Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Church Does Not Own...

One thing I've been watching happen for people (myself, clients, friends, others I've met along the way) as they leave the church is that there's a feeling that when one leaves (esp. if they've been a literal believer & very loyal to the church) they need to give up ALL the things the church had claimed to "own." Thanks to all those who share their stories with me, I've been able to prepare for what was to come, and work out some of these problems before they became really problematic in my life. But, this is a REAL thing, esp. when the moments of hurt and betrayal are especially high. "I don't want to have anything to do with ANY of this." we may say. Not realizing that some of what the church claimed to own, was never was ours from the beginning (even if we loaned it to the church for awhile). Part of regaining our personal power, is taking back the parts we've always owned.


- The relationships with those I love. (it may not be easy to navigate the waters for some time, or even for the rest of your life, but being curious, compassionate and understanding, and working to have helpful conversations when it's safe to do so reminds us that doing OUR part in the relationship belongs to us. Remember THEY OWN their part in the relationship...not the church).

- Having a healthy lifestyle. while it can be part of the healing process to take a drink(s) of wine or coffee (and learn that it doesn't need to be dangerous or scary when done wisely and from an educated perspective), it can also be healthy to the body to educate ourselves and learn how things REALLY affect us. From there we can make decisions regarding food and drink, recreation, and emotional & mental health that are in alignment with the kind of health we are seeking.

- My sexuality. Oh, wow, what to do when you're a 30-something single and you leave the church having based your sexual choices on the perspectives of the church. Or, what to do when you're ANYONE...This one is especially confusing for a lot of people, myself included. I joined a book club that was reading a book called "Parenting Without Belief." While I joined for a few reasons, one of the main reasons was that I was attempting to find resources for how to parent that part of me that hadn't been parented. The part of me that OWNS MY OWN SEXUALITY. I wanted information on how to talk to my own children one day, as well as how to talk to the frightened girl inside myself. In the beginning, I hadn't a clue on how to begin going about making decisions in this area. Remember that just like our bodies, our sexuality is a part of us, and it does help to learn. While we can learn a lot from experience, there are some things that may be preferable to learn through other resources (education, books, science, experiences of others, etc.). so, know that you own your sexuality, and you don't have to be unhealthy or unwise with it, you can choose educating yourself, and getting clear about what decisions will foster what you're truly looking for in life (emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually).

- My spirituality. "Spirituality" is a somewhat vague word, and when I was going through periods where I felt especially "betrayed," and lied to, by the religion I'd belonged to, I sometimes wanted nothing to do with "spirituality." I often found those periods to be necessary, as part of the grieving process & learning I had a right to own my own spirituality, as well as dark, scary, and confusing. I'm working on a follow up post that's all on this topic, and includes examples, so I won't go into it more here, but know that if the word "spirituality" doesn't work you can also chose a more fitting phrase. "I own the right to chose what principles I live from." "I own the right to decide how I connect with things I want to respect."

- My happiness (& all my emotional states). The message that the church, or its doctrines, own happiness is reinforced often in the faith (as it is in any fundamentalist, or even moderate, religion). We hear things such as, "The choice to leave the church can only lead to greater misery." Or at least, "you can NEVER be as happy outside of the church," or never "fully happy"). This is one of the greatest confusers, and I think it cycles around on itself. The transformation out of the church can affect so many areas of our life that there's a real grieving process one goes through when the view of the church changes. It reminds me of working with spouses whose partners have cheated on them. In the beginning they often wish they didn't know the "new" information (even if it's true) because now they aren't as happy. Well, of course they're not, they're grieving a HUGE loss. It's similar when something that once looked a certain way, now due to new information or experience, looks a different way. There's a grieving of the old (even if the old was in-part an illusion, as in the case of a person whose "faithful" partner had been unfaithful for years).

The good news is that when we can go through the grieving process (including the stages of numbness, depression, anger, bargaining, acceptance, etc...) in a healthy way (often it takes good supports, and there are many helpful resources), that grieving process can transform us into a more understanding, compassionate, clear, knowing, human being than before. A nice myth (myth meaning "story" here) for working with this is the Phoenix Process described by Elizabeth Lesser in her book, "Broken Open." Here's a summary of it: . While painful, this process opens up space for beautiful experiences to show up in our lives. But yes, it can take time, and yes, it can feel very sad. Even in the fear & sadness, the grieving process can include moments of aliveness, exhilaration, adventure, and giddy anticipation of change. Let yourself be aware of all of these emotions, and know that emotions are ever-changing, like the waves of the ocean. They are information about what we're dealing with in that moment, and just like we were never always happy in the church, we will never be always happy outside of the church. Maybe we believed we were SUPPOSED to be always happy so we denied, buried or even stopped feeling things like confusion or anger, but a life in which we stay alive to our deepest essence is one in which we learn to feel what WE feel, and to gather that information in a helpful way to make necessary changes to create the kind of life we truly desire.

