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I am pretty new on the site and I have shared a little about my myself and my story.  As part of my recovery, I have been journaling about my own experiences.  This is kind of long, but here goes.

 

I was born in 1960, in the small East Texas town of Overton, Texas, and into a culture of strict, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christianity.  The most popular religion of the area was Southern Baptist and there was some version of that type of church on every corner.  According to the church doctrine, I was born a sinner into a sinful world and without giving myself to a life of total service to God, I was doomed to burn in hell for eternity.  There was always the conflicting doctrine of God is love, but yet if I didn’t follow his rules, he would send me to hell forever. 

At five years old, I made the walk down the aisle during special revival meetings at New London Baptist Church, shook the preacher's hand, and said the "sinner's prayer," then was baptized in the church baptistery soon afterward. I was to repeat this same ritual at least a couple more times during my childhood because I didn't feel "saved" and wondered if maybe I had been too young for it to fully take.  The fear of going to hell was already a part of my young life.

My elementary school years seemed pretty normal for families in the Bible belt region in the 60's. Dad worked and mom stayed home to take care of us kids. We had two sets of grandparents in the same small town of New London, Texas. My brother and sister and I played outside when we weren't in school and we all went to church together on Sunday.  From the outside, it might look like a "Leave it to Beaver" family.

Life took a dramatic change when I was about 11. My dad was invited to a special church meeting about the book of Revelation and the end times at an Assembly of God church, so the whole family went. At the end of the service, Dad went forward in response to the altar call and "gave his life to the Lord." We immediately began attending the Assembly of God church.

The Assembly of God church services were different than we used to in the Baptist church. The music was boisterous and upbeat, whereas the Baptist church had been more reverent and structured. People clapped their hands, spoke in tongues, and prayed out loud all at the same time.  As kids, we thought it was much more entertaining.  The biggest doctrinal was difference was that we could lose our salvation if we sinned and neglected to ask forgiveness.  The fear of hell was a daily part of life.

When I was 12, my dad responded to God's call to preach the gospel. He sat me down along with my younger siblings and told us that since God had called him, He had called the entire family. He would need our cooperation to be successful as a preacher. He told us we could choose to be the happiest kids in town if we participated in this call, or we would be the most miserable kids in town if we chose to rebel against it. I don't think it was really a choice. As part of the talk, he gave us a list of all the things we could no longer do. There was a list of TV shows we could no longer watch, like The Love Boat. There was a special list for my sister and me. We weren't old enough yet for make-up, but that was on the list. We weren't allowed to wear shorts, even though we lived in a hot, humid climate. We couldn't go "mixed bathing", swimming where there were males present. We couldn't attend school social events, such as football games or school dances. No secular music, although the choices of acceptable church music were very limited. These things were "of the world" and we had to keep separate from them. Our basic role in the ministry was to be an example to other people of what good Christian children looked like. We had to be good rule followers and obedient to our parents. We had family prayer meetings every night where we all knelt around the living room furniture and prayed before going to bed. We had to stay there an acceptable length of time to prove our commitment.

Another difference in doctrine between the Baptist church and the Assemblies of God was the teaching of the gift of the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Immediately after joining the church, everyone in my family began seeking this experience, even my brother who was only 8.  We went to the altar at the end of every church service to be prayed for to receive the Holy Spirit.  We were taught speaking in tongues was our prayer language that only God understood.  It was one more way of giving up our will to God’s will. I cried and prayed for months until it finally happened.  I was then a part of God’s core group.

As I approached my teenage years, being separate from "the world" was difficult. I loved rock and disco music of the 70's, but since it was considered sinful and taboo, I looked for secret opportunities to listen to it. Of course, when I listened to it, guilt and shame came along with it. I wasn't allowed to participate in school activities, such as football games, school dances, or school trips. My school friends had parties outside of school and they often went to the lake on weekends. I wasn't allowed to go to these either and I felt separate and left out.

