2…Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.
4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.
5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.
I’ve been in a funk for the last few days. I was thinking it might be because my youngest daughter will soon be headed back to college. We’ve had such a great visit, but was there more to it than that?
I think I narrowed it down to an anniversary date – at this time 7 years ago, around our eldest daughter’s birthday. Hannah was just about to turn 21 years old and told me privately that in a few weeks she would be moving out. I was shocked and devastated. These were not the plans I (we) had envisioned for her.
After a few days of letting that news sink in, on Hannah’s 21st birthday, I took her out to get a coffee and parked the car in the parking lot of the hospital where she was born. I tried to connect with her and tell her I loved her, that 21 years ago, she was born in that building over there and I was the happiest mom in the world to welcome our first beautiful baby into our family – and on top of all that, she was a redhead. I put my order in early and God provided even that detail. I also told her that I was concerned about the path she was choosing by moving out on her own. I hoped she would change her mind and come to her senses.
She didn’t know why she was moving out, but she said she had to. We knew she was friends with a guy at college who was of questionable character and who was causing her to rethink Young Earth Creation. Was he sabotaging her faith? We deemed this guy to be an evil influence in her life and tried to control her contact with him. When she still connected with him at school, she became “rebellious” in our eyes and in our pastor’s eyes, and we judged she was going down the wrong path to spiritual destruction.
We asked our pastor for help in this situation. One day we planned a meeting at church, but it was a surprise meeting for Hannah. We knew she wouldn’t come if we told her about it ahead of time. She was forced into it and was met by our pastor and a number of people who confronted her about the sin in her life. I’m trying to think of what particular sin it was and the only thing I can think of right now was her connection with the guy at college. Can you imagine being forced into a meeting without having a choice and being confronted like that because of communicating with a guy who holds a different belief? Who does that?
Our pastor encouraged us to take away her cell phone (she was paying the contract), not allow her to go to college and keep her at home – isolate her. He wanted us to hold our 21-year old daughter (legal adult) hostage (he didn’t use that word) in our own home. He convinced us that she was in complete rebellion and must be under control. We took away her cell phone. I don’t think we went any further than that. I remember feeling torn inside, but I wasn’t sure why. Our pastor was so convincing that we had to be in control over her and force her to change her ways. My husband complied with our pastor and I supported silently, but was confused.
Hannah didn’t share much. I begged her to stay at home. I tried to figure out what was so wrong with her life at home, but she didn’t have many answers. I think those answers came later for her (and for me).
Hannah did move out on January 1 at the age of 21. I watched strangers, a Mormon lady and her boyfriend, take her belongings in a truck as she left her home and family. Moving out at 21 years old should not have been a big deal, but it was because we were bringing up our children in the Homeschool Movement culture where daughters stay at home until their dad hands them off to their future husbands. So because I was in this cultural mindset, it was devastating to me.
What was so bad at home that my precious daughter would leave the family who loved her and move into the home of a complete stranger she had found on Craigslist – and someone who certainly didn’t share her faith? What could cause my daughter to move 45 minutes away in a strange town, with no transportation, no real job lined up except for nanny jobs? What about school? What about health insurance? How would she get to the grocery store?
The following days and weeks were a daze for me. I was recovering from ACL surgery, I had six children at home to take care of, including a toddler. I couldn’t get the feeling away from me that all of my chicks were not in my nest. Every where I went, I had the constant nagging feeling: one chick was missing and I had to remind myself that this chick didn’t want to be in the nest. She chose to leave her safe nest. That stung.
Each Sunday at church, the pew our family normally filled now had extra room. Each and every Sunday, and actually daily, the tears came. I had never experienced so many tears. Death might have been easier because at least then there would be an answer. We struggled to communicate, and I think we both didn’t understand why she had to go.
