Monday, November 23, 2015

Looking for Wings

A reader writes:
Hello. I've really appreciated this blog. Not sure where to post, but I wanted to reach out. I could use some support. I have reached out to a couple others I know personally that have left. I'm in the "preparation phase" of leaving the IALC. Love the people, don't love the exclusivity. Greeting "believers" and then not greeting others in a room has never felt good to me. 
I grew up in this church, so the roots go deep. In fact, it's so much a part of me I've considered not leaving just because leaving seems like so much work and turmoil. But having just gone through a lot of other personal turmoil (and surviving and thriving), it seems silly to carry on with this. It has gotten to the point for me where I am feeling bitter about having to drive there, or wake up on a Sunday and get ready. Going through the motions for something I don't feel a part of. 
I appreciate the community, and I know I will miss the social aspect. The other major hurdle will be telling my family. My parents and siblings are very hardcore. I anticipate some major emotional outbursts, guilt trips, and the like. Basically, I'm scared. Any tips are welcome. I worry that I'll be like an animal that has been raised in a zoo, and is set free into the wild and just stands there, not knowing how to live free. :( 
– LookingForWings 
LFW, thanks for visiting. Many of us here can relate. You are wise to reach out, and wise to know that leaving is a process. Readers here will have plenty of advice. Mine is to practice listening to your instincts and then, honoring them. They count. You count.

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting. I look forward to hearing some more thoughts. And yes, listening to my instincts has been something I was brought up not to do, as many of us probably are. "It's the devil!" Ugh. – LookingForWings

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  2. Hi IALC person. Yours analogy of being raised in a "zoo" (I call it a 'bubble') is a really good analogy. It is hard to face leaving and the reactions of friends and loved ones. Some people think you become some sort of alien upon leaving. The fact is, I really valued the community and never feel like I left my faith. I just have always had a more broad definition of who might be a believer. In any case, I can't see any harm in greeting people with "God's Peace" as a decent human being would want to wish everyone they meet God's Peace. I heard a story about one of the old preachers--probably one that you've heard his name evoked when ministers talk about sermons of long ago. You'd recognize the name if you heard it. He said that you could wish anyone God's Peace, even the frogs chirping in the swamp. At some point, things changed in the IALC but it probably changed before you and I were even born. I don't know how old you are, but at least for me, I have come to the conclusion that I will always miss the church and have a great amount of love for the people. I don't like to think of all the things that happened that lead to my leaving as they are so painful to recount. But it took many years to get to that point. I realized at one point that I needed to continue to follow the same course and path--through Jesus Christ and Him crucified--and the road is narrow, but not nearly as narrow as just the walls of the IALC. That is just my path to take and some people choose others, they choose of their own free will. Expect that some people you love will reject you. I don't regret leaving and most people I know who left, regardless of the pain they experience don't regret it either. I don't rule out ever returning, either, because who knows what the future has in store. I wish you all the best.

    After I left, I felt very brokenhearted. My dear grandmother came to me in what people call a "dream visitation" which I had only experienced once before. That is a dream of a person who has passed over to the other side. It is so real it is like it was an actual visit. She told me she had come over from the other side to give me comfort. She said that she knew I was suffering. She told me that when she got to heaven, she was shocked. She was shocked on who was actually there. She said there were people from the split, people she knew from earlier splits in her childhood, and even "people from town" that were from completely other kinds of churches. She asked me not to be bitter or to place fault on my family members because "they were only reacting the way they were taught." She said that she knew I believed and I would keep believing. There have been many days in which I have felt very angry because of the rejection of family members and those in the community that I loved. But there have also been people in the IALC who have been loving and wonderful and some who even greet me even though they know I don't go. Oddly enough, it's those who greet me who make me wonder if its possible I could ever go back. I don't think I will ever quit loving those people. They find it scary to have a mind more open like mine, to imagine the possibilities of God's Kingdom. So I leave you here with God's Peace and love, and pray for your patience and forbearance in your days ahead for your journey. I give you the advice to exercise caution as there is both Good and Evil out there.

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  3. Did you hear about the thanksgiving warning? Be careful what you eat. A turkey shot down a Russian plane. God had a speaking donkey to settle a score in the old testament, now Satan is using a turkey to start world war 3. ...Toivo

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    1. I don't believe you, Toivo. I think that's nonsense.

      In any event, this has nothing to do with the subject of the post. Best of luck, LookingForWings. It's a big, wonderful, and yes, sometimes scary world out there. Many people here have gone through the looking glass and come out the other side much happier.

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  4. From Mr. Smith:

    I also left the IALC. I assume by your message that you are unmarried. This makes it much easier.

