Friday, August 22, 2008

Growing in the hard places

(I started this post several weeks ago but because of my crazy busy schedule I wasn't able to finish it. It's a few weeks late and may be ancient history by now but I still felt I needed to go ahead and post it so, here it is at last.)

Several weeks ago, we had a lengthy string of comments posted regarding one of Free Spirit's blogs. It began when I made the comment that Father had sent me to an abusive church. Free Spirit questioned whether that was really him sending me since she didn't believe that matched his character. I was going to add another comment but, when I started writing, it got longer and longer so I decided to post my own blog about it instead.

I don't know if this will answer her question, but I hope maybe it'll shed some light on the subject of suffering. Ouch!! That's a painful topic and I don't even like to think about it but, unfortunately, it's a fact of life. We will have times of suffering - sometimes because of our own poor decisions and sometimes because of circumstances beyond our control.

As I've shared before, I spent three and a half years in what later became an abusive church. Because of a number of circumstances that preceded my going there, I'm convinced that Father sent me there. I won't go into details now although I may at a future date. For now, I want to go in a different direction.

Although my time at that church was painful, it was actually one of the best times of my life. Before going any further, I know that some of you who read this post won't be able to relate to the positive aspects that I'll be sharing. Please don't read any condemnation into it. What I'll be sharing is only my experience. I know the horror of yours may far outweigh any positive benefits or you may feel that there weren't any positive benefits. Either way, I hope what I share will be an encouragement to anyone who reads it.

I've begun to think of my time there as the boot camp of my Christian life because it was there that I began to grow up as a believer. The pastor of that group taught me many things on which Father continues to build my life and what I believe today.

That pastor was the person who taught me how to think outside of the box. He taught me to question what I was told and this has resulted in a major change in how I view what I was taught in the system. Because of his teachings, I've been able to recognize the religious mindsets that had become part of my life. His out of the box thinking encouraged me to examine new thoughts and ideas rather than immediately shutting them out when they didn't fit my preconceived framework of beliefs.

My natural personality is fearful and hesitant. I don't go into new situations easily and, up until that time, I would always take the easier less stressful route. I don't like to make waves and I'll gladly go along to avoid a conflict. I'm not one to leave the safety of the boat to walk on water - with or without Jesus. All that has changed because of my time in that group. I'm now a totally different person who is much more willing to take risks rather than stay in the safety of the boat. I'm learning to enjoy the adventure rather than wanting only safety.

Staying at that church was totally out of character for me. I knew the pastor wasn't accepted by the larger Christian community and neither was the group. In the natural, I tend to be a people pleaser but I see Father setting me free from the bondage of the desire to please people. I'm now learning to live in the freedom of who I am even if people get angry and offended. Despite my natural tendencies to bail out when things got rough, I stayed in that group.

My time there was really the turning point in my journey. Prior to that, I had been deeply immersed in religion and pretty much accepted what I was told. I was satisfied with the system and it was the center of my life. However, in that group, the seeds of change had been planted that would later sprout and grow. Today, the changes that I'm seeing have surprised even me. I remember Wayne Jacobsen saying that he had now become the person he would not have allowed in his office a number of years ago. I can really relate to that statement.

As I look at where I am today, I'm excited about the person I've become and am becoming. Knowing what I now know about that group, if I had to do it again, I'd do it. I've come to the place where I no longer despise my time there since it was part of my journey to the freedom that I'm experiencing today. This freedom as well as the joy and peace of knowing who I am has made the hardship of those days well worth the pain. As I think about my experience, I'm reminded of Paul's declaration.

"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Corinthians 4:17)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing further details of your time at your local congregation. I honor your honesty and openness.

I agree with you wholeheartedly about pain. (Did you read my post "Living Under A Shield? Love’s Arrow Can Never Enter."

Anyways, quite honestly I can relate to the positive experience you mentioned you had at your congregation. I actually grew A TON and enjoyed my of my church experience when Darin was a pastor at the church we both atteneded. Under Darin's teachings, I grew enormously. I'm honestly so grateful for having been a part of that church when I did. He taught me how to think outside of the box also, and it revolutionized how I viewed God, myself, and others.

