In doing what I do, I have had the opportunity to hear many people’s stories about their current church situation. Some are considering leaving, some are in the process of leaving, and others have already left but are learning to deal with the aftermath of that life changing decision.
Let me just say, I feel beyond blessed and honored that so many people have felt safe to reach out and trust me enough to disclose their personal situations. And I say a prayer for each and every one of them.
Myself personally, I feel like a hot mess 97.9% of the time, so I feel very ill equipped to give any sort of life advice. Leaving a church that has been your life and for some even their livelihood is a decision that cannot and should not be taken lightly.
So, I decided to put into words somethings that I wish I would have known at the beginning of my journey. Maybe it will be helpful for someone else.
1. Give yourself time! I cannot stress this enough. You are not going to sort through, let alone heal from years of indoctrination and spiritual abuse overnight. Be patient. Things will get better I promise!
2. You do not, under any circumstance, owe anyone an explanation of your decision. This is between you and God only.
3. You will not be able to convince anyone of anything if they are not ready to hear it. I know when I left, I wanted so badly just to stand in a crowded church with a megaphone shouting, “you don’t have to live this way!” But that would accomplish nothing. If your spouse is not making the journey with you, of course that adds a level of complication. Maybe, try to explain to the point they chose to listen, then do your best to trust God for the rest.
4. Ladies, the outward change is difficult I’m not going to lie. If you are like I was, I had no idea how to shop for clothes! It was so overwhelming looking at the different cuts and sizes of jeans! Give yourself grace. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in, and know that your style will evolve over the next few seasons. You are no doubt going to have a bad haircut or two. Your makeup is probably not going to look like a runway model. Eyeliner is difficult! But I promise, if you just keep practicing, it gets better!
5. Community. Super important! If you don’t know anyone personally who has made the same journey, find some online support groups. It will be easy to seclude yourself during this time, but try not to. If you need pointed in the right direction, let me know I can hook you up!
6. Realize you are not alone! This kind of goes with the last one, but when we left our UPC church I felt like I had lost everyone. I felt so very alone. But know there are others who have walked this path, and while you may feel lonely now, with time you will make connections. It is amazing how many people have ties to toxic churches.
7. Research and learn to recognize the signs of toxic relationships and the proper terms to describe them. I healed so much by recognizing that what happened to me has a name.
8. Don’t be surprised if people from your past life reach out to you. It will probably shock you how many people are actually questioning.
9. Don’t feel like you have to jump feet first into a new church right away. It’s okay to take a break for a while. No where in the Bible does it say a prerequisite to heaven is attending a church building three times a week. If you do find such a verse, please let me know!
10. Lastly, and this is very important! Know that people of “the world” don’t care a bit about seeing your upper arms or legs. This is a myth that the UPC is really good at drilling into people’s heads. Especially the women! Like I already said, wear what you’re comfortable in, but for you, not anyone else. Forget the notion that as you walk down the street in a tank top and shorts on a ninety degree day every man you pass is drooling over your shoulder blades and “lusting”. Of course there are creepers in the world, I am not negating that fact, but there are far more normal people who are used to seeing that kind of dress and don’t think twice about it. I could go on forever about the hyper-sexualization in the UPC, but I won’t. Just know when you feel a weird twinge the first time you show any skin that has never seen the light of day before, most likely it is not conviction. It is simply a remnant of your past and it goes away with time with no detriment to you. You are NOT backsliding!
I hope this blog will come in handy to someone at some point. And if you ever find yourself needing additional support, as always feel free to reach out!
One more thing, we are coming up on the one year anniversary of “Free”! I can’t even believe the response that little book has received! Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for updates about that!
God bless you on your journey to freedom!