It’s Going to be Okay

It’s Going to be Okay May 1, 2024

It’s Going to be Okay

(From our new book, Evolving From Religious Trauma. June 4th)

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So, here we are, out in the Desert!

That’s what we call it when people start asking questions, challenging their long-held beliefs, and evaluating the worldview they inherited. We call it The Desert because that’s what it feels like. It can be lonely and discouraging, reclaiming your autonomy, healing from past hurts, and permitting yourself to play the game you want to play the way you think you should.

Your experience may involve:

●Rediscovering your intuition

●Clarifying your purpose

●Healing your past trauma

●Examining your current beliefs

●Exploring other beliefs and worldviews

●Rediscovering your authentic self

●Establishing new relationships with power structures

●Advocating for the marginalized

●Finding your agency

We can’t tell you exactly what to do. No super drug or magic prayer will make all your dreams come true. Anything worth doing takes determination, imagination, and persistence (otherwise known as work). 

Even though we can’t give you a formula, we have been interviewing people since we got here and recording our thoughts about what we learned along the way. It’s not a prescription for success—It is a transcript and description of our journey and the road before you. It is not a well-worn path because every journey is different. It is, as they say, the road less traveled.

We acknowledge and understand that you now have many feelings. Because of your inherited beliefs, you may be experiencing fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, or various combinations of feelings besides happiness, which religion prescribes. 

Your emotions are valid! Not only are they legitimate, but they are necessary, and they will help you get better and process your grief and pain that you only now realize you have. As you hear people’s stories around the campfires of the Desert, you will find language for your journey, and eventually, you will tell your own story.

The one thing we hope you understand: It’s Okay! (a phrase I learned From David Hayward)

You are just now reconvening with your emotions and your intuition. For me, that felt like a toddler learning to walk. Remember, you are just getting started, and you will get better. You will find new friends and trusted guides when you need them. But you will also learn the beauty and perfectness of solitude. You will become comfortable with uncertainty, mystery, and nuance and be okay. Your journey will be yours; you will play the game you want to play and find peace!

You are not alone

Feeling alone when you step outside your established patterns is perfectly normal. Religions like Christianity design themselves to make you feel safe because they require that you think, act, and respond together as one. Churches calm our immediate anxiety, but they will not help us answer life’s more significant questions, which are systematically ignored.

There are thousands, if not millions, of us in the Desert. Our commonality is that we are all on a journey of discovery. We won’t be chanting a creed or reciting the same prayer. Still, we will acknowledge and encourage each other to stay on the journey instead of establishing a venue and defending what we already know.

When we are ready to tell our stories to others, we will hear whispers of affirmation. We don’t all need to agree, but it will be helpful when people hear our stories, affirm our suffering, share their stories, and make space for us. Then, we will be able to experience what is necessary and helpful. 

You may have moved out of the group, but you are not alone. From this point forward, you will find what you need when you need it. Let me be the first to tell you, “I know what that is like. I hear what you are saying. I felt that way too. I hear you. You are not alone.”

You will soon realize that being a part of the larger group brings temporary relief and bypasses our real issues. In the Desert, you won’t need multitudes of lemmings who speak, act, and believe the same. You will find a few authentic relationships that are perfect for you when you need them.

The things they warned you about

If you are in the Desert, you are probably unraveling the fear-based beliefs you were indoctrinated with. Most of the fear-based assumptions of organized religion, like eternal conscious torment (hell), were developed over time and scaled up to scare people into joining the movement. Jesus’ reference was to Gehenna, which was a garbage dump that was continually burning. People like Dante Alighieri influenced current views of hell more than anything else.

But my denomination also warned me of other dangers if I stepped outside its groupthink. They told me of slippery slopes that I would slide down and of spiritual forces that would attack me–almost like a virus. After nearly eight years, I can only say that it is not true!

I also know of very few that return because of these things. We will have to face our personal darkness, but it’s not like in the movies or the imaginative sermons. In many cases, our “demons” were created by high-control families and religions. We will have to be with and make space for the wounded parts of us, but we don’t need a sword or armor—it’s not that kind of battle! 

Facing Our Fears and Addressing Trauma

As we continue on the journey of discovery, we discover many beautiful things that we never knew existed. Just as we crest the first vista and find new adventures, when we venture into the next valley of authenticity, we will discover things we previously did not understand.

