Monday, January 12, 2009

Closets and Leaving

I have often wondered how it came to be that we could belong to something for 20 years and then one day in May determine that we were no longer going to be connected anymore. I know it has puzzled many of our friends and frankly has puzzled me even a bit.

I know to them it may seem that we left over the use of titles and the hierarchy that had been introduced into our group. True, titles were the thing that brought us to the point of leaving but we were left trying to explain to people why it was such a big deal. Why would this one thing cause us to leave our friends of 20 years? Why would we choose to walk away now? What is actually happening in a situation like ours to make someone decide to break at this particular point? It seemed so petty and unimportant. What's the deal with that.

I read another story the other day about a man who was involved in a similar church as ours. His account goes back from the late 1970's to the 80's. It is long, but to me it was riveting in the similarities that I see on our journeys. It was in his words that I found my explanation. (I have combed through the many pages that he wrote and cannot find the exact place where he says it but he said something that stopped me in my tracks and made everything in my head finally make sense to me.)

He said that upon his conversion and subsequent immersion into this group that he had his first serious question about what the group believed within just a few days. Instead of standing up and saying - "I don't understand this and probably don't agree with it," he just formed a closet - put the question/problem away into the closet and shut the door so as not to have to deal with it. Over the years in the group, whenever anyone was hurt by a leader, when any leader acted un-Christ-like or when something particularly goofy went on he just put it into the closet with the first situation. See, he had quickly learned that if you disagree with the leaders, if you questioned their actions or character, if you disagreed with their theology, you would be labeled as subservisive or unsubmitted or rebellious or unteachable. Your standing would go down and your loyalty would be questioned. You may get removed from a team or seperated out from your friends. Everyone "said" questions were welcomed but if you did not instantly revere the answer given, if you continued with your challenge, you would find out what was really true about questioning.

So the closet gets more and more full. You would shut these things away and by this very act you could go on as a true and loyal member. You looked, from the outside, like you were totally on board. You could pledge your allegiance along with the best of them. You could stand right along side the leaders and observe the worst of actions. You even participated at times. You were silent when you should speak up. You looked away when you should have brought something to the whole congregations' attention.

But then something happens. You finally reach the ONE question that HAS to be answered. You see an action that HAS to be challenged. You suffer an indignity that HAS to be addressed. Yes, you have only ONE issue on the table at this point. Here is what happens that made so much sense to me. Once you decide not to shove this issue into the closet, the door to this closet in you mind suddenly disappears. Out tumbles all the things that you chose not to look at or think about. Now you have to face everything. Now it is no longer about this one issue but suddenly the weight of all the issues, questions and hurts come tumbling together.

You may never bring up all the other issues. You may leave only addressing the latest one but the weight of them all is your final impetus to leave.

So why is this such an important revelation to me? I think the main reason is that it gives me a way to explain to someone how/why we left. Yes, it looks like we left over titles but if you would like I can unpack the rest of the closet and give you all the reasons. It also helps to offset the voices that say, "I can't believe you left over such an insignificant reason," or the voices that accuse me of being petty, little or bitter. In all it just helps me to process my life there.

It also is a warning to me not to build closets in other parts of my life dealing with my husband, children or friends. Closets are for clothes - not life.


Tracy Simmons said...

Barb, that is such a great picture of what happens. Thanks for taking the time to share it because it puts words to what many of us have walked through, whether over a church situation or something else. It really can be so hard to explain, though not any more!

Barb said...

Tracy, really good to hear from you! Hope you are doing well.

Yeah, this was so wonderful to see. It also made me look at other areas in my life and make sure I was not doing the same thing. I can see why for instance, one day a woman will walk away from a marriage on just a seemingly stupid small thing.

Mary said...

Thanks, Barb. This really does help to articulate why some people leave. If I bring up the other things in the closet relating to why we left, some say that I'm keeping an account of wrongs. I see their point, though keeping accounts is not my intent. It's what happens when we chose to ignore things. But it's also why I don't bring up a lot of the things in the closet to many other people.

Sometimes I thought I'd dealt with something by explaining it away or believing the answer I was given, but the other part of me (the part that never agreed in the first place) filed it away for another day. It has to get taken care of some day.

I'll head over to read that post.

Barb said...

Mary, tomorrow (or when I get to it) I'm going to address how keeping things in the closet was not like unforgiveness - which we are accused of when we talk about it. You are exactly right.

And plan on staying a while at the other site if you read the whole story. It is a very lengthy! :)

Jeff McQ said...

