This afternoon I took some time to share with a good friend a bit of my story of hurt and healing in the Church. I feel like I’ve told this to everyone already, but I keep finding that I’ve only alluded to it to many. With that being said I’ll probably get into more detail here on my blog soon. The (hopefully) short story is that I spent seven years in ministry at a church all the while struggling with addictions and compulsive behaviors – totally in isolation and not sharing this struggle with anyone. When things became life-threatening I finally went to my pastor and shared everything – all of my fears and failures – and asked for help. While I was initially met with love, it was also the beginning of just over three years of extreme demands being placed on me – leading to me moving way from all friends and family, severing ties with anyone I knew outside of our church, giving up school, my business, my vehicle, my computer, my cell phone – everything to pursue the ‘help’ that I was being offered. What it turned out to be was living under 24-hour supervision in a legalistic environment with no actual counseling or direct ‘help’ resources. This didn’t come all at once, but rather gradually I was given stricter and stricter requirements all in the name of helping me.
After a certain point it became quite clear that giving my life to the leadership of that church and hoping they could fix it was NOT going to be the answer. It was apparent that they only had ideas on how to keep me away from sinning – but didn’t have tools to deal with this issues of sin and brokenness in my heart. I chose to move back to Chicago and that was the beginning of the end. The Pastor stopped returning my calls (and e-mails) and the Overseer no longer had anything to say to me. I was asked ‘not to touch the mic’ and relieved of all of my serving positions. There was no direction given for what I needed to do to be restored. The only engagement I received now was 2nd and 3rd party requests for me to decorate for an event, or do photography, or design a web page. Eventually God called me away from there to continue to pursue healing, restoration, and relationship with Him (and His people). In some ways leaving hurt worse than staying. I didn’t want to give up on the church or restoring the relationship and I still have a great love for the congregation and the works that the ministry engaged in. But it was obvious that I couldn’t heal there and in fact the wounds were becoming deeper and deeper anytime I attended a service.
I eventually found my current church and connected right away. But without realizing it, I’ve been quietly carrying the wounds of my previous church experience. I’m usually not aware of it until I start getting apprehensive about something – like engaging with a leader, or saying no to a serving request, opening up about my struggles, or most recently about becoming an ‘official’ member. I approached each of these situations with great fear and worry that all the goodness that I was experiencing would suddenly fall apart and in the end I would be rejected – again. Yet even with all of my worries and doubts, I’ve been met with absolute love and built deeper and healthier relationships than I ever thought possible before. A lot of this progress has to do with me reclaiming ownership of my life and learning the right way to ‘lay it all down’ for Christ.
In me recounting my story, my friend asked if I ever ‘just cry’. In a lot of ways, I was numb to the pain of what was my life just a few years ago. If you’d asked me then how I felt I would have said “happy” as I would say now. But then, I distanced myself from ‘negative things’ like anger, pain, or confrontation. The difference is that my life is fuller – I can see the positive direction it’s taking, and am starting to have glimpses of what the rest of my life could look like, and I’m fully embracing all the emotions and experiences I have without fear. I also realize that sometimes I do ‘just cry’. The main time that comes to mind is on many Sunday afternoons after a beautiful morning of worship and fellowship I become absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude for all that God has brought me through. I’m so full of Joy to be in the place that I am now – not an easy place by any stretch of the imagination, but a healthy and safe place where I’m growing all the time. I feel like crying after I have another transparent and vulnerable conversation where at the en I’m not judged but rather have grown closer to the person who I’ve shared with – and who also has shared with me! I feel like crying when I see the positive impact that the changes that are taking place in my life are having on others who are close to me.