I’ve written about this before: the small circles of churched women and the power they wield. They may not be given permission (a discussion on patriarchy and the role of women in church is coming) to lead from elder boards or preach from pulpits, but they hold influence from prayers rooms, committee meetings, nursery rocking chairs, kitchens, and bathrooms. I know what mean church girls sound like and act like because I used to be one. Those small circles were my small circles – until they kicked me out. But I was a mean girl who didn’t know she was a mean girl. I thought I was being nice. It turns out that being nice isn’t necessarily kind or loving. Being nice can be calculated and manipulative. Mean church girls can be calculated and snobby and well, mean.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
First of all, when we left church eight years ago there were not many safe places for us to go. When we lost church we lost our friends because we had moved to be near them. We were hanging high and dry… alone.
Everything I experienced because I was front and center in the church ladies’ disapproval, whispered judgements, and eventual excommunication – were also the things my husband and children experienced as collateral damage. They didn’t do anything to deserve being shoved aside, but because I was out they were out too.
This is how church mean girls navigate. My family’s hurt, the friendship and community loss were just as devastating, but no one really thought about how this would affect my husband and children. To be honest no one even asked about them. Not one man leaned in to find out if we were OK? Where had we gone? What was happening? How can we help you? No one asked my husband if he was going to be alright. NOT one pastor…. not one elder made a move to help make it right.
And it stung. It bites when our family members become collateral damage because a church community decides we are “not measuring up,” “dangerous,” “asking too many questions.”
I could protest all I wanted, but this is what the church ladies needed – me as their common enemy. It kept them cohesive and feeling unified with one another and God. No squeaky wheels allowed. We prayed about it together. We willed it. It is done.
Former Church Pit Bull
The first time I realized I was a part of the small circles (this is what I call “church mean girls/ladies/women”) was when I was standing in the church foyer with my friend. We were whispering poisonous words across our lips at one another, laughing, and marinating in that “mean church girl bubble” when I caught the eyes of another woman watching us.
I loved this wise friend and I knew she loved us, but I watched disappointment and sorrow flash across her face towards us.
And my heart lurched.
I was a part of the small circles. I had become a Christian Pit Bull. And I could feel the reality of living in those circles beginning to suffocate the life from me. I knew this was NOT who I wanted to be.
It would not be long after this moment that I would begin the process of extricating myself from painfully toxic relationship patterns. I was being unhealthy and unsafe. We were unhealthy, dishonest, and unsafe together and towards others. Several of the church friendships I held the most dear, where I had been invested for the long-term were beginning to show symptoms of rot. Something was going to need to be done. I was going to have to ask the right questions of myself and others. None of what was going to come was going to be easy.
I was going to need to be very, very brave and probably not nice. The Christian good girl image was going to implode. And all my hopes were going to come dashing down with her.
Also I was completely aware everything I had prayed for and desired and thought I needed was likely to not be there when the rubble settled and cleared. The rubble might never clear.
Wanting to Belong
When all you desire in your young adult life is to be a part of something relevant and unifying, coming together with like-minded people to live in love, service, and authenticity – you stand on ripe ground for falling in love with people and ideas which are not good for you. When you live from such high hopes and such deep trust and you are so young or so in need of something to fill the gaping holes you didn’t even know existed inside yourself, then you are being set up for a great deal of disappointment and hurt.
- I know now we trusted too fully.
- We trusted ourselves; we trusted those we held in high esteem.
The love given to them from our deep places was not reciprocated. The trust and the loyalty extended to them was not the same kind of loyalty they were looking to return. We were wrong.
Supporting and sacrificing of ourselves on behalf of the church had all the making of a Christian good girl moment. We failed to see and understand what was fully happening until later.
Community Without Truth
Once the rubble of dust settled from all the imploding destruction I had to find a way beyond the lies, anger, and pain. The pit was real, deep, and scary for a very long time. This is not something you simply “GET OVER.” Healing takes time. Then over time I figured out how to claw my way up and out.
I know I contributed to what happened to us. I became too unpredictable. I went from being one type of Christian mean girl, a trusted – loyal church pitbull – to a woman wanting to shed toxicity, practice self care, and live in as much authentic truth as possible. For me – relationships without truth are not worth having. If you cannot be honest with me than what are we doing? These were the questions I was asking. If I cannot be me around you without you getting mad at me, what are we even doing? Why are we friends?
Why are we even attempting to do church if we cannot tell the truth?
Finally I had to live the answers to those questions.
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This is part 6 in a series on Confronting My Church Wounds. You can find the rest of the posts here: