if we were really honest, our prayer life may be leaving a lot to be desired.
The scariest place to look is into our own self. To give ourselves an honest assessment and see the real condition of our hearts.
And I think, if we were to be real honest when we’re feeling like this, the root is that we feel distant from God Himself.
There are two aspects to this conundrum. The first is how we think God sees us. I mean, how could God still want us if we’ve done so much wrong? And we knew better, too. Aren’t we abusing forgiveness or making light of God’s sacrifice for us if we come back after we’ve done so much wrong?
I don’t think God sees it that way.
The apostle Paul tells us that it is the kindness of God that leads us to change. It’s in seeing His goodness and mercy towards us that we find that grace accepts us as we are, but it also shows us how to change.
That reality is just a prayer away. And if you ask God to make that a reality in your life, to see His care and compassion for you, He will.
If you’re feeling that way, you may also find Does God Really Care? a helpful read.
Disappointed by God
The other aspect that we’re not honest about is when we get disappointed by God.
You’ve never been disappointed by God before? I know I have.
And maybe you have too, you just didn’t know you could be honest about it.
What do you do when you have a dream or a vision or something that you thought God was fully behind, and it doesn’t work out?
I think you need to go to the place you don’t want to go. The place that isn’t always comfortable to go. And that’s to be real about your disappointment.
Things don’t always turn out the way you hope, but there’s a bigger plan at work. Face that dark place. Be honest about it. You’ll find the answers you’re looking for.
Facing the Shame
The final obstacle to consider in that feeling of backsliding is that big S word we started out talking about – shame.
Shame was the original divider of man and God. After Adam and Eve had made a mistake and felt shame, their first reaction was to hide away.
We still react the same way. When we’ve made a mistake, we hide away from God too. We try to cover ourselves. We aren’t sure what to do.
But we can deal with shame the same way they did all those years ago.
Honesty with God, and honesty with each other. As soon as Adam opened his mouth and confessed what he was feeling, reconnection began.
It’s the same for us.
After being honest with God, we also need to be honest with each other. We need to find those people we can be real about what’s really going on. So you had sex with someone when you shouldn’t have. So you said something you shouldn’t have said. So you’ve made mistakes.
You’re in good company. We’ve all done things we shouldn’t have. And there are ways of dealing with some of those bigger things going on inside of you after it’s all happened. Don’t pull away from others – find the people you can trust, and talk through what’s going on.
We’re all on a journey. All of us are trying to find our way through the complexities of life. But when you feel dirty or ashamed, remember that the same grace that called you home in the first place is the same grace that beckons to you now.
And when we see people in our lives who are going through those difficult phases around decisions, remember how much grace has been extended to you, and let’s be sure we’re extending the same grace to others.
It’s the journey of someone like you, on a journey, just like you.