Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sharing My Heart

I guess it could appear that I am "dwelling on the past" or refusing to "get over it" because of certain things I write. I received a couple of comments after a recent post that showed me there are a few people who think this is the case. I am an open and honest person and I do not try to be something I'm not. (Although I make that statement with a little hesitation because for 22 years I tried to measure up to what the controlling leadership of my former church wanted me to be.) But even at that, I am who I am and I have written all of these things from my heart. I know I'm rambling, but I have a hundred thoughts rolling around that I want to get out - the main one being what's on my heart concerning my blog.

Before I left my former church, I went through a tough period of time where I questioned all that was going on, and the last people I could have talked to were the leaders at my church. I knew they would have labeled me "crazy." Besides that, in one service it was said strongly by the leader, "Don't come to me with your concerns or issues!" I had no one to turn to and I knew that I was walking on shaky ground. I was risking everything by venturing out beyond the boundaries, but I had to get my answers.

I had gotten wind of a blog that had been started by a couple who had left the church. We were told by the leadership of the church not to read the "evil blog," but I was curious to know what was being said because I knew the good people who were writing it. The first time I read it, I felt guilty because I knew if the leadership found out, they would be mad. But, when I read it I saw that many others were having the same thoughts and questions I had been having for a while and it brought clarity to me. (Thank you!) In one of the posts, they referred to an article where the term "spiritual abuse" was used. I had never heard that term before and the word 'abuse' seemed a bit strong, but as I read the article it all rang true. I began to google words like "spiritual abuse" and everything I read began to answer my questions. I was doing all of my research in secret because I was afraid to let anyone know, but the more I learned, the more truth I saw.

I found blogs by searching the web and then I followed links to other blogs. I was amazed at the number of people who had been through the same things I was going through and how similar the circumstances were. One blogger described it by saying, "All the controlling pastors must use the same play book." By reading different blogs, I learned of books to read that would help me. As I read Jeff Von Vonderen's book, "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse," I learned about the "signs of control and abuse" and "how you get caught in spiritual traps." A dear lady, Aida, recommended Darin Hufford's book, "The God's Honest Truth" and I learned more about God's love than I had learned in 22 years. I read Jake Colsen's book, "So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore," and I saw a perfect picture of who Jesus is and that having a relationship with Him is what really matters. I began to see a totally new picture of God and His love. For so long I think I and many others equated God with the controlling leaders of the church, but things were quickly changing for me. I can honestly say that reading blogs has helped me to see the truth about the situation I was in and I am glad they have been there when I needed answers and when I needed someone to talk to.

When I first began my own blog I thought it would be good "therapy" for me to write out my thoughts and I also wanted to help others by providing the same type of information that had helped me. It was a good thing for me. The comments people left helped so much and it has also been good to hear that something I shared helped someone else. Everyone is at a different stage in the process. It would seem that some have fully recovered, some are still walking through the healing process, while others are just beginning to see the truth. You may not know some one's story and there are some who will never tell their whole story. Some things are too personal for people to speak of. I have shared some of my own personal experiences so that others can relate, but there are things I will never tell. It has never been my intention to hurt anyone or to write things that stir up hurtful emotions in people. I try to be very careful about the things I say. I have to be able to lay my head down at night and feel that my heart is right before God. I said in the very beginning when I started my blog that if I ever felt that God wasn't pleased by my blogging I would delete it all. But I don't believe that's the case and I think that the materials I have provided and the information I have shared has helped people - so it stays. Helping people is what really matters. And this blog has helped me to heal too. I have met so many people from around the world - people I wouldn't have met otherwise, like my friend "Getting There" from South Africa and my friend Barb. I have reconnected with a friend from the former church who now lives in Georgia. She heard about my blog and she too read "The God's Honest Truth" and it helped her immensely. I have such a special place in my heart for the readers of my blog and for the writers of the blogs I read.

I chose to do my blog anonymously for various reasons, although a lot of people have figured out who I am. The first couple of days I had it up I began to get calls asking if it was me. How did people know? I didn't decide to do it anonymously because I am ashamed of anything I have to say. I just felt that it would be the best way to do it because I was already having a hard enough time dealing with things. I'm sure that many bloggers understand why I did it that way. I didn't want it to somehow be used against me by the people in my past. It was hard enough to find out that 2 days after I left my church, my family was all of a sudden being called "evil" and "bad." I felt like I put myself in a vulnerable position by having a blog, but even after "dumb blogs" were referred to from the pulpit of my former church, I still had a resolve to continue sharing this information to possibly rescue others from the trap of spiritual abuse.

