UNDOING CHURCH-FILLED SHAME

A few weeks ago, I shared part of my story of sexual harm within the context of the church on Red Tent Living. In this post, I am continuing to speak to this particular topic. Please note this could be a triggering content, handle your heart with care and kindness. Also, I want to note; I am sharing from a personal place not out of obligation or seeking validation. I am offering my experience to normalize what you may be facing or are in the process of healing from.

So here we go… 

Until now, Chris and I have been in some form of formal ministry. We’ve seen various scenarios that brought us utter delight and ones that have wounded our spirit. Before founding Restore One, Chris was as a youth pastor, in that placement, we saw first hand the bureaucratic dysfunction found behind many church walls. Leaving that position, we were confused about church culture and seldom attended regular church services. Collectively, our spirits were burned out and fed up with the facade of the church. Our daily reality did not mesh with the prosperity gospel or a linear path of healing. We wanted real engagement and no fluffy guarantees.

With these desires, our community looked different; we didn’t join a small group or attend service seeking fellowship. We found a collective group of friends, forward-thinking pastors, bachelors, atheists, small business owners, yogis, cyclists, and anti-trafficking advocates from across the country. The people in our circle are rich with life and offer beautiful friendship.

Although I was loved and seen by my small community, I still felt like an outsider living in rural Eastern North Carolina.

I felt shame for my lack of desire to be a part of the evangelical church and conflicts I had with the conservative teaching. It felt odd when I found more comfortable being in a yoga room than in a church pew.

Now, I recognize I was looking for a community that empowered me as I am now, not an ascribed step system to make me a qualified Christian. In sharing this, I want to be clear, Chris, and I found solace with a select few pastors in Eastern NC, and for that, we are grateful.

Since moving out of the Bible Belt, I have been able to shake the guilt mentality for not attending church. I am now able to see my desire for authenticity as good, not hypocrisy. This realization did not happen overnight nor in isolation.

While living in Fort Collins, our family was graced to attend a quirky coffee shop church. On any given Sunday the pastors would speak candidly, greet you wholeheartedly (not a fake, “Hey, how ya doing?”) and stop preaching so the train could pass. The two pastors who run this gem of a church are authentic, sincere, and they genuinely care.

Slowly my shame shifted as one of the pastors told me, “Don’t apologize for not coming on Sunday. Only attend when it feels life-giving to you.” He had to say this to me several times before I stopped apologizing for not attending regularly. His accepting heart was a game-changer for my soul.

One day the blinders finally came off.

As a youth pastor, I vividly remember my judge filled tone as I urged students to attend church each week and as a congregation member, I only knew that same reciprocation from lead pastors. I offer remorse for my past actions, for I did not know what I did not know. I believe this is a truth statement for all of us – we do not know until we know. In that knowledge, there is such a grace to always be evolving, growing, and becoming. 

Now I see the actual manifestation of God is accommodating and open to the human process. God is abounded with space for our today and for our artful process of growth.

The church is not meant to be a set of laws, behavioral alterations, or a growth track; it’s a genuine community. God does not shame us for not attending a formal church. The real church is every time we enter communion with others.

For me, church every time I read Asha a nighttime story, have friends over a meal, coffee with a friend or bike ride with Chris. It’s abiding, nourishing and life-giving.

God accepts you as you are, in the community you cultivate right here, right now. God is far more permissive than I’ve granted myself to acknowledge.  

Lately, I’ve been on a journey of self-acceptance. Learning to love myself as I am now, for who I am now — healing from my shame-based attachment to the church and connection to Christian systems has been a life-changing experience. 

If this is your same feelings associated with faith systems I hear yah, I am with you in this space. And I want to give you a few validation actions that helped me move through the process. When we validate our present experience with kindness, it shifts shame out of its place. See, the cool thing is, empathizing with feelings of shame/guilt/inadequacy allows us to be seen by ourselves and the kind people in our corner. Shame gets so much smaller when we name it for what it is and call out our goodness. 

I LOVE Brené Brown’s quote, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive” (Daring Greatly).

A key on the journey of self-acceptance is practicing validation for the feelings you are experiencing at the moment. 

Validation can look like…

  • Getting up and leaving when it does not feel right to stay.

  • Telling yourself, “I hear you, and I see you.”

  • Telling a trusted friend, therapist or partner what you are experiencing.

  • Practicing self-care when you encounter a hard day.

  • Going with your gut is telling you.

  • Stop making choices based on other people’s approval.

  • Doing what feels right and good.

Friends, may you find self-acceptance this week.

Hugs,

Anna Marie Smith

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