Over the past year there have been increasing stories of abuse and bullying in the evangelical church in the UK. It’s not confined to the more public cases in the CofE, but is also found in the independent church. The church is often described as a hospital, after all, Jesus came for those who are sick. But sadly we’re seeing people leaving local churches and denominations more damaged and broken than when they went in. Perhaps some reading know this all too well. That is not how it should be.
At times it can feel overwhelming. When we’ve finally broken free of an abusive relationship the sense of relief is palpable. It’s like emerging from a dank tunnel, sucking clean air deep into our lungs after almost suffocating. Sometimes you can be in those relationships for so long that you’ve forgotten that there is any other reality. Slowly but surely hope begins to be restored. You finally get to a small taste of that sweet ‘rest’ that seemed so elusive before.
But then in one of those moments of peace a thought comes to you. It whispers – ‘remember those who still suffer’.
What do you do with that? To dwell on it for any period of time brings back the memories of so much hurt and pain. The air suddenly becomes heavy again and you find it hard to breath. And so you bring yourself back to the present, to freedom. Yet that thought nags away.
Frodo glanced at all the faces, but they were not turned to him. All the council sat with downcast eyes, as if deep in thought. A great dread fell on him, as if he was awaiting the pronouncement of some doom that he had long foreseen and vainly hoped might after all never be spoken. An overwhelming longing to rest and remain at peace by Bilbo’s side in Rivendell filled all his heart.
Oh, that longing to rest and remain at peace! To leave the suffering, struggle and abuse behind.
For some that time has come. Indeed before this incident quoted, Bilbo himself has volunteered to bear the Ring. Gandalf responds;
‘…we do not doubt that… you are making a valiant offer. But one beyond your strength, Bilbo. You cannot take this thing back. It has passed on. If you need my advice any longer, I should say that your part is ended…’
It is not wrong to seek rest. It is not wrong to pass the baton of dealing with abusers and bullies to others. Indeed it might be beyond one own’s strength and there is no shame in that.
But for others it may be the very thing that they must do. The longing to rest is indeed overwhelming and yet…
At last with an effort [Frodo] spoke, and wondered to hear his own words, as if some other will was using his small voice.
‘I will take the Ring,’ he said, ‘though I do not know the way.’
Our ultimate rest awaits us. And what a glorious day that will be. To fully lay down our burdens and rest in His arms! But here there is still work to be done. Elrond responds:
‘…it is a heavy burden. So heavy that none could lay it on another. I do not lay it on you. But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right.’
I write this blog post not to burden people further, but to encourage. If you have found yourself bearing the Ring, if you have journeyed through suffering already and see that others will suffer further unless you stand up and speak, then take courage from this humblest of hobbits. Like him you may not know the way. When bullies have to be challenged a battle lies ahead and there will be further wounds. But there is a Fellowship who will go with you. Find them. And over all stands one even greater:
The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)