Crushing the Christian life(confessions of a recovering ex-pastor's wife)

Rest and Relaxation with No Expectations
I was really doing great, crushing the so-called Christian life.  
Working it from every angle as if it was some beauty contest to win.  I didn't know it.  I couldn't see how deeply the river of earning approval ran in my heart.  I thought I was living in grace, I taught all about grace but I was living in an never ending race of good works.  Doing everything I could to prove that I was worthy.  Teaching and preaching was something I loved but it was tainted with this need to prove myself.

The gifts were real, I am gifted to teach, it is my sweet spot but slowly it became my grace killer.  
This is how it goes...the slippery slope from gifting and grace to religion and rules.
I had to win the approval of others, my preaching had to be the best.  If I am being honest it was not just so that the message would be powerful but rather so that I could prove I was worthy.  Grace was edged out by my old approval junkie heart.  It was disguised well, in  a very spiritual covering but below the surface my issues where lurking.  Ministry can do that, cover your issues in spiritual clothes.  It is a major pitfall for people in ministry, a hiding place for approval junkies, a sweet spot for narcissists, an all consuming job, a rule based prison, a pharisee creating whirlwind, not for everyone but it was for me.  I had won the prize.  This approval junkie had married a narcissist, become a work-a-holic, living in a rule based prison and looking quite a bit like a Pharisee.

It was like stepping from one unhealthy version of myself  into a duplicate unhealthy Christian version of myself.  There was no intent for this to happen obviously.  Rather a slow steady shift away from the goodness of God to the goodness of works.  Again, let me say not everyone in ministry struggles this way.   Many people in ministry started out healthy and whole and are careful to stay that way.  I thought I was, but looking back I see that I still had so far to go.  Pride is like that.  Convinces you that you are all better because you are doing good things, then slips deception on you and off you go.  Same issues, different circumstances.  I deceived myself into believing I could finally know love by working as hard as possible at it.   Turns out that is  not love at all, it is deception. 

So crushing the Christian life turned out to be crushing to my soul.  
I am not trying to be dramatic but imagine a new believer with approval issues groomed by her new husband who is also her pastor to believe that she should follow all the rules, raise her family as the Bible teaches, help build the kingdom, honor her husband, ignore her intuition, be at everything, preach, teach, be beautiful, dress correctly, behave correctly, make everyone like you, etc. etc.  In theory that doesn't sound that terrible but for me it was like drinking poison.   The more I drank, the sicker I got.  My whirlwind pace was masked as spirituality, when truly I just had no boundaries.  The behind the scenes secrets of ministry, the need for approval and the gnawing intuition of knowing things just weren't right drove me at times to madness and other times it drove me to the feet of the creator.  Unfortunately my skewed version of Christianity made it only possible for me to see the feet of Jesus.  It was there that I would experience His love but rarely could I climb into His lap, I could only bring myself to grovel at His feet.  My doubts and failures made it impossible to believe in His unfailing love.  I knew the theology of grace with certainty in my brain, preached it with conviction but I couldn't seem live in it for very long.  If that makes any sense?

I was ruthless with myself and my Christianity.  
I had a broken belief system that God was a hard task master and if I did everything right He would love me and my life would be great.  Therefore, I hated myself when I failed to meet these standards.  Treating myself as a failure and repeating horrid sound tracks over and over in my head.  Brutally crucifying myself for my short comings, wildly defensive about my weaknesses and struggling and striving all the while to be a good Christian.  Strict standards can make us unbearable towards others sins.  If I have to work this hard, you have to work this hard too.  The road to being religious is paved with good intentions and bad belief systems.

Please hear me, there were great highs, wonderful moments, God inspired experiences, exceptional people but I was still the little girl trying to please everyone and make everyone happy.  The fact that it was tainted with my sinful heart issues doesn't mean that it doesn't count.  I grew, I learned and I loved.  It just wasn't healthy for me.  I was in an endless cycle of trying desperately to hold onto everything, to be the best, all the while believing I was trusting and letting go.  While my then-husband was spinning plates as fast as he could trying to keep appearances up, I was working myself to the bone.  I was caught in a cycle of self hatred, doubt, fear, earning, striving and still failing.  Then the house of cards finally came crashing down, it was far worse than I had imagined.  I was never going to win, it had only been a matter of time before it unraveled.   It was exhausting and unnecessary.  Not to mention that winning isn't what God is after at all.

