Monday, May 08, 2006

What It's Like to Leave

Here is a really thoughtful exploration of what it's like to leave a sect, written by RhymingBlue and posted on the Yahoo site. I've added a footnote from my own experience. What would you add?
This message discusses the experience of growing up in an extremely religious, closed community and later leaving to join the outside world. I'll first discuss the Laestadian experience, and next draw attention to some resources from the experiences of two other groups. This is intended to describe the "typical" experience of those leaving, but since we know there is no such thing as one typical experience, please forgive me if my description doesn't match your experience.

Growing up in the Laestadian community, you feel a deep sense of belonging. There are strict rules, and these rules clearly delineate how you should live your life. You know what is good and what is bad and strive to make your life conform to the rules, at least publicly.

The outside world is filled with atheists and dead faith churches. These people are on a lower plane of value because they are not part of the community. They are going to hell. You feel as if the community is a refuge from a cold outside world, filled with ravening wolves. The people who make up the outside world are not diverse; instead they are an undistinguishable mass of people "in the world."

There are many community mechanisms to keep you in the group. The fear of those worldly wolves is drilled into your head from childhood. You fear losing your sense of community and belonging. You know that if you leave, you will be tarred as a rebellious sinner who wants to pursue money and pleasure instead of remain faithful to God.

Despite these incentives to remain, you decide to leave. Perhaps, the central tenets of the community no longer seem true. If the community is based on a lie, it becomes empty to you. Or maybe you are driven out from being constantly repressed in how you choose to dress. Regardless of why you leave, the outside world appears to be a place where you can best live as your true self. Upon leaving, you feel the sudden loss of community. As a typical Laestadian, the community was your world. You likely didn't take part in outside social groups such as sports or student groups, and your friends were all from the church. Now, the community is gone. In addition to losing the community, you lose the rules. No longer do you have a clear roadmap that tells you how to be holy and how to live your life. You must create this roadmap on your own. You often feel resentment at having missed out on the many things you learn others did in their childhoods. You are suddenly eighteen or more years behind in learning the rules of how to behave in the wider world. You may find another church to attend or perhaps you just swear off religion entirely.

On the positive side, you learn the world has some decent people, and is not made up entirely of ravening wolves, as you were taught. Nonetheless, the outside world often cannot understand your experience. Although they offer sympathy and express amazement when they hear your story, they cannot understand what you feel. Some even go so far as to question why you ever left, thinking you simply succumbed to outside peer pressure to conform and denied your unique cultural heritage.

Laestadians are not the only ones to go through the feelings of leaving. Another group to experience these feelings are people who left the strict, closed form of Judaism known as Hasidism. Like in the Laestadian community, there is a strong sense of community in the Hasid community, but there is also fighting for power, and factionalism. Elimelekh Kohn grew up in this community, and later left to enter a profession forbidden to him as a child.

Another person who left was Malkie Schwartz, whose experiences were included in the book Unchosen : The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels.  Realizing the difficulties people go through upon leaving the Hasidic community, Ms. Schwartz founded the group Footsteps to help others who had recently left. A similar group, Xlubi, can be found here.

The last group I'd like to discuss is the Amish. When the Amish leave, they often experience social ostracism as bad or even worse than what some former Laestadians experience. Some make the most of leaving and take the good while leaving the bad. Others try to help those left behind in abusive situations or try to help those now leaving.

From the experiences of the former Hasid and Amish, former Laestadians can realize their experiences are not unique and are often easier than the experiences of many from other similar groups. Former Laestadians are usually able to earn a living in the wider world and can eventually re-define themselves as successful and free, even if worldly.

I would add that to the positive side:

You learn that while others may not have had identical experiences, many people (especially racial and sexual minorities) have also experienced being a "stranger in a strange land." You find that your understanding and empathy for the dispossessed makes you a trusted friend and natural advocate. Having found the courage to leave, very little can frighten you, least of all the social opprobrium of others. You are confident and able to connect easily with people regardless of socio-economic barriers. You have a high regard for reason, honesty, compassion, and inclusion, and attempt to model these values in your relationships. Your intellectual and spiritual curiosity never allows you to stagnate. You find life rich and exciting. While sometimes you are nostalgic for the close-knit community you left, you find incomparable satisfaction in being authentic, and in being a citizen of the world.

