Friday, November 11, 2011

This where the pain began...

Earlier this year I started to feel like the more I read the Bible, the more conflicts with Eric I had. I stopped into the church office several times to try to speak to someone but nobody was ever available to answer my questions. Then I stopped in one day emotionally upset over a conflict I was having and I wanted some spiritual advice. I was standing in the office in tears being told by Tracy, “I’m sorry, there is nobody available” and “I wish there was something I could do for you”  as she escorted me to the exit stairway. After that, I didn’t know where to turn, but I stopped trying to go to my church for any guidance. Then when my friend's husband died, I really started to question what the church was doing for me. Two weeks after he died she told me not a single pastor had called her to offer support or see if she needed anything. I realized if didn't have support in minor things, how could I ever expect help when the crap really hit the fan in my life. I told my husband of my concerns and even mentioned that I was thinking maybe a smaller church would be better for us.

Then I went to Twirl. I really didn't feel like going and felt horrible when I left. I was starting to realize that I didn't have any friends at the church, just acquaintances. People that I volunteered with, but that was about all I ever did with them. I drove a friend out to her van out in the dirt parking lot and cried a little along the way. After she got out and drove away, I started having a complete "come apart" cry. The sobbing, chest heaving, can't get your breath, boogers draining down your face kind of cry. While I was crying there was a vehicle parked behind me with their lights shining toward my car and I saw "Pastor" John walking to his car, notice me and change course, heading my way. I grabbed some napkins out of the glove box and wiped my eyes and blew my nose. As I finished I turned toward the window, expecting him to be there, but I was just in time to see him, about 5 feet from my car, turn and walk away to his car. He got in and drove away. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't believe that a pastor would walk away and leave someone so obviously in distress just sitting there!!

The whole way home I was thinking about what had happened and I decided to write him a note on Facebook. I told him he made me feel worthless and more alone then before. He did not respond. Three days later, on Friday, I received a call from one of my leaders to ask how I was doing. The church constantly reminds us not to gossip or discuss things that may be harmful to another person’s reputation. I realize now that is most likely to prevent people from seeing the bad things that are happening there. I ended up giving him a generic version of what happened on Tuesday, but without giving a name or even using a pronoun to distinguish if it was a man or woman pastor. He tells me he called because John Hill had told him I may be going through a hard time and he should check on me!!!!!! 3 days later!!!???!!! I started crying all over again on the phone with him. I still don’t understand how John could call himself a pastor when he can’t even face the members of his church, not only in their time of need, but also after he has wronged them. He sent someone else to do what he should have done himself. That person proceeded to try to make me feel better by telling me almost word-for-word the same things I had been told by other members before when I expressed doubt. People were talking about how my husband and I are doing great things; people are noticing what we are doing, etc. Trying to make me feel good and feel needed for my service. It was like a script, nothing new that I hadn’t already heard.
Within 10 minutes of hanging up I got a message, a quick little paragraph, on FB from John saying he was sorry and he thought I just wanted to be left alone.  I guess he never once thought that maybe I was injured, or possibly been attacked on my way to my car, or even suicidal. He just assumed I wanted to be left alone.
A week later I received a follow-up phone call, again, not John, to see how I was doing. Right after that conversation, I received another message from John offering to connect me with some women in the church. At this point I did not have any faith or trust left for that church. I felt so horrible over his treatment of this situation and him not having the nerve to call me himself. At this point I was very hurt and didn’t know where to turn. I was accused of being upset because I didn’t get recognized for my service, instead of just trying to serve Jesus. I was on five different teams, none of them in the public areas of the church. I would think someone just wanted to get noticed would be volunteering for the teams that everyone would see them helping. I served because I felt a need to give back to the place that had turned my life around. People who I thought were going to be there whenever I needed a nudge back on track or help in any situation. But instead, I feel like I lost part of my family, a huge part of my life is now left empty.
I started seeing a Christian focused therapist. After a couple of weeks, she told me I have PTSD. She struggles to keep the expressions of her face neutral as I remember each thing that should have warned me that my church was not a healthy church. Shock, disbelief, horror. She points things out to me that I hadn’t even realized were manipulation tactics.
I decided to try and reconnect with some people that had left the church. I didn’t know their circumstances, but I needed a listening ear and some advice. I still don’t know if I made the right choice because without the added knowledge I have from going down that path, perhaps I wouldn’t hurt so bad. After hearing some of the other stories, I think back, I realize the things I just ignored or understood incorrectly over the past year. As the memories come back, I see things more clearly, but I feel such a heavy burden of guilt and shame. How could I bring my family to a place where their eternal souls were to be put at risk? How could I have been so easily duped? I was such an idiot!! I feel stupid for ignoring the signs and being so blinded by my newfound faith and joy that I either didn't notice or just decided to overlook them. I feel stupid to have been led along so easily and for so long. I feel ashamed that I gave so much of myself to the church that gave me so very little spiritual support in return. I feel scared to live with the damage I have caused my entire family in the aftermath of our lives there. I lived in denial for far too long.
I have seen people’s lives changed. By Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, by their own strength, will and determination given to them by Him. There is guidance, but ultimately it is them and the Savior. Some have changed for the better, some for the worse, some hiding their pain, too afraid to leave.
I pray for the people still there and others that come from hurtful churches. It isn't about me anymore; it is about helping them. I share this story in the hope that ONE MORE person can see the path to Jesus that lies within them, not a church or one man, but in THE MAN who died for us. Churches are supposed to help people, not inflict pain on their members. It shouldn't have to be like this. What is the acceptable ratio of lost souls? How many people are allowed to be hurt, damaged beyond repair, compared to the ones you count as SAVED? Does Eric still count them as saved after he discards them?
I pray for the children in Haiti. As I look back at that whole trip, it hurts my heart to realize how little we do for them. They live in absolutely deplorable living conditions. If we were supporting them so much, why were they still living like that so long after the earthquake? Why hadn't we done more sooner? Miss Elizabeth told us she had emailed the church asking for help and had not heard back. I wish that I had taken all the money I gave for Samurai and sent it for supplies to them. At least I would know I directly had a part in their lives being improved.
I am thankful I still have my faith. So many others have lost theirs; others just won't go to church anymore. How is that helping His kingdom, by breaking people so completely? Though all of this I have found a deeper understanding of the bible, found resources to help me understand those things that are unclear, an understanding of what to look for in my next church and people that keep directing me back to His path.
      I just want to stop the pain,
Just know I hurt, and I don't want to.


