Belief, Boundaries and Belonging: My Exodus (EXIT) from Evangelical Christianity

Belief, Boundaries and Belonging: My Exodus from Evangelical Christianity

madison hedlund life coach  leaving christianity behind and finding myself


First I want to say, I am far less interested in WHAT you believe, but if those beliefs serve you and are rooted in dignity for yourself and for others.

My personal belief is that if your religion, faith, spirituality or practices are not founded on dignity of the human spirit, it’s missing the mark.

So as you come to this space, I just want to thank you for showing up as you are, with your curiosities and questions. This will not be a space of finger pointing, saving others or debate. I am not attached to your affirmation, but will ask that you don’t try to correct, save or fix me. I am not broken or in need of understanding.

The one thing I’ve learned through my deconstruction has served me most, is that i am first and foremost the expert on me.

I can trust myself. And I don’t need to agree with anyone cognitively in order to love them and belong with them.

Thank you so much for being here.

Watch the first 13 minutes of this LIVE convo:


DECONSTRUCTION:

“Deconstruction = a method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language which emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression.”

10 years ago, I was an over-seas mission-trip going, purity ring wearing, bible to college classes kind of Christian. I led bible studies weekly in my home. I loved the bible, Jesus, my church and envisioned myself being a woman pastor of sorts, in a church that allowed women pastors of course.

I was not raised a Christian. I chose Christianity for myself as a teenager and dove deep into the grace and love of Jesus. I was born-again, spirit filled, and on fire.

I got married as a Christian, which meant when it started to fall apart, I had deconstruct my faith alongside my husband, which was really hard. It uprooted everything our marriage was founded upon. I think in my community, I would have been one of the least likely people to “fall away” so it came as a surprise for many of my friends and family when I did.

How did it begin?—

It started slow and I was in denial of it… The best way I know how to describe it is that something felt “off” at church.

A sense of not belonging? A sense of violation? A sense of not being allowed to live in my gifts or personality. I started noticing how often people were called out. I saw one of my friends leave the church for being gay after church discipline was practiced on him. Another friend asked to step down from leadership because she was having sex. But at the time, none of these things consciously bothered me. They were just the truth. Aligned with the bible. Facts.

I thought the “off” feeling was just my legalistic church, so I switched churches and felt great for a while! But it wasn’t long until the mega-church we were attending in Springfield, Missouri boldly opposed transgender rights, and even protested equality laws. That was the last day we went there.

Shortly after we found an amazing house church with people who believed in therapy, (WIN!) who were open to discussions of doubt and who drank, and didn’t shame people. It was people doing life together! FINALLY. I found my people.

But my internal process had only begun.

During this season I began to go to trauma therapy with a christian counselor/energy healer and within 6 months, I felt completely different. Freer. More me. And all of sudden, I didn’t connect with my faith, or Jesus… at all.

THE HEALTHIER I BECAME, THE LESS THE DOGMA WORKED FOR ME. I confessed my doubts. Talked to mentors. I fasted and prayed. But I struggled to connect to the divine like I “should” and I was fearful.

I started my life coach training around this time and began to chat with people from all over the world with so many different backgrounds. It became clear this guiding light Christians claimed was “holy spirit” was within everyone I talked to. These were some of the most christ-like people I’d ever met.

It cracked me open. I started having lunch with people who were atheists, who were gay, who were Wiccan, who were non-religious and asking them questions. Across the board, all of these people had the same guiding light, and the same needs: to belong and be seen and accepted for the person they really were.

It seemed through that period, the more I started loving on people without a motive to save them, just to relate and know them, the more questions I had about the bible.

I KNEW the bible. Really well. And this newfound space to be curious prompted me to ask questions that were only met with circular reasoning within my circle of friends. Questions about evolution, homosexuality, sex before marriage, our obvious biology and sexual drives, biblical contradictions, contradictions between biblical scholars. And the one thing that tripped me up the most: That a cognitive belief can really “save you.”

Who has access to cognitive belief, anyway? Which IQ levels permit belief in God? The stats on this were not promising.

It seemed to me that only people with the right sexual orientation, culture, IQ, fortunate enough to know and be raised around THE RIGHT christian beliefs could get in?

THE FOCUS ON BEING “RIGHT” WAS EXHAUSTING.

I didn’t feel like I needed clear answers, but the questions alone were enough to make me a problem in Christian circles.

