Forgetting the things behind...(not easy)

Many of you know that I spent my life, until five years ago, in one church. My church friends were my extended family. Along with being taught some very different doctrines, which set us apart from the majority of other Christians, I remember hearing frequently (in church) that there was nowhere in the world we could go and find God, or the same depth of love and friendship, as we had "in the body." This phrase, "in the body," was never used as a description of all believers. It was the term we used to describe our specific group. And it excluded those who did not share our beliefs, those whom we viewed as not yet having the truths God had revealed to us. If someone was "in the body," they were of the same movement/group/beliefs -- originating from a man named William Sowders.

At one time, I thought that not only might I never be able to find God anywhere else, I believed He would probably be angry with me if I ever left this group to attend a church outside it. The terms that were used all my life to describe Christianity outside of our group were Babylon, false religion, the religious world. I had a fear of ever being a part of the beast in Revelation from a young age. I had a pretty steady diet of Revelation growing up.

I also believed I would probably never have truer friends than the ones I had in that church. We were not encouraged to have close friendships outside of our church group. Our lives revolved around the church. So, in a way, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy for most because we closed ourselves off from other people and associated primarily with each other, except when we were trying to bring someone in. When that was a possibility, much love and attention was lavished on the new person. But we did not reveal all of what we believed right away.

We actually withheld some of our doctrines very purposefully at first. This was not done necessarily with an intent to deceive. This was viewed as using wisdom. We truly believed that being a part of "the body" (as we knew it) was a privilege and the greatest opportunity available in the earth. If God brought someone in, He would show them the truths He had given us (in His time). We also knew that some of our beliefs were considered heretical by other Christians. So we didn't want to scare anyone away by overwhelming them with too much information before God had a chance to prepare their hearts. I remember conversations right up to the time I left about whether or not someone had told a new person what we believed, on this subject or that, yet. I didn't think a thing about this while I was there because it was so ordinary. Of course, I now have a much different outlook on it.

Leaving a group like this is no small event in your life. Ask anyone who has ever been a part of it and then left. Along with your previous beliefs, you leave behind some of the closest relationships you have ever had (or thought you had). It's hard to forsake one without forsaking the other. Even if some friendships survive, they are never the same. And if you speak openly about the past, as I have done, you become an enemy to some. Whether they express it openly or only behind closed doors, you know. And the reason you know is because you grew up there and were once of the same mind.

If you read my comments under the previous post, you know that a specific memory was triggered that day in regard to initially leaving. I continued to think about it for the rest of the day and I wished I had not even mentioned it on my blog. I so want to put all of this behind me. It's a weight. But it's just like the struggle with physical weight. You don't put on 100 pounds in a day or a month or even a year. And you can't expect to drop it all instantly. It's a process. And then even when you have lost it, you struggle to keep it off. My spiritual weight accumulated over 43 years. I've gotten rid of a lot of it, but some of it still fights to hang on. I know it can't stay without my cooperation. And I want to be more determined to get rid of it permanently.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. And all day long I thought about my blessings. I thought about how much I want to live in today and not in the past. I wish I never again needed to talk about my history or be affected by it. You can't wish away your memories. But I'm really going to work harder at putting them behind me.

On a much lighter note, my adorable and precious mother-in-law will be here today. She is staying until a week from Sunday and I am REALLY looking forward to spending time with her. She is an absolute doll and so much fun to be with. We are taking here to the Schermerhorn tonight to see Michael Franks. I have not been to the Schermerhorn yet, so I'm really excited. John got us a table in the front row! He always gets the best seats.

I don't know how much I will post on my blog while Marian is here. But I might have some pictures to share at some point. Monday is President's Day. So Danny, Rebecca, Joshua and Andrew are coming out and spending the night Sunday. Grandma Shari is very happy about that! And Poppy John says he is not going to the dealership until after lunch on Monday. Woo-Hoo! You'd have to know my husband's work ethic to appreciate what a big deal that is!


Janette said…
How does John manage to pull off the amazing seats you guys always get? I couldn't believe your seats at the Steely Dan concert. You could see and count Donald Fagan's nose hairs! LOL

Have a great time with your Mommy-In-Love. She IS soooo very precious. I love her to death!
Janette said…
Mommy-In-Love. I actually like that typo! :)
Shari said…
We had so much fun. I LOVE the Symphony! They did an arrangement of Love Me Tender that gave me goose bumps.

We have season tickets to the Broadway Series at TPAC (third row, center) and we love going to Broadway plays. But I told John I enjoyed the Symphony as much as that. So he is considering also buying a subscription to the Nashville Symphony (IF he can get the seats he wants)!!! I'm so excited! The Schermerhorn is beautiful. We ate dinner before the show at The Arpeggio. It was very good.