I do remember at one point Hannah saying something about church – – that she could not deal with any more pressure of having to attend every church-related activity when she was already going to school full-time and working. Yes, there was that pressure. I understood that. But there was more. I didn’t know what it was just yet, things were so confusing. We heard Bible verses, but why was there such inner conflict and pressure?
It was Hannah’s leaving that caused me to think about that pressure at church. I noticed it when we had to miss a Wednesday evening service because of a school choral concert. I felt guilty about missing the Wednesday evening service. Was it a valid excuse to not attend Wednesday service to have my son sing and me accompany on the piano at a public high school choral concert? Was this the best use of our time? There was nothing spiritual in those concerts. We were around heathens. Was that wrong to do? Would I feel okay sharing this reason with people at church? Why could I not let go of this guilt? I was feeling guilty being around teenagers and neighbors in my community instead of being at Wednesday night service. Was it wrong to be around people in my community?
Weeks went by. I paid attention to the prayer requests spoken out loud. Every once in a while, someone would pray for Hannah, that she would repent and come back to the Lord. I noticed the pastor who was so big on evangelism didn’t ask us about Hannah. He didn’t offer to go evangelize or meet with her on those evangelism Fridays. Why not? Did she not count? I saw him pursue many other people, but why not one from his own flock? Wasn’t she like a lost sheep? Doesn’t the shepherd go after the lost sheep? Why was he abandoning her?
My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
So, yes, this time – the few weeks between Hannah’s birthday and New Years are difficult for me because of painful memories. And you’d think that the emotions would just go away by now – after 7 years, but as I type, the tears keep coming because I can quickly come back to that time and those intense feelings. So, I type, I cry, I type and cry. I grieve that we brought her to such a difficult spiritually abusive church. I grieve that she had to leave in order to get some peace and emotional safety for herself.
But I’m also thankful. Because if it hadn’t been for Hannah, I would have continued to be held in bondage spiritually by legalism and by men who assumed a spiritual authority and control over people that God never intended.
If it weren’t for Hannah’s strength in leaving home/church and rattling me to my core, we likely could still be in that hell hole of spiritual destruction. The pain of her leaving caused me to go deep and question the character of God which was being tainted by a man and his crude ideas, perpetuating a church of hate and discord against anyone who didn’t agree with him and his pure doctrine ideologies.
I realize that there will always be spiritual bullies and sometimes seeing them behave like my former pastor is very triggering (last night was one such night on Twitter). But, then I am reminded of how many people left BGBC, never to step into a church again because they were so bullied and that confirms for me that we were not alone. Many have been affected by spiritual bullies who parade around with the title of “pastor” or “street preacher.”
I never knew when I started the first blog that so many people had been spiritually beaten by Chuck O’Neal 10 years before we attended. Strangers came out of the woodworks to share their personal accounts of this man who calls himself a shepherd. Extended family members shared with me how they are not allowed to see their nieces/nephews/grandchildren because Chuck O’Neal told church members to shun those who do not believe like they do – modern-day shunning, in Beaverton, Oregon. Kids are being robbed of their loving extended family because of a self-absorbed man who pressures church members to sever ties with their family.
Hannah had only been in the church for 1 year before the pressure caused her to leave. It took another year for us to leave. It was difficult to put our finger on what exactly was going on and sometimes all Hannah could go on was “something was not right.” The difficulty of spiritually abusive churches is that there is sometimes enough truth that you excuse away parts that don’t quite make sense. It’s easier to brush it aside because you don’t want to think negatively of your church or your church leader. Hannah could no longer brush it aside at one year and neither could I at two years.
Thankfully, during the next year, I was able to carefully observe and really listen to people around me. Some were quietly voicing concerns. I did see character that was completely inappropriate for a church shepherd and elders. I saw legalism, lying, and extra-biblical rules. There was very little of Christ preached. Now my mind was made up. I, too, would leave, with or without my family. Thankfully, my family left, too.
But yea . . . . the emotions of this time of year . . . they still come back. It’s still painful after 7 years.