By Elizabeth Van Cleve
July 4, 2014, edited August 10, 2016
It’s been over two years since I left the church I had been a part of for close to 20 years. With all the courage I could muster, I walked out of the inner world of protocol, dogma and dictation and out into a world of uncertainty and misgiving. I waited for the sky to fall, for the serpent to bite, for the wrath of God to shake his finger at me and claim me a heretic doomed for hell’s fires. Every slip away from the rules and regulations I had so faithfully adhered to, was followed by accusations that I was the devil’s advocate and would soon be “seven times worse than before.”
It wasn’t a hasty nor a light decision. It began a few years prior, when in a desperate cry for relief from a monotonous, insipid life, I began to pray that God would take every ounce of religious spirit out of me and to help me to be a proper representative of him. Over the years the splits, fighting, hurt and drama I had witnessed at church and in the religious world at large, I knew God could not be the instigator of it all. I was so discouraged and let down. I could not envision the entire world being locked down in this systematic way of living that we were regularly admonished to uphold. Though I understood very deeply that the world at large has great needs, in my mind this way of life was not the answer.
I began reading books written by women who had been involved in religious cults and they resonated the same fears I had about leaving their religion, of God’s wrath, and of their system being the only way to heaven. It opened my eyes to the manipulation of fear, and I began to understand that what was holding me to the church I was immersed in was no longer a love for Christ and his work; Somewhere along the way, that had been lost in all the “do’s and dont’s” and in the complete take over of my life. I was no longer happy there and I was dying inside and the church did not have the answers to my inner turmoil. I knew that the only thing that was continuing to hold me there was fear. Yet, God was working so gently within my heart, drawing me closer to and showing me my wings.
A complete paradigm shift was going on inside of me. Little by little God began to rock my world so severely and I knew I needed to leave religion behind me. I read a book titled “Half The Sky” written by two journalist who traveled to several countries and witnessed the violation and oppression of women and young girls in developing countries. The stories in this book were absolutely horrific. I began to contemplate how so many women were in countries and/or positions where they had no voice about what was being done them. I thought about all the religious oppression world wide where torture and blood shed awaits any who would dare question the system. And here I was in AMERICA- the land of the FREE choosing OPPRESSION! I then realized that leaving church was not just about me. My freedom was about every man, woman and child out there who have no rights. My freedom was not to be taken lightly. My freedom was a responsibility. My freedom was their HOPE!
Yet I struggled because of years and years of fear conditioning. Then, one day I saw this vision of myself; I was in a large cage, curled up in a ball, crying. The door of the cage was wide open but I was too terrified to leave because I believed the serpent waited without to devour me. Then God spoke to me and told me to use my wings and fly away. It took a great amount of courage to leave flying straight towards my deepest fear. It was the bravest step I ever took. But the day I flew away, a great load lifted off of me and I knew, I had just taken my first step towards TRUE FREEDOM!- that freedom that comes from within- that freedom of KNOWING I have wings and Spirit is the wind beneath them and that nothing could ever separate me from God. The day I walked away, was the beginning of my personal inner freedom and authenticity.
I have never regretted that decision!
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
To read more of my spiritual journey out of religion and what I have learned see my book: “The Voice of God Within: An Inward Journey of Discovery and Restoration”