A Safe Place

by Rosie Wittleder

I grew up in a cult until age 10. That was 25 years ago. (Now you know how old I am :) You might think, “You’re good now though, right? Since that happened so long ago, when you were just a kid?”

That’s what I believed too, until around age 25. At that time, I realized the trauma of my early years was something I couldn’t outrun. It had impacted my brain and life with lasting effects. The choice was either for me to face the trauma and begin to heal, or to try to cope in ways that were destructive to myself and others.

By the grace of God, I chose the former. And now, after about 10 years of intensively dealing with my “stuff,” I’ve been invited to share my journey more openly with others. It’s scary and something I’ve tried to run away from.

So this idea of writing on a church blog? Laughable. In ways, it still feels like a big joke. Me? Write on a church blog? Of all places? Those closest to me know how comical this is given my struggles and the pain I carry as it relates to the church. Yet, here I am.

One area in which growing up in a cult has impacted me greatly is my lack of being able to trust people. Especially people at church/devout Christians. Church has been a place of much abuse, manipulation, fear, and mistrust in my earliest years. But here’s the problem--I like Jesus. I think he is real. And that he can change lives, as he has my own. I can’t deny that truth no matter how hard I try. And believe me, I have tried.

But when you don’t trust large masses of people who also say they like Jesus, it presents a problem. Going to church is hard. It’s getting easier, but it’s still hard. Grace Church has become a safe place for me, which is why I go. I like Dave. I think he is sane. I like the music. I think it’s a sound place where the leaders aren’t out to manipulate. And they talk about real struggles.

But trying to meet quality people that I can be real with? That feels like a one-in-a-million chance. Over the years, I’ve met what feels like fake person upon fake person who profess to be Christians. It’s enough to make my skin crawl and not return. So, for a lot of years, I would show up to church because of the things I mentioned above. But then I would make a beeline for the door when it was over.

Recently, my husband and I decided that we wanted to try joining a Rooted group. Shortly after, we were invited by this couple who we knew we liked, although we didn’t know them very well. They were one of the few people we were open to joining a small group with. So I knew this was something we had to pursue when they were the exact people who invited us. Even if I felt a little leery heading into it.

We joined the group and started going through Rooted together. We met every week for two hours, for the past ten weeks. People who I’m close to, who don’t go to Grace and knew we had joined a small group, have come up to me and asked, “So how do you like it?” To my surprise, I’ve gotten to respond with, “You won’t believe it, but I love these people!”

When I think about why it is I have come to like them, one resounding answer comes to mind. These people actually tell the truth! They tell the truth about their lives. Their marriages. Their kids. Their relationships. Their real thoughts and feelings about things. There are no fakes or facades.

I have found this extremely difficult to come by in my adolescent and adult years. While those around me would paint a picture of near perfection in their homes, I’m sitting there thinking, “I actually don’t have a nearly perfect life. I have nightmares. I have anxiety. At times, I struggle with depression. So yeah, can you help me with that?”

And typically the reality of my life is too much for them. They don’t engage with my brokenness, and instead slap on a Christianese cliché or a Bible verse that’s supposed to make my problems go away and make me feel better. Except it doesn’t. And I’m lonelier than I was before, and usually I wish I hadn’t shared.

But these people in my Rooted group--they literally tell the truth. One guy said he wasn’t sure if he really believed the material. YES! I love it! I thought to myself, “I want to be this dude’s friend. He’s the real deal.”

We’ve talked about struggles. Marriage, family, finances, areas of ongoing difficulty. We’ve also done a lot of laughing. It’s been a huge breath of fresh air for someone who has been trying to surface and catch some oxygen in a church setting for a long time.

And now that Rooted is over, we’re going to still keep coming to the group. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

Read more here.