I am so thankful that caring people took the time to blog and share information for me to read. I am in that same place now - I care about people and I don't want to see anyone stay in a hurtful situation because of a lack of information. I know how great it is to be out of the control and walking in freedom and I know God wants all of His children to experience that same love and freedom. Each person takes a different amount of time to heal and my heart goes out to everyone in this situation. I continually hear of situations that people are dealing with and all I can do is think how sad it is that all of this hurt came at the hands of people we thought we could trust - in a church. Boy, have we all learned some lessons.

Everyone has to be allowed to be themselves and if they need to talk one day, then I want to be there to listen to them. If they need to cry, I want to lend my shoulder. I will be understanding and never judge another person by how they deal with difficult circumstances. And by all means, I will never tell someone to "get over it." That is like a slap in the face and those are hard words to hear when what someone really needs is compassion. I want to be a friend to those who are struggling and say, "I understand, I've been there." And I hope I will always have people in my life who will do the same for me.

I know what's in my heart and the reasons I share, but I have felt at times that some have had the impression that I just keep bringing up the past. I just don't see it that way. I don't believe continuing to share information about spiritual abuse holds me to the past situation. I think it sets me free to know what I will never allow myself to be a part of again and I want to continue to share things that may help one more person get away from a bad situation. If I share things I've learned, like information on "Healthy or Unhealthy Churches," just know that I'm not stuck in bitterness, but I want to get the information out there to save others from hurt. I want to share information that helps people see they are not crazy and that there are others who have made it out of a controlling, abusive situation and are now doing good, walking in God's love, and living in the freedom God provided.

Okay, I think I said it in enough ways so that you understand where I'm coming from. I know I didn't have to explain myself, but I wanted to. I will continue to share the things on my heart and I always welcome and look forward to any information you can share to help me and others. Please just don't say "get over it." I look at how far I've come over the past 6 months and I am so thankful to be where I am. When my former leaders told me my life and family would fall apart if I left, they were wrong. Me and my family are so happy doing the things that really matter in my life - loving God and loving people. My honest prayer for everyone who has been in a hurtful situation with a church, is that you will be able to separate your experience from God and know that He loves you more than anything and the pain you have felt had nothing to do with Him. Have a great day!


Barb said...

Set Free. I remember my first negative commenter who rocked my world. She said that since I had been a part of the leadership problem I had no right to try to help someone now.

There were others, that told me I was bitter and needed to get over it too.

I decided, like you did today, that I was not writing for them. I was writing for those I could help and encourage on their way out of these kinds of situations.

I don't want anyone to think that it is an easy journey or else they might feel abandoned. If we could just 'get over it' we would. But it is not that easy and so we are real about it...not to stay where we are but to encourage others who are feeling stuck there too.

Keep writing. You have one of the most helpful sites that I have found on the blog world. Your links and the articles that you point to is a one stop kind of shopping. Add that to your story and being real with the hurt, it is absolutely one of the best!

I don't add blogs lightly to my list and have been very careful where I send people. Yours is there and I could not give a greater recomendation.

Anonymous said...

Set Free,
Oh, I think this post is just absolutely beautiful. I love how you put out your honest and true feelings and thoughts.

My heart broke as I read this post and some of your painful experiences during your coming out of the System.'s sadly far too common.

I could definitely relate to some aspects.

I can also understand your hesitation for withholding some of your most intimate details of your past and information. Fully understandable.

I just recently published a book (you may check it out over at my page. It's in the right hand margin, above the music player). Had someone asked me 3 years ago if I would have ever seen myself publishing a book confessing ALL the muck and mire about my past, I would have laughed. Yet, in my own personal life, I now realize Father's amazing miracle of changing my heart. I see how, by putting out everything into the Light, God is helping me fully overcome the shame and fear of "other's knowing," the secrecy I had lived in for 30 years.

