Discover more from Katie Mae's Dailies
Belief Part 9
Welcome to Part 9 of my post series where I am sharing about my experiences with belief and faith starting when I was young and ending with where I am today.
CW: If you have church, faith, or any kind of relationship trauma or abuse, please approach with caution, take breaks, or don’t read my posts at all.
Sometimes reading other people’s stories can help us heal and feel not-so-alone in our experiences, and other times we need to take a break from all the things that open us back up and bring the feeling back to the surface. Check in with yourself as you read. <3
After reading through my Belief series, some of you may be wondering where all the stories are about the good times I experienced while being in church.
I truly love this question because most of us know through experience that, minus rare circumstances, nothing and no one is 100% bad at all times.
And it’s true, I did have a lot of good times during my decade in church. There are many stories I could share of people in church helping, loving, and being there for me and/or my family or of the various life changing moments of clarity, healing, and renewal I experienced.
But, honestly, these stories are still complicated for me.
To borrow a phrase from a friend, I have spent almost a decade “perpetually deconstructing and reconstructing” my faith and by doing so have spent countless hours trying to untangle the “good” experiences from the “bad”.
In healing after abuse or mistreatment it can be very painful to examine the experiences you had and wonder if some of the things you thought were good or true might not actually have been…
One evening when K and I were together back in college, I came to his apartment after work like I usually did. After a few moments he noticed I looked stressed so he wrapped his arms around me, kissed me softly on the forehead, looked into my eyes, and asked what was wrong.
We sat on his couch while I cried telling him how overwhelmed I felt trying to balance work and school. I told him I didn’t think I could do it anymore and wanted to quit all of it.
I started to have a panic attack.
He helped me take slow breathes.
He held me tight in his lap and whispered reassuring words.
After I’d calmed down, he wrapped me in a blanket, went into the bathroom, and started running water for a bath. Then, he came out, grabbed his keys, kissed me and said, “I’ve got a hot bath going for you. Go get in, relax, and I’ll be right back.”
As he rushed out the door, I got into the bathtub, which he had filled with bubbles, and continued to cry.
Within a few minutes, he was back and had two pints of my favorite ice cream: Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. He handed me a pint and a spoon and said, “Ok, one more thing. Hold on.” and he rushed back out of the bathroom again.
When he returned he had his living room side table which he placed by the sink.
Then he came back in with his small TV attached to an extension cord and placed it on the side table.
“Let’s watch a movie.”
He put in one of our favorite comedies, Saving Silverman, and turned off the bathroom lights. The two of us sat in the bathtub eating ice cream, giving each other bubble beards (and pretending to shave them off, of course), and watched a movie together. Every once in a while when the water got cold, he would add more hot water.
After the movie was over and we were both pruny, and exhausted from laughing, we wrapped around each other in bed as he ran his hand gently through my hair and told me everything was going to be okay.
He loved me.
We would get through it together.
I drifted off to sleep that night believing we would.
Telling stories about the good times I thought I had when I was in church is, for me, very similar to telling stories about the good times I thought I had with K.
In the story I told above, what K did for me that night when I was so in need of love and support felt so very real, thoughtful, loving, and kind.
But was it really? Or was he manipulating me and buttering me up?
I honestly don’t know the answer and never will.
Many times he did nice things in order to get what he wanted from me. And that makes it hard to tell if any of it was good or if even the good times were manipulations.
Can someone genuinely love you and still mistreat, manipulate, and abuse you?
When the ladies in my mom group showed up with meals and babysitters after I gave birth to Noey and then shortly again after needing treatment for Postpartum Depression/Anxiety it was truly so wonderful. I am deeply thankful they showed up for me in those ways when I needed them to.
But what am I supposed to think about the fact that after I left our church following several attempts to be honest about the hurt I was feeling and try to get resolution and repair, most of those same moms stopped talking to me and many of them I never heard from again.
The kindness feels less “real” when it is attached to the requirement of believing like they do or going to the same church.
