Leaving quiverfull/patriarchal Christianity means losing approval. It means your parents, children, or spouse may reject you – or worse, implicitly disapprove while claiming to maintain a loving bond. That means that every time you talk, there’s another dagger through your heart – the feeling that you’ll never again have their respect (if you ever did in the first place) or be a whole person in their eyes (if you ever were).
It almost certainly means your community evaporates like a holographic illusion. You walk away, and it’s like you left behind a burning village with only ghosts pacing the streets. Sometimes they haunt you – follow you into your new life, reminding you at every false step that you’re on the wrong path, that they know what you really need, that you need to stop this foolish stubborn sinful willfulness and surrender to God. He loves you – the ghosts remind you when your heart is crushed – and there you went and walked away from him. Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame. But if you’re penitent enough, he’ll take you back, they say. Except there is no going back. There are no living things left in the village.
You are accused. Suddenly you’re worse than your abusers – sometimes the abused person you tried to defend tells you it’s all your fault. Sometimes your children curse your face. When you finally drop leaden umbrella of protection under which you were staggering, others accuse you of exposing them to the elements. Their pain is your fault, they say. Shame, shame, shame.
Your heart starts to feel like an empty steel drum. You’re “not nice.” You have a “bad attitude/heart/character/spirit/mind/soul.” You become the villain. The burning village belches smoke. Intoxicating, poisonous, cancerous. You realize you’re being suffocated with what used to be your home. You are the problem – this time it sounds like the truth, because you’re thinking it yourself now, without anybody around to tell you what they think. You have a hard heart – you say to yourself – that’s exactly what they told you would happen. How can you say you know better than they do when you’re so weary, lonely and stiff?
My village died when I was nineteen. The bodies of those I left are still there, still wearing their denim skirts and smiling their sincere but cold sympathies to the poor little lost girl they can’t admit is a woman. “We are perfect and always happy,” says their image. “You aren’t. Surely that means we have the truth and you are in denial.” I could go to see them, but their voices would be smoke and rattling chains to me now – not words, not comprehensible. I am not sure whether they or I am in the afterlife. The chasm sits there, inexplicable and unquestionable. There was a fire, and the village died.
Stories about valor and courage never tell you that the hero feels like the villain most of the time. There is no doublespeak in heroic tales. Heroes don’t feel like if they’d sit down, shut up, cover up, hide, give birth, nod, smile, listen, clean, serve, serve, serve, obey, worship, then none of this would have happened. Valorous persons never feel like they’re the ingrateful, hard-hearted, demon-possessed, selfish, bitter, angry, defensive ones, right?
Don’t they? What dishonest stories.
Nobody applauds the one who walks away from the burning village alive. What makes you so special? they ask. Why do you deserve to live? Why couldn’t you save anyone else? What made you so stupid as to live in that village, anyway? You should have known it would burn. They don’t know that you love the ghosts that send their tendrils to catch you and pull you back into the embers and debris. They can’t see if you lost limbs trying to pull your children to safety, or if your eyes are blind because you stared through the smoke looking for your spouse. The dirt on your arms means they can’t see the shackles you had to break to escape a crumbling house. All they see is a slaughtered village and a survivor – how suspicious, they think. Perhaps, how selfish.
Is it heartless to spurn the ghosts and seek out an uncharred home? Is it selfish to want to breathe clean air? Living with disapproval means only those who have left burning buildings themselves, or those who come to love their newfound survivor, will admire the resolve it took to survive. Sometimes accepting their praise feels dishonest – what did you do? You left; you quit; you changed your number/address/clothes/hair/face/life/heart. That’s not heroic – it’s not like you pulled anyone out of a fire, right? Living with disapproval means the heart must stop bleeding and form a hard, thick scab in order to keep beating. The ghosts will never forgive you – their hearts run with spirit, not blood, and they need no walls to protect their vital organs. They can run right through you with accusations, day after night after day, and never tire. But you tire, because you’re still alive.
Living with disapproval means pushing off the collapsing roof, deafening your ears, blinkering your eyes and insisting (not demanding, asking, pleading, begging, or praying) that you will live. And you will live outside your dead village for the rest of your days. The ghosts won’t praise you for it – but disapproval isn’t death.
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Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog The Unspoken Words: A Non-Prophet Message.