43 comments:

  1. Your description of how you feel about leaving the OALC is beautiful! I wish the people in the Laestadian sects (or any sect, such as the Amish or Hasid, for that matter) would begin to immerse themselves in this world and enjoy art, music, politics, dancing, makeup, etc. Everybody should live their life to the fullest and contribute all of their talents to this world. I know there are many intelligent and talented people in the Laestadian sects, so it would be for the good of everyone if these people would start using their talents!

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  2. Wow. Awestruck at the truly thoughtful way of putting to words many thoughts that I have had and really hadn't explored enough to put to words. Very much my experience.

    Just wondering if there are other gays that are currently in any of the Laestadian sects or have left. I would love to have some discussion on that.

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  3. We all either are born into or join groups and what we get from them is a sense of belonging and comfort as we are amongst familiar people who understand and know us. Leaving creates anxiety because we by definition give up this comfort and leaving a religion is doubly scarey because we give up the benefits (eternal salvation) as well. It is not surprising that this is a difficult transition to make. All of this has nothing to do with the group and everything to do with the individual. I encourage people to focus in on who is choosing to either leave or stay. We all want to be right, including those we leave behind, and it is very human to make each other wrong by denigrating doctrine etc. This must be resisted because it serves no real purpose other than making each other out to be evil.

    On another vein, the OALC and its belief system institutionally serves the grieving very well as it portrays tragedy as "God's Will" and gives ultimately believable assurances that all will be well. I for one believe that this is far more comforting than having to deal with the state and lawyers and the like.

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  4. On Leaving..."The Church!"
    Leaving for me was to find that I could belong. Remember that there are those amoung the church group that do not always fit. For me, my father did not attend "The church!" So, my siblings and I was outsiders.
    We tried to belong, but could not.

    Although, leaving still was hard. As Free said, the rules are no longer there. You are uncomfortable and insecure because you have 18 years of never learning how to pursue hobbies, other than those approved by the church. People wonder how you can be this old and never have gone to a movie or danced or applied mascara! It is strange, but wonderful at the same time. For many years, I hoped that my decision was right for me.

    At this time,I want to be able to debate the gospel with my family members and not feel uncomfortable about my beliefs. I want to tell the girls that they may dream big dreams and go after them. I want to yell that Jesus saved them and me. We don't need to keep crucifying him by not living our lives to the fullest.

    He saved us!

    Thanks for your site!

    God's Peace!

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  5. LLLreader: To Stylux I have to say it is very comforting to be in a group when facing grief. I think the OALC members, especially the older women, are wonderful at offering support. Although, it's not limited to just that church. I do have to disagree with your use of the word "evil". I have never heard anyone on this site, especially Freeda and the other regular writers, refer to the OALC, or it's members, as evil. I don't believe the teachings of that church, but that doesn't make me, OR THEM evil--at least certainly not in my way of thinking.

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  6. LLLreader: Boy Howdy--that there Rhymingblue feller sure can talk purty. Kidding aside, that was one of the best posts that has appeared on this site. Thanks to the writer.

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  7. I can't seem to get to the Xlll blog. Can you help out?

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  8. Good point Free... I will clarify... Whenever we leave a religion we give up the benefits that are promised to us by that particular doctrine. Most of us (after some difficulty in my case) will replace it with benefits from some other belief system or give up the benefit entirely. (usually unlikely)

    As for debate... In my judgment, good debate springs from the supposition that both sides want the best for themselves as well as their community, whatever that my be. It has been my experience that when we start with faith we are better off acknowledging that so as not to expend energy on the undebatable. So I am present discussing truth, justice, democracy, childcare and cigars, but not doctrine. Unless, of course, we are talking about burgundy.

