Shackles and Exhaustion

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I had no clue when the mess hit the fan at SWBTS back in 2018 I’d be where I am today. I know the word “Deconstruction” has a negative connotation in the current Conservative Evangelical Church (CEC) world today. Many see it as people looking for permission to sin. They view it as people wanting to call themselves a Christian, but not actually follow Jesus. I can tell you from my own personal experience, as well as talking with others on this same journey it’s a far cry from reality. We actually desire to have a real relationship with Christ. At the core, we want to be more like Christ and our lives to look like the one He lived. We want to treat others the way He treated them. We want to offer love and compassion to people like He did. If you really take a look at Deconstruction, it’s not about becoming more like the world. In fact, at the core, it’s honest to goodness becoming more like HIM.

I can’t draw a straight line to save my life, so I am going to do my best to “draw” the picture in my head of how I feel at the moment. Shackles, chains, and locks are a huge part of this picture. If I could draw, this picture would be done in charcoal. The woman in the picture would be hunched over. Her clothes are in rags. Her hair is long and ratty. Her face looks exhausted, weary and tears are running down her face. Her feet are shackled together. Her shoes are worn and full of holes. The floor beneath her feet is dirty. Her dirty hands are shackled together, reaching out, in hopes of someone coming to her rescue. The thick chains that cover her body have locks all over them. On those locks are words “pain,” “emotional abuse,” spiritual abuse,” “rape,” “sexual assault,” “Purity Culture,” “shame,” “worthless,” “exhaustion,” “Patriarchy,” and “Proverbs 31.”

This picture is less than happy. In fact, it seems pretty hopeless. At the same time, I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who feels this way. I would love to sing these lyrics from “Chain Breaker” by Zach Williams and have them be truth.

“If you’ve got pain
He’s a pain taker
If you feel lost
He’s a way maker
If you need freedom or saving
He’s a prison-shaking Savior
If you’ve got chains
He’s a chain breaker”

I am so NOT there. Walking into church takes every word from the “locks” and adds a level of anxiety you can’t imagine. I am emotionally and spiritually exhausted! I have been pretty open and honest about my lack of church attendance. It’s hard. Church is hard. It’s exhausting to walk into a building and be surrounded by people you “Should” be able to leave the “chains and locks” at the door and find rest and peace. For me, it’s hard because it’s where I feel like the “chains and locks” are added to because I don’t look or feel like a Christian Woman “should.”

I had a much needed conversation with a staff member from our church. It was one of the first times I felt heard in a long time, from someone in the church. It was a step in the right direction. It by no means fixed or solved all the things. It was also a reminder that many people like me want to know we are heard and seen. As an introvert who tends to do what I can to blend in the background, a part of me does want to be seen and acknowledged. I want to know it’s safe to ask questions. I want to know that it’s safe to doubt. I want to know that I can and will be loved as me, for me, and not who everyone expects me to be.

I’ve always been the “Good Girl,” the “Obedient One.” I’ve done what’s expected of me. I’ve towed the convention line. Most of my life I’ve been in church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, and any other times the doors were opened. I read my Bible through the lens through which I was told to read it. If you wanted to be considered in good standing, and find favor with the Lord, then this is what was expected. I said a bunch of words and got wet in 7th grade because I was told I needed to do it. I went to a Christian College because I was a “Good Christian Girl” and that’s what was expected. I’ll add I was a sophomore in college before I truly had a personal relationship with Christ, but that’s another story for another day. When I wanted to go to grad school, I was certain the Lord was “calling” to go to seminary. I now question whether or not that was the Lord’s voice, or the voice of those around me.

My faith has always been what others have told me it “Should” be. It’s exhausting carrying the weight of other people’s rules, opinions, and expectations about my faith. I think I have finally hit the point that I can’t carry the “chains and locks” any more. I am beyond worn out and exhausted. I have no clue as to what it’s going to take to remove them and finally feel free. I want to experience true freedom in Christ. I do know there will forever be scars from these experiences. While the word “triggered” seems to be a fad word, there are going to be experiences and events that will trigger fear and I will revert back to my current modes of coping and retreating. I also hope at some point my own story will be a catalyst, or a stepping stone for someone else on their healing journey from rape/ sexual assault, and spiritual abuse.

Now, before anyone is ready to have me carted off to Vandy Psych, or MTMHI, I promise there is no self-harm or SI involved. This post has been about my spiritual walk. (If I could figure out how to get insurance to pay for my therapist and me to spend a week or 2 at the beach for some intensive one on one beach therapy, I’d go in second). Yes, the past assaults and events play into this, but I am talking spiritual health here. I still see my therapist on a regular basis and take my anti-anxiety. On Monday, my therapist is starting a faith based group for Church Hurt/ Spiritual Abuse. The majority of us come from SBC/ CEC churches. I think the timing of this group is perfect. Not sure where it will lead, or how it will play out, but I know it is much needed in my life at this time.

If you are walking this road right now, I encourage you to find someone you trust and/ or a therapist. I don’t know where I’d be without mine. She has thrown me a lifesaver more than once over the past 7 years. She’s been with me as we have “peeled back the layers of the therapy onion.” She has given me the tools deal with the “Stuff” that’s brought about the tears. About the time I don’t think there is another layer, “Surprise” here comes another one. I’m still working on having the ability to trust church leaders. I know they aren’t all bad, but after so many years the trauma is real. It’s definitely a process.

For now, hang in there. Find self-care that works for you and take it minute by minute. Also, remember you are NOT alone!

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