‘We Church’ to ‘Me Church’

I grew up in the Church. It was integral to who I was. It was my family. It defined my identify. It was a powerful influence, my moral development, social opportunities, entertainment, and an invitation to regular fellowship.

Church had been my routine and security. A part of my family history and traditions. Somewhere I belonged. A place where others depended on me. A way to love others. A solidifying of my status in the Christian community. A place to connect with others and restore my spiritual focus.

Until my marriage ended. Then I didn’t really fit in, and church became complicated.

Throughout the betrayals within my congregation and my subsequent divorce, singleness and isolation, I clung to my church attendance quite literally like a piece of floating driftwood from a sinking ship. The organisation that had kept me nurtured and safe my entire life, became an unknowing participant in my prolonged suffering.

Regardless of how much my body shook from the traumas I’d encountered, I still marched through the church doors, week to week.

Regardless of how hard it was to keep the tears from rolling down my cheeks during worship, I returned dutifully to ‘my’ seat in the pews and sang while gulping down the lump in my throat.

Regardless of the pain of mingling with people who were probably talking about my scandalous life events, I still socialised with them to fend off some of the loneliness.

Regardless of the isolation I felt after sharing my prayer needs with leaders who found my circumstances awkward, I still made myself vulnerable and left feeling embarrassed.

Regardless of the exhaustion of working full time, caring for children and pursuing divorce proceedings, I continued to serve so that I did not have to admit my limitations.

Regardless of the ignorant one-liners that reopened my wounds, such as ‘God hates divorce’, ‘you’ll find someone else’, ‘God will prosper you’, ‘things could be worse’…I allowed my ears continued exposure.

Regardless of the devastation of not feeling heard or important, when I addressed the messages that had threatened my wellbeing, I kept advocating, and became further estranged.

It was pure stubbornness that kept me hostage to my church habit, despite how at times, extremely detrimental it was.

Then I underwent a season of rest, reflection, and re-construction.

I first gave myself permission to acknowledge that church had been hard. That many times I did not like it. That it was okay not to go if I was not up to it.

Then I discovered something…new.

I took a break from ‘We Church’ and found ‘Me Church’.

‘Me Church’ was just me and Jesus.

At ‘Me Church’, I could come as I was. Slippers, dressing gown, messy hair and all. It had amazing worship. Personal playlists, set on repeat. There were cups of tea and flexible start and end times. ‘Me Church’ had various campuses, in a range of indoor and outdoor venues. I could sing my heart out in joy, or sit silently in tears.

‘Me Church’ did not require interaction with other flawed, sinful humans, which at that point in my life, was just too risky. There was silence, reflection, time for thinking, and staring out at God’s amazing creation. There could be bible reading, YouTube sermons or podcast discussions…or no teaching at all. There was space for a private conversation with God, including how let down I felt by life in general, or how beautiful the sunshine was.

After ‘Me Church’ there was opportunity to bless others, whether that was checking in and calling a friend, doing a nice deed for the family, or preparing for the working week ahead so I was better able to bless others in the community with my gifts. ‘Me Church’ was not concerned with the denomination I followed, whether I had spiritual gifts, the evangelical celebrities I ascribed to, or my stance on moral and political agendas. There was no power hierarchy, shame, guilt trips or abuse.

At ‘Me Church’, you could share your personal testimony, even if it didn’t have a happy ending…or any kind of resolution at all.

There were no expectations and no awkwardness. It was safe and it was healing. It was genuine and it was real. Despite my imperfect, single, state, at ‘Me Church’, I fit in, and I belonged.

I could be a member for as long as I wanted to. I could leave when I was ready. I would be welcomed when I returned.

If ‘We Church’ has been a complicated place for you too, let go of it for a while, and try ‘Me Church’ out for a season as well.

Even if no one else is there, Jesus certainly will be.

Photo by Audrey Badin from Pexels

Letting Go

Photo by YURI MANEI from Pexels

In my dreams, my husband loved me. He looked at me with desire, he wanted to know what I thought. He cared about me.

