I’m not talking about your romantic or marital ex. I’m talking about your ex-church.
Now, before I begin, I want to clarify a couple of things:
These can apply even in existing relationships (your partner or church now).
These are not all the lies, but a few of them (there are lots of lies available).
Not all ex’s are like this, but enough are (enough to warrant making this list).
THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT
This is a lie your ex would like you to believe. Your falling out of love with each other and separating is all your fault! You have problems. You’ve got issues. You need help. This shouldn’t have happened. But you made it happen. I’m totally fine, but you’re definitely not. You wrecked this, and now you’re going to suffer for it.
One of the issues I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is victimhood. I think many churches nurture a victim mentality in their members. In fact, as a pastor I harbored a victim mentality because I thought it was biblical and Christ-like. So I taught it! The suffering servant idea was deeply embedded into my psyche to the point where I think it became a part of my cellular makeup. The church attracts victims and nourishes a victim mentality. Please don’t get me wrong… there are lots of real victims. I have been one and so have many of you. But I’m talking about a victim mentality that needs and welcomes being a victim. It’s taken me years to break free of this unhealthy and unnecessary mentality. In fact, I’m still in progress.
I’m going to mention an awesome book. The most powerful autobiography I’ve ever read or ever will read, Life and Death in Shanghai, by Nien Cheng. She was imprisoned in China for 6 years during the Cultural Revolution. If anyone was a victim, she was. If anyone didn’t have a victim mentality, she didn’t. You must read it. You will get a kick out of her feistiness that alarmed the prison guards. It was reading this book years ago that alerted me to the fact that I had a victim mentality and didn’t have to. It’s making more sense even now. Please read it!
So, no, you are not to blame! And if you are, so what? Who cares? If you broke up with your church, maybe it was because you did it as a bold act of self-care! Finally! This is good. But I just want to encourage you that you are the captain of your life. You are the master of your destiny. Whether it is your fault or not, this is not the point. The point is: are you taking steps to take care of yourself? That’s the point. No other. Something I’ve been telling myself lately: “Live your life. Don’t let it live you.”
YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT ME
Another version of this is, “You need me!” The truth is you don’t. Unhealthy relationships are often based on codependence, which is basically a fixation on meeting the needs of the other person for your own sense of self-worth. Unhealthy relationships might sound really romantic and loving when they say, “I can’t live without you!” But in truth this is not healthy. It is a lie.
Lisa and I had to come to the painful but liberating realization of this in our relationship. The truth is she can live without me. The truth is I can live without her. But we choose not to. It is not an unhealthy drive out of a desperate neediness to be loved. It is a choice. We choose to want each other and to make life meaningful with each other. I suppose I could even say we choose to need each other. But that’s different that neediness. Understanding this has actually made our relationship richer and more meaningful. It puts the power in our own hands rather than in the fickle arms of romance or passion.
Many churches teach that you cannot live without it. They can be very possessive. The old maxim, “No salvation outside the church” is beaten into our brains to the point where we believe it. We are convinced we absolutely need the church and will perish without it. We are terrified of life without the church. But it’s not true. It is a lie. But like leaving a bad relationship, sometimes it takes years to realize you are even better without it. You are healthier, happier, and more alive than ever before. And if you are still in a church, your relationship with it will be healthier if you realize that you don’t need it, but choose to be in relationship with it. I hope your church feels the same way. That would be a happy relationship.
YOU WILL NEVER BE LOVED AGAIN
In other words, your ex would like you to believe that he or she is the one and only person who can satisfy your wants and needs. They want you to believe in the magical idea that you were made for each other, that you are soul mates, and that no one else in the entire world can give you the love you need.
Now, I have to admit, the idea of soul mate and made for each other and destiny all sound very appealing to me. Lisa and I fell in love as teenagers and have been together ever since. It sometimes feels like magic. But I’m not sure this is true. Lisa and I have talked about this a lot… like when we consider what she would do if I should die before her, and vice-versa. I say I would never find another love like her. She says the same about me. But we both know, deep down, that we are clinging to an idea that may not be true. We agree that it is entirely possible that we could fall in love again. It wouldn’t be the same. It would be different. But it would still be love. It would still be meaningful.
It’s the same with many churches. They can be very jealous. Many churches like to believe and insist that they are the only ones, special, and that all others are superficial, fake, impostors, and mismatched. After many years in the church I just came to realize that this wasn’t true. It was a lie. I wanted to be a Christian, a church-goer and even a pastor because I chose to be. I chose this and its entire package above all others. To me, this was more honest and healthy. Now, I realize that it is possible to love others and be loved by others outside of the church in different but just as meaningful ways.
So you’re breaking up with your church. Or your church is breaking up with you. Or it’s already done. Don’t believe the lies it may try to tell you… that it’s all your fault and you’ve made a huge mistake; that you can’t live a full, meaningful, and happy life without it; or that you will never be loved or love again. I know for a fact, from my own experience, that these are all lies. They are not true.