John has an account with Ticket Master (has for years) and gets notified of upcoming events ahead of the date they go on sale to the general public. It's some kind of pre-sale or something. However, he has many times paid E-Bay prices to get the seats he wants. He's a musician and a guitar player. He likes to be able to SEE their fingers and their "guitar work" as well as hear it. I am very spoiled to be his date! I have gotten to enjoy so many different kinds of artists because John's taste is so diverse. Michael Franks is a soft jazz singer/songwriter. I probably wouldn't even know his name if I weren't married to John.

We also see a lot of golden oldies from the seventies era. We've seen Crosby/Nash a couple of times. They are amazing! I appreciate their talent so much more now than I did when I was young. Plus, it is just so fun to see these older, gray haired guys still doing what they do and doing it WELL. David Crosby's voice is as clear as it ever was. Another concert that blew me away was The Moody Blues with The Nashville Symphony at TPAC a couple of years ago. But my two favorite concerts will probably always be The Eagles and Steely Dan.
Janette said…
Steely Dan was incredible! And I so enjoyed sitting up front with you for what little time I was allowed. :)

Did you guys see Gordon Lightfoot? That's a concert I regret missing...
Shari said…
No, that wasn't one John was all that interested in. I don't think he is a big fan of GL. We saw Todd Rundgren and The New Cars at The Wild Horse. That was really fun and the WH has great food, too. In case you ever go there, the grilled chicken sandwich was the best I've ever had. (I think I added avocado.)
DeeDee said…
You know what Shari? I don't see our past as "spiritual weight" in quite the same way. I get your point but I see it as the framework from which we will always see our spiritual (or should I say, religious) world.

Our past shaped our view points for so many years that as we start seeing things differently, we change for sure, but never will we lose our original frame of reference. It is how we were taught, how we believed, what was played out before us during our formative years. It is the very threads of our lives which created the fabric of which we are made.

We might dye it, we might wash it and bleach it, we might cut holes in it and patch it again with different fabrics, but that original fabric is still there. It's all a part of our journey.

Some of your patches are called "devil" "perfection" "grace" "The Gospel" "The Cross" "creation" "Communion" "John Howerton" "Murfreesboro" and so forth. What's under that "John" patch will never go away because that's a real part of your history. It just is. You wouldn't appreciate John so much if the original wasn't there too. Do you see what I mean? It's all good. Even the bad is made good. The buttons may go away but the fabric will remain.
Anonymous said…
Why is my post from Mom?
Shari said…
Dee Dee, first of all, I'm glad you cleared up who Mom was. Ha Ha. Since my mom has been gone for twenty years, it seemed a bit mysterious that someone would comment under "Mom."

I will have to think about your comments. My first reaction is that I can't see it that way at all. Maybe we are just using different terminology. But I can't view anything on that list as simply a patch. And I can't view false doctrine as anything but chains that once held me in spiritual bondage.

I do agree with the statement that even the bad is made good. But my definition of that is redemption.

I do believe that often the deepest joy is birthed out of suffering. And much of the oppression of my past gives me a more profound appreciation of my freedom (spiritual and natural). But the true Gospel has given me a whole new, transformed heart -- not a patch on the old one. And John is so much more than a patch on old wounds.

There may always be some scars from the past (spiritual and natural), but they are being healed -- not patched. I hope you understand why there is a huge difference between the two for me.
DeeDee said…
I'm afraid you missed my point. I wasn't placing a value on a "patch" nor did I mean to minimumize the value of redemption.

I was trying to say that what was originally there will always be there. It will always impact how we see the world. The chains may be gone, but the way we were raised will always be a frame of reference for us.

Every time I think of the old ways, I have a different reaction. Some times I shudder, sometimes I cringe, sometimes I want to beat myself up for being so blind, but, most of the time I feel so grateful that I'm overwheled with joy for what I've found when my new friends take what they have for granted just like a child who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. I feel sorry for THEM!
Shari said…
DeeDee, I think we all have different ways of looking at our past. I would not have used the same analogy you used, but that doesn't make it right or wrong. I understand what you're saying, even if I don't look at it in exactly the same way.