    A few different methods to leave, we in the IALC have less of the burdens some of the other LL churches have. We are supportive of higher education, we watch TV, music, and movies in general. So we have less to get used to in the "world".

    The in your face method is tough; I have relatives who sat at the dinner table and made the proclamation of leaving, and dealt with all the tears etc.... Cleaner break, but very emotionally trying with all the intervention attempts, etc... After that you really feel like an outsider and it can get lonely without a support group.

    The easier, slower, (maybe cowardly way), we can call it the Mr. Smith method.
    Before you quit, join some non- church groups that you are interested, social sports leagues, hobby groups, Fantasy Roll Playing Games, Drama, etc… It makes it much easier to withdraw from one circle when you have something to replace it.

    Go back to school and join groups, or get a new job in a different city! Better yet, apply to grad school or undergraduate school out of state. You will be just like a lot of people in your new class that no little to nobody. You also will be conveniently far away from any IALC churches, so you can skip on the “we didn’t see you on Sunday at church, phone calls”. A career change or career improvement plan is always a good way to slip away.

    After you get a good social system set up of two or three people, start dating. Your social circle will grow even more. Here is a hint my sister gave me once, often times you will meet friends of opportunity. What she meant was at your new work place or school, you will meet someone who you probably would not normally be friends with, or do not see them as being lifelong friends, but you provide a need for each other at that time. You go to their birthdays and dinners occasionally, maybe invited into their social circle where you meet more people. Sometimes these relationships last past leaving that place of employment or school, but often they don’t. It is kind of like going out of town to services with your parents as a kid, and you hang out with the only person in your age group to get through the day.

    As for IALC friends and family, the immediate Family it quickly becomes a subject of non-discussion, and you just listen in on the Church gossip. I censor the stories I tell, and leave Mom and Dad happy that we are still close, they adore the grandchildren. My friends and cousins, after a decade we started reaching out to each other and now have a friendly long distance relationship of occasional dinners, Christmas cards, and golf, etc… I catch up on the Church gossip with them.

    I always thought that someday I would return back to where I grew up, but wouldn’t you know it; I have a full, rich life someplace else filled with family and friends. My wife is religious (cafeteria style, she picks and chooses what she likes from her religion) and from a big family. I even pick up my kid from communion class!

    After spending so much time thinking about religion, and then leaving the IALC, I wasn’t looking to jump into another belief system. I read a lot of philosophy and ethics, and I am happy on my own path.

    I have never said openly to any of these people (accept other run ways) that I have left the church; it is just a given. The ones who would want to pick a battle I obviously avoid. The ones who make snide comments at a wedding or funeral get the standard responses, either "you always were miserable, things haven't changed", or "I quit coming because of people like you, actually".

    Good luck, enjoy the journey, there is much out in the world to experience!
    Mr. Smith

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  5. Thanks for your thoughts. It feels so good to hear from people on the "other side" of this. I have wished I could move, but my circumstances are such that I can't. I had to chuckle at the "Mr. Smith Method", as I have entertained the idea of doing some sort of what I call a "slow fade out." I am sort of doing that now, I suppose. But I have friends asking me where I was on church weekends, and then sometimes my parents stay over on church weekends. I do have a time consuming job that requires working off hours at times, so I have used that a bit.

    I do have a couple of close friends who just left, and we've been chatting and have plans to support each other. They both "came out" to their close friends and family recently, mostly over the phone and email. I may do the same, but I am debating about WHEN... ???

    I don't want to ruin the holidays for anyone, but also don't want to go to church. I'm already getting tired of making excuses or plans to get out of it.

    To the poster "Anonymous11/23/2015 09:14:00 PM", I got goose bumps about your dream. I also feel like the narrowness of the IALC's definition is too narrow, and that it's so obviously judgmental since God is the only real judge.

    I am not too worried about getting caught up in a lot of dangerous stuff. I mostly just hate going to church and feeling like I'm assuming the role of thinking "I'm better than the world". I don't think most members of the church actually feel judgmental, and I love so many of them dearly, but when I listen to the sermons it is very judgmental and hypocritical. If it's ok to accept that we're sinners then why couldn't someone be openly gay and believe? I'm not gay, but if I wanted to be I couldn't be forgiven? Isn't that sin the same as going to a movie? Anyway, just rambling now.

    I have a good handful of non church friends that I've been spending more time with, and have some travel plans ahead. Still don't know when I'll "drop the bomb", or if I will...

    LookingForWings

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  6. I'm usually a regular visitor but I just happened upon this recently.

    I too was part of the IALC and was in the "preparation phase" for several years. Only recently did I tell my parents and family that I wasn't a believer anymore.