Additionally, the Senior pastor had a good heart too. Many, many of his sermons where New Testament based and the Holy Spirit spoke through Him and I grew as a result. (It was the guest pastors, and other pastor's messages, and the other "rites" that wasn't so good. Yet, I "grew" as a result of the Holy Spirit showed me about their Religiousity.)

I stayed at that church for awhile after the Holy Spirit showed me the problems within the system, as well. Primarily, I was still being fed by Darin, the relationships and on the Singles Worship team. So, I do understand where you are coming from.

Sounds like our experiences were a little different in that you came from a highly Religious-shame based system into that church where you grew, and grew in love, grace. My experience was somewhat similar as well (I'd come from the same type of Religious Systems) and into the church with Darin -- and experienced great Truth, love, and freedom. Yet, where we differ, is that towards the later parts of Darin's Pastoralship, and when I'd become a secretary at the church...that's when things started to be "shown" to my eyes, heart and mind. Then, when Darin left, changes were inevitable. Darin was the Singles Pastor, so when he left, a new person took his place. But it wasn't the same. The gentleman who took on Darin's role, taught a mixture of Law-Grace...which just isn't right. Our entire group, at that point, fractured...although most of us, now remain close friends and attend Darin's potlucks and spend time together.

In any case, what happened to me, is that I moved out of the phoenix area for a year, and unfortunately obtained a job working for an international "Christian" speaker, who I eventually discovered was more Law based than you could imagine. He used awful practices of shame, fear and guilt to gain money, among other things. Of course, this revelation grew after working there...and so I found myself mired in Religiousity. Fortunately, I left after a year.

I DO know for a fact, that there ARE congregations whose pastors and staff truly do their best to teach and model New Testament Truths, love, grace and freedom. So, you sharing your story...I understand, and I truly am grateful that you've found a fellowship where you feel you can truly be nourished, and love others authentically at the same time. (Yet, quite honestly, an unfortunately, I believe your situation is few-and-far-between).

I loved what you said here:
" In the natural, I tend to be a people pleaser but I see Father setting me free from the bondage of the desire to please people. I'm now learning to live in the freedom of who I am even if people get angry and offended. Despite my natural tendencies to bail out when things got rough, I stayed in that group."
"As I look at where I am today, I'm excited about the person I've become and am becoming. Knowing what I now know about that group, if I had to do it again, I'd do it."

I really get this. I really do! Aida, we have a lot in common!

~Amy :)

Deb said...

Hi Aida :-)

I really enjoyed reading this post and how as it turned out in "hindsight" that this 'abusive' church that you were a part of actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise! Yes, I completely understand why you can now say that God led you there!

So different from my experience....I would say in looking back that all the different churches I have attended through the years were all abusive...and they didn't teach me to be open or look at things outside the "box" at all. I didn't find my 'freedom' until I found Wayne Jacobsen's website....that was the beginning of my freedom! :-) God lead me there.....and now onto Darin Hufford's and many other "free believer" sites!!! I am so thankful.

What a journey! :-)


Aida said...

Hi Amy,

The abusive church was for me a place of much growth but it was mainly a place where a lot of my religious beliefs were torn up and had to be discarded. When I left there, Father sent me for a short season to another group that actually was similar but I knew I wouldn't be staying there. When I left there, I returned to the group where I am now.

My involvement with this present group is minimal. Basically, I go to the Sunday morning service and nothing else. They are a fine group of people but the teaching is typical of what you would get in any other church. Although not abusive, they use shame and manipulation too. In order to fit in, it's best to not be too authentic. I love the people but I really don't fit in.

The teaching I'm receiving and the relationships I'm forming are primarily online. When I got involved in online groups, that's when I started growing. Since I found Darin's book about a year ago, my growth has accerlerated especially since he started this website.

Darin's ministry has been a major reason as to why I have grown so much this past year. I value his teaching and I also value his friendship. That's why I talk about him as much as I do. Father has done a tremendous work in my life through Darin so I think very highly of him.

Teachers like Darin who have a lot of wisdom and also love the people are unfortunately very rare and I'm thankful that Father has connected me with him.

