I just finished reading Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Ester. Before I purchased this book, I didn’t have any idea how beneficial and encouraging it would be to me as a survivor of spiritual abuse. I did not know how similar our stories would be. Though Elizabeth grew up in a very legalistic cult called The Assembly in California, and I experienced abuse from a mainline denomination that puts a lot of emphasis on grace and not legalism, the effects of spiritual abuse that I have had are much the same as those Elizabeth experienced coming out of a cult. Her story was a huge comfort to me, and if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. There is also a Ted Talk Why I Left an Evangelical Cult given by her sister, Dawn Smith, that is very encouraging. I’m amazed by the resilience of these women, and hope that I can one day experience the freedom to share openly about my own spiritually abusive situation without feeling so much fear of rejection. Elizabeth and Dawn have let me know that it is possible to get to the other side of spiritual abuse and offer hope and healing to others. I believe that one day my day will come, but I also know that right now it’s ok to be where I am in the healing process, and blogging anonymously here. No matter where you are in the process of healing, please know it’s ok, too.
Elizabeth describes her struggles in the book with severe anxiety at church. Like us, her and her husband tried attending church not long after they both left the cult. After much mental anguish, Elizabeth was encouraged by her counselor to take a break from attending church to give herself time to heal.
We, too, have struggled so much the past three years with attending church. My husband and I have visited eight different churches since leaving our abusive church, three we stayed at for a significant period of time time, five we visited once and never went back. We stayed out of church for several months and always felt like something was missing from our lives. We’ve consistently listened to podcasts associated with Keylife Network, because of their consistent emphasis on God’s freedom, grace and love. They have been a lifeline to us. But we have continued to feel that there is something missing from our lives, and we have come to realize it’s less about church attendance and more about relationships with people who truly desire to know God.
After Elizabeth leaves The Assembly cult, and begins to attend a Catholic church without her husband, Matt, who also left The Assembly, he is frustrated and declares:
After everything we went through in The Assembly, why would you want to go to a church that regularly makes headlines with scandals by men in authority?… What else is drawing you there? Why are you always looking for something better?”
I’m not looking for something better, Matt. I just want something real.
Her words ressonate with me in a powerful way. Ever since we left our abusive church three years ago, I’ve been looking for something that has taken us through the doors of one church after another only to come out disillusioned and empty handed. I have been looking for something real and for whatever reason have not been able to find it. Maybe because it hasn’t been there. Or maybe because I’ve been too afraid to find it.
Recently, I had coffee with a friend who shared with me about her own frustrations with the church. She’s worn out with the narcissistic leadership, codependency, and rules based religion taught in the church. She longs for something real, too, but based on our conversation that night she’s given up on finding it inside a church building. She is not alone in her conclusion. Others who have been through similar experiences are leaving the church as well. I would be the last one to tell them they are doing something wrong. My mother-in-law, after being married to an abusive man for over 20 years, came to the conclusion and said it to us regularly, “It’s better to be alone than to be married to some people!”
I wholeheartedly agree that it’s better to be out of church than in the wrong one.
The question is, is there a real one?
Honestly, I’ve almost come to the same conclusion my friend has many times in saying that true fellowship is not found in traditional church. However, when I look back to times spent with good friends who were a part of the church, I realize that this statement is not true of my experiences. I still miss the genuine relationships I had with others in our previous church. Once I began to break away from the suffocating relationship with the abusive pastor, I began to find room in my life and heart for other people. Even though I didn’t find the words to tell them the truth until I exposed the pastor’s abuse, I had very much wanted to tell these few people the truth. And I still miss them very much.
In writing this blog, I have found fellowship and understanding from others who have not judged me. You have been a safe place. You have been my church. Many of you have similar stories. Many of you long for the same thing I do. I so appreciate your support. But I’m still looking for something real in the church.
If you’ve followed much of my blog, you have walked through the doors of these churches with me. You have experienced the hope I have felt as well as the disappointment and disillusionment with the church. I think I have said to myself after every church that this is the last one. I won’t go down this path again and be disappointed yet again.
And here we are into our fifth week at our ninth church in three years. Maybe some of you are thinking we are a living example of the word insanity. Maybe we are crazy. Or maybe we are crazy like a fox as Steve Brown likes to say. No matter what conclusion you come to, this is our story – we have not given up hope.
Recently, I had coffee with a female deacon from our latest church. After the damage I’ve experienced from abusive men, it’s refreshing to talk to a female leader in the church. She listened to my story and shared her own painful one. Ironically, her and her family left the same denomination we did. This past Sunday we learned that the pastor of the same church grew up in The Assembly cult. I was blown away because I’d never even heard of the cult until I watched Dawn’s Ted Talk the day before.
I wonder what God is doing?
Maybe this church is different.
Maybe it’s something real.
“Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking, it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will [instead] give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will [instead] give him a snake? If you then, evil (sinful by nature) as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give what is good and advantageous to those who keep on asking Him.
MATTHEW 7:7-11 AMP
Don’t give up hope. God knows what we need!