When you’ve been shunned by family members who go to Calvary Temple, the emotions hit the hardest during the holidays. “There’s no place like home for the holidays” is ringing through every store. Coworkers and friends are asking the eternal question, “what do I buy my parents for Christmas?” People are extolling the virtues of family, talking about parents/sisters/brothers/grandparents and seeing everything through the twinkle-light-romantic-Hallmark-movie euphoria.
Those of us who are related to current Calvary Temple members have varying family situations to deal with. For some, CT parents continue in semi-normal, yet emotionally detached relationships with their former-CT adult children. They will speak to their children, invite them to dinner, give gifts and remain cordial. For others, this cordiality lasted for a short time and now there is not the slightest hint of relationship. For parents whose adult children still go to Calvary Temple, there’s much emptiness in the home on holidays. The phones remain silent, the photo frames of grandchildren are empty, and the loneliness is palpable. For others, they have been estranged from non-CT family for so long (even a lifetime), that when they come out of that church, there is no relationship to speak of. They had CT friends who took the place of family and after they made an escape from the clutches of the controlling church, they are left spinning their wheels. Alone. It can be a terrifying realization that you are alone in the world, and sadly, it is one that often drives people back to Calvary Temple. Still others have left Calvary Temple and all its members behind, and are in the midst of forging new friendships, traditions and a life outside of the CT bubble.
Our personal situation is such that we have been completely shunned. No conversation, no phone calls, no invitations, no contact whatsoever. I have never formally met my in-laws, since before they became my in-laws. Please don’t make jokes about how ‘it must be so nice to not have in-laws.’ It’s not. We are grieved by the state of the non-relationship with my husband’s parents. It is unnecessary and brings shame to the name of Christ. We are saddened and it is especially acute during the holiday season. I imagine that many former Calvary Temple members feel the same. I want to share with you a few things that are helping me to deal with the holiday season.
1. Keep my focus right. I make a conscious effort to remember the true meaning of the holidays. When I’m celebrating Thanksgiving, I spent much time meditating on how much I’ve been blessed and how much I have to be thankful for. I remember not what I have lost, but what I have gained. I possess life and health. I possess good things, daily provisions, an amply comfortable home. I possess truth and righteousness and the accessibility to God’s Word. I possess some family relationship, those who love me and those that I love. I thank God for my husband, and that even through the cultic environment that he was raised in, God’s hand was upon him–upon us–and God created beauty from pain. God gave us a marriage that is amazing in every way. And most importantly, if all else were lost, I would still be grateful for the one very important thing. That I serve a God who will never, ever, ever fail me. He will never leave and never forsake me (Psalm 9:10). When I’m celebrating Christmas, I remember that God the Father had a plan. Even though men messed it up with sin, He sent His only Son for redemption. Redemption is the key. God redeeming me from sin is enough to be grateful for every single day. Even on Christmas.
2. Acknowledge emotions. Emotions are real, emotions are valid and they were created by God. God created you as an emotional being. He created you to be in His image, to feel joy and to feel pain. Are you under the impression that truly spiritual people don’t feel things? That surely the strong ones do not have moments of weakness? Or are not bothered by injustice? Read the psalms. Delve into the torment of the psalmist’s heart. He grieves, he rages, he wonders, he prays, he cries, he mourns, he worships, he hurts, he rejoices. He is silent and he is loud. He is with the congregation, in a corporate setting, but mostly he is alone with God. The psalms are a wonderful window into the prayer life of a man after God’s own heart. The psalmist feels things most acutely. He is not ruled by his emotions, but he takes them to the secret place of the Almighty and beseeches the Most High God to bring resolution. Acknowledge your emotions this season. Acknowledge that there may be days of struggle, days of pain, days of loneliness, days when the wounds of betrayal feel fresh again. There may be days of righteous indignation and days of diving into the forgiveness you have experienced in Christ, so that you can forgive again the ones who have wounded you without cause. You may feel, but that is no excuse to sin. Christ Himself was angry and yet did not sin. Strive to live that way. (Eph 4:26)
3. Appreciate healthy community. Newsflash: Not every church is like Calvary Temple. In fact, most aren’t. A healthy community does not manipulate you into cutting off family members. A healthy community does not think that it is the only church worthy of your attendance or the only church where the presence of God dwells (do you really think the Almighty God is so limited?). A healthy community does not get jealous or offended when you visit relatives in another town/city/state during the holidays. A healthy community does not commandeer ALL of your free time for its super-important (sarcastic) events. A healthy community does not use guilt; they do not manipulate or goad. Period. A healthy community knows that they do not control people’s lives. A healthy community will not fall apart if there is no Wednesday night meeting the day after Christmas. On the flip side, a healthy community consists of people who are there in times of need, are thoughtful, kind, humble, are not selfishly-motivated, who think the best of you, mind their own business instead of minding yours, work out their salvation daily with honest living, and seek God enough privately to know that the Word of God always remains higher than the words of their pastor. Granted, no church or community is perfect. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will be able to extend grace to people instead of running away the first time they offend you. But most churches do not look like Calvary Temple–and thank God for that! Keep your eyes open for spiritually abusive situations; as those who have come out of an abusive environment are more prone to find a similar situation in a different form. But don’t become overly suspicious. And remember, you are not a slave to people. You are a slave to Christ alone. People will not be able to take advantage of you, your time or your resources if you set boundaries. Community is a wonderful part of life.Set your heart to enjoy community in its proper place and in a healthy way.
4. Bear someone else’s burden. And do it quietly. (Matt 6:3) One day, I looked around and realized that everyone else was dealing with or had dealt with some tragedy or heartbreak in their life. It was a revelation to me. I don’t know if I was simply maturing out of the teenage tendency of complete self-involvement, if I had suddenly been gifted with empathy or the Lord was teaching me an important lesson. Many of my dear friends had endured and were enduring the most tragic circumstances possible. Death, divorce, abuse, betrayal, abandonment, financial burdens and the crushing pressures of life. It is important to look beyond our own heartbreak and to look into the heartbreak of others. We are not suffering more; we may be only suffering a little differently. While it is common at Christmastime to be a do-gooder, I challenge you to meet someone’s need without broadcasting it. Do something without breathing a word to anyone else about it. Open your ears to the pain of others. Listen, remember, meet the need. And allow only heaven to be your witness.
5: Create new traditions. Maybe you can’t imagine Christmas without your parents, your siblings or the same house you were raised in. It’s time to change your mindset. The most wonderful Christmas traditions are yet to be discovered. Make new memories. Stop thinking that you’re living your second-best life until so-and-so gets a clue and leaves Calvary Temple. You can only control your own life (not the stupidity of others), so create new traditions to enjoy. No matter what the Christmas movies say, we live in an imperfect world. You will never have the movie-perfect Christmas, so enjoy the one you have!
6. Look forward to the future. There will be a day with no more tears. There will be a day with no more cults and no more estrangements and no more discord. There will be a day when the only thing that matters is Jesus. Comfort one another with these words.
Friends, I don’t claim to have all the answers. If these words help even one person during this holiday season, I will rejoice. May your hearts be filled with thanksgiving and joy.