    It was really difficult, and it was awhile before I felt like any weight was lifted off of me. Some people in my family were understanding, since they know I'm gay, but others were extremely upset. Almost nothing is harder than seeing your family grapple with the idea that they don't think you're going to heaven.

    What was harder for me, however, was continuing to lie for years. I would lie about my personal life and about my own beliefs. Sitting in church listening to sermons while not believing was so difficult; I had to listen to a homophobic sermon on Christmas day. For me, it was torture, and I resolved never to go back.

    It's up to you whether or not you want to tell your family. It's very easy to "fade out" like I did by moving far away from other churches. That way, you may not even have to tell them. For me, however, it's a relief from a huge burden of lying to my family, so I'm glad that I could finally tell them the truth. Traveling also really helps, because it's so enlightening to see other people live across the world, even in different parts of the country, who haven't even heard of IALC or any other Laestadian groups. There's a whole world out there beyond what people in IALC were taught.

    Anyway, I hope that everything will go well for you!

    DancingQueen

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  7. Beautifully said, DancingQueen.

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  8. Sorry I missed this for so long! Good luck on your journey and be kind to yourself.

    It's been almost 30 years since my fateful announcement at the dinner table (I am Mr. Smith's Sis). I have had no regrets and am happy I made a clean break. I was single at the time and waited until I had no boyfriend to blame. I wanted to own my decision. I did it for my future children, so they would be free. (And they are. Beautifully free.)

    I felt bad in the beginning for the enormous pain I caused my parents, until I met an ex-jehovah witness who adamantly argued that their pain was self-inflicted. I came to realize that my parents choose to believe what they do every day, same as I do. Their pain is not my cross to bear.

    This journey is full of peaks and valleys but good. Very good. I still feel sorrow for my mom who does not understand my choices but I welcome the feeling as it means I feel love and not bitterness. The bitterness has mellowed.

    I live a deliberate life and strive to be real and not a fraud. I couldn't be me in the church.

    A few years ago I read a good book called Leaving the Fold by Marlene Winnel. I wish I had found it sooner. It helped me resolve my loose ends.

    Best wishes to you as you make you way in this world. Enjoy! It's OK to be happy.

    Mr. Smith's Sis

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  9. Wow, Ms. Smith, I really like what your ex-Jehovah's Witness friend said...that your parents pain is self-inflicted!

    I have never thought of it this way before. Many folks in the older generations, in retrospect, are more hardcore compared to some of the elders I recall. I'm not talking about some of the artifacts of the church, like no drinking/dancing/movie watching/birth control, etc. but about grace and xenophobia.

    Years ago, I remember asking my grandma if she really thought her son who left our church was really going to hell. She thought for a while, and deliberately answered, "As long as he believes he won't. I hope he still believes even though he is no longer with us." Wow. I hadn't even entertained the possibility that not everyone in the church was as hardcore as my parents' generation are with their exclusive beliefs!

    Later, I asked a great-uncle about his brother who hadn't been part of the church for decades(and of whom I had never heard of before) and asked if he was a believer (i.e. part of our church) and great-uncle answered, "Well, I can't judge that he is NOT a believer...that is for God to decide." Which leads to believe that to some degree, the black & white thinking (come to our church, saved, any other, damned) may have been chosen by more recent generation.

    May they marinate in their misery, then.

    --Optimisinen

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  10. The concept of later generations being more rigid than their predecessors is something I've noticed as well -- and was part of a lot of things that caused me to leave. It seems there is a competition to see who can be "more holy" than someone else. There's always been that element in the OALC. I'm sure not in every location and certainly not all people play the game, but there are those that do, and they are allowed to have a loud and sometimes authoritative voice in the community.

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  11. Thanks everyone for your support. I jumped! Here's my update, in a nutshell. My mom had noticed and heard that I wasn't coming to church, which was right before Thanksgiving. My dad was the one to ask me what was up, and I just told them right then I have decided to not come anymore. It was as though I told them I had decided to commit suicide. Silence, tears, but not too much of a fight. I just said, plainly, that I just can't believe there's only one way. It was really tough, especially since it was right before I saw the family for Thanksgiving that I shared this. I had a lot of anxiety over the holidays. Christmas actually brought the stomach flu, which I was grateful for. Never have I been grateful for the stomach flu, but it meant I could just take the year off and let things settle.

    My family loves me, and they have surprised me in some ways with their lack of "effort" to try and persuade me otherwise. Slowly my own anxiety has started to dissipate and I've started to enjoy waking up each morning without a dark cloud over my head. I am free. I can spend my time as I please, and not feel the guilt and shame.

    My close friends, too, have accepted my decision and still want to see me. I lost a couple, or at least haven't heard from them yet. But overall, I feel like the drama was less than I built it up to be.

