Overwriting History

A couple of weeks ago, DJ and I drove past a house in a nearby development, and verified for ourselves that it’s empty.

Last night, we went on a date to an Italian restaurant tucked into the hallway of an old strip mall store. We deliberately chose the table halfway down the patio area.

This morning, I walked through an antiques store. I went into every room. As I left, I stuck my tongue out at the building.

We’ve been overwriting personal history lately.

For seven years, we were part of a church that eventually closed. It wasn’t all bad. Few things ever are. But we — and probably everybody else involved — left that place with a lot of hurt and weariness. I’m not actually sure where everyone else went on when we parted ways. For us, we landed at a thriving church with a love for children, and without a fixation on proper authority or the exact right way things have to be done.

After about a year at that church, my numbness wore off, and the panic set in. I haven’t been able to attend church for eighteen months now. I’ve tried a couple of times, like at Easter. I fled halfway through the song service, got in my car, and sobbed. When you’ve been burned, you shy away from anything that feels like flame.

But now — the key people from our old church have moved to another city. We saw that their house is empty and on the market.

As for the Italian restaurant, we’d eaten there once before, with those same people who just moved. It was years ago, and the point was to try to work out differences between us. It wasn’t a rousing success, mainly because the wife couldn’t understand anything I was saying. She never said this, but why would I take exception to the fact that she knew how to parent my children better than I did?

So DJ and I decided to change our association with that restaurant by eating there, sitting at the same table, and rewriting it with something good.

Our old church building is now an antiques store. This morning, I walked through it. Here was where the altar stood. I wasn’t allowed there unless I had specific permission, but DJ served at the altar as a deacon and lead music nearly every Sunday. He also taught catechism after church every week during one season. Church swallowed him up, taking him away from his family even though we were in the same square footage.

Leaving the old sanctuary behind me, I wandered through the kitchen. I spent most of my church time away from the actual worship service. I had to corral two, then three, and finally four children. It was amply communicated to me that they were too noisy, and I should be training them better at home so they could share in the worship experience without hindering the Holy Spirit.

In this dingy old kitchen, I put together snacks for the kids every Sunday, and made sure they didn’t eat the snacks in the carpeted children’s room.

Right, the children’s room. This is where I sat, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, with my kids and a couple of others. Even in this room, with the door shut, the kids would sometimes bang on a toy drum or sing too loudly or squabble, and someone would come tell us we needed to be quiet. I sat in a chair in the corner, tired to death of keeping kids, my soul dying from condemnation and isolation.

I usually brought the kids back in for the end of the service, although nobody seemed to miss me if I didn’t. When church was over, we usually had doughnuts or cupcakes. I felt compelled to rush out to make sure my kids didn’t touch the food or play with the coffee straws or eat chocolate cupcakes anywhere but at the table. As soon as we walked out of the sanctuary, the elders would shut the doors for prayer ministry, and nobody could go back in unless for prayer.

After several weeks, DJ and I got an email: someone had complained about the mess we left in our pew every Sunday when we rushed out after our children. It was the Lord’s House; could we please clean up our space?

Please keep your children quiet. Please keep your place clean. Please don’t interrupt the liturgy. Please put everything of yourself into the church. Please don’t let your children mess things up. Please don’t hinder the Holy Spirit by being clumsy, tired, flawed, quirky, or disorderly.

These rules, posted on the door of our former church, make sense for an antiques store. Too bad the church harbored the same spirit.

Seven years is a long time to try hard and always fail. In the three years since, DJ and I have had to recover in our own ways. Just in the past couple of weeks, though, the old memories have lost a lot of the weight of anger and sorrow. We saw the empty house, ate at the restaurant, and walked through the building. I feel the wounds scabbing over — still tender, but no longer bleeding.

Our kids are still kind of restless in church. DJ still has to figure out how to balance his love for church with his love for his family. I still can’t sit through a whole service. The difference is that the Holy Spirit isn’t quite as fragile as we were led to believe. He doesn’t mind noise and clumsiness. In fact, He can put up with a whole lot more than a tired group of flawed humans ever could.


3 thoughts on “Overwriting History

  1. I’ve read others share about their experience of spiritual abuse…this certainly sounds as though it qualifies as such. It sounds as though the weight is being lifted…I’m so glad for you. How shameful that your old church forgot that Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” When my first son was little (too young to go in the nursery, and anyway, he would just cry because he wanted me if I left him there), I was often a little on edge about the noise he was making in the service. But other people said that it was fine. Then when my boys grew up and were no longer babies, and I heard babies in church, I just had to turn and look for that child because I love, love, love hearing a child in church. Where else should that child be? Seems as though that church wasn’t experiencing grace and so had none to give.

    • Part of the problem was that both of us (especially me) were fresh out of a verified spiritually abusive system. So we didn’t know how to set boundaries to protect ourselves. In some cases, the other people honestly had no idea how hard it was for me because I had been conditioned not to “complain.” But yes, there was a serious lack of grace — more and more so, as the church dwindled and died.

      When we finally drew a hard and fast boundary in that restaurant that night, it effectively broke our relationship with the other couple.

      We contributed to the problems, at least in part, which has made it very hard to use the words “spiritually abusive.”

      But I think you’re right.

  2. I loved your closing thought. I am so happy that you got to do this and that things have finally shifted in a way that you are able to move on and feel just that much more free. I am proud of you.

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