Then I would wake up, and know it wasn’t real. My heart would sink into the loneliness of my bed as he left in stony silence for work, or was already gone. No morning hug, no kiss goodbye, the most a grunt, a hassled sigh.

“I’m not happy.” he said, “I’m angry and I don’t know why.”

“Will you go with me somewhere to find out? To try?”

“No.” His face darkened like a storm was brewing. “I am who I am.”

Unkind words came, making me smaller, sneering and patronising until I stopped fighting back, and tried to creep inside of myself for safety. I watched helplessly as the chasm widened. The floorboards rattled with his stomping steps and his fist smashed through a wall near my head in frustration. I saw my things swept from one side of a room to the other. I felt his grip on my arm, squeezing so hard to convey his anger. I had to laugh and pretend it was so ridiculously absurd it was funny when friends noted the bruises that looked like finger prints.

I felt his rage. His rage at life. His rage at me. And his anger that no one worked as hard as he did, or could measure up to his capacity. I bore his disgust that I couldn’t come close.

He would not touch me, he would not look at me, he refused to love me, to punish me for his own dissatisfaction at his situation.

I felt so lonely, so incredibly alone and lost. I longed to connect, to smile and laugh together like we once had, but it was all gone, and my attempts to bring it back were met with “not now, I’m too busy… Do you have any idea how hard I’m working!”

I did know. He made sure I did as I hovered around his temper, trying to show him love and light. But he pushed me away, again and again…yelling, snapping, snarling…and I retreated further into myself and felt he must be right. I must be incompetent and unable to hold my own in the world, or survive on my own.

I felt tiny and sluggish, like I didn’t belong. I felt unseen and unheard and humiliated. I felt like his shadow, slinking around his ego, or his puppet, with him yanking the strings. I felt like his servant, fussing around his needs, and tip-toeing around his temper. But no matter what demands I met, no matter how hard I tried, it was never enough to reach inside his heart and soften the dissatisfaction and wildness of his tortured soul.

Then one day it happened. With the blackest eyes and booze in his veins, he spat at me with venom, “We have nothing in common!”

My heart kicked from my chest; it slithered away into a dark murky corner of the room, whimpering quietly while the rest of my body stood frozen in shock, staring at a man I barely recognised. A man so brimming with unhappiness and anger he looked empty and haunted. Tears ran down my face and he stared back impassively, wanting me to hurt, wanting me to be as miserable as he was. Why should I enjoy life if he has chained himself to work and commitments and responsibilities? Why should I ever be allowed to rest or smile, or create…or just be?

My heart wouldn’t come back, it cowered in the corner and refused to come…broken and bleeding and wounded beyond repair.

So I called for my courage. It came slowly, pressing quietly against me side as I packed my things with shaking hands and an aching hollow agony in my chest that threatened to overwhelm me. My legs gave way, I couldn’t breathe. A panic attack, they call it. How would I survive? Where would I go? What would I do…it was all so huge and scary and empty and grey and bleak. It was all too hard…but staying was harder. Staying was lonelier. Staying was emptier.

I told him I loved him, and would come the minute he wanted to seek happiness with me, to find a way to soothe his soul and hunt down his demons. I told him I’d do anything, if he’d just try to save us.

“I am who I am.” His eyes no longer met mine, “and I’ll never change.”

I did not leave my husband because it was easier. I fought every way I knew how. With words of love, and hours of prayer, messages, old pictures to remind him of who we were before the anger seeped in and destroyed us.

But I knew. After so many years, I knew. You cannot force change on a person who doesn’t want to change. Love slides off, it doesn’t seep in, against a heart of stone.

I went to the corner of the room and collected what was left of my deflated heart, stuffing it back inside me, even though I thought it was damaged forever, and would never beat the same again.

I left with fear at my back, and despair settling over me like a heavy cloak. There was no joy left inside me, no stability, no assurances in life that anything would ever be okay again.

But there was one tiny emotion left that enabled me to force one foot after the other.

It was hope.

The only thing could get me out of my bed day after day and keep me going. Hope that one day I would feel strong. One day, I would feel like me again, and be happy with that. One day I would feel worthy of love again. One day I wouldn’t be broken anymore. That I could put myself back together, and be stronger for it.