I loved music and as a young teenager, I couldn't wait to be in high school band. I played flute from 6th grade and excelled at it. I was allowed to be in band as long as there were no football games involved. When I was in 8th grade, the band was to play at the high school football game. I asked for permission to go and my dad gave me a huge guilt trip, but then let me make the decision. Of course, I chose to go in spite of the guilt. My first year of high school, my dad said I could be in band only if I didn't participate in football games. During the first few months of school, band is all about practicing and performing at football games. I was so disheartened, but I didn't think I could be a part of the band without being a part of marching band. I remember looking out the window of my home economics class and watching the band practice for parades, just aching to be a part of it. By my sophomore year, my dad decided to allow me to be in band as long as it didn't interfere with church.

Schools in Texas didn't normally have functions on most peoples' church days, but our church sometimes had special services that required attendance every night of the week. I remember one such meeting and true to his word, Dad required me to miss the football game to attend a Friday night "revival" service. He bragged with pride from the pulpit about how his daughter “chose God over the world".  I sat in church longing to be marching in my spot on the field, while feeling guilty because I didn’t want to put God first.  I participated in band my remaining years of high school and loved it. My parents never attended one event to watch me.

My junior and senior years of high school my dad pastored an Assembly of God church in the tiny East Texas town of Arp. I was allowed to be in band and go to football games as long as it didn't interfere with church meetings. Although I always felt different and separate, I did enjoy activities with my church youth group. I went to summer camp every summer, which was the highlight of my year. It was closed off from the rest of the world, so no sinners to worry about.  I even got to go swimming in the pool because boys and girls went separately. It was kind of like the perfect world to me. I even discovered "Christian rock music". It wasn't the same as secular music, but it was a good alternative with no guilt attached.

My childhood and teenage years were only about pleasing God, pleasing my parents, being a good Christian example to church people, and avoiding hell.  Any personal desires or needs were considered sinful.  In fact, just the idea of wanting anything for myself would seem completely foreign.  I was brought up to believe my purpose in life was to be a wife and a mother, therefore, the only reason to go to college would be to find a good Christian husband, preferably a minister.

Because I was never allowed to make choices, I was not equipped to make major life choices.  They were all filtered through the lens of continuing to be accepted by the church.  I got married three times, enduring some form of abuse towards me and my children with each marriage until I could no longer endure it, then living with the shame of divorce until I could jump into the next one.  As crazy as it sounds, it was all I knew.

At 43, in bad marriage number 3, I finally came to a breaking point.  I had been living the definition of insane – doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.  I felt so much shame, I wrote a letter to my parents to tell them I was getting divorced a third time because I couldn’t bear to tell them to their faces.  I was a worship leader in my church and although I feared losing my job, I asked for support from my pastor and his wife as I pursued divorce.  This resulted in me being called into a board meeting of six men and being interrogated while I sat in tears, spilling my guts.  I felt emotionally raped by these church leaders.  I was so hurt by this church I just couldn’t go back.  I was jobless and homeless.

Although this was a tremendously hurtful experience, it was the catalyst that got me out of this religious system of abuse. I am now free and living a happy life.  I have a wonderful husband who loves me unconditionally.  Through a couple of books I have recently read, I am fully understanding the trauma I have suffered.  I am still in the process of complete healing, but finding more peace every day. 

me and my sibs.jpg

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Such a clearly written piece mrspearl. I can’t help but wonder how your life would have unfolded if you had been raised with reasonsble explainations of who you are and why your here and reasonable explainations for what your world is and what affects the behaviors of yourself and other people and what might be reasonable goals to set in order to have a happy fulfilling life. In so many ways it seems incredible to believe that humanity has learned nothing in any of these areas over the last however many thousands of years that we would conclude that continually searching back over ancient texts to find specific detailed descriptions of exact behaviors to copy as perfectly as possible would be the wisest choice for all situations. Three failed marriages in a row seems like a reasonable outcome  from such an approach. Good for you for breaking the cycle and putting yourself in the position as a parent to give you children a truly reasonable chance to become the best humans that they can be. If I had to pick an age when the teachings of Christianity were the most difficult for me I would guess 4 years old. I suspect I was a child much like the 5 year old you described who thought deeply about the things they were told. Like the Bible teaching that there were people who would think they were saved but would discover too late that they were not and that many would want salvation but few would achieve it. Some would rise to meet Christ in the rapture and some would be left behind. Like your 5 year old self I responded to the call a number of times but I don’t believe the feeling of knowing I was saved ever lasted more than a few days. Besides the cruelty of subjecting thoughtful children to these horrific fears I wonder what if all that energy and interest in life had not been wasted on made up scary stories. Surely we would have entered young adulthood much better prepared for what we would actually find. Thanks for this contribution and the others you have been making here. 