What an insightful analogy this is. Thanks for passing it along.

Although we didn't specifically leave our CLB over what was in the closet (we left to start a new church) the time we did leave, the closet itself was packed full and bulging--to the point that we were overwhelmed with relief when God released us to go. We were "good" members in the fact that we didn't leave because of what was in the closet; but that closet was definitely the reason we refused to accept "covering" from the pastor when we left. There was simply too much crap in that closet to carry along with us.

Katherine Gunn said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing this. It is a very good analogy. Although, if I could actually talk to the people in the church about the one thing that broke the door down, so to speak, I think they would not think it insignificant.... soon, I think, the secret will be made known... timing. *sigh*

Barb said...

Jeff, I always wanted to be the ones that left that way. We did not get the privilege!

Katherine, I'm not so sure I could have been quiet if it were like that.

Katherine Gunn said...

It wasn't easy, but God's grace is amazing. He has talked to my friend and I about trusting Him and His timing all along. Some things were done behind closed doors legally last year. And now... I think we may be allowed to finally speak... I actually posted a blog on that is under my real name a couple days ago... about the dangers of the 'covering' doctrine. Hmm... the initial response was a mild rebuke.... we'll see.

Katherine Gunn said...

By the way, Tracy, YES!! Good to hear from you. :-)

Scott said...

Thanks very much for passing this along, Barb. The metaphor will prove very useful for us and many others.

Joel B. said...

Hi... I agree with everyone, this is very insightful and I thank you for taking the time to post this in your own words. I stopped going to a church about a year and a half ago, not really because I'd been hurt by anyone personally, but simply due to a lot of little differences (and some big differences). The thing is, I discussed one or two of the differences with a couple of the pastors, and it really did seem sort of petty that I would be sensitive to these issues. But overall, there were all those things that I didn't mention, that, when added all together, really made my reasons valid (at least for me).

So anyway, although I've essentially settled all this within myself, I think it was still playing on me a bit, and your post has provided some relief. :)

searching said...

This analogy is exactly what happened with me. It is amazing to me how I let myself ignore so many things. It also amazes me how it seems that so many people who were in my same situation had things that bothered them or didn't seem right from the very beginning. I will let this be a lesson to me to listen to what I know is right early on in any situation.

Barb said...

Scott, you are so welcome
Joel B, when you pull these things out of the closet and look at them individually they do not all carry the same weight. Some do "seem" petty as you say. That is why sometimes it is so hard to convince yourself that it is really time to leave. Most times people just wait till a big blowup. I think that is why so many people assume that someone is unforgiving or bitter because the leaving happens after something big has happened.

Searching, One of the first things you learn is that you can't talk to anyone else about the stuff you are seeing. So many people have said the same things now that we are gone and free to talk. We had no idea that they had those things in their 'closets' too.

Erika said...

Barb, you've said it so well, and I will also check out the other blog you mentioned.

You talk about over-stuffed closets, I have been thinking of it more like the "straw that broke the camels back". No one else knew about the camel, much less the pile of straws, but when that final one was placed on top, the rest just came tumbling down. Yeah! it looks from the outside like our reasons for leaving were silly, petty, etc. And then when you try to explain all the real reasons, people think you're making it up, exaggerating, or over-sensitive. Good reasons to deal with things as they happen and not hide them in a closet or balance them on a camel!


Erika said...

BTW Barb, yes, this is my first posting on your blog. But I've been reading and enjoying it for almost a year now, and I emailed you last spring a couple of times but then "dropped the ball".

Another thought on this closet issues thing. Prior to leaving our CLB, we also went to former members/friends to find out why they had left years before. To our surprise and chagrin, their reasons were the same in principle, different only in detail. It was humbling to admit we had abandoned these friendships because we believed the vague but negatively biased explanations coming from leadership. We then tried to tell family still loyal to the 'church', that THEY only knew one-side of the story. The general response was that we should trust the covering of the leadership more than those rebels, and should ask the leadership about it becasue WE only heard one side of the story!!! So these 'faithful' keep you going round and round in circles while they (compelled by fear) hide in their carefully constructed fantasy world...much like we ourselves did for so long, until God, I believe, revealed that final unexpected straw which set the whole pile off balance for us!!

So I have to remind myself often that GOD opens minds, hearts and eyes, it is not my job to set the captives free. My job is to love them regardless and be there for them...even if they never get free!

I'm waiting, praying,