My very public departure from the Laestadian Lutheran Church–a conservative, exclusivist sect of Protestant Christianity–has put me in touch with many others who struggle inside this group and who have left it. One of them recently sent me these thoughts about her metamorphosis from fundamentalism to freedom. She gave me permission to convey them anonymously through this blog to those who had–with the very best of intentions–cocooned and caged her.
GENERATIONS have told you how to mold me. What to think. How to feel.
Bring her to the sacred place.
She will follow your lead.
Separate her from the world.
Tuck her into your safe cocoon.
Clip her wings and put her in a cage.
Feed her with approval of her obedience
and shame her with guilt over her transgressions.
I let this happen. I let your fear tactics rule my thoughts and actions until I could no longer hear my heart song.
I tried to find my own way, but it threatened to separate me from all I had ever known. I was scared. You made me fear the world outside of my cocoon. So I took your medication and ate your damn poison until I was too sick to fight back.
You almost broke me. Almost.
My consciousness is finally agitated enough by the imprisonment of my spirit.
I see it now. . .
The big picture!
I’m breaking out of my cocoon!
Slowly but violently shedding the old. It’s uncomfortable at times in this transformative state. Loss and grief are an essential part of this transformation.
Destroying the old brings separation from those you love. I feel their love is conditional. But I am remembering what I forgot, before my world was darkened with fear and shame. Moments of unhindered bliss and awakening joy are replacing the old. Transformed and reset!
My only regret is that I didn’t see this sooner. I made a life for myself, only to realize it’s never really what I wanted. My soul didn’t want this hectic production of being so busy you can’t hear yourself think.
I’ve literally gone out of my mind, to truly use my mind for myself! I’ve had to scramble myself in order to put me back together in a new form. The next level of my life requires a new me!
Yes, indeed, I think she is.
Eventually, so will you others whose anguished stories I’ve heard, who know that you no longer believe what you were told as children–what some of you have in turn told your children. Someday, the painful metamorphosis will finally occur for you. But don’t let too much of your life continue to pass you by before it finally happens.
Day after day, in newfound bursts of frightening clarity, your mind shouts the truth at you, and the only response your preachers have is to tell you not to listen to it. “One of Christianity’s most toxic teachings is that we must not trust our own minds and emotions,” Dr. Valerie Tarico, a psychologist and former Christian, told me after reading this piece, which she thought was powerful, as do I.
“In particular,” she added, Christianity asserts that “we dare not trust our intuitive sense of the basic goodness in people around us and ourselves.” But when you finally dare to make those first tentative friendships with the scary people of “the world,” when you see the continued love and joy in those former brethren whose longtime friendships you refuse to end, you see that basic goodness. You can’t help but see it, and delight in it, and witness yet another case of your dreary preachers being wrong.
Another amazing thing happens when you open up that cocoon and expose yourself to the experiences of all those “unbelievers” outside the church walls. You see not just how varied and fascinating they all are, but how similar many of their experiences are to yours. You realize that the fear and pain of leaving their “dead faith” churches is every bit as real to them as leaving yours has been to you. And then another chink appears in the wall that separates you from all of them, that great undifferentiated mass of outsiders who now have faces and voices and feelings, and the hole is almost big enough for you to finally crawl through.
“Reading this was very much like looking at my own reflection in a mirror,” said Brenda Nicholson, a survivor of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) cult. It took her a few minutes to respond to my question because she was still in class (“Foundations of Business and Elements of Effective Communications”), a quite different setting than she could have imagined for herself while back in Colorado City, wearing the required swept-up hairdo and plain pastel dress and trying to have all the required babies, despite miscarriage after miscarriage. “I found myself unconsciously nodding in agreement to every line. Yes, it is the same story from different backgrounds! The aspects of control through ‘breaking’ a person is so real–and far too often so effective.”
She also wishes that she’d seen the truth sooner, “that I hadn’t sacrificed so many years of my life to a lie.” Our stories, she said, “have a different background, but our journey is the same.”
Like Dr. Tarico, Brenda used the word “powerful” to describe this piece. “It touched deep inside at the hurt I’ve experienced.” She asked me to give my anonymous correspondent her “most sincere congratulations and admiration” and best wishes on this new life. Mine, too, along with my hope that all those others will soon find their own freedom as well.