    To anonymous... There are a number of ways to label people evil and I must admit I did not hear this word much in my experience. I use it in the general sense of referring to basic differences. Wearing a tie is a sin and sin is evil... I'll let you fill in the blanks.

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  9. It's also difficult to stay but be opposed to some the doctine as presented. Fortunately, as an "independent" or Pollarite, I don't have as many restrictions as an OALC member, and that helps. That I never liked drinking the few times I tried it also helps and that I am really too awkward to dance well even if I enjoyed it. I've argued about the exclusivity point with a chosen few and they seemed genuinely scared for me that I'm not willing to accept that notion hook, line and sinker. I've also declared my allegiance to the church and that I intend to keep going despite all of it. I considered the Quaker faith at some point, but I'd be giving up so much to leave and I enjoy the worship style as its presented to me at the church. I don't believe in judging other religions as God is the ultimate judge. I'm sitting here trying to keep my own little boat afloat and don't have the energy for it. What's really following the doctrine seems largely up to interpretation by the various Laestadian sects. It's sad they've all split hairs to the degree that our community is so divided. One poster so eloquently put recently that in meeting members of other LLL sects their surprising hostility toward the others. I think its very, very sad. I also pondered a point Free put so aptly way back that she no longer thinks its necessary to have the "right" thoughts, a mindset she learned through her days with the OALC. I just pray every day that God keeps me as His child. I struggle with sin like everyone else, and I have to remind myself it may be the invisible sins that keep myself more apart from His spirit than the others--gossip, judging, and not following the golden rule. Though others I know seem to be more concerned with my more visible sins of which I cannot elaborate here without risk of identifying myself. I still love the church and recognize there are no religious systems without very human failings. It's in Christ's blood we can aspire, one day, for perfection, and that can only be achieved by Faith alone through His amazing grace.

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  10. Free the females!

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  11. I'm the previous poster, and my feelings are hurt by that last comment.

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  12. Anonymous...

    I tend to look at these things in an evolutionary or sociological way. This serves the purpose of keeping the issues "believe it or not" less serious. Religions, of course, start small, attract a few adherents who go on to appeal to more and more and then start raising their children and their children's children in the doctrine. As they grow very large they begin to "water down" as it were the doctrine to appeal to a more mainstream audience. This change necessitates spin-off groups who try to remain faithful to the original thought. All of this is a manifestation of the differences in human nature. Rodney Stark describes this process quite well in his writings... The Rise of Christianity and The Rise of Mormonism to name a couple. This process has been observable in our lifetime in the OALC when you examine the splinter groups... the early ones in Calumet and the more recent ones in Minneapolis (the latter to some degree over musical instruments).

    I have found the doctrine of living in simplicity to be an attractive one in the OALC. Although I partake of certain pleasures like anyone else I have been less tempted perhaps by others due to my lack of interest in them. I agree with your point here. What fascinates me about this doctrine is Luther’s position on asceticism. When he espoused his now famous "salvation through grace" concept he made it a point to emphasize the uselessness of living a cloistered life. Now, this was coming from a former Augustinian monk. In other words, we cannot and do not earn our way to heaven with simple living... no matter the purpose.(LLL was a more devout Lutheran than Luther.) Leo Tolstoy in his short story, Father Sergius, has an interesting take on this issue.

    All this putting the church into historical perspective has made it easier for me to cope with the leaving. I might add that the exclusivity issue, in my view, is quite normal and expected of faiths, companies, groups and even governments in general. The local gardening club does the same thing when it tries to get you to come to meetings by offering a tip on how to grow great petunias. I realize that more is at stake in the former than the latter but after all... My begonias are better than yours.

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  13. Exclusion as a church doctrine is not acceptable, nor matter what the church.

    It is not the same a garden club.
    A garden club will invite you in to share their secret. The Old A's will not.

    They will share their private greeting with each other (Christians only-this means only those who belong to their church not those who believe in Christ). This greeting is "God's Peace!" This greeting will not be shared with you, if you do not attend their church.
    They will say it to all of the church members present in the room, but not to you if you are among them in the same room.