- My contributions/service. One question that would rise in me, often with fear, when I changed my relationship with the church was, "how will I be able to serve and give as effectively?" The church often claims to own our ability to effectively serve humankind. This is untrue...they do not own this. While the church may be an institute that presents us with opportunities to participate in pre-planned "service projects" or "callings" from which to serve, I have found that in leaving the church, my energy has continued to be drawn into developing the areas that are my greatest strengths and from which I can most effectively give to others. I believe that service/contributing isn't so much a moral issue, as it is an issue of energy. When we are emotionally balanced, and connected to our own love & personal power, the fullness of energy within us naturally flows-over looking for somewhere to give. And where love energy wants to offer itself, there is always someone/something there to receive...maybe it's physics or something beautiful of the sort. I don't know? but in my experience when the energy of giving organically rises, a receiver or an idea of where to go & give, shows up. When we give out of wornoutness, obligation, loneliness, or emptiness it can still be an experience of something, and can distract us from those unpleasant states for a period, but often we find ourselves experiencing the long run effects of the drain of energy (chronic illness or fatigue, depression, difficulty connecting with empathy or compassion, difficulty enjoying life...etc). These are so often offered by our body/mind as information that we're giving more energy than we're replenishing. It's's real, it has real effects, and yet, we're often fed messages (that we choose to swallow) that "service" is about morality and a ruler by which to measure ourselves in the eyes of "God."...and that without the church we will be lost as to how to find opportunities to enjoy the joy that comes from sharing love energy.

*There may be other principles, ways of thinking, or lifestyle habits that you want to add to this list. Feel free to write out your own list. Begin acknowledging that while the church may have been a teacher (helpful in certain ways, and unhelpful in others), the things that resonated never belonged TO them. Anytime we learn from something (a person, book, group) we are learning about ourselves, learning about the abilities that have always been potential in us.

If you've grown up in a family, religion, group, etc. that told you they owned any one or all of these, it can take some TIME to sort through it all. Know you don't have to make rash decisions...but that you can make decisions when you feel you've had the time to sort through the confusion and make a choice that feels right for you. Sometimes, it does take making some decisions to get enough experience to decide what YOU really want. But, be conscious...pride comes from pain (the pain of feeling hurt, misunderstood, betrayed), and that while it's an important emotion for deciding who/what we no longer want to emulate, it's not a great emotion from which to lead the decisions about our life. When I noticed myself feeling rebellious, I would often remind myself, "Jenny, pride comes from pain, where are you feeling not seen?" I would then dialogue with myself about what was hurting me, and from there, could remind myself that I didn't need to punish myself or my health for how others were choosing to see me (like I was scary, dead, a threat, "lost").

Sometimes this is where having a good mentor, therapist, sounding board, can be invaluable. Sometimes I didn't even know I was trying to sort something out until I said it out loud, and even then it took a few discussions to work through what would have taken awhile to do alone in my own head. The key is someone who doesn't judge (so really hears YOU), who asks helpful questions, who isn't afraid of uncomfortable emotions, who is willing to share what they're picking up on intuitively when you ask for their thoughts or opinions, and who you feel is curious and compassionate enough to acknowledge they don't have the answers for your life, but are here for you while you're thinking about & exploring areas of stuckness and the findings you're having for yourself.

"I saw that everything really was written there before me, and that the doors had only been closed before because I hadn't realized that I was the one person in the world with the authority to open them."

Paulo Coelho

"Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heart-ache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he gets desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up to discover what is already there."

Henry Miller (1891 - 1980)


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  5. Whoa! Absolutely speechless. Read through the rest of the post to now. Tragic, and I am sorry! I would offer a comforting hug if that would help, but that would do little or nothing in your search for salvation from the torment I read here. I applaud you on your honesty and desire to open your true feelings even if I am at a loss on how to respond to them. Only that at the foot of this anfractuous path which leads to your inner divinity lies the incredible truth.

    Best of luck!