Religious obligation is the most heinous of bondages. While it purports to offer us a way of life, it actually strangles us with our own good intentions. Finding our way out of it is not an easy of quick process as this email attests. Julie has begun a different journey to encounter the love of God that her 52 years of faithful religious engagement did not provide. Like many, she’s partway into that process and as you’ll see feeling quite disoriented. Her old patterns no longer work and she isn’t yet comfortable seeing God’s work unfold.
Is it normal? Of course it is. When God begins our pharisectomy, it am be incredibly disorienting. It can feel like detoxing and in many ways it’s exactly that. Let’s see if we can help Julie sort some of this out:
My husband and I are coming out of the waves of religion. It has been going on in me for 13 years now. The blatant stuff is gone, I’m guessing it’s now down to the stuff stuck in the bowels of my mind. I used to pray that God would take His double-edge sword and cut down through the bones and the marrow to divide the soul from the Spirit. I think that’s what he is doing though it looks much different than I had imagined.
I too am a recovering Pharisee. I was really good at it. I was an ultimate performer and striver as I exerted my strong will to be the best of the best for 21 years. I grew up in the church, I heard all the stories on flannel graph, memorized the scriptures, learned the books of the Bible. I was studious to the point that I did 2 Beth Moore Bible studies at one for fear I would miss something. I was going to KNOW God.
I have been coming out of that for a few years now.. and I see so much wrong I believed. I now understand that I am crucified with Christ and that I no longer live. I have absolutely no desire to prove anything anymore. That has been stripped from me. I have no desire to perform or strive. I haven’t been in “church” for five years and I have no desire to go back and sit under sermons that try to mix the old with the new. I have a great deal of exposure into this new covenant living and am soaking it up. I now know it is all about Christ living in me and what Christ did and has done and will do through me. I know it is not my life but His in me interwoven together as one.
I want to believe I am currently in a transition phase… that the dark night is just before the dawn. I feel so very lost and uncertain. I have dropped everything I used to do—journaling, praying, reading the Bible, attending church, and writing (a great love of mine). In the midst of this I find myself feeling so very gutted to the point that it feels hard to know who I am. People talk about coming to grips with this amazing love of God. I have always known of God’s love. As a babe I heard the song, “Jesus loves me this I know”. As an adult I was told, “For God so loved the world that He gave His son.”
I KNOW God loves… but I’m not sure I have really encountered it. Before all these last few years of this hard part of the journey I would have told you I had experienced the love of God. Maybe I had brief encounters with it. But here in this gutted place I don’t feel it or know it like I once thought I did. I find myself wondering if all of my religious living numbed me to the experience of His great love. I grew up in church abd was there for 52 years. I did all the things I was supposed to do for the most part. I was a decent person who did the “work” of the church life. I never had a profound encounter with God. I played at the church game until one day in my early 20’s (after a relationship ended) I begged Him to love me. I needed Him in my life. I felt Him come. Immediately after I was swept up into a “discipleship” program that put me on the performance wheel. It’s where I stayed until the early 2000’s.
Sometimes I wish I had an encounter like a drug addict whom God rescued. Then I would have a profound encounter with love. Instead I was a Pharisee. It’s hard for a Pharisee to see that she is a wretch because she do so much right, so much good in the name of Christ. It’s hard to see an encounter with love. All I know is that something “feels” detached inside me. I can’t connect to the emotion of the love of cross and the resurrection, personally. I know the story, I believe it all. I know I received a new life and my sins were forgiven. I am thankful for what Christ did, but something is off in me. So much of the story of the cross I was told was about sin. Not much emphasis was given on love. Did performing and striving do this to me? Truth is it’s hard for me to SEE a rescue… after all I did SO much.. Am I making any sense? Is it hopeless for me? Have I ruined myself? I’m so very afraid.
But now at least I know that I cannot make it happen. I am at the mercy of God to reveal and change and awaken. I don’t know anyone I can talk to about this. I have no one that can encourage me or steer me or tell me truth. My husband sees me in a transition and that it is going to be good. I can’t see anything but void. I believe in Jesus. I believe in God. I believe He died on the cross and rose again. I hope that’s enough right now because it’s all I have. I’m angry at the realization that so much of what I was told has not been true. I’m struggling to know what is true.
You are a recovering Pharisee. Is this part of the journey? Is there a darkness before a dawn? Did you always know how loved you were? I was told by a man I trust that this performing can hide love. I’m quite scared that I am lost forever.
If I could say one word to you, Julie, it would be relax! Your mind is racing a hundred directions right now worried about outcomes you can’t possibly see at this point. I know it is scary. I know it is incredibly disorienting to move out of a religious framework and go on a better journey. All your perceptions are set on an old paradigm and as that shifts this kind of season is incredibly normal. Yes, people on that email list would easily relate to what you’re going through. Most of them have been or are going through it now. This is a journey and learning to perceive Father’s love in our hearts outside our religious securities takes some time. You’ve got to de-fox from all the illusions you’ve been taught to live by and your feelings will seem to betray you in this season. But they are not. You may not feel things the way you’re used to, but the hungers you’re experiencing will lead you into a far more spacious place. Father is at work here. Don’t worry about what isn’t yet. Embrace what is. Try not to look too far down the road, just rest as well as you are able in what you know to e true of the Father and his love for you. The truth has not changed. He’s leading you to a better place to not only see it, but to experience it.
Relax, my dear Sister! And yes, I know that is far easier said than done. But God is not in the frantic or the fears. That’s where religion kept us captive. You are now moving outside of them and how can that not be disorienting, confusing and even feeling like you’re in a void…
But you are not. What better place to be a than at the mercy of a Father who loves you more than any one on this planet every has or ever will?
Embrace the journey. Embrace the changes. Let fear and expectations drain away as God draws you closer to his heart. You’ll look back some day and understand this season so much better than you possibly can today. For now, just put all your eggs into HIS basket. “Father, let me know you as you really are today,” is a good prayer. Don’t worry too much at this point about understanding the past or trying to guess at the future. Just rest in whatever bit you see of him today and watch how this all unfolds to lead you into a place of greater freedom and security than you’ve ever known.