I don't want the way I was taught to be my frame of reference for anything spiritual. I guess that's why I consider those teachings baggage. I may have had a harder time than you in discarding them. (Maybe not.) Some of those teachings haunted me and caused a lot of anxiety and fear. They robbed me of peace, hope and joy in the Lord. I had a hard time believing the promises of God because of so many years of being told by men, "People who believe that are just looking for an easy way." Those teachings robbed me of salvation and the hope of ever seeing Jesus. As a young child, I did not believe I could ever go to heaven if I had to be perfect. I don't care that I didn't get to wear pants or go to movies or school dances. But it's tragic that I was robbed of the hope Christ died to give me. I don't want to embrace it as the fabric of who I am with some patches to cover the cut out pieces. I want to be ALL NEW FABRIC.

I want to so reject the things I was once taught so that they will not be a frame of reference except for the gratitude I feel for being set free. I will always remember and be thankful for what I've been delivered from. But I want to cast it off as a weight.

I do understand your point. I just don't relate to the analogy. I'm sorry!
Shari said…
PS I am not intending to make this a debate. You began your comment by saying you don't view your past as a spiritual weight as I do. I'm trying to convey WHY I DO. I'm very happy for you that you have not felt encumbered and weighted down by those former beliefs! Unfortunately, that was not the case for me.

Even when I was there, singing songs about going to heaven or "making it," I didn't believe it in my heart -- except possibly at an emotional high point during a church service. (You know the kind of service I'm referring to.) But my hope was gone again the next day.

I thank God that you have not felt weighted down by our past! But many of us have and some of us still do at times.
Janette said…
This is a really excellent discussion. And I think it is okay that everyone views the effects of their pasts and how it's formed and shaped their futures in different ways. Although we were all raised in the same church and under the same (false) doctrine, we all came from different families and points-of-reference in our home lives. Clearly, some people will be more profoundly impacted by those teaching than others because of extra reinforcement, or a lack of reinforcement at home. Along with our different personalities and tendencies, that's how I chalk up why some people leave and seem to be in a great deal more bondage than others.

This bondage affectes how we process our past and view our futures. I see both of your points and I think both are correct given your different roads to recovery.

From my viewpoint, my life is a tapestry that began the day I was born and will be completed the day I die. As much as I'd like to unweave and change the beginning of my tapestry, I can't. However, I can and have dramatically changed the landscape of that tapestry that is and has yet to be woven. I see my tapestry as very dark and difficult to make out with garbled figures from birth to 30. After 30, the treads start getting lighter and a clear picture is emerging until a burst of brilliant, beautiful colors explode into this incredibly clear and stunning picture, representing my salvation (for I don't believe I was ever saved until the true Gospel of Jesus and His completed work on the cross for my salvation was deeply rooted in my heart and replaced the old heretical doctrines).

So, see, I have a third (and very dramatic LOL) viewpoint to throw out there. I can't unring the bell of my past and it will always be a part of my tapestry but it will never, ever again affect the beautiful picture being woven from here on out. :)
Shari said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shari said…
I should always proofread before hitting publish. There were some major typos in this one!

It must be the "patch" part of the analogy that I had such a problem with. Because I agree that our lives are a tapestry and we cannot unweave any part of the past. But even though those memories ARE a frame of reference, they do not have to be THE frame of reference for how we look at our world -- spiritual or otherwise -- for the rest of our lives.

What I most strongly disagreed with was that finding the Gospel puts a patch on something that was false, any more than my wonderful marriage has put a patch over a broken one. Maybe I'm just reacting to a word. But calling the "Gospel" a patch or "John Howerton" a patch caused a negative emotional response for me.

Being taught that I had to be perfect and sinless in this life to please God and/or to receive the gift of eternal life has definitely been a weight my entire life. A HEAVY weight. I think I am completely free from that weight at this point. But there are other weights I can't say I have been completely delivered from yet.

Despite that fact, I've never asked God why I have to have this baggage and I don't remember ever feeling angry about how or where I grew up. I accept God's path for my life. I don't need to know the reason. I just know there IS one. I don't even wish I could change the past or unring the bell. I believe my struggles, all of them, were for the purpose of teaching me more about God and how to trust Him. I have no regrets other than the times I've failed God with my selfish choices. And those choices I grieve, even though I know I'm forgiven.

Danny and I have talked about this many times. I think some of us took the perfection message more deeply to heart than others may have. And for those of us who took it literally and seriously, constantly seeing our inadequacy and inability to measure up, it was debilitating. I know there are those who grew up under the same teaching who didn't really think about it as much or in the same way we did. I have been told by several people, when asked if they really believed they could be perfect, "I just don't remember thinking about it." Well, I ALWAYS remember thinking about it and apparently I passed that gene on to Danny.

I remember sitting in my Christian counselor's office one day with tears running down my cheeks because he said something about when I would one day be with the Lord and I said, "I have never believed I would go to heaven or see the Lord." I will never forget the look on his face. I don't think a Christian had ever said that to him.