Now, Set Free, in no way, shape or form am I sharing this to try to "convince or manipulate" you into sharing more about yourself. Noooo wayy is that my intension here. I simply am saying this to tell you how beautiful, again, your honesty and openness of what you DO share here on your blogpage is respected and cherished by me.

I am glad to have "found" your page and honored to add you into my circle of blogging friends.

~Amy :)

Set Free said...

Thank you! Your kind and encouraging words mean so much to me. There are many of your posts that have really helped me - I think my favorite being "The Person Formerly Known As Your Leader" because I can relate so well. I'm so glad I found your blog.

Set Free said...

Thank you so much for the sweet comment. It helps to know that others understand and care.

Congratulations on your new book! That is awesome! I have read your blog many times and you are a wonderful writer. God has given you a gift of expressing things in a beautiful way. I look forward to getting your book and reading it.

getting there said...

I wrote a post very similar to this one. You are writing your heart into this blog. Dont' let anyone get you down and keep enjoying this therapy called blogging! I dont' even know you, yet I love who you are and I cherish this blog that you write so chin up ;)

Set Free said...

Getting there,
Thanks! I feel so privileged to have met you through the blog world. Even though you live in another country, I know I have a friend in you.

Aida said...

I've been out of the abusive system for about seven years and I consider myself fully healed but my heart is to warn others and hopefully see some set free. That's why I have spiritual abuse resources posted on my blog and on my website.

I remember in the abusive church hearing the leadership tell us to get over it or to grow up. I finally said that if I hear grow up one more time, I'm going to throw up.

Please don't listen to the critics. If we shut up, who will warn the others. I'm so glad you're blogging. Your blog is encouraging many to begin their journey to freedom.

BTW, I posted your last blog on my website and I plan to post a link on my blog.

Kathy said...

Concerning your previous post, “Cleaning Out “, I left the same church you did last November. I just recently cleaned out all my tapes, notebooks and CD’s. It took some time before I was ready to do it, but it was a very freeing thing to do. I had the “pastors” entire library of tape series and years worth of notebooks. I also had many videos and CD’s. I pondered for quite awhile about what to actually do with them.

I truly believe that there were many good things, true things, taught by that ministry. However, I think the spirit in which they were taught, was very dangerous. I started out reading titles and scanning through notes, but then I decided that the truths that I heard there were already in my heart. I actually decided to do just what we had been taught….”to eat the hay and spit out the stubble”. In the end, I boxed up everything, with the exception of the video of when my children were publicly decided to the Lord, and threw it all in the garbage can. For about one day, I wondered if I had done the right thing, but the day the truck came and picked up my trash…I truly knew I had been “set free”.

Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the past, even when it’s been bad, but the Bible says to forget to those things that are behind and to reach unto those things which are before and to press toward the mark for the prize of the higher calling of God in Christ Jesus.

I know that everyone has been affected in an adverse way, but we have not been forsaken by God. He told us in his word not to put our confidence in man. He said that man would fail us, but God will never fail us.

If you are struggling, maybe it’s time to “clean out”, just get rid of the past. It truly helped me.

Thanks for the post and for your blog. I really appreciate that it encourages us to move on…one step at a time.

charley said...

Keep singing Sister!

Your site has been a great help to me. Our pathways have been very similar, except that I was never in a leadership position, unless you call bassplayer who fills in for the really good drummer whenever he can't make it a leadership position.

I'm thinking of writing a book about my experience. I'll call it "Don't Look Back" or "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rebellion Against My Narcissistic Pastor".

Set Free said...

Hey Charley,
That's awesome! I'll read your book.

Anonymous said...

Get over it!? Pfft! I don't know about everybody else's churches but people left our church because civil and moral laws were broken and the leadership was just going to act like nothing happened. In fact, the leaders went on the offensive from the pulpit against anybody who dared ask questions. Their bullying behavior was so disturbing that I personally will never set foot in a Word of Faith church again. I refuse to enable this behavior by 'getting over it.'

Anonymous said...

Your blog has helped me to deal with this difficult transition. I never got the impression for one second that you were bitter or living in the past. I am thankful you have taken the time to put out this information. Keep on sharing your heart!

3D said...

Do not care what other people think. Even though our paths are not exactly the same, it still is great to read somebody who is going through similar situations and it really gives me comfort to know that I am not the only out there. Keep going!!