One day is hope. And one day I will find my way again, whole and hopeful and knowing who I am in this world.

I am not worthless. I am courageous. I did not give up, I fought to the end.

I am not done. I am only beginning.

A Christian Woman’s Guide to Surviving Separation and Divorce

Photo by Polina Sirotina

“…and they lived happily ever after….”

Most of the time. But not always.

But….“God hates divorce”!

Guess what, so do 99.9% people!

No one marries with the intention of getting divorced. Especially Christians. Unfortunately we live in a fallen world affected by sin and separation and divorce result. This post is not in any way advocating a Christian divorce revolution, however it is important that if covenants are broken irretrievably or well-being is compromised, people have the advice needed to get them through the tough times.

Here are my top 10 separation survival tips, in order of importance.

  1. Safety first

Safety is a basic, human need. Whether that is physical or emotional, get what you need in place to ensure you have a safe place to live and safe people around you. It could be moving in with family or friends, getting court orders in place or enlisting help from your community.

2. Be legally proactive

Get legal advice. Even if you don’t need it or use it.

Knowledge is power. Options allow freedom.

Keep a journal of any separation or co-parenting challenges and stick to measured, non-emotional written correspondence with your ex partner. Often there is pressure for separating couples to ‘be mature’ and the media exaggerates the functionality of celebs who are masters at ‘consciously uncoupling’, but that ideal is often unattainable. It also doesn’t allow for the grief cycle to play out or the normal expression of human pain.

Seek recommendations from anyone else you know who has been through this journey as many a people have been taken for a ride by professionals who are purely interested in draining your dollars instead of looking out for your (and possibly ex’s) well being. When you find responsible advice, listen to it.

3. Re-evaluate your social circles

Yep, hate to say it, but this might be a time to batten down the hatches socially. It may even mean not attending your church, gatherings with friends or your children’s sport matches for a while. The last thing you need is to provide the gossip train with more fuel and to be on the receiving end of well-meaning (but ignorant) people who throw one liners such as “affairs can be worked out” and“you’ll find someone else” . It’s highly likely they have no idea what you’ve been through, and probably never will.

Nevertheless, don’t isolate completely. Find your “people of peace”. The ones that have your back. These are the people whose actions, not just words, display their loyalty to you. The ones you can be real with about life, and who you don’t have to feel ashamed about expressing your pain to.

4. Exercise

Keep your mental well-being in check with regular exercise. I can’t rate highly enough the impact that movement will have. Don’t wait to be in the perfect mood to start this, just get going however you can! Begin small so that you will gain confidence, then you’ll naturally increase what you do as those feel good hormones start firing. Also use exercise (especially visualisation when you’re pounding that punching bag) as a healthy form of stress relief!

5. Look after your health

High stress often expresses itself in health disorders, quite commonly related to digestion and mental health. Avoid addictive substances, eat healthy and find a GP who ‘gets you’, to keep on top of your physical well-being. Start paying more attention to your body and how lifestyle factors affect you.

6. Find a good counselor

One that understands the meaning of words such as trauma, abuse, addiction and the right of any person to have choice over their future. Be wary that often pastors don’t have formal training in this area and some counselors are more experienced than others. A therapist that dismisses your feelings, safety or pressures you into unhealthy reconciliation…should also be divorced.

7. ‘Whinge pray’ and read the Psalms, a lot!

You may feel spiritually weak, angry, sad or numb about what is happening.

Express to God every emotion you’re feeling. He gets it and he loves you unconditionally.

Jesus has been through all these experiences a billion times worse. But don’t feel like a failure if reading the bible is overwhelming. In this case, try reading the Psalms, which express all sorts of emotions from one extreme to the other. Allow other trusted people to pray for you, especially when you don’t have a clue what to express or even the words to verbalise it to God.

8. Pursue a career goal

Reality check! No one else is going to support you now….it’s all up to you!

Scary….yes! There’s no other way to get around this!

Although this may feel overwhelming, turn it around and make it empowering. Get excited about your future and goals.