I could write volumes about my deep church hurts regarding the church’s (not just evangelicals) overwhelming support of Trump and the decision by so many self-proclaimed Christians to actively participate in the unholy union of politics and religion that continues to build and grow to this day.
There truly isn’t room to even begin to talk about this, but suffice it to say the revelation of what so many in the church really believed and supported was the final nail in the coffin of my involvement with church culture.
Over the 8 years since leaving the church, when I have shared I no longer attend church to someone who does, I tend to get responses like these: “It’s not like that at our church” or “You need to go to a Methodist/Episcopalian/Catholic/etc church instead” or “Not all Christians mistreat people. Don’t let a few people keep you from God.”
The overall message is: Not us. Not our church. Not all Christians.
When you are convinced the only way to please God and live a godly life is to be in church and practice your faith “a certain way”, then it makes total sense church people would strive to recruit people. Plus the get the added bonus of feeling validated in their beliefs when other people come to believe them as well.
But the most hurtful and harmful response I get to not being a church person is when church people tell me they are “praying for me to come back to the Lord”.
As if leaving the church automatically means leaving God. I mean, sometimes it does, but not always.
There is nothing more condescending, belittling, and dismissive than for someone to pity you and look down on you for not being part of a church or not believing in God.
“I’m praying for you” has become a trigger for me because of it.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard church people and church leaders alike say how “unbelievers” are immoral, lost, dangerous, in need of saving, and all but feral animals. They believed, because they had been taught to believe, that without Jesus, humans would have no guidance, reason, or ability to live a loving, moral life. Sure, they might think they are living a “good” life, but without Jesus being “good” does nothing.
“Plenty of ‘good’ people who thought their good deeds would be enough are in hell because they didn’t know Jesus”
Phew. That’s some messed up shit, ya’ll.
It’s messed up, but it’s also a very effective fear tactic used to get people to come running to God and the church, and keep them there once they get there.
But even worse, they use this fear tactic to keep people from truly loving and connecting with “unbelievers” and even people outside of their own church.
Don’t even get me started on “missionary friendships” where Christians connect with “unbelievers” with the sole purpose of getting them “saved” and into their church.
Because if church people only hang out with church people it is easy to convince them everyone who doesn’t believe like they do is a pitiful, ignorant, sinful danger who either needs to “get saved” or be cast away.
When you can convince people the world is sinful and dangerous and the only safe place to be is in the church, they can more easily be controlled and manipulated.
One time, while leading a church youth summer camp alongside other youth ministry folks, I was asked if I wanted to be a part of a skit they were doing.
I said yes and joined them to practice the skit a few times before we “went live”. I was deeply in church culture at that time; buzzing from the high I got knowing these good, godly church people actually saw me as leadership material.
And yet, I felt strange during the skit practices.
I heard my internal voice, still and small, calling out from deep inside me, “This isn’t right. This is harmful. Don’t do this.”
But I had learned not to trust myself. And so I didn’t listen.
The night of the skit, the entire sanctuary was empty of pews. The campers sat on the floor around the stage. All of us leaders took our places and when “Too Late to Apologize” started playing over the speakers, we had our cue to begin.
In the first skit there is a teenager talking on the phone to her boyfriend instead of reading her Bible. All-of-a-sudden, one of our church leaders dressed as a truly terrifying Darth Maul-ish Satan, sneaks up behind her and wraps the phone cord around her neck as she falls to the ground.
She should have been reading her Bible, but now the devil has gotten her and it’s too late to apologize.
In the next skit, a young athlete stands facing the audience while two girls stand in front of him with their backs to the audience. He tells them he is trying to get home to read his Bible after practice, but they are flirting with him and trying to temp him.
One of those flirty girls was me.
When the athlete finally gives in and hangs out with the girls instead of reading his Bible, the girls turn around to review to the audience their faces are painted like rotting hell demons. The devil descends and takes his life.
