I left a legalistic religious organization officially about five years ago. It has been one of the most liberating and hardest things of my life.
I was raised in a beautiful home that included two loving parents, two children, and a dog. My entire childhood was centered around our very “conservative” church. Image was everything. There was a list of rules, both spoken and unspoken. I became addicted to approval and acceptance, and my need for approval and acceptance kept me from discovering my true identity for many years.
In a performance and legalistic culture, A + B = Approval. You learn the formula, follow it, and you are accepted. That was my coping behavior from a very young age and I carried an immense amount of guilt, fear, and insecurity. I had many thoughts and questions constantly whirling around inside of me that I was desperate to voice but always suppressed. I became quite good at earning acceptance. This environment cultivated in me an ability to read people, anticipate their expectations, and become the person I thought they wanted me to be.
I met my husband in the church, and we got married when I was 20. In the years following our wedding, we started sharing with each other questions we had. We finally reached a point where a fear-based life within the religion was not the future we desired for ourselves and especially now our children. The pain of staying the same became greater than the pain of change.
So, after almost 10 years of marriage, we finally left the church organization in which we had both been raised.
For a time, we felt like we were relearning everything we had ever known. Relationships with family and friends suffered. It was extremely scary and painful. I was hurting in many ways and I wasn’t sure what exactly to put my finger on. I began counseling, reading many books, and having discussions with people I trusted. Biblical grace is thankfully now a familiar concept. Fast-forward five years, and I am in a much healthier place and am so grateful every single day.
My willingness to recognize my need to change, instead of trying to change everything and everyone around me, was the start of healthier relationships in my life. My life is not perfect, but I now have a support system. I still have hard situations that I have to navigate and can sometimes cope in unhealthy ways, but I am now aware. I have people to lean on, and most of all, a restored view of who God is and his heart toward me.
I am so thankful that my husband and I both wanted this change and have been on this journey together. Despite its difficult moments, it has truly brought us closer together. We also have been blessed with amazing friendships in the last several years that have been a huge part of my healing journey without them realizing it. I slowly have become comfortable in my own skin and confident in who I am.
Since becoming a parent, I have grieved my childhood in ways I didn’t even fully understand until witnessing things in my own kids’ lives. I could start to go down a path of sadness and regret focusing on the past. However, I choose to look towards the future and how we are making immense positive changes for our family. The most seemingly insignificant thing to others, can move me to tears. Just watching my kids’ joy at experiencing things I was not allowed to experience is healing my heart in ways I can’t describe. Our future is looking very bright.
I am striving to teach my children that they never have to earn God’s love or acceptance, but rather that it is a gift freely given. I hope they also know they never have to earn love from me or their dad. There are way too many stories and layers to my story to tell, but if you have had a similar experience, please know you are not alone.