I think the past few years have been primarily about me finding my voice. And getting myself and my kids to a place of emotional safety, of course, but none of that could have happened if I hadn’t found my voice.
Which is a little ironic, if you had known me for years, because there’s two things about me – one is that I am generally not at a loss for words. And the other is that I sing. Loudly. I have one of those “we don’t need no stinking microphones” voices that cuts through electronics and can be heard loud and clear even in a choir.
But still. I needed to find my voice. Because while I can sing just fine, and I can speak up when a meeting needs to be called to order or a class needs to be taught, when it comes to my own needs, my own thoughts, my own desires? Not so much. I managed to write some of them into songs. But then I had a hard time singing the more revealing ones anywhere that they could be heard.
Call it British reticence. I mean, I like to call it that. But I have to admit, one glass of wine in, that it has more to do with self-preservation. Having changed cultures a number of times as the child of parents who were looking for Utopia (and better pay), I learned early on to keep my mouth shut and pretend I agreed even when I had no idea what was going on. Being a quick study, I generally could figure it out before anyone caught on, so I managed to fly under the radar and avoid most cultural faux pas.
But this is not a good way to be if you are being taken advantage of, or taken for granted, or being emotionally abused.
At any rate, living with a narcissist finally did teach me to speak up. More on the way that realization came about later, because as usual, in the middle of trying to write one blog, I find myself tempted to write an adjacent one.
THIS WEEK though. This week, I spoke up. This week, I spoke up to the senior pastor and executive pastor of my old church. They said they wanted to hear how I felt they had let me down, since they had heard through Ricki, my small group leader, that I felt neglected by them. Actually, the word they used was “frustrated.” That I was frustrated with them. That might be the understatement of the year, so they get some credit for that, in a kind of “Worst Misnomers of 2019” kind of way.
I met with them this week, and brought a friend along for support (she sat and said not one word, which was fine–I just needed a friend by my side. And to the pastor’s credit, it was his suggestion that I bring her).
I told them the timeline of what Ricki had done in her “counseling” of me.
- How she had been harsh, had pleaded with me not to get offended and stop talking to her because another woman had done that and she didn’t think she could go through that again.
- How she had ignored me for months at a time.
- How she had said she would “pray and get right back to me” in June and had not gotten back to me until September, when she wanted to meet so she could talk to me about this wonderful business opportunity that had changed her life.
- And how when I challenged her about all of that she had tried to blame me, saying I had offended her so she had had to back off, and saying that she had told the elders she was backing off, which made me feel like the church didn’t care about me because no one from the church contacted me for months after that
- It turned out the pastor didn’t remember her ever telling him that, despite her claims that she had told him all about her problems with counseling me and even claiming that he had told her to set up a meeting for her, me and him so we could work through it. I’m pretty sure he would have remembered that.
They apologized. They said they were sorry I felt neglected but after all it was all just one big misunderstanding.
I spoke up some more.
- I told them that while it seemed their hearts were in the right place, and that the belief system of the church regarding situations like mine were Biblical, and that I accepted their apology, this was just not okay. (At this point I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit took over for a couple of sentences).
- I told them that before God, they could not treat women this way.
- That I was not alone in my experience.
- That I knew of a number of other women who had been in my shoes and had watched the men of the church close ranks around their husbands, who were the ones causing the problem with their refusal to repent, and leave the woman and kids out in the cold with no one to turn to. I told them they could not treat women this way – it’s not okay.
And when they said they really did care about me I said, “No, you don’t get to take credit for desiring to care about me when you haven’t actually done it. If you want credit for caring, you have to put hands and feet to it, not ignore me for months.”
The pastor took exception to that and accused me of and “all or nothing” fallacy. I taught logic for five years, so I know what that means. I pointed out that it wasn’t all or nothing thinking – I wasn’t talking about the first few months when they DID get involved. I was talking about the months from about March to September when no one got back to me on ANY of my requests.
- When my husband was scheduled to serve on the worship team we had been told to step down from, and when I asked why he had been scheduled and if I could also serve, rather than answering my question I simply heard second hand that it had been “fixed” and he wasn’t scheduled any more.
- When I asked for an elder to sit with us so I could have a conversation with my husband where I told him I did not want him to move back in with us unless he repented and changed, I never received a reply
- They told me this week they had decided back then they couldn’t do that because it would appear then that they were approving of me not wanting to reconcile. But no one told me that at the time. I just never heard back.
