For years I tried to balance out not getting therapy with doing religious activities in a sisterhood of churches I attended for almost a decade. The last of these churches I attended before leaving the organization entirely was always active in some way. Small group bible lessons on fridays, church on sundays, one on one accountability time on Mondays, midweek services on the 5th wednesday of certain months, impromptu weekly bible studies, group accountability time by gender, devotional times with your ministry, worship nights, weekend community services, and I could go on. It was an unspoken rule I learned in college with them that your spiritual health seemed contingent upon someone physically seeing you at these events. The more you were at, the closer to God you seemed. Because I trusted them and what they thought (big mistake that I learned later on) I figured that the more “spiritual” activities I put on my schedule, maybe the more I’d feel closer to God. After awhile…I felt burnt out. After almost a decade with this group of churches, I wanted to branch out. Not walk away from God. But to see what other believers were doing in other churches outside of ours. The responses I received toward my leaving to go to another church were less than ideal and it opened my eyes to subliminal idealogies with them that I no longer supported. Because I had been there so long and trusted them so much (again big mistake), the topic of church has been the predominant focus of (I kid you not, I counted) 14 of my therapy sessions. Being there had taken such a mental, emotional, physical and spiritual toll on me and I did not realize it until I was getting therapy. And here is where we pick up on my religious experience:
Look, for others, leaving is simple. For me, it took a lot out of me. I believed (and was led to believe) that the church I was at was the one where all of its members were automatically ticketed into heaven. (I know better now. Let’s all forgive young naive me.) I had prayed for over a year about this decision and God showed up time and time again in those prayers in support of me leaving for both my spiritual and mental health. They were NOT bad people. I just felt spiritually capped and mentally burnt out there. Others have and will thrive there and amen! That is glory to God and God alone. I talked to countless “friends” -note my quotation marks- who were mostly discouraged or were half-supportive of my decision. The common subliminal idea for that congregation (and in multiple sister churches in different states I went to) when it came to people leaving their church was that a person automatically had fallen away from the Christian faith. (“fallen or fell away” were the terms used for this action) These persons were mostly no longer considered to be with God or have a strong connection or relationship with Him after they left. And…I was choosing to leave.
It was one conversation that solidified my leaving for my own betterment. It was one of our last set of text messages to each other and she was the leader of my small group and my one on one partner in accountability. She knew of my decision to leave and how my therapy has played a roll in it and we discussed my new church’s accountability method in the form of small groups versus “one on one times” in the way that our church did it. This person was trying to share what I assume was what they thought was wisdom on the subject of spiritual accountability and therapy when it came to me heading to a new church outside of what they and I were going to. After a bit of going back and forth on the subject, they said the following:
“I’m 100% pro therapy, but therapy and discipling are functionally different. In the same way, I’d never recommend more dtime [discipleship] to someone struggling with depression, I don’t recommend therapy as a sole source of accountability and one another relationships.”
I knew the moment she messaged me that text that it was time to leave. I don’t see this person as bad. I just see them as ignorant-not in a derogatory way-as every human being is ignorant on something. But when it comes to therapy, you do not need to get advice from your church members about getting it. I also highly advise that you do not weigh one opinion as more valid than the other either. (Remember my earlier memory with my old therapist?) Both sides have human beings with the potential to you as much as you fail yourself. I took it to prayer, weighed my options, the pros and cons, gave it time, prayed some more and then made a decision.
I am in no way implying that you don’t consider any well meaning advice or cast aside all options provided by a licensed professional. You just can’t let people dictate your life just because they hold a religious stance or have a professional degree.
I’ve had to realize they are just people and that they were not created to save me from myself. They were never created to be responsible for me. We are all here to help each other, to love each other, encourage one another, challenge one another, lend our skills and talents for the benefit of one another and when we function in these ways for betterment of ourselves and of others, it MAY result in saving lives both literally and figuratively. But looking for other people to save me whether religious or no, highly educated or no, family, friend, coworker, enemy, is a set up for disappointment.
Who is the one with the suicidal thoughts? me. Who keeps the text line and crisis hotline number for suicide prevention on their phone because she knows she’ll need it? me. Who’s had frequent moments of sitting in the dark next to their bed with tears streaming down their face praying inaudible prayers between sobs begging God to take their life by the morning? Lucky guess. me.
I’m the one that had to make a decision to help me get better. The take-away is not that they are not inherently trustworthy (I go to a new church and have made friends in multiple religions and have a new therapist that I love), but that you shouldn’t put your trust in them. That means don’t seek validation from them. It means not being broken down by their disapproval or rejection. Don’t believe so blindly. No, love, we are all only human. They know as much about their tomorrow as you do about yours.
Had I entrusted my spiritual walk into what that church member believed was spiritually best for me, I would be miserable spiritually…or worse. Had I continued to lend myself and my innermost struggles to the therapist mentioned earlier in my other blog post, I would be miserable mentally… or…worse. By the end of the day, even now, it’s still hard and it still hurts, but I don’t regret my decision to change therapists or change churches because I believe my decisions were sound and deliberate and well prayed through for the best for my own wellbeing. I wish I could tell you a triumphant story like a childhood fairytale with a happy ending and that I have had no obstacles on the path called “trying”, but for now, I’m still learning how to slay my dragons and realizing in some cases…I might be the David to my own Goliath.
Sometimes, you can reconcile a relationship and other times, it’s best to leave it. That will have to be a call you need to make on your own. I choose to be ok with my previous church’s misunderstanding about me leaving it and the impact of the final conversation with my old therapist. You too are going ti have to be ok with the “they may never.”
What do I mean?
They may never know how much they hurt you. They may never know how hard you worked on it. They may never say “sorry.” They may never see it your way. They may never know what you meant to them. What they meant to you. How hard you tried. How guilty you felt. How much credit you deserved. What you really wanted to say. That you were innocent. That you didn’t mean to.
Part of maturity is moving on and going forward for the betterment of yourself, your faith, your hopes, your dreams even if AND especially when the crowd around you doesn’t see it your way.