Life lived in the fish bowl is difficult for the healthy but for the broken it can be excruciating.
I will never know what the future would have been if I would have left the ministry and my then husband sooner.  I did the best I could with who I was at the time.  I know I cannot be the only pastor's wife that felt such pain, emptiness, fear and frustration.  The inability to please everyone,  to make a church successful, to be good enough in the endless spiritual comparathon is a trick to keep us from the fullness of life.  In the midst of the fishbowl you are trying so hard to find freedom, to be yourself but let's face it, you are still stuck in a fishbowl how much freedom can you really have?

When I walked away I took a few friendships, knowledge, experience and good memories but along the way I lost myself, a son and my family. 
This isn't what the Lord had asked of me.   I know there is fruit for all of us, I know my children reaped fruit and love from our experience but they also reaped pain.  Mind numbing betrayals that are hard to recover from.  It is the reality of living in a f*cked up world and trust me when I say, the church is just as f*cked up as the world.  It is a house for the broken that can often get so turned upside down that it becomes a weapon instead of an instrument of love.  We were just broken, every last one of us, just in different ways.   I have heard it said that you attract what you are.  Eventually there was no denying the unhealthiness of it all.  Thank God, it brought a necessary ending that hopefully freed us all to experience God in a different way, in deeper truth.  There is nothing I can do about the past but embrace it as part of the journey to bring me here, to this place of grace.  My heart has expanded during this season of revelation, of seeing things with new eyes. Perhaps every last ounce of pain is necessary for people like me to really change.

God didn't create me to strive and earn other people's approval or even His. 
 I was created to be true to how he designed me, not anyone Else's expectations.  He loves me, right now and right here in this very messy place of grace and relationship.  Not that I am done.  It is difficult of course even now not to want to be liked...who doesn't want to be liked?  I recognize it when it crosses over into determination, an unhealthy demanding desire within my soul.  "I will make you love me", was a mantra I have heard in my head over and over throughout my life time.  No longer.  I will make no one like or love me, they either do or they don't.  Period.  I will continue to grow and change but the essence of who I am will remain.

I am experiencing grace in new ways, authentic ways. 
Recognizing my worthiness based not on any of my works but on who He is.  I am a degenerate sinner.  My life is wildly imperfect and I am okay with that.  I am not crushing the Christian life, as a matter of fact I have kind of opted out of that life and now just live a spiritual life.   I have lost my drive to do anything other than love.  I am kind to myself, I work at loving and accepting my imperfect self, I have low expectations on myself and others, I sit in the place of grace and I rest. Did you know the only place the bible talks about striving is to rest?   I cannot earn anything because it is a free gift.  I suppose I could end up in the lesser positions of heaven if you subscribe to that theology, I don't.  My theology is so simple now, isn't that what Jesus exampled to us.  A very simple message of love.

Today I prefer to sit with the broken, speak of love and find rest in the gracious act of unraveling my messy heart.  
I used to think loving yourself was a sin, I now understand loving yourself is a spiritual act of redemption.  It is what empowers you to love others.  When you are kind to yourself you will be kind to others, when you don't judge yourself harshly, you won't judge others harshly.   I share my heart, love others and am constantly finding new paths into relationship with my creator.  In this place there are no rules only relationship.  Yes, I believe in the Bible but I also believe in the power of love to lead you.  It is a gentle unfolding, centering experience and I love it.  Sometimes I over think it, I begin to strive and then I am reminded that I get to choose and I choose rest, peace, love and acceptance.  I am not perfect, I mess up.  I see new things within me that are holding  me back and I keep striving for growth, for deeper spiritual understanding of my own heart. Everything else will fall in place, transition or stay the same.  Anyway it goes, I will be okay.
Set yourself free from striving. 
I hope you can hear my heart and understand that I write this because I want other people to find freedom from the constraints of what so easily entangles us.  Those things that can seem righteous and good on the surface but in reality are just spiritual window dressing allowing us to stay somewhat stuck in old patterns.    Let's learn to love ourselves, leave judgment behind, grow with open minds rather than stifling rules, live in relationship with our creator in whatever way is healthy and balanced for us.  Let's stop the spiritual comparathon, that is just pharisee behavior.  We can find our freedom, learn from our past while leaning towards the future with hope.  It is brighter than we can imagine when we step out from under the "heavy taskmaster" theology.  Thanks for reading sweet friends, may we all find our way daily towards more and more freedom and light.
We live in hope,


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