It's good that you've found freedom and chose to leave those groups that were promoting religion. It really is a shame that the vast majority of church groups are shame based and controlling but that's really the only way to get the people to conform to their expectations. If people are taught grace, they can't be controlled and religious empires would crumble.

Joel B. said...


A lot of the concepts in your story are similar to mine, although the details are different.

I wasn't in an abusive church, so to speak, but I was definitely in a place I didn't want to be, for quite some time. I believed from Day One that Father had led us there. Kind of like you, there were a number of circumstances involved in which I simply knew we were to be there.

Anyway, I can see how I grew throughout the whole experience, even in the toughest times, and often especially in the toughest times. At times it was very painful and there are various highlights (lowlights?) in which I cried out to God in agony - and each time He confirmed that He was with me and that He was leading me through it all. He had His "reasons" for having me there.

I'd have to say my 11 1/2 years in radio were similar. There are too many things to mention about why I struggled with being there, but I can also see a ton of reasons, in hindsight, of why I was there. So much good came out of it.

Like you, I can also say that this is simply my experience, and I don't want to project my experience onto anyone else, as if they will necessarily relate in any way. But I've found in the past that through sharing some of this, it's been encouraging for others. I'm thankful that you brought this up on your blog and I hope it can be an encouragement for people who have gone through or are going through tough situations.

Aida said...

Deb, it's really hard to understand and I wouldn't have gone there on my own but what I learned while there is priceless. Looking back from today, my time there definitely has become a blessing which I wouldn't trade for anything.

Everyone's experiences are different. For me, my time there was primarily a time of pulling up the weeds. It was only when I found Wayne and now Darin that the real building process began.

My journey as well as yours has been exciting as well as painful but through it all I believe Father was there comforting us and taking us through.

Aida said...

This is great! I've really enjoyed hearing everybody's story. It's amazing how different they can be yet so similar.

Joel, I can definitely relate to your story. I remember crying because I wanted out so bad but I stayed because like you I knew Father had a reason for me to be there. I don't advocate people staying in an abusive situation but, for me, it was the right thing to do for that season.

I hope this post and everyone's comments will encourage others who have struggled or are still struggling in difficult situations. Father is right there with them even when they can't "feel" him and hopefully they'll be able to work through it with him.

Free Spirit said...

Hey, thanks for your post, Aida. I appreciate hearing more of your story; I'm glad you are willing to share it!
BTW, I'm still processing, on the subject. I'm sure, in the fullness of time, I'll have my "a-ha" moment! :)

Aida said...

Over the years, I've learned to focus inward and protect myself by not allowing people to see the real me. Now, I'm finding the need to be more open about myself. I guess the real me is finally wanting out. As I discover who the real me is, I'm sure I'll be opening up more.

I'm glad you're still processing the subject. Until Father reveals it to you, you're wise not to accept it. For too long, the church has just accepted things because someone told us it was true.

If Father wants you to know it, he can tell you himself. He doesn't need me to do it. All I can tell you is what he's told me.

lionwoman said...

Aida, thanks for sharing! I've also experienced that God will lead us to make decisions that do not always turn out as we'd hoped or imagined. There are two long-term decisions He led us to make that turned out very disappointing in the 'short' run. Yet I know now that He's using those experiences for good in the long run.

What I call the American Prosperity Gospel that is commonly taught today can be very harmful to people's faith walk. It is clear in the Bible that suffering and hardship are to be expected and used for our good.


Aida said...

Hi Amy,

Your new name Lionwoman threw me off when I first saw it but later I read why you switched and I think it's great!

Thanks for your comments.

Nowhere are we promised that the journey would be easy. I don't think it's Father's desire that we suffer but he knows that sometimes its necessary for our greater good. When I read your comment I thought about the story that Darin told about when he took his daughter to get her vaccinations as a child.

He literally had to hold her down so the doctor could vaccinate her as she looked at him with a pained expression that asked, "Why?" As her father, it hurt him to do it but he was doing what he knew was in her best interest.

I believe our Father sometimes has to allow us and maybe even put us in painful situations in order to see us free. As you said, when it's over, we'll see how he used those situations for our good.