My daughter, Jillian, and me. I love her hands. They look like mine. A mother never lets go of her children's hands.
My parents took me to Sunday school, revivals, and holy-rolling church services from the time I was in diapers. I don't remember my first church experience. But I do recall when my parents began to attend a large church near our home. I was eight. A fountain loomed into the sky on the mammoth front lawn of the church. At night after a long, hot church service, a bunch of us knobby-kneed kids would play under the fountain's cool water spray that turned colors in the dark. Pink, blue, green, and finally we stood in awe as fake blood trickled down the illuminated white cross in its center. On the cross was the word "LIFE." It was exactly what that church took from us. Our lives.
We were taught to resist the devil so he would flee. Turn our backs on society, because society would send our souls to Hell. We were told to pray for those we admonished, because until they walked inside our sanctuary and received Jesus as their savior, they were all doomed. We were right, they were wrong. We were good, they were evil. We were the elect of God because we spoke in tongues, they would never make the rapture. We had come out from among them and lived where the healing water flowed.
We gave our last dime and saw the blessings of the Lord in everything. A sale on pantyhose, a bigger tax return than we expected, a great parking spot at the grocery store, a found five-dollar bill at the bottom of our purse. We worked out our salvation in fear and trembling and never, ever doubted the Bible, our salvation, and most of all, our pastor.
We testified to the godless, but never associated with them, unless they joined our church. Not another church. OUR church. And we never cast our pearls before the swine.
I grew up in doctrine and dogma, until one day after I turned seventeen and married my childhood sweetheart, my parents decided they'd had enough. They left the church for good.
But my mother never let go of my hand.
I was to shun my folks, "give 'em a good lettin' alone!" I knew my parents wished they had never stepped foot in that church, but it was too late for me. I was married to it. The relationship with my parents became strained.
I continued to attend what had become a megachurch, striving to please, wanting to be one of them, hoping for good things to happen, believing the blessings of the Lord were right around the corner. I was held over Hell on many occasions when they felt me pulling away. But I always came back, falling to my face at the altar. I had surrendered all. All to Jesus I surrendered, always hoping He would notice and reward me for it. My faith wavered, but I was proud. My husband was on the ministry team, my children were active in the children's church, and I never talked much about our church life to my mom. It was a sore spot.
But my mother continued to pray for me.
As my children grew, they were discouraged by the church to attend Friday night school or social functions. (Our big church service was on Friday nights.) The fear of God had been planted in them. One day, something magical happened. I saw in them what my mother had seen in me. Bondage. It grieved me. I began to pull away. Slowly. It took time, but I wanted to do it before my children became fully indoctrinated. Before I lost them, as my mother had lost me for a time. I wanted to give them a choice. Freedom. And that's when I realized ... I should have left that place long before I did.
The years following were a nightmare. For all of us. I kept waiting for the time I would drop dead and fall into Hell. But it never happened. And it took a long time to shake the fact that I could not convince my husband to compromise. He chose his God and his pastor over me. I had become a contaminant. He did not need to understand me, and there was no reason to try. I was not redeemable. I was, in fact, the dog who returned to its vomit. My fate was sealed. I was dead already.
It took years, but one day I woke up to find my hand had never slipped from God's hand. Through my mother, He had held on to me. I had clawed my way out of the darkness and into the light of God's grace.
Many churches do not hurt. Their members are free to experience life in and outside the church. The church family is an extension of their own. If you belong to that kind of church, consider yourself greatly blessed.
But if your spirit is grieved and hurting, something is wrong. When should you leave your church? I think inside you know the answer to that question. Look into your children's eyes and answer it for yourself. Then you'll know.
Blessings to you and yours.