God bless,


D said...

Your heart shines through in every post. There's not a bitter word among them. You're all about loving helping people and THAT's what really matters.

Anonymous said...

I would think that if anyone has learned any lessons from being a victim of the former church that the number ONE LESSON would be to NEVER tell someone what they should or should not do concerning their personal walk with God. Of course if someone is in outright sin that is one thing but didn't we have enough of that "know it all" spirit when we were there?? How many times did we hear, "I know I am right so listen to me", or, "We will just wait till we get to heaven and let Jesus tell you that I was right". What pridefull arrogant nonsense it that???
Who does anyone think they are to presume to instruct another on how to deal with their own hurts and abuses? How can anyone expect to impose their opinions on someone else who was there if they themselves made the same mistake of being there for years themselves. I say lets all tend to our own hearts, gaurd our own hearts, and work on the beams in our own eyes and let the Holy Ghost do His own job without us trying to do it for Him!

re-Barr said...

I think I will have to second Barb on the fact that I think this is one of the most helpful sites I have found. I love the links you have provided. They have been a tremendous help to me in my journey.

But keep blogging the truth. Because people are still just finding out it doesn't have to be this way. And hopefully they will run across this blog and others like it that will show them, there is life outside of their abusive church.

I was told by a minister that if I left my former church that great calamity would befall me and my family. It is intimidation like that that must be exposed, so that others will see it for the lie that it is. The lies do not help build the kingdom of God. Jesus loved us all so much that he died for us. There is no lie, abuse, or intimidation in that.

getting there said...

I had my first real debate yesterday and I know how it hurts especially when you feel you are speaking in love and trying to just share you own experience. It is tough by stay under His wing and He will lift you up and give you strength!

Tyler Dawn said...

Honey, I have to wake my kids up so i only read half but I just wanted to lend my support.

Don't get over it, you can't. You can just walk through it and it sure looks like you found the right guide. He's been working with me for years now and He never gets me lost and never says "HURRY UP!"

I'll be back, i came over from Aida's blog. Hugs!!!!

Set Free said...

Hey Tyler,
I'm so glad you stopped by. Thanks for your support!

Erin said...

In my opinion and experience, people who criticize us (those of us who have left churches) for continuing to "dwell on the past" are people who just don't want to hear what we have to say because it threatens their world.

Not saying this is true all of the time, but a lot if it.

I wish you the very best in this journey. It's not always a fun one, but it's worth it.

Charley said...

You are absolutely right, Erin.
It threatens their world!

For many of them their church-world is all they have. Even for me it took a much loooonger time than it should have for me to face the music. Sadly, all you can do is give them the time and space they need and pray for them. But you can't force people to see reality.

There's still much reality that even us Church Detoxers have yet to discover.

Anonymous said...

To Erin-
So true! The people who say "get over it" are people who don't what to hear what is going on in these places. It is a process. Take your time. God Bless.

Erin said...

Charley - You are absolutely right, as well. I had to learn the hard way that some people are truly happy in their paradigm and are not able to see it any other way. That used to make me angry, but now I'm resigned as I have realized it takes all types; maybe some don't need to see it any other way (though some do need to learn to be more kind to those they disagree with).

And yes, there is much reality that Church Detoxers do not have. In the end I think church-goers have part of the puzzle and church-leavers have part of it and it all has to work together to make a picture of what God intended.

The other thing I think we sometimes don't see is that those who are "left behind" in the church are hurt when we leave. Not only for the spiritual reasons they believe are important, but as friends and as people. In my case they believed that I thought I was too good for them. It took me 3 years to figure this out, but when I did it made so much more sense that some were so upset about my leaving.

Anonymous said...

The people that would tell you to "just get over it," are taking a page from our former pastors play book. On the few occasions that he would offer counseling many times his advice was to "just get over it." I think many that have left learned behaviors that they still think are acceptable. Maybe they are the ones who need to get over some of the traits that were taught in their former church.

Charley said...

You say that you've discovered that those in your CLB thought that you thought that you were too good for them. Amazing! I never thought of it that way. As for me, I just thought that they thought I was a rebellious, confused, embittered, blind fool! It's only been about 3 months for me after years of total obedience, servanthood, tithing and offerings. How I found this blog I'll never know.