1 comment:

  1. Jen,

    Since you were the first to welcome us to the Back Door site, allow me to be the first to comment on your blog.

    It is painful to revisit this kind of discussion, but with that comes healing. We too left a similar situation in Hutchinson, after a 21 year relationship with the church and 16 years with the present leader there. We saw the transition into a legalistic, top down hierarchy which left no room for questions. Many people with gifts and callings were sidelined, while those who were more manageable were promoted. Anyone who expressed a call on their life was told to wait until the leadership heard from God and sent them out. Waiting on the leader's direction was based on him "being the vessel through whom you hear from God" This resulted in many catch phrases. These included: 'be a sent one, not a went one', 'church, church and more church', 'a pastor is like a bus driver, people get on and people get off...but I'm still driving the bus', 'avoid the venom' from those who have left, etc. Need I say more?

    We lost 2 1/2 years of relationship with one of our daughters as a result of this conditioning. She left us when she realized that her leaving this church would force a loyalty question for us in leadership there. So rather than find out what we would do, she split to another state. This put us on a three year journey that resulted in our confronting the leader at this church over a list of facts which were specific to our family. Between that time and an email that came three weeks later, my wife's closest friend reported us to the leaders as 'having decided to leave'. Three weeks after our meeting we were sent an email telling us that we had been informed on and to either repent or leave. We were accused of the 'grievous sin of siding with your daughter against your pastor'. Our positions were dangled in front of us, by being told they would be immediately assumed by someone else if we did not comply. Our response was short and to the point. We left eighteen months ago and have been shunned, accused of slander and lost nearly all of the friends we thought we once had. We fast realized the we were only 'churchmates', and not real friends. You know, as long as we were working, attending, paying, etc...then we had 'friends'.

    There is a happy ending to this, in that we now have a circle of dear friends with whom we are learning to trust again. We have been gathering together for the past year in an atmosphere of grace and open discussion. We have chosen to ignore the 'no talk' rule and have moved on to relationship.
    I guess I am sharing this to let you know that we are out here and have a common experience. May the Lord heal you, bless you and lead you and your friends into a truly grace-filled life.

    Wayne J.