Last week my world ended.
At least, it felt like it at the time. I couldn’t see how I could move forward. I didn’t want to live any more in this world because everything I thought it was based upon was looking like a lie.
Let me tell you how I got from there to here, tonight, where I’ve realized that I have a lot of relationships with a lot of really cool people. And that while it has felt, for a while, like my husband has turned church leadership against me, he hasn’t actually taken away the whole Church. He has simply discredited me with a handful of people who lie on the fringes of leadership, not in actual positions of authority at my church, but close enough to “officially” cause me trouble by getting between me and the actual leadership.
I really started last June. In fact, it started before that. My small group leader, let’s call her Ricki, told me way back at the beginning of the year that she “was HERE for me and she WASN’T GOING ANYWHERE no matter WHAT I said.” And then she also dumped on me the fact that the last woman she tried to help won’t even speak to her anymore because Ricki didn’t get everything right and apparently offended her so please, please, don’t do that to her now because she doesn’t know if she could handle going through that again.
Her “help” consisted of her asking me if I had repented of “my side” of the emotional abuse, and of trying to catch me in lies and challenging what I was telling her. And then weeks would go by between her checking in on me. I have my own counselor, so after a while I didn’t really feel the need to contact Ricki anyway, but it stung because she was a friend. On top of that, she is also the pastor’s executive assistant, so basically, if I want to talk to him or the elders, I have to go through her.
But one night, in a moment of panic, I texted Ricki and told her my husband had started getting belligerent in his manner toward me, and the way he was insisting on texting my younger daughter who had asked him to give her space and wait for her to contact him. And I told her about the way he was constantly spying on us as we went in and out the front door, with the new front-door camera he installed “for us,” which also came equipped with audio that recorded our conversation. I said was really shaken up and I didn’t know what to do.
She replied that she would pray about all that and get back to me. She then immediately texted my older daughter and barraged her with questions, trying to verify everything I had said.
That was June 26. She did not contact me until mid-August, when she called me to say she was SOOOOO busy she just couldn’t talk to me until September.
September came and she texted that she was now ready to meet for coffee with me. I texted back that it was okay, I knew she was very busy and I had other people to talk to, so she didn’t need to feel like she had to keep being involved in my situation.
I kid you not, she replied, “Yes, I have this great business opportunity I want to talk to you about.” This was followed by more obviously copied and pasted texts about how this business had changed her life.
I replied, “Are you kidding me right now?” And she said she had no idea what she had done to deserve that. I told her to check the text message history and she replied, a few minutes later, that I had offended her and that’s why she hadn’t replied for two months. I asked her how I could have offended her by talking about myself and she said something vague about no, in the past, not that time. And so I asked her why she hadn’t told me this, and she said it didn’t occur to her that I needed to know.
Keep in mind that this is the person the pastor assigned to “my case” and that he was stepping back from the situation because he thought she and her husband were handling it. And that I can’t contact him unless I go through her because of her position on staff.
I asked her if she had at least told the pastor and elders that she was no longer on the case and she said she had. I asked if she told them in June how shook up I was and she said she had told them I was upset with my husband being belligerent.
But not one of them has checked in with me, not even casually when I have attended services. I have had little bantering conversations with the pastor during the meet-and-greet before the service, but not one “so how is it going” on his part. Not one of the six elders has sought me out to see if he could pray for anything, or if I need help fixing anything around the house, or if my (very wounded and traumatized) children are okay.
And now I really understood the implications of this silence, because all along I had thought it was due to the fact that the elders thought Ricki and her husband were walking alongside me.
So when I discovered that they had known for months that this wasn’t the case, it pulled the rug completely out from under my feet. Because this Church, this community of believers, this is my CLAN. When I moved here from England, I didn’t know the customs of the American culture and didn’t have extended family and didn’t have friends, and I found all of that in the evangelical, Pentecostal Church community in my area. It didn’t matter which particular church. I developed friendships with many people, across many congregations, and felt welcomed in any and all gatherings. They became my new extended family. They became the group that would have my back if I fell into difficulty. They were my people.
And just that quickly, when I realized this particular church leadership not only didn’t believe me about my experience or trust me to tell the truth (this came out in further conversation with Ricki), but didn’t care to even reach out to me, I realized that they weren’t my people at all. I had lost my clan.
So how do you go forward with that?
The Good News
Since then I have realized that it’s not the whole clan that I have lost. It’s a small group of people and their behavior is utter foolishness. It’s the result of being in leadership but not having training, not having wisdom and frankly, having their own issues that distract them so badly that even their “ministry” to others ends up being about them.
And I realized that instead of continuing to engage with them, and with the church that so foolishly gives them authority and power, I should have knocked the dust off my sandals and left the church months ago. But I stupidly wanted to stay and fight and show them where they were not living up to biblical standards and help them see how they could better help the next person that comes along.
And it struck me that when triggered into Fight-or-Flight mode, I’ve been stuck in the Fight side for so long that I don’t realize that Flight is a perfectly good option, and that in some cases it’s the wiser of the two.
So I left.
I found a new church where I know a few of the members, and so far (three weeks in) it’s working out pretty well. I don’t expect it to be perfect – no church is. But it’s a safe place and I have had a number of very healing and positive interactions over the past few weeks with my friends there, old and new, that has reminded me of how wonderful fellowship can be when people are real and have no hidden agenda.
Fast forward to today, when I had to go back to my old church to attend a funeral of a man who has been instrumental in my life for over 30 years. When I walked in the door (late, because I had been at urgent care with my daughter, who had a serious concussion last year and just re-injured her head and now has another concussion, but that’s a whole other story), the first three people I saw were my husband and Ricki and her husband, sitting in the ushers’ seats by the door. I almost turned and walked out but I wanted to go to the funeral, so I nodded at them, walked past and found a seat. It was so hard to sit there, feeling so completely judged and unloved by the leadership of that church, but it was about my friend and his family, so I stayed.
Afterward I realized how many of my old friends were there, friends from many churches in the area. My husband disappeared as soon as the service finished, saying he was tired because he had been there early to set up, but I stayed and talked to the widow and her family, and caught up with old friends, and chatted with friends from the church, and by the time I left had a smile on my face.
I realized that my husband may have swayed Ricki and her husband with his lies, and one other friend and her husband from outside that church with his lies, and even one of the associate pastors of that church with his lies, but that group of people are a very, very small section of the population. They may have enough power in leadership to make life difficult for me at that church, but the fact is that I’m the one who has the real relationships with many people, going back over 30 years. Now that my husband is no longer standing next to me reaping the benefit of those relationships, he has instead surrounded himself with a small group of very dysfunctional people.
When I saw this foolishness for what it was, I realized that I actually have a pretty positive life right now. I’m almost done with my BA in English. I have a great job, a busy but loving household, some very dear and supportive friends, and a wonderful new church with outreach ministries that are close to my heart and that I can’t wait to get involved with. I have plenty on my plate to keep me busy.
So if five people out of the hundreds of friends with whom I am in immediate contact want to be negative toward me because of some lies my husband has told them, and if they want to sway the elders of one particular congregation to treat me as an outcast, bring it on.
It’s not going to rock my world.
Because I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the end of the day, that is far more important than whether or not a certain group of elders mismanaged the care of one of their congregants who was in need in an area that tweaked the part of their theology that was based on culture instead of Scripture.
(Okay, well, I’m at least the fifth woman they have done that to, but that is a post for another day).