There is one lady still there, however, who I really, really wish could see the control that's going on all around her and her two boys. It's hard for me to know how to pray for that church, they all seem to be enjoying it and I'm sure they don't want to have their boats rocked.

Anonymous said...

I can understand totally what you are saying, especially with the total obedience and the tithing! My CLB thought I was rebellious and a fool too. I just encourage you to keep reading blogs and information that will help you continue to see the truth. Set Free provides many great articles. They have really helped me in my "cloudy" times to see what was REALLY going on in our CLB. I read your comment about writing a book. I think you should do it! I really like the second title. It would become a best seller with people who read this blog and others like it.

Erin said...

Charley - I think in my case, many of my friends thought I was abandoning them when I left the church. When really it wasn't personal, it was theological...but they didn't see the difference. Of course, we never talked about it, and it's only in retrospect 4 years later that I begin to realize they didn't hate me, they were just hurt. There are still some relationships that lack closure and it's hard.

I think it was Barb (in the comments at the top - I'll try to find the post and link it here) who wrote recently about how important it is early in the journey to talk with the people you care about and let them know you aren't abandoning them even if you theological perspective is changing. It's likely that they will still not understand and may even be aggressive towards you about how "wrong" you are. But it will be good for you, as time goes by, to know that they know how you feel and maybe this will result in restored relationships in the future.

Like Anonymous said, there are many great resources for this journey, keep checking them out. And write that book. Even if no one else ever lays eyes on it, writing is very therapeutic for many of us.

Jilliefl1 said...

You mentioned that the book "So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore" was instrumental in helping you separate God's love from those who try to control God's people through man-made structures. For the biblical support and a more in-depth discussion of the issues raised in this book, you might want to check out Frank Viola's new book, "Reimagining Church". "Reimagining Church" is a great 'biblical' supplement to this work of fiction.

You can read a sample chapter at
It’s also available on

Erin said...

Charley - The post I mentioned wasn't actually a post at all. It was a comment Barb made on my blog, here.

I don't know if it will be helpful to you, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

When I left my former church, I would have been glad to talk to them and tell them why I left, but they wouldn't have listened. They were told to shun all who left and they were even told not to speak or be nice to those who left. If I would have tried, they would have been ugly, which would have in turn hurt more. I think some situations differ in the degree of severity and you just need to be careful and guard your heart. Your true friends will always be there because they know who you really are. I realized real quick that many of the people who said they were my friends weren't. It hurts, but never the less, it's the sad truth.

Erin said...

Anonymous - Yes. And I didn't mean to sound like I have this perfect answer. I'm sorry if I came across that way. In my life, there were some people who wouldn't speak to me at all, and then there were some who I should have tried to talk to, but didn't and wish I did.

I am sorry for your situation, it breaks my heart that people who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters are told to shun us.

Anonymous said...

Erin, You did not come across that way at all. I was just giving my experience. I wish I could talk to people who I had spent years of my life with. I think its very sad that brothers and sisters in God can't remain friends just because they go to different churches or believe differently. I went to the post you put a link to and it was very good.

Maureen said...

Set Free, I can relate to much of your experience. I started out posting on forums, and my blog, with another name. I was terrified that people who knew me would read what I was writing. I was so used to keeping it all to myself, because it just felt "rebellious" to say that things were wrong. I also googled "spiritual abuse" and things like that for a long time before I left. I knew something was wrong, but couldn't figure it out. What I experienced wasn't blatant abuse, but rather control that sprang from a real desire on the part of the leadership to be good "shepherds". I still believe this. Even though I was wounded. I think I am over it, then every once in a while, it all hits me again. And the more time that goes by, the clearer hindsight is, because I am still learning about real freedom. So just you keep on doing what you are doing. It is healing to be able to talk about these things. I never would have pictured myself doing this online community thing. But what a blessing, when no one around me "gets" it. When all the rest are happy in the place that I could hardly wait to leave. When I thought for so long that I was going crazy, or losing my faith. It has been a haven and a refuge.

The Cult Next Door said...

Thank you so much for your informative blog- all of it sounds so familiar!
I,too, was in an abusive church for twenty-four years.
The pastor made us feel that she had complete control over who God blessed and who he cursed.