He thought he was going to hang out with some girls instead of read his Bible and now he’s dead. And it’s too late to apologize.
There are two other parts of the skit where the devil shows up and kills teens, but I will spare you.
At the end of the whole pitiful thing, the campers were crying. Hysterically. The last kid to be “killed by the devil” for doing normal teen things is GIVEN A FUNERAL by the pastor of the church.
“The devil is a hunter. Always lurking and waiting for you to turn away from God so he can get you. And sadly, friends, sometimes we die before we can make it right with God. Some of the hardest funerals I have to do are for kids who never got saved. We never know how much time we have left, so we need to make sure we stay right with God, stay in the Word, and not let the Devil get a foothold in our lives”.
I can’t take back with I have said, done, and participated in as a church person, but I am truly sorry.
The crying, traumatized faces of those campers stick with me to this day and I wish nothing more than to have spoken up and said something instead of moving forward with such a deeply harmful and extraordinarily cheesy skit aimed at using fear to keep kids from trusting themselves and living normal lives.
I can’t turn back time, but I can do all I can to make it right now. That is why I write and share these stories. My active apology is to do all I can to bring awareness to unhealthy church culture and be a part of dismantling it.
That being said, there are people I am still connected with from every church I have ever attended. These are folks who, even if we may not share the exact same faith beliefs, do share common values and interests that go beyond the church building. Some of them are still church people and some of them have left, but in my view, it wasn’t being in church that made them “good” to begin with.
My brother is one of my favorite people on Earth. He is a loving, caring church leader who has a gift for teaching and speaking and is one of those people who makes everyone feel seen and relaxed in his presence. He loves to smile and laugh.
My brother has loved and believed in me in such genuine and healing ways, even when I didn’t love and believe in myself.
His non-judgmental presence during some of the darkest times of my life, when I felt the most lost and unlovable, helped me break free from the abusive relationship I was in and start my life over.
Whether I believe like he believes or not, he is always willing to listen to what I feel in regards to church culture and share his perspectives in ways that keep the doors open to discussion.
Throughout my church hurts, I have always known there are believers like my brother and his amazing wife (who is also one of my best friends), who are earnestly and mindfully pursuing a life based on the teachings of Jesus -eschewing the temptations and trappings of unhealthy institutional status and power- in order to make the world a better place and to love those around them well.
One of my closest friends is an amazing pastor whom I look to for guidance and support in all areas of life on a regular basis. She has been a trustworthy source of hope and healing for me as I have navigated healing from my church hurts and in my efforts to continue on in my faith journey. It partly due to her encouragement and heaping upon of praise, that I started writing again.
A few friends and I started a chat group in 2015 in order to have a safe place to come and vent and get support regarding all our church hurts. And every day since then we have written each other and become more like a family than a chat group. My chosen community.
Being a part of church means having to form your social group and community around the people who attend your church. The longer you go to church the more church becomes the focus of your life. Even if you were willing to take the risk of making friends outside your church community, it would be difficult to find the time. If you want more friends at church, you have to recruit them to join.
Since leaving church I have had the freedom to choose my community. The people I choose to surround myself with come from all different backgrounds and beliefs. Instead of our faith being our common connection, we share common interests as well as common values like the importance of inclusion, kindness, and truth. We share the desire to advocate for equality, justice, and for everyone to have the safety and freedom to be who they are and love who they love.
I have chosen to surround myself with people who encourage and challenge me to be the best version of myself all while loving me as I am regardless of their religious beliefs or non-beliefs.
I remember being told that coming to Jesus and joining a church would help me with my worry and anxiety. Once I joined the church, listened to so many sermons about how the Bible instructs us not to have fear or worry.
But being in church culture was one of the most fearful times of my life.
Not at first. But as time went on and I listened to so many fearful, manipulative sermons warning people about the dangers of backsliding, demons getting you when you “turn away” from God, or the Devil tempting you away from God if you leave God’s will for even a moment, I was literally filled to the brim with fear.