    I agree that many groups exclude. However, God's word was not meant to be private or hidden or shared only with a chosen few. Nor was His Peace!

    Exclusion was one of the reasons why I left.

    God's Peace!

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  14. Hello, this is anon 11:51. Apparently my "Free the females!" comment offended someone, so I will expound on my comment. I believe it is good for the state of this world that females in all societies and cultures be free of any social or legal restrictions, that is, females should enjoy the same freedoms as males.

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  15. Dear any one who is an "outsider",

    I know to well how it feels to be "the outsider" the one who is "condemned to hell"!

    I was born an outsider, my mother was actually part of the "church".
    There were so many years I tried to take part of there world, a part of me just wanted to belong, to be part of the community my family was in, imagine being the one out of 120 kids who gets the special treatment, excluded from church camps, family activities, weddings, the greeting (gods peace). I was known through out there church as the unbeliever, but that was not my choice!

    A few years back we had a family reunion I was able to go to, of course I was 18 at the time grown up learning about make up having piercing, tattoos, and having my freedoms of discovering my dreams and pursuing them, Not one cousin my age said Hi to me they would not even acknowledge my existence. It hurt to have one of my small cousins say " Gods Peace" to me and my aunt, his mother pull him aside in front of me and tell him what he did wrong (my name to many of my cousins is the unbeliever).

    What did I do to deserve to be treated so poorly, all I wanted was to belong, to have a family, But it hurt I was not wanted, I'm the talk of my family, it is a surprise to them that I have morals, and that I’m not pregnant out of wedlock and that I’m not addicted to drugs.

    All I want every believer to know, I'm a person to, we all are, Everyone who has been disowned from there family's cause they have dreams, they don't belong, or just because they found love away from there upbringing, WE ARE PEOPLE WHO DON'T JUDGE OTHERS, WE ALL HAVE TO FIND OUR OWN WAY TO FIND PEACE IN OUR NEW WORLDS!! SO DON'T JUDGE US. DON’T TREAT US LIKE DIRT, WE ARE PEOPLE, WE DO HAVE FEELINGS!

    All I ever wanted was to belong to a family!

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  16. Bless you and peace be with you, anonymous. You are not alone, and you have found a community of friends who care. Many of us have experienced shunning but you certainly were handed a boatload, weren't you? Just remember that there is no burden too heavy to hand over to the Lord for help.

    Please join in our discussions. You are welcome here, and you will be in our prayers.

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  17. Learn about the religion fully before you start bashing it! Sounds like you all are full of hate!

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    1. My goodness, simmer down, that is their experience.

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  18. This blog was started by someone who was a part of the church and chose to leave. Hello. Most people who post here regularly have done the same thing.

    I don't know how much more you think people should have to know before they can know it "fully".

    But you know what? That's okay. You get to think what you want to think, and we will continue to pursue healing and truth without your approval. It's just fine. I probably thought the same way before I opened my eyes to see the truth.

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  19. To the anon who makes totally unwarranted assumptions and accusations about who is "full of hate."

    Way to make a generalization about "all of us" without bothering to "learn fully" about us.

    I think that the folks posting about their experiences know plenty about the religion in question. Know way more about it than we care to, for that matter.

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  20. Why waste months and years talking about something you no longer believe in? Just let it go and get on with the rest of your life.

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  21. Personally I don't believe that it's a waste to examine the things I was taught -- both to see how they affected me as I grew up, and to see how they can still affect me today.

    But if you're not interested, why waste your time reading it? Just let it go and move on to some other website. Peace out.

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  22. To the creator of this website,
    I realise that you left the church, and from the looks of it, you left with many hard feelings and disagreements. I personally cannot change that. What I would like to know is why you took a website name that is almost identical to a Laestadian church's? Do you want people to be turned away before they get the chance to learn about our religion?