 

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Thank you, Dan.  My youngest son was a young teenager when I left the church and he is now 29 with two small children, a 4 year old son and a 3 month old daughter.   He and my daughter-in-law are not raising my grandchildren in religion and I’m very happy about that.  I hate that it took so many years for me and such a hard road to finally get out of that system, but the contrast of finally being free of it is wonderful.  I’m in a place of hunger for knowledge than has always been taboo.  I’m just happy I’m not still living like that. In the middle of all the chaos, I did end up getting 2 degrees.  I was a dental hygienist for 16 years and now I’m in my 9th year of being a teacher.

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On 2/6/2019 at 8:53 AM, mrspearl said:

As part of the talk, he gave us a list of all the things we could no longer do. There was a list of TV shows we could no longer watch, like The Love Boat. There was a special list for my sister and me. We weren't old enough yet for make-up, but that was on the list. We weren't allowed to wear shorts, even though we lived in a hot, humid climate. We couldn't go "mixed bathing", swimming where there were males present. We couldn't attend school social events, such as football games or school dances. No secular music, although the choices of acceptable church music were very limited.

It's a pet peeve of mine the selfishness and hypocrisy of people who raise their kids this way - depriving them of ordinary everyday joys and relief - when they themselves never had to endure that level of asceticism as kids, because they conveniently got to choose the "true" faith as an adult after they "got it out of their system".

 

Thank you for sharing your story, @mrspearl! It really spoke to me. I think you have tremendous courage and strength of character to stand up to that! I'm honored to be part of a community with people like you :)

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3 hours ago, DestinyTurtle said:

t's a pet peeve of mine the selfishness and hypocrisy of people who raise their kids this way - depriving them of ordinary everyday joys and relief - when they themselves never had to endure that level of asceticism as kids, because they conveniently got to choose the "true" faith as an adult after they "got it out of their system".

 

Thanks for your kind words.  I just recently came to realize the narcissism of both of my parents.  They were, and still are, more concerned with how they were perceived by church people than even knowing their own children.  It’s a tragedy that they will never know who I really am because they are so into their religion.  Thankfully, I’m changing that pattern with my children and grandchildren.

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5 hours ago, mrspearl said:

 I just recently came to realize the narcissism of both of my parents.

You're welcome! You know it took me many years even after my deconversion to realize my parents were narcissists? I *knew* something was off about them but I didn't have the vocabulary, or I didn't allow myself to have the vocabulary... to describe them. They really effectively conditioned me to rationalize and defend their behavior, even after I learned to disagree with their beliefs. Anyways, once again, glad you're here :)

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Mrspearl, your story is inspiring. One thing I have seen that many of us here have in common is that, in some form or other, religion stole a significant part of our lives. In my case, like yours and so many others, it was my childhood. I'm so glad you made it out. Welcome to freedom. :)

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I can relate to this so much. Growing up in the church and even after leaving it I thought my experiences were novel, due to all the restrictions against associating with "the world" - no makeup, piercings, TV, only classical or church music, no extracurricular events, dancing, drinking, sports events and the list goes on. After joining ex-c it's been a relief to find other people who have also had these kinds of experiences, people who understand all the shaming and social/psychological consequences that they can result in.  The most damaging for me was the constant fear of hell if my sins weren't properly forgiven - this was something we were expected to ask for every day as well. I'm so glad you're finally free of all that and living the kind of life we all deserve.

There is also a separate thread on narcissistic christian parenting in the ex-c life section, if you are interested in reading it. I do think narcissistic traits really are one of the prime motivators for parents that reject their children when they leave the church.

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Thanks, Truthseeker,

 

It does help me to share my story and there's no other place where people would get it.  I will check out the narcissistic parent thread.  

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Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing. Welcome aboard!

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