I had to counsel with my current pastor about my inability to believe I would go to heaven when I died -- because of what I was taught all my life. I don't know how anyone could view that as NOT being a weight. I carried the weight of my own sin my whole life. And I struggled to stop carrying it and to believe that Jesus truly bore it (in its entirety) FOR ME on the cross. That weight did not fall off me in a moment. It's hard for me to fathom how it could for anyone, since it didn't happen that way for me. And that's why I consider it a weight.

As far as our home life, I don't remember a lot of perfection talk at home. What I got, I got from the hours I spent in church services (four times a week). My parents did not teach me to worship the pastor as God. My dad was one of the last to come to TN. He didn't have a problem with having his own opinion or voicing it. And my brothers have never felt as negatively affected by the teachings of CGT as I have. Since we grew up in the same home, I would have to surmise that it's our different temperaments and personalities in play. I have always been different in many ways from the rest of my family.

I remember having an intense fear of persecution growing up. It did not come from home. It came from things I heard preachers say over the pulpit (and maybe also having someone read Fox's Book of Martyrs to us as teenagers in our young people's service). I still have a fear of being deceived and "accidentally" being a part of the beast described in Revelation. While I believe God wants me to recognize the true from the false, I do not believe it is His will for me to have these deep fears. Fear is a weight. It may surprise you to hear me say that those fears are not all completely gone. I never realized how deeply rooted they were until I left and had to deal with them. One of the reasons I wanted to get married so young was because Bro. Mears had taught that the beginning of the last hour would probably be 1989. I remember counting the years and trying to figure out if I had a baby, would they have a chance to reach the age of accountability before the end. I didn't believe I would make it, but I of course hoped my child would. I was a young teenager when I was thinking about these things. My life turned out well. But not everyone's has. And all of our important life decisions were influenced by these warped beliefs. I can't minimize it or its impact on me. But if it has not had the same impact for you, I am thankful.

Sorry to be so lengthy. But this discussion really touched a nerve in me. I hope you can understand me a little better as a result of this thorough explanation of my "weight issues." I just took for granted that you (Dee Dee) completely understood my struggle because we've talked about all of this so many times.
Shari said…
When I said that my life has turned out well, I am talking about my life today. My early choices resulted in much agony for many years. But God used it all for my good. And He has redeemed my life in ways I never could have imagined possible.
Shari said…
I am in the middle of making dinner and I can't stop thinking about this discussion. Things keep coming to my mind. I have a tendency to want to over-explain myself. And that trait is being put on display right now. Ha! But I did want to add something to one thing I said.

When I talked about wanting to get married young, I am NOT saying that was the only reason I was in a hurry. The first time I asked my dad how old I had to be to date was about three. But I do remember feeling a sense of urgency that I did not have a lot of time to have what I considered a normal life of being married and being a mom. I remember Sis. Mears telling us that we should not be having kids because time was too short. I didn't wholeheartedly believe it, but I feared it might be true. And I do remember 1989 being talked about. Bro. Mears taught that Jesus would return for his bride (the ones who had reached perfection) in the middle of the last hour. (I didn't see myself in that special group so I thought this would be my end.) A spiritual hour was defined as a period of fifteen years. So Jesus would return seven and a half years into the last hour, beginning in 1989.

Obviously, those dates came and went. Bro. Mears is dead and I am approaching the half-century mark with two grandchildren.

Dee Dee, I know you felt this same sense of urgency because we've talked about how it shaped our priorities. Why go to college? Why plan for the future? Etc., etc.

I doubt this is preached in the same way these days. So younger people probably can't relate at all.
Anonymous said…
Oh my, all that you said, all the fear, all the weights and chains, I felt them all-while I was there! I so relate to what you have said, all of it. Oh yes, how I remember our many, many conversations about all of these things. I remember a time when I was saying it to you and you were defensive, not so much because you felt defensive of "the church" but because of your fear that I would be deceived. You were always so concerned about Janette and I. You never broke relationship with us even though we were in a different place and I'm sure we aggravated the snot out of you some times. You're one of those rare people who know how to be a true friend. How did you come by that quality anyways? Not many people have it.

Back to the subject at hand. It seems a little funny that you feel you may need to express to me the very fears, concerns, inconsistencies, inequities, chains and weights that effected you when those same things impacted me for almost 50 years! I was raised in that church from the age of 2! I remember the Foxes Book of Martyrs stories, the fear instilled in us kids by our Sunday School teacher who was obsessed with torture stories of the saints of old. I remember when you were young how afraid you were of being tortured like they were. I was never preoccupied with that, but my great fear was that I would not live long enough to have a family. I grieved and grieved over that. That's why I married so young and started my family right away.