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  23. A comment on a comment (this is from Outtathere(forgot my password) - LLLeader to Stylux - The OALC certainly DOES refer to outsiders as "evil" they call anyone who has left and shares their new freedom, "EVIL WORKERS" You are told to stay away! I literally had a friend (when I was still at the OALC) tell me point blank to "stay away from Marion Halberg, she is an evil worker and if you ever hint that you have doubts, she'll get you!" I am serious - they said "she'll get you!" .

    I am so glad I left! My only regret is that I never got to know Marion.

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  24. I hope this is ok to leave a link to my new Blog Spot - I decided to put it here under what it's like to leave. I invite everyone to read and ask questions, and definitely leave comments. Thanks!

    http://bunsnofun.blogspot.com/

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  25. Ledastray,
    I'll pop in on your blog now and again. I'm posting this primarily because there's so much traffic going on in Free's forum at the moment that your post disappeared from the "recent comments" section already.

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  26. Thnak you for the very valuable text about leaving the pressing community. You may be interested in to read an experience of a Finnish youg lady how to leave Conservative Laestadian movement (in Finnish local Rauhanyhdistys community).

    http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2009/10/04/leaving-laestadianism/

    Best regards,
    Markus

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  27. I read through this blog when I was in the process of making my decision to leave. Now that I am gone I feel there is a side to the story of leaving that is slightly overlooked or at least not directly adressed.
    I am just hoping to open the doors to discussion on this and hopefully this will also help enlighten those still in the midst of the religion as to how drastically leaving affects us as well.
    In my jouney to freedom I have been extremely depressed and have developed anxiety to the point that my entire life is begining to suffer.
    I am curious how many others suffered from depression and any other effects of depression; self-harm, suicidal thoughts, anxiety,ect.

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  28. As A former member of the FIALC, I suffered horribly from anxiety. I was traumatized very early by the 'Rejoicing' that took place in the church. One time I remember a woman behind us flailing her arms and shaking our bench. Imagine as a 6 year old being so afraid and not having the words or ability to process what was going on around me.
    As a grown-up, I grew even more afraid. I would start to have a panic attack at the first sign of heightened energy by the minister of congregation. I once asked an older aunt why I could be suffering from these attacks and she tole me that 'Something wasn't right in my spiritual house' After suffering debilitating anxiety and depression for over 10 years, I was finally diagnosed with panic disorder and major depression. With the help of medication and therapy (after I left the church-as that was wordy and frowned upon) I finally found relief.
    I truly believe that the church has a fatalistic world view and that only exacerbates depression in people who are prone to it.
    Its been almost 11 years since I left and I still struggle with feeling like I am a broken and unfix-able person. More therapy is defiantly needed in my future.

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  29. Sorry for the spelling errors above

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  30. I was wondering if members of the OALC believe in birth control? I know that there is no sex before marriage but i am wondering any birth control during marriage?
    I would love to know anything! Thanks

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  31. I am curious as to why people who leave the OALC continue to reflect and talk about it for years on end yet people who leave other churchs don't seem to say much at all. As for the person who regretted not meeting Marion: don't take that regret to the grave or you may just see her again.

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  32. Former Jehovah's witnesses and Mormons also seem to have a need to discuss and reflect...

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  33. I've been reading about the Exclsuive Brethren and how similar they are to the OALC and the stricter LLL churches such as LLC and FALC.

    They take their shunning a step further, however. However, they seem to enjoy alcohol. Same issues with sexual molestation, unfortunately.

    Here's an interesting interview of a former Exclusive Brethren. Instead of toots, their casual nickname is PEEBs. http://ozsaintsforum.forumotion.com/biblical-chat-and-debate-f3/interview-with-an-ex-exclusive-brethren-t337.htm

    Seems like ex-Exclusive Brethren have a LOT to say on the Net and Facebook, too.

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  34. Not to make light of the decision to leave, but 8 years after leaving the FALC, I can say, "It gets better", to quote the words of a recent tolerance campaign. At first the repercussions of leaving will dominate your life. But after a while, you find new friends, a new church community, and even keep a few old friends. People give up on wooing you back to the fold and begin to accept. The old fears are a faint memory.