9. Stay off them dating sites….for at least a year

Believe me, you really don’t want to go there until you are in a strong place! You will also require a healthy level of self-awareness, confidence and humor in order to do this well. Instead, devote yourself to study and reflection of healthy relationships. Find your worth in your Heavenly Father and focus on your friendships until you have healed.

10. Celebrate the wins

I admit I hosted a ‘Settlement Party’ during my divorcing season. I possibly offended some of my Christian friends. But this was not a celebration of a failed marriage. It was a celebration of God’s provision, my success in achieving stability for myself and my children and prioritising my own well-being for the first time in my adult life. It was also a toast to better things to come!

Separation and divorce are horrible and not a part of our Heavenly Father’s initial plan for our lives. However, our God is a master of restoration so amidst these seasons find your wisdom, hope and peace in Him.

When your personal life requires a quarantine lock down

Yesterday I went to my local shopping centre to grab some groceries. This would normally be classified as nothing out of the ordinary, however amid the new social distancing, isolation and COVID-19 requirements, it was anything but that.

The vibe was different. I felt slightly anxious. My senses were over functioning, making mental note of every surface I was touching…the shop looks and feels different…where IS the toilet paper isle now, who is around me…am I too close to that person…do they have the virus…could I have the virus…who can I trust…don’t give eye contact…where is my hand sanitizer…what’s in the air I’m breathing! Get me outta here and back home!

I reflected on this on my drive home and couldn’t help but initially be amused at my overreaction, and then it dawned on me. I have been here before!

Following a season of relationship breakdowns in my life, venturing out to do a grocery shop has at times been a similar, if not more traumatic experience than what I had just felt. The anxiety of having contact with people, constantly being wary of who was there, who could be there, what people thought of me, how I was going to present myself and ensure my emotional safety; meant that doing daily tasks such as grocery shopping, was torture. It would not be uncommon for me to return to the car with my shopping bags, as well as a complimentary dose of body shakes.

Betrayal and rejection have a knack of getting under people’s skin, causing them to question every aspect of their life, just like living in a pandemic. Victims over-analyse every interaction, trying to deem whether they are trustworthy and safe. They’ve often seen the best in others, given them the benefit of the doubt, missed red flags, and they do not want to end up there again. They construct an imaginary crown of shame that adorns their heads wherever they go and whatever they do. In these circumstances one method of dealing with this is to quarantine people out of their lives until it is safe enough to venture into the realm of relationships again.

For me, I describe these times as ‘going into my fortress’ where I miminise contact with others, stay home, drink cups of tea, stare out the window for hours at a time and process events. Here I am safe from threats to my well being and I can practice self-care. I make decisions about things I can control, even if they are as little as not checking emails for a certain time or responding in my normal, ‘people pleasing’ manner. I wear my sparkly slippers and play worship music. In these times it is just God and I. God will not betray or reject me, instead he builds me up, tear by tear, worry by worry, weakness by weakness.

Over the years my need for ‘quarantine time’ has reduced. I am now strong enough to recreate that experience mentally when I am not physically at home. I have restructured many of my personal relationships so that the fortress is not needed as often. My social circles are smaller, but more enriching as I learn to draw more on my faith for my needs, than people themselves.

The social distancing requirements we are all facing right now replicate much of the above. We must put actions in place that minimise threats to our safety, we must build our own fortresses and change our lifestyle in to get us through. We can focus on the little things such as hand washing and coughing into our elbows, to make us feel somewhat in control of the uncontrollable. However at the end of the day, we will all need to dig deeper on a personal level to get our needs met, and perhaps this is the time to rely less on people and the busyness of life, and more on our Almighty Saviour God who understands our suffering and uncertainty. He will sit with us in it. He will care for us. He will provide us with the comfort that no matter what happens, if we love Him, we will be saved. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (NLT).

Although quarantining ourselves over the coming months is not exactly an exciting prospect, can I ask you to spare a thought (or a text or phone call) for those have been isolated due to circumstances in their personal relationships too, and to use this as a valuable time to reconnect yourself with God who is the ultimate companion and support.

Photo by Tatyana Nekrasova