A trauma-informed therapist can be helpful at this time. We also need people to make space for us and hear our stories. We have to be present with the parts of us that are wounded and are trying to heal. Our trauma is stored in our body, and it takes body awareness in time to help those parts of us reintegrate and move forward.

Later in the book, we get much more specific about this point. Most of these thoughts emerge from our previous book, Leaning Forward. Please don’t ignore this necessary work. We have to feel it to heal it, and there are no shortcuts or magic solutions.

Don’t Start Something New

My previous denomination’s battle cry and ongoing mantra was always to start something new. As churches crumbled and ministers escaped from ministry, they continually formed new churches and organizations that would hopefully solve the problem. Over time, we found that this was a very temporary solution. It never addressed the root causes of its dysfunction.

I see people making the same kinds of mistakes in the Desert. I made some of those mistakes, too. Before I had a chance to heal or deeply examine myself, I began seeking ways to form a group or find a church experience to help revitalize the old systems.

Especially when white males almost immediately form groups out here in the Desert, without healing or deeply examining themselves, they replicate their DNA from the previous life and cause some of the same problems as before. Before we start a new group and settle on new belief systems, we need to heal what was wounded and discover who we are. Then, we will know what we should do or if we even need to do anything.

We can’t afford to fall into the same trap as before. If we criticize our previous group and bypass all our feelings and woundedness, then we’re just wasting time creating the same problems we escaped from.

Consider the fact that if you were in ministry before, there is a high chance that you are somewhat of a narcissist. You may not have intended to be that or ever saw yourself as that, but you have those tendencies. Consider that the worst thing for a narcissist to do is to be on stage. It only fosters bad decisions and often harms the most vulnerable who listen to you.

Consider different options, like starting a podcast to listen to people’s stories. Please spend your time encouraging others, elevating marginalized voices, or advocating for them. 

It might also be helpful to reject the possibility of making a living at this. Very few do, and the ones that do are pretty territorial. It’s a journey of discovery, and you may need to find other ways to finance it and keep the lights on. If it helps you, then keep a blog or at least a journal. In my opinion, the people who make money writing are the ones who already have a following.

Don’t sell your soul again to be popular. It’s not what you or anyone else needs. 


Early on in my journey, I read two books by Robert Augustus Masters: Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark and Spiritual Bypassing.

According to Masters, “Spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. It is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed.”

This idea was transformational to me. When I read the book, it opened my eyes to how I had covered up my need for healing with platitudes, religious ceremonies, and the group thinking and creeds of my denomination. When I learned to stop bypassing my emotions and feelings, I found myself reading the second book and finding a way to heal my inner child and become whole.

In Bringing Your Shadow out of the Dark, Masters explains, “Our shadow is our internal storehouse for the parts of us that we’ve disowned or rejected or are otherwise keeping in the dark.” When I read this book, I was in a Hermitage in Kansas, having a dark night of the soul. The principles from this book, which I attempt to distill later in this manuscript, helped me emerge from this situation and better understand how I could heal myself by being with those wounded parts and acknowledging what I felt.

As always, I suggest enlisting trauma-informed counselors and spiritual directors who understand trauma and who are trusted guides for us as we develop our intuition. But we also have to realize the trauma is stored in our bodies, and by becoming body aware and paying attention, we can do some of the hard work ourselves.

Is it worth it?

I haven’t interviewed everybody in the Desert, but we have listened to over 300 stories on our podcast. We have many good friends here in the Desert, and I’ve watched the successes and failures of former pastors and ministry workers since they started their deconstruction, which I would call an evolution.

Some of them ducked back into a different form of organized religion, some became atheists, and most embraced a non-religious spirituality. Although they all admit there was work involved, they unanimously confess, “It was worth it!”

What they found wasn’t always what they expected because they usually awakened to the understanding that they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Once they discovered what they didn’t know, they found those things and who they had always been. Intuition, scientific understanding, and enlightenment can evolve us to new levels.

The only mistake one could make is to believe they have found the solution and begin defending it to the masses, which stops their journey of discovery! 

This is the endless loop of theology!


Be where you are, Be who you are,

Karl Forehand

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Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Out into the Desert, Leaning Forward,  Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart, The Tea Shop and Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity.  He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast and community.  He is married to his wife Laura of 35 years and has one dog named Winston.  His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply! You can read more about the author here.



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