THE NEED FOR ALL MY RELATIONSHIPS TO BE BASED ON SHARED IDEAS THAT HAD NO ROOM TO EVOLVE AND CHANGE MEANT I COULD NOT EVOLVE AND CHANGE.

And change I was. So If I wanted to honor the truth of my experience, I had to honor the questions and make room for the answers to be honest, not just what I wanted them to be.

I describe letting go of these beliefs as a death because truly, my entire identity and all my relationships had to change when I let it go. My marriage, all my friendships, even my work. All of it.

Even if I was invited to a bible study… should I go? Would my truth (which was more questions than truth) be welcome? Would people see me as a disruption? Would I even want to go?

So much grief. I felt really lonely. Really misunderstood.

Holding all the mess and the questions was so challenging. I felt lost. Insecure. Like a fraud. Like who I was as a person could not be trusted if I didn’t have the answers. I had questions and questions about my questions. I was absolutely consumed with the topic too. I was researching basically every day looking for answers and hearing different perspectives.


HOW I NAVIGATED THE CHANGES IN COMMUNITY AND MYSELF:

In the midst of it, I hired a coach to hold space for me and support me through this season. I knew I needed unbiased support. It was the healthiest thing I could have ever done because unlike my friends, counselor and mentor, she did not need me to be anything but honest.

If I could boil it down, questions and honest answers are what began my deconstruction, and are the same things that built me up again.

After there was nothing left but void, I had to actually do some healing work. Because once I officially left, I started to see the power dynamics and systems of oppression within the American church I hadn’t seen while I was knee deep within it.

I hadn’t seen how being so deep in the system made me hate pieces of myself. Hate my body, my sexuality, my personality. I hadn’t seen how I had internalized shame, how the belief that my "best” was nothing but “filthy rags” (period stained pads, biblically) to God. I hadn’t seen how women were not only unclean in the tradition, but feared and kept small. I hadn’t seen the codependent cycles I was in, the gaslighting masked as “loving guidance” and manipulation keeping me from trusting myself. The ways I’d been called out for sin that was nothing but a response to unhealed trauma.

I realized that my humanity was not ever going to be truly welcome in the system.

I realized I’d been trained not to think or feel for myself.

I realized that I’d been a part of the problem.

That’s when I got angry.

I had to really sit with my anger, and trauma both from being in the church, and my experience leaving. I’ve been actively healing in this area for about 2 years… letting go of pain and literally reprogramming my brain and nervous system to new stories and embodying relational safety.

I had to actively heal. Actively reprogram my brain and claim my worth. And I did. I leaned the fuck IN.

Did I lose relationships? Some, yes. But I gained so much more. Self trust. Wholeness. Aliveness. Belief in my ability to be with hard things. The ability to set boundaries and see toxic spiritual behavior. The power and capacity to know myself deeply, and trust what I find. I gained friends and mentors and a new, awakened understanding of the world.

In reflection, this deconstruction catapulted me into the deep work I am able to do with the women in my programs now. I can be with hard things, liminal space, the unknown, and still have peace.

one of you made this during the live convo! If it was you, please let me know- I lost our chat + want to give you credit <3

one of you made this during the live convo! If it was you, please let me know- I lost our chat + want to give you credit <3

Now what I believe:

I’m no longer angry or living from trauma. I’ve journaled through this and given myself to living in the grey, the mystery, the both/and.

I’ve never felt more peace with myself or life.

Now I’d describe my spiritual beliefs as more of a mystic humanist perspective. I am not so attached to it fitting into a perfect box to present others. (It’s usually other people who are obsessed with ‘what I am’, not me).

Today, the things I know to be true are:

  • That our mind is powerful and the stories we believe shape the reality we see

  • That we are all born good, wanting to be love, give love and receive love

  • That we are here to be human, and that being human in and of itself is enough

  • That there is so much more mystery than I can imagine, and I find peace in it.

  • That we all want to be seen, known and loved. We deserve dignity.



RAPID FIRE COMMUNITY Q+A:

These are community questions that were sent in from Instagram + my quick, rapid-fire answers to them. Enjoy!

Did/do you struggle with questioning if you need to rethink your deconstruction?-- nope! I have never felt more free and connected to myself, the divine or others than I do now.

What did the deconstruction process look like? What does deconstruction really mean? It looked like taking apart my reality, belief system and life, and giving a really honest look at what it all meant.