After spending so much of my life messing up, making mistakes, and being manipulated, I felt I couldn’t trust myself, but I also couldn’t trust anyone else. It felt inevitable that I was going to do something wrong and end up ruining my life and disappointing God with my sin.
I worried constantly that I wasn’t good enough, godly enough, or that eventually all these people who knew God so much better than me would discover the “truth” about me: I’m not one of you. I’m an eternal fuck-up of the highest order and I will never ever live up to your standards and expectations.
Leaving church and deconstructing has been one of the healthiest and most freeing things I have done in all my life. While I still have anxiety, none of that anxiety is due to any fear or worry about the state of my soul or about what God or man may think of me.
I now know I am not an eternal fuck-up of the highest order.
I am HUMAN. And a neurodivergent one at that.
Now, I am free to be me and live out the purpose of my life unconstrained by church culture fear mongering.
As far as where I am in my faith right now, I am happy to tell you that I don’t fully know.
And I am happy about this, because letting go of the need for certainty has opened up my life and healed me in such profound ways I can’t ever go back to the unhealthy church culture practice of feeling sure about God and what God wants or is saying or doing.
I have my personal spiritual experiences and practices and I hold them very dear and sacred. I don’t feel any need to label them, recruit anyone to believe like do, or “land” anywhere.
Honestly, I don’t fit neatly into any labels political, religious, or otherwise. I find labels important in the ways they give us words for what we feel, believe, value or experience, but I don’t find them helpful in the ways they can limit and box us in.
The truth is, any large group which shares common belief systems can end up boxing people in too tightly.
There is a lot I don’t know and can’t explain, but I do feel we are all connected in ways that we can’t examine under a microscope.
I feel we all need each other and depend on each other and the rest of the natural world in ways that feel sacred, holy, and wonderfully mysterious.
I believe this is why all of this disconnection and division we are experiencing in our country and in the world feels so disorienting and isolating.
We need each other.
We need connection.
I love the mystery of life and love and how the more we discover about ourselves and the universe the more mysterious and enthralling it all becomes.
I don’t need certainty. I don’t need to be sure.
I am just enjoying being curious and wondering about on this never-ending adventure of learning and discovery.
I hold my beliefs. But I hold them with open hands instead of closed fists. This makes it easier to reexamine my beliefs any time new information comes along. To hold on too tightly only makes me less curious and closed off to healthy growth and change.
I can hold beliefs while also being willing to change them when necessary.
And to me, that is faith.
Thank you for reading, everyone. And thank you to all those who have reached out to me to share your stories or words of encouragement. I hope you find comfort in knowing I am more fulfilled, content, loved, and more myself than I have ever been in my whole life.
I share my stories not to get people to leave church. But I do hope reading my stories helps you to open the hands which hold your beliefs (should they be closed), and examine what you currently believe against the stories I have shared.
More than anything, I share for my own healing and for those like me who may feel unmoored and adrift in the world or in their faith with no safe place to land.
I hope you can find understanding, encouragement, and connection within my stories.
I’m not seeking another place for us to land or be certain about.
I seek to connect with all of you as we travel side by side on this journey through life. From mystery to mystery. Happily adrift…together.
I think it is very important to say that I’m not telling these stories about K and the people in church and ministry who have hurt me in order to get revenge. These are stories from the past. Everyone should be given chances to do better and not be defined by the actions of their past. It is my true hope that they are healed and healthy and loving others well.
That being said, I have lived years of my life carrying these stories inside of me.
And I have kept their secrets.
These abuses and mistreatments have burned holes in me that continue to heal and open up and heal and open up over and over again and still to this day, even with all the healing I have achieved, continue to effect my life.
I am done protecting people and systems that did not protect me.
I tell my stories because they are mine to tell.
But, most of all, I share my stories because I know I am not alone in my experiences. There are others carrying pain and secrets around and doing all they can to heal and yet struggle to do so.
You are not alone.