So I told them that, and that they did not get to claim that they “cared” during that time. Because regardless of how warm and fuzzy they felt inside, their silence told me loud and clear that they did not care.
And that this was not okay. Before God. This is not okay in any sense of the word.
And I said more besides, but you get the picture.
I may never hear back whether my words had an impact on them. They wanted to assure me that they really did believe the right thing and really did have the right heart, but all the “I’m sorry” in the world won’t give me back the giant piece of my heart that died this year at their hands. I told them that when I realized that the elders didn’t care enough about me to check in with me, that they were believing what Ricki told them that I needed to repent of something that to this day goes undefined, that at that point I simply did not want to live any more.
They whispered again that they were sorry.
I’m hoping this was a wake-up call. I’m hoping this will make them examine what they do and how they do it. I’m hoping that this will shake them out of their Millennial “I’m a cool pastor and I have a cool ministry and I only have to work 9-5 and I can take time off whenever I want to travel around and meet with other cool pastors and build a name for myself” church-dot-com mentality.
Because bless their hearts, they are in their 30s and don’t seem to understand that you can’t put ministry in a box and do it when it’s convenient. That it’s a calling, not a career.
And that you simply cannot ignore hurting women and do the easier task of looking for ways to “bring into fellowship” (their words) the men who are unrepentant and who have broken their families up but who lie through their teeth and say all the right Christian things and offer to spend the time they are not taking care of their families doing things for the church instead.
Because that is not right. That is downright unbiblical.
And because while the other women they have done this to have been too shattered and hurting to say anything, and have instead simply found a safe place to flee to, THIS time, they have done it to a woman who HAS a voice.
And who is not afraid to use it.
And although, having obeyed the Lord and spoken up, I have now shaken the dust from my sandals and moved on, I’m pretty sure they haven’t heard the last of me.
Because I know how to write.
Oh, I like It! Well done. I really appreciate how you said they don’t get to say they care after the fact because caring needs action behind it and is not just fuzzy feelings you get to use to make yourself feel better. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “we want you to know we really care about you…” That’s always a red flag for me.
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Giant red flag! Why oh why has it taken me this long to start paying attention to those things, dang it? But at least now I know!
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I understand the feeling of not being able to find your voice when you really need it. I used to be that way too. But I find it much easier to do so now, though I don’t have that much occasion to do so. I can in a small way relate to your experience from something that happened to me at a former church. I was going through a really hard time spiritually, and felt overwhelmed, so asked if I could be relieved of one of my responsibilities. The pastor’s response was void of any empathy at all. I had been used to pastors in that church who understood me and cared about me, but this newer pastor, in his first time pastoring, had little ability to understand what others were going through. One man, who had 2 developmentally challenged (one seriously) children had a nervous breakdown. This pastor more or less told him and his wife that he just needed to pull up his bootstraps and get on with life. He had no idea what they were going through.
Now I am blessed with a pastor and his wife who go far out of their way to minister to the needs of their people. They are on the go for many hours every day seeing to sometimes very serious needs. And they never condemn. They are so loving and caring it would be impossible to have better pastors. I thank the Lord for them. I hope you have found a safer place to worship and a place where they care about you.
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Wow, I hope that new pastor has progressed past his learning curve, but if a nervous breakdown of a parishioner doesn’t provide a wake-up call, I don’t know what will! Glad you have an awesome pastor/wife team now. I have only been at my new church a month but so far I am vastly impressed with both the pastor and his wife AND the associate pastor and his wife. They all know my name already!!
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That pastor has been there now for about 25 years now, so hopefully he has learned some valuable things in that time. I knew his father who was also a pastor and an extreme disciplinarian with his children so that may have had something to do with how he looked at things.
I am so happy that you are enjoying your new church. It’s always good when leadership knows you by name after a short time. It’s a good sign!
I went to another church in between that one and the one I have now attended since 2004. They knew my name and respected me, but there was no real personal relationship with the pastor and his wife. And eventually, though I had some wonderful friends there and kept them after I left, I was drying up spiritually and had to find another church home. I waited for the Lord to lead me, and He surely did. I felt as though I fit in the first prayer meeting I went to. And I discovered that the pastor’s wife had attended the first church (years before that particular pastor) for a short time when she was in university. I vaguely remembered her but never really knew her. She remembered that I had played the piano in church. It’s a small world indeed.
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