    I have since enrolled in some dance classes and have enjoyed tasting wines and learning about them. I am still me, but I feel like I am on my way to becoming even more "me".

    Sometimes doubt still creeps in, though. "What if they are right? I'm enjoying life now, and that's bad..." and I have to do a lot of reassuring myself.

    I also have a child and my ex is still going to the IALC, so things may be a little confusing for him. I wish there was a way around that, and secretly hope my ex will stop going but I don't foresee that happening, even though I think he is not really "into it". I think my leaving the church has given him a social lift at church, since OBVIOUSLY (sarcastic) I am the bad / wrong / lost one. And that sucks, but I have also felt pretty indifferent to their opinions of me since I left.

    I am hoping my views and ways of living and being happy will be apparent to my child as life goes on, and will show there is a different way to live. A way that is full of purpose, joy and complete acceptance for humanity. Instead of the apathetic, woe is me, "when will the world end" kind of approach.

    -- Looking For Wings:

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  12. LFW, Thanks for posting. It sounds like you are making a life "full of purpose, joy and complete acceptance for humanity" which is the best gift you can give yourself, your child, and humanity, as all our actions and inactions have ripple effects. If you'd like to share your story in more detail, let me know, and I'll add it to the collection. You never know who will draw courage from it.
    Peace!

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  13. LFW, Thanks for posting. It sounds like you are making a life "full of purpose, joy and complete acceptance for humanity" which is the best gift you can give yourself, your child, and humanity, as all our actions and inactions have ripple effects. If you'd like to share your story in more detail, let me know, and I'll add it to the collection. You never know who will draw courage from it.
    Peace!

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  14. LFW, I appreciate your post. I have been what the IALC would call a "unbeliever" for many years now, in secret. I have brought up my lack of faith to my family before, but that topic faded away as I would continue to attend, fearful of the larger social repercussions. I hope that someday I work up the courage to just up and leave, and that my true friends within the church will keep in contact!

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  15. Hi 'Unknown', Sorry you're going through that. It's not easy to leave, but it really wasn't as hard as I anticipated and feel much better not having to hide my true ways of life. Now it's finding a new life that is the challenge, but my old church friends had stayed with me for the most part. If they're real friends, they will stay. We don't talk about it, but we still have fun and talk like we used to. - LFW

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  16. Some people leave relatively easily and don't regret leaving, generally. Very few people who leave, unless for very short periods of time, ever come back. It happens now and again. I guess I've never heard anyone regret it, but some have expressed that it would be a heck of a lot easier had they been able to "believe" (which is subject to interpretation as some remain Christian, some not.)

    Then there are people who leave with great difficulty, because they have relatives who make it difficult. Or they have made it difficult by wanting to take allies with them, which to me, is pointless. Sometimes they're "made an example of" in their families, their friends abandon them, and they're scorned. It happens. Usually, if you have one of the difficult exits, you don't regret leaving, either. (Nothing like scorn to make you want back in?) If you're told that you can't really be part of the family anymore, and only shown love or affection if you do as they say and attend church -- that sort of love rings quite false. In short, it really hurts, but at least you know, and you have hopefully many years forward to look ahead. I met a woman once who grew up one of of those splits where half her siblings went on one side, the other half went on the other side. I am thinking it was the FALC/LLC split, and there were probably a dozen or so siblings. She ended up quite high up in higher education, a very bright, talented woman, one of the youngest in the clan, born shortly before that split and some of her siblings were out on their own and married. Yet her family was close, intact. I asked her how her family remained close. It was the example that her parents made. He was stern about it. "No matter where you go to church on Sunday," he declared, "we're still ONE FAMILY."

    The best example I have seen of this, was when one young woman left, her aunt said, "She says she doesn't believe the way we do...she has to be true to herself, leave her alone, so we can keep her in the family."

    Shame, shame, shame on family who operate as anything less. Shame!

    As far as your friends go, some will stick around, some won't. Some IALC are loathe to be friends with outsiders, and I've heard my family chatting about how much they hated talking to neighbors or having outsiders try to befriend them. It will be a surprise to you anyway, who sticks with you, and who doesn't. When I left, I made sure that I told people my reasons, that I was indeed conflicted about my decision, that I was sad over it, and it was not made lightly. I think it's silly, however, to try to talk someone who is happy with the church to leave it - and so it was important for me to model mutual respect. --Optimistinen

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  17. I totally agree, Optimistinen, regarding not trying to talk people out of leaving and modeling mutual respect. I think that was the key to my leaving in peace. And so lucky for me that my family wants to remain family and hasn't in any way made me feel like an outsider. Really, I think it's made me love them even more!

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