I could never understand why others at CGT didn't take the inequities as seriously. So much just didn't make sense to me, but my friends just blew off the many things that tormented me. Their attitude, "Eh, I'm not sure I believe that." What? To me, what we were being taught was either right or wrong. Which one was it? And, if it was wrong, what else was wrong? I couldn't blow it off like they did. I took it all very seriously!

I don't know how to explain my disconnect from all that now. I no longer have any of those fears. Maybe because my heart was so gone from there long before my body left. Once my family was gone (which was a big anchor for anyone) it was just me and my salvation issues.

As the years past, I began to pray that God would release us from that place. I knew I would grieve the loss of my friends, but I so deeply desired the joy that was lacking from my salvation, that I was willing to lose it all to gain that joy. My departing was strictly a salvation issue. It was NEVER about being hurt, in spite of what was represented. It was a long road getting out of there, and the path wasn't as I had expected it to be, but once I learned the "Good News" of the Gospel, I KNEW it was true and I was filled with that joy I had so longer for. Every day it only gets better as I develop a deep and real relationship with Christ. The Gospel make sense now.

How we left, when we left, was in God's perfect plan for our family, so I could not begrudge one single day that we spent back there. Had I left any sooner, my family would have been shattered. God did for us what I could not do. This I know. So, I just have peace. I am finally at peace about my past journey, bad stuff and all.

I may be in an entirely different place if all my family were still back there, especially if they disapproved of my departure from "the Body." That may have kept my fear alive and well, but, the opposite was true for me. My family disapproved of us remaining there. That's one chain for me that was broken long before we left that you still have attached to you.

By the way, Janette. I love your tapestry metaphor. That was a much more eloquent way of putting what I was trying to say with my foolish "patch" analogy. How 'bout this one. Think of a "patch" as something Microsoft sends out to update and upgrade your Windows Operating system? Could that be another analogy? I'm just say'en- - - - (don't smack me Shari)
Shari said…
I'd never smack you! Thanks for your comments. All of my comments have been in an attempt to explain why my past has been a spiritual weight (and why I couldn't see the patch analogy - lol). I think you definitely understand.

Like you, most of that "stuff" is gone for me, no longer weighing me down. But it didn't go away as easily or as quickly in my case. And I still occasionally have the fear of being deceived or believing anything wrong. That one is deep, deep, deep rooted. Believing I will go to heaven has been a big challenge. I guess all of these things (in addition to things I haven't even touched on here) are why I feel such a burden for anyone who would be innocently "won" into this group and their teachings.

There are times I have a strong impression that God does not want me to "move on" and put all of this out of my mind for good. I don't know what His plan or purpose is in keeping it alive. But I do know that every time I make a decision to turn away and never look back, God seems to refresh my memory (like this discussion and all that it brought up for me). Others have described the same experience.
Janette said…
I think it might be because we all have a ministry. I never understood before that I'm a minister. I thought I had to be in the pulpit for that but that isn't true. Every one of us is to reach the world for Christ every single day. Some go to the far reaches and jungles of the earth, others go to inner-city areas, while others minister to the poor and homeless. I relate very well to the lost and broken people that have been damaged by false religious systems so clearly, that is my ministry. One day I'll also be able to minister to the physically ailing world with my medical training but for now, my burden is for those being deceived, controlled, manipulated and oppressed, all in the name of Christ.

I believe one way God redeems our past is to use it for good for the future for His glory. If God is going to redeem my past, He'll have to take those experiences to reach others. How can He if I refuse to look back and insist on "moving on" for my own comfort's sake? I can't and I won't, therefore, I never ask myself why I can't just "get over it" and move on with my life.
Janette said…
I felt left out so I added a picture. :)
Anonymous said…
The question about my past has haunted me since I left. I have wondered why God chose me to walk that path of false religion and abuse. At times I wished it could all be wiped away especially from my memory. Until Tim made me realize that its our life experiences that make us who we are. To hate my past would be to hate the person that I am today. Although I do not like where I came from and they do not receive any credit for the good that is found in me. Any good in me is due to Christ in me. God has certainly taken the bad and used it for good. A huge miracle is that we love and worship God. After all the crimes that were committed in his name. I have met so many people in our community that have been abused by religion and have completely turned away from God. The fact that we give God the glory for rescuing us is a testimony that can be used to help
others who have walked the same road and bare the same scars as us.

P.S. I love you all so much!
Shari, I love your blog-It is always food for thought.