Here is my story…. I am a college student and I previously attended Grace Church for 14 years. I left Grace Church with my family 3 years ago after having been there almost my whole life. During that time, I was involved in the coffee team, children’s ministry, music ministry, and helped lead the cleaning ministry. I was also an intern for two years and as a part of those internships, attended two pilgrimage trips. With no exaggeration, this church was my life and leaving was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. I cried myself to sleep for weeks (I honestly don’t know how long). I had lost everyone I knew, my whole support group (aside from my family) and was now struggling with who I was, who God was, what love, truth, and grace were, and what a church following Jesus Christ really looked like.
That being said, I had let Grace Church form who I was by taking control of my beliefs, thoughts, and actions. I allowed them to create in me a negative self-view because we were supposed to always be introspective, dealing with “sin” in our lives. I became a submissive young girl that did what I was told, just so I wouldn’t get in trouble because the scariest words to hear from any leader in the church were, “Do you have a minute? Can we talk?” Those words weren’t really questions and created a panic in me that I cannot put to words. To this day those words have the same effect because through those conversations I felt they were targeting me. I bawled through most I can remember, though in later years I learned to control that. Because of the way questions were asked, I always felt like I was being interrogated.
I remember as a 12-year-old I was labeled a “deer-in-headlights” by the pastor because I was fearful. At 15, I was supposedly stubborn, selfish and not being proactive and looking out for the needs of others (specifically within my first internship). At 16, the pastor told me I was emotionally and mentally unstable. Around the same time (during my second internship), I was even advised to not talk to my parents about an important decision (whether or not to quit the internship) and was heavily encouraged to keep from sharing things with them or even spending time with them. Now, at 18, I recently had a panic attack upon having a flashback to a memory from Grace Church. I had accidentally left my keys in my college after the building had been locked. Realizing this my mind began racing and quickly began a downward spiral. Thankfully, the process was quite easy as my friend and I were able to stop our professor in the parking lot, get back in the building and easily find the keys. This should have been relieving and I should have been able to calm down yet back out in the parking lot afterwards I broke down in my friend’s arms crying uncontrollably. I had remembered a time when my fellow interns and I were leaving for pilgrimage. I had accidentally packed my passport and when I informed the leaders of this, well to say the least they weren’t happy, there was lots of unpacking to get to my bag. My memory of what was said in that moment has somewhat faded, but I remember feeling awful and belittled in front of my friends because the leaders made sure I understood that I was holding up the group and my mistakes didn’t just affect me but everyone I was with that day.
As I reflect on my experiences at Grace Church and the recent panic attack, I don’t believe that any young teen should be made to feel this way by their pastor or any church leadership. Nobody should remember an interaction with and Elder and a Pastor, with whom they’re supposed to feel safe, and have a panic attack. It breaks my heart because through my experience I believe this church is falsely representing God. I don’t say any of this out of anger, but from a place of deep love desiring that others are kept from this deep hurt. Heck, I’m tearing up as I write this. People should not grow up believing that God is sitting above them on a throne waiting to get angry. Teenagers should not be scared of the pastor or be depressed because they have been taught to be so introspective and subdued. They shouldn’t grow up believing that love is being told how to change yourself. It should not be normal to be cornered by 3 of your best friends, who were in college at the time, for them to tell you how they’re disappointed in you. This does not represent the way that Jesus instructs us to act towards the people around us at all!
To be honest, at times I have wished that my memory of Grace Church would be erased. It has caused more hurt than I can convey in this post. And yet, I have realized that I wouldn’t be who I am today without that part of my story and so I am learning to embrace it. After 3 years, the patterns from Grace Church are still so deeply part of me that they are hard to let go of. I am still struggling with many of the after effects of being underneath unhealthy leadership at Grace Church and recently began counseling to continue working through this. It took me a long time to admit I wanted help because I felt that would mean there was something terribly wrong with me.
I have realized though that it is extremely healthy for me to share with my counselor and has proved to show me new perspectives that are helping in my healing process. One of the perspectives I have appreciated most began with me sharing that I was struggling to move forward because I felt like Grace Church was the foundation to my beliefs and thoughts. My counselor shared scripture from Deuteronomy 6:6, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your hearts.” He explained that we are to have the Word of God written upon our hearts and yet many of us have other things written there too. In my case, I have a lot of hurt and unhealthy thought patterns written onto my heart. He said that it is going to take a long time because I can’t just get rid of the things written there. It is going to take years to create new memories and have new experiences that get written on my heart over the old ones. While that may be discouraging to some (because it won’t happen fast), I was relieved to know that slowly, step by step, I can and will heal.
As many posts have previously expressed, I share these snippets of my story to caution people and to help those beginning to work through their own hurt. I am thankful to those who are sharing because it is not an easy thing to do. It takes a lot to get over the fear of speaking out, but I believe that there is power in embracing your story. 2 Timothy 1:6-8 says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in the suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” Here Paul is encouraging Timothy to use the Holy Spirit, the gift God has given him and not to neglect that gift because of his fear. He also says that we should not be ashamed to step forward to defend the testimony of Jesus Christ. That being said, let’s follow the Holy Spirit’s prompting and begin to defend the true name of Jesus without fear.
So, in sharing this post, I want to acknowledge that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am not content to sit knowing that Grace Church is misrepresenting the name of Christ Jesus and treating the children of God in a way that leaves them hurt and broken.