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  35. to previous commenters asking why they are still talking about it after they left.. people want to talk about it because its a big step they either went through or are going through. and it helps to talk about it! and it helps me! because i'm going through the same thing right now. i've made the decision to leave but haven't told my parents yet and i just found your blog which has really helped me a lot to know others understand exactly what i'm going though. so please, talk about it! your helping others.

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  36. i have made the decision to leave but have not yet told my parents. i need to tell them because they have been calling me about "worldy" things they heard i've been doing. i have'nt answered their phone calls or emails in a few days since they found out because i'm scared to tell them, i'm scared after i tell them i don't believe like they do that they will disown me! please help.. i need ideas of what to tell them! i have absolutely no idea what to say. i'm so glad i found this blog because i need to talk to people who have gone through what i'm going through! i feel so alone, all my friends (now most of my friends are all non-FALCers) sympathize but they don't understand exactly and i don't blame them. i don't have anyone else to talk to that has gone through the same thing!

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    1. as former llc member. Just tell them BE HONEST about your thoughts. As long as you don"t go "wild" they will come around.If you live in the Minneapolis area y0u can email me i will give you my ph# and we can talk.

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  37. Lost, please check out the "how to leave" wiki here: http://www.wikihow.com/Leave-the-Old-Apostolic-Lutheran-Church

    You might want to call your family and tell them you need some space to think about things and will not be able to discuss your views on the church for a while. Be firm but treat them with the respect you want for yourself.

    Every parent worries about their kid's safety. Yours may have some wild fears about "worldly" activities. Hopefully you can reassure them you are safe & sound capable of making good decisions about your life.

    I recommend keeping a journal and if you can afford it, seeing a therapist. Leaving is different for everyone. I hope you continue checking in here . . . let us know how it's going. We've been there!

    Free2bme

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  38. Ex FALC says to Lost,

    If you live in Minnesota, I would be happy to talk to you and listen to you and provide you support. Many of us have been in your situation and it's so hard to go through it when you have nobody to talk to that understands what you are dealing with. Respond again to this message and we will find a way to get in contact. So tough to leave but over time you will be so thankful you did.

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  39. The last part of this message was very comforting for me today. This is exactly what I look forward to now in my recently changed life.
    I spent time yesterday with the family (just announced last week that I'm leaving OALC) and had a very frank conversation with my lifelong best friend. She got married and moved several months ago. Was good to see her and hear (through her devastation) that she is here for me. My family will be too but are in a current state of shock and disbelief. It is comforting that I feel adjustments already in such a quick time period. During my 45 minute drive home, many thoughts ran through my head. At one point I had to ask myself, "If I were to ask my coworkers if they think I am going straight to hell, what would they say?" The answer is a resounding "NO!!! What are you talking about?!" This helps me feel grounded.
    Thanks for the comfort and support!
    -24

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  40. I am a little late here but I am seeking other people who have left the church. I joined about three years ago and dated my now husband for those three years before we got married last month. Now that I start to think of having a family and raising kids, I want nothing to do with the church and their beliefs. I've expressed these things to my husband who still feels that he wants to go to church. I know he doesn't want to go for the beliefs but more for the people in the community/church and I'm not sure how to go about leaving.

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  41. I left just under a year ago, which seems, relatively (when reading others' stories), a short amount of time. If he wants to continue to attend the church to appease his family, this will only make him hurt inside, because he'll be two different people. It's not easy leaving, and I know that personally, I have a lot of healing to go through, but I hope that I can look back one day and stand in awe of my bravery and trust in myself and God. I couldn't imagine bringing up children in that church and having to tell them that "our church is the only right one."...that would tear me up inside. Honestly, I don't think there is one right way to leave; just make sure that when you're explaining it to people, be honest about how you feel; they can't tell you that your feelings are invalid! Your relationship with the community of the church will most likely suffer, and the loss of friends and relatives can be painful. But in time, it will all work out! And no, you are not going to hell. I promise.

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