Did you feel unsteady or look for a new for a new foundation in the process of deconstruction? My safe-haven became curiosity and questions. I learned through this that I don’t need a foundation of dogma to have a foundation of truth, hope, love and dignity. I can belong without needing others to understand me. So I guess the answer is that healing and the process of healing became my foundation.

What did the “messy middle” of it feel like, and how did you let it be okay? Terrible, lonely and strangely alive. I just leaned in. I got safe, emotional support from coaches and therapists who did not need me to be different.

Do you still believe in the same God or god at all? -- I believe in God but I don’t usually call it god.

What do you do spiritually now? -- I live! Life is spiritual. Food, nature, conversations, meditation, my personal growth, sex… it’s all a part of my spirituality.

Do you think you can be spiritual without being religious? Yes! Being spiritual is being human.

What are your thoughts on the person of Jesus? Do you relate to him spiritually? Where does Jesus fit into your current understanding? God? Man? Archetypal myth? I am not attached to the Jesus story being literal, but I am attached to living in the grace, the spirit and learning about love however it presents itself. I spent years studying the life (and death) of Jesus and the Jesus path highly informs the way I currently live.

Is there such a thing as evil? --An even more thought-provoking idea, ask yourself: what does evil feel like to you? have you felt it? What conditioning did you have around evil that gave you this framework?

How do you come to a place of ease and acceptance about a spirituality that embraces more unknowns than knowns after being raised to believe for so long that there was only one way? How do you find security in a spirituality that has no dogma? What role does security play in your spirituality, if any?--I found the knowns so restricting, and often were never whole truths anyway. I found the malleability of the brain, and how you can believe anything and do anything if you’re programmed that way. My liberation came when I realized “if nothing is true, then I can choose what I want to believe.” I also had coaches who held space for this within me.

What have been the most helpful steps/resources that have helped you heal from spiritual trauma?-- Coaching and mentoring first and foremost!! You can (and I encourage you to) read all the books and listen to all the podcasts, but there is nothing like one on one mentorship through the journey.

Here are some of my favorite resources I’ve compiled for you:

I created a program, Awaken Her Soul, to help bring people through their own identity crisis, loss of faith, personal transformation and awakening. If you are walking through a season of waking up, be it in faith, relationships, career or self-worth, I want to invite you to lean in. This is where the life is.

Do you worship the devil? Obviously.

Do you still have church? If so what does that look like for you? Church is wherever I can have communion.

How do you move on in a way where you don’t feel guilty? Suffering from church guilt.-- Ask where the guilt is coming from. Why is the guilt there? Get really curious.

I’m bi and wondering how to set boundaries with christians who are not affirming of me?— First and foremost, get around safe people who allow you to be who you are. Find safe spaces and start getting used to being fully seen and loved as you are. Recalibrate your cells to full acceptance. Program your brain to a place of your divine power. Then, learn the basic steps of setting boundaries. They always begin with self-trust.

You can access my free boundaries training here.

Did your family fear you are going to hell? If so, how did you deal with their fear?-- THAT’S THEIR FEAR, NOT MINE. I had to let go of the codependent tendencies I learned in the church, that I was sovereign over my own emotions, and knew myself better than others knew me. Those are THEIR emotions to be with. I accepted their emotions. Point blank. And then worked through what those emotions meant for my relationship with them.

Would love to hear more about trauma and religious abuse. What did it look like to work through that? --- It was HARD. I didnt see it until I was out. Listen to this podcast episode and keep a tissue/journal handy.


The truth is: Everything you are looking for is and always was within. This journey is simply about remembering, awakening and listening.

You are so good.

Thank you so much for reading. If this resonates, please hop over to Instagram and send me a DM. I’d love to chat more and hear about your personal awakening.

-Madison




Wanting to dive deep into your own awakening?

My Raw Story: a Vulnerable Interview on the Soul Sparks Podcast with Kristin Lohr

I was interviewed by Kristin Lohr on the Soul Sparks Podcast! Kristin asked such juicy, deep questions pulled out some stories I'd never thought to share online so I knew I needed to share it here! We talk about everything from my mean-girl-gang in high school, to navigating getting married at 20, to the deconstructing of my faith. This interview gets REAL.

Enjoy!

"Who you used to be is worthy of love too. I like who I am now, I’ve worked so hard to be where I am now, but the person I used to be is worthy of love too."