Messy Faith,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings

Grace for the angry recovering legalist: this is where the healing begins

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In 2013, I spent 2 1/2 months pouring my hurt and angry heart out on screen, bleeding through the painful 7-year history spanning from the time I left for college at the age of 18 until the time I came to leave behind legalism at the age of 25.

I look back on that 26-year-old me as someone who had a lot of crap figured out. That me, just like 18-year-old me, had a lot of answers. Quite sure of myself, I knew what was wrong with legalism and why it had to be rejected.

The thing of it is, though, that dismantling an entire faith system that was built over the course of 18 years is not without fallout.

It’s especially difficult to wade through when you are going through all of that while going through dark days of personal stress.

In 2013 and 2014, was managing high levels of fatigue and anxiety, a husband who was going through his darkest days (pre-anxiety disorder diagnosis, medication management, and therapy treatment), and a son who was at the cusp of bringing me to the utter end of myself and everything I thought I ever knew about parenting.

I wrote my series on legalism from the “comfort” of our 850 square foot apartment while my pre-ADHD-diagnosis-almost-3-year-old bounced off the walls (quite literally) while watching Day of the Diesels for the quadrillion and ninety-ninth time. I’d spend my afternoons writing and then start crisis-cleaning around 4PM, so that when my angry-at-the-world husband who had been yelled at by customers at his temp job all day would be able to experience a relatively peaceful evening. Our marriage was struggling. Our income was meager, having been cut by more than 50% when my husband transitioned out of the Army. Our apartment was small, way too small, for our family and the big weights we were carrying.

We had just gone through a major transition in leaving behind Army life. I was grieving that loss and angry with the Army for the abuse my husband endured in the military (the effects of which my family will have to live with for the rest of our lives).

Parenting brought its own hard questions and its own grief. This grief has lingered and continues to pop up in fresh ways, as I continue to struggle to accept my special needs child for who he is, not for who he used to be or who I thought he would be.

Other things about those two years were really hard. Several relationships with my extended family were strained at best, no thanks to my blog series about legalism. Things at home were a personal kind of hell. We were new enough at our church that, while we had acquaintances we were hoping would turn into really good friends, there weren’t really a lot of people in our life that we could pour out are hearts to. I think that when we tried, people really didn’t know what to do or say.

I was in a really broken place.

The TL;DR (too long didn’t read) version of it all is this: 2013 and 2014 were probably the hardest years of my life. Having my faith in a messy place didn’t make it any easier. Nor did the real-life struggles I was going through make it easier to sort through my faith baggage. 

Why recovering legalists are really angry sometimes

Whether you hold to the “five stages of grief” or the “seven stages of grief” models, it’s undeniable that one aspect of grief is anger. Anger is something that every loss will produce.

When I let go of an entire belief system like the legalistic strain of fundamentalism that I left, it was a loss. A huge loss. It was uncomfortable. It was scary. It was hard. And I was angry.

The only people who really “get” this are people who have gone through it. It is nigh impossible to put into words.

I was angry at my family. Angry at pastors and evangelists who yelled at me while screaming, sweating, and thumping their Bibles. Angry at the authors of the books I read that kept me trapped in such a toxic system. Angry at the injustices that still exist within fundamentalism that continue to hurt young people growing up there. Angry at God for not rescuing me sooner. Angry at him for allowing life to be so darn hard when I was desperately trying to hold on to faith.

Angry because I felt like I had been through (and was still going through) something really painful; and no one really understood or cared why it was such a big deal to me or why it hurt so bad.

Angry because some even told me that it was pretty much all my own fault. I took “legalism” to places it was never intended to go. The problem wasn’t with legalism, the problem was with me.

So, most of all, I was angry at myself. Angry for not seeing it all earlier. Angry for being duped. Angry for not setting boundaries. Angry for being taken advantage of. Angry for going above and beyond for people who didn’t really care about me. Angry for exhausting myself by trying to be the “good little Christian girl.”

In my free time (when I wasn’t binge-watching Revenge, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal), I was reading blogs and books written by those who came from a similar religious background and were on their own journeys out of fundamentalism. It was a rather eclectic collection, including Elizabeth Esther, Addie Zierman, Matthew Paul Turner, Vyckie Garrison, Samantha Field, Rachel Held Evans, Soulation, Stuff Fundies Like, Jim Palmer, Sarah Bessey, Rebekah Gilbert, Unfundamentalist Christians, and Recovering Grace. And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. For a time I participated in a Facebook group for ex-fundies. I read multiple memoirs of those who had left the movement, my favorites being Girl at the End of the World, When We Were on Fire, and I Fired God.

Surrounding myself with the voices of others who were going through similar faith struggles was good in that it helped me to realize I was not alone. It was not so good in that it kept a lot of the anger within me fueled and hot, and not all of these writers came to scriptural conclusions or lifestyles.

I’ve started this series on recovery here, with anger, because – for me – anger was an unavoidable, and yet really important part of the healing process.

Thankfully, I didn’t stay there – which is why I hope you will return to read the rest of this series.

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  • Beth Anne

    Oh Man Aprille that sounds rough! I haven’t read all those books but I have heard a lot about the struggle that Elizabeth Esther has gone through and others of who wrote some of the books and it’s just so scary the way sometimes you are almost brain washed. Praying for you and for continued healing.

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