This is a story I fear is far too familiar to far too many people. A story of exile, of community lost, of feeling like you have a scarlet letter banning you from society. Very often when I meet with clients it becomes obvious that one of the greatest needs in their lives is community. However, just as often it is community that has hurt them. One of the most painful ways I see this over and over is how the church beats up its own and kicks them out. This is my story of exile, of being kicked out of community and ultimately finding my way back into healthy and healing community. My prayer is that by sharing my story that you would feel hope for you own.
Hearing other’s stories gives us courage to tell our own. I read one man’s story this week and was set free by the quote he shared, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ~Ann Lamott
But how do you tell a story you don’t remember? I can’t remember the course of events, but I know the results of what happened to me. I know them in feeling, even if I can’t describe them in a way that could be understood by anyone else. I know that it’s been seven years since it all happened. It’s been ten depending on how far back you tell the story. I know what it’s like to go about two years not sure if you even like the title “Christian” anymore because of all the people it associates you with. What it’s like to deeply love Jesus, but be so hurt by people claiming His name that you never want to go back to church. What it’s like to seek God alone, with no community to support you.
I know what it’s like to be expected to just blindly trust church leadership, to be told that it is wrong to question them because they are your God-given authority. I’ve seen that “authority” abused so badly that I fear for those leaders when they one day have to give account to God for how they handled that “authority”.
I know what it’s like to have a family that says they support you and they are on your side, but when you get asked to leave, they still stay at that church. I know what it’s like to be kicked out of community and offered no path of restoration, no path back into community.
I know what it’s like to be expected to keep all this silent, to tell no one, because that would be gossip. I know what it’s like to move as far as you could from all of those people, to cut all ties, and hope you never have to see any of them again. And I know what it’s like to feel like no matter how far you moved, it wouldn’t be far enough.
I know what it’s like to sit in worn out living rooms with other misfits who the church rejected too and laugh, and sing, and talk about faith, and feel the comfort of realness when they cuss and smoke as they talk about following Jesus. I know what it’s like to think of yourself as “Spiritual” because you still feel hurt by that whole Christian thing, but you know the Holy Spirit is real, and you still feel Him.
I know it took getting held at gunpoint, hitting a guy with my car, and being utterly alone to find my way back inside a church door. It took a random friend’s roommates I didn’t know just accepting me in my mess. Accepting me in my tears, and couch crashing, and not wanting to talk. I remember sitting in that pew that first night trying not to feel because I was so afraid it was all fake. I couldn’t bear the thought of opening myself up to feel only to be hurt again. And I remember just weeping, too overcome by the presence of The Spirit to be able to hold such a hard heart.
I remember still being skeptical, and trying to fly under the radar. Attending, but not getting to know anyone, trying my best to avoid pastors and leadership and their dangerous authority. It took my car getting hit by the church van in the parking lot to break down that wall and force me to be known, to meet a pastor, to let them know my name.
I know what it’s like to cautiously venture back, hoping no one knows you, hoping that you somehow haven’t been blacklisted at every church in town. I know what it’s like to feel the anxiety when someone recognizes you, and you wonder if they know your story, the one you can’t fully remember. I know the overcompensating panic when someone mentions that church, or that pastor, or asks if you went there, and suddenly all the air has left the room and there are no exits, and you don’t know how to reconcile telling your story while at the same time not looking like a bitch for how you talk about another church. (And how to handle the shocked and slightly “holier than thou” looks when you say “bitch” or any other “cuss” word, and also the comradery felt when those words are met with relief that it’s ok to talk with such emotion and perhaps share a favorite Ben Folds song.)
I know what it’s like to be seven years away from that story, and still feel the effects of it like is was today. I know what it’s like to feel like you must tell that story, you must remember it well enough to tell so that others can tell their stories too. I know what it’s like to find my way back into community, to know that in community is where there is healing. To find a culture of honor rather than punishment and fear. And I know that I must be brave enough to share my story so that others can find their way back into community too.
If this resonates with you, I want you to know that no matter how alone you feel, there is at least one person out there who gets it. I offer counseling services specifically for “church hurt” because I know how deeply those wounds run, and how isolating it feels to bear them alone.