How I Overcame Church Hurt & Recommitted To My Spiritual Journey
Listen, I know some of you read the headline, rolled your eyes, and said, "Oh gosh, here we go," but this ain't your typical church-girl fairy-tale.
As a child, I was raised in a strict, Christian household, and for the most part, I actually enjoyed it. I found church to be a safe haven and a place of peace. I loved waking up to the sound of Mahalia Jackson, the Clark Sisters, and the Rev. James Cleveland mixed with the smell of pancakes before going to school.
And who doesn't like the obligatory after-church feast of collard greens, mac-and-cheese, fried chicken, yams, homemade rolls, and sweet tea? At age 7, I had a spiritual, out-of-body experience at Vacation Bible School that truly connected me to God and the love of Christ, and it's something that has always stuck with me.
Things took a turn for the worse when, at 12, I experienced trauma in church due to a leadership scandal I did not understand at the time. It divided the congregation, brought shameful drama, and changed my life forever. A couple of years later, my mother divorced my stepfather---a major figure in our church and a gifted gospel musician in his own right---and things changed even more drastically. Anything that reminded me of those times turned me all the way off, and I could not even listen to choirs sing or hear anybody mention "the Lord" without cringing.
I began to see church and Christianity as something false---a place where facades superseded faith, where you couldn't trust anyone or anything.
l felt my place of peace was taken away from me and that people in authority---who I revered and thought were perfect due to their position in the church---had failed me. I went from going to church just for holidays to not going at all.
By the time I got to college, I'd attend chapel only because it was expected, not because I was into it. I even became an atheist for a short sting during my junior year. I just couldn't deal with the doubt and I decided to withdraw from anything spiritual.
I did end up being led back to Christ---but not after a journey I had to walk on my own. This story may be a re-run for a lot of us---I get it, sis---but I just find it interesting that many people don't approach spirituality---or their spiritual health---like they approach career advancement, money management, or physical health and wellness.
When you have a job that's toxic or not a good fit, what do you do? Send out resumes, research other positions, quit, and get another one, right? When a diet or workout regime isn't working, what do you do? You stop, alter it, or find something else, correct?
I think more people would benefit from thinking about spirituality in a different way---one that is a personal process to connect deeply with God and why you're here on Earth. I hope the steps I took will inspire someone else to find peace and really honor their spirit by taking accountability and reconnecting with their own journey:
Don't Be Afraid To Ask Questions
Some of us were raised to believe that God is this big, bad dictator who just wants to punish us and ask us to do things we don't want to do. We cannot be ourselves---curious human beings---without practically being damned to hell. I believed this at one point. Many churches focus more on robotic condemnation than empowering redemption.
My mom, in her own Christian journey post-divorce, told me, "I am praying for you. Ask God the questions you have. Go to Him." The rebel in me said, "OK. I'll try this. God, can you show me you're real and not a total manipulative faker?"
A month after asking God that question, I got a chance opportunity to intern for a major magazine in New York. I didn't take that as a sign, and I was still angry and confused. I ended up connecting with a brilliant young lady who was interning at another publication. We just instantly clicked. She was upbeat, a bit radical, had a fly Afro (among a sea of mostly white interns), and she was a great editor. I learned so much from her over several weeks and we became thick as thieves.
One day, she said, "I know you're questioning God. He has not left you." She then asked if she could pray with me. I was taken aback because I did not know she was religious, let alone a Christian. We'd never really had these conversations and, at that point, I'd never told her about my childhood experience. At first, I wanted to totally cut her off. Then something said, "Just let her do it. It won't hurt. You don't believe anyway."
She didn't beat me down with Bible verses, preach at me, or come at me aggressively at all. She actually waited until I was genuinely comfortable with her, as a friend, to even ask to pray with me. I respected that, and it softened my spirit. I began to feel a bit different. The questions came back but with less anger and more childlike curiosity. I felt free.
Do Your Research And Explore
The Capricorn in me likes to be armed with information so that I am not making choices based on ignorance. (And yes, I referenced a zodiac sign. I'm a Christian who referenced a zodiac sign. Yes.) True, our childhood experiences can affect our adult decisions, but I decided that the past and whatever I'd been shown didn't have to dictate my future. I challenged myself by following a Bible-reading schedule---which the friend from that internship experience introduced me to. It was a yearlong schedule that would get me through the entire Bible, and I actually finished half before that summer was over.
I also began to research different churches and denominations, their missions, and their leaders' backgrounds. I'd try to attend a different church at least once a month, just to expose myself and find out where I could connect. When I couldn't go into a church, I'd watch YouTube videos or live-stream services online. I didn't fully invest in going back, but this helped me get over some of my negative thoughts about pastors, church folk, and preachers.
I learned that not all are alike, not all are a fit, and there are many who are genuine and have ministries that speak to the intellect and explorer in me. I also learned that there are common traits and practices of some churches that turn me off and how to create boundaries for myself without feeling guilty about it.
I also ventured into Buddhism, and I would attend meditations and events with a friend who believed in a mixture of religions and spiritual practices. She was a person who just wouldn't commit to one, and that worked for her. I dabbled into Islam as well, and I enjoyed certain aspects of it including the discipline and the cultural diversity. Rastafarianism was attractive as well because I loved the idea of just being free of certain vanities, committing to Ital eating, and living a country life in Negril or Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Though I loved the teachings, meditations, and literature and was intrigued, I just did not connect with my spirit and the way I saw the world like the Biblical teachings of Christ.
Find A Balanced Support System
With this one, I want to put an emphasis on balance. (So, if sis is wearing skirts to the floor, never curses, and goes to church 7 days a week, and that triggers negative thoughts about your spiritual journey, that may not be the one you want to consult for balance. On the other hand, if you feel something is strongly drawing you to a way of life that includes those elements, explore it.)
I'd only been exposed to a glimpse of Christianity, and the people associated with it were a monolith. I had a totally one-sided, warped view of what being a Christian meant. I prayed and sought to widen my understanding by seeking support from balanced sources and individuals.
My sister, my mom, my mother's now-husband, and my uncle (a pastor who has diverse life experiences, can authentically change from a three-piece suit and Italian shoes into Air Force Ones and a white tee, and has helped people overcome addiction, incarceration, depression, and other life issues) became a huge support system. They were Christians who knew the Bible but didn't slam people with it, and they had been transparent about their own issues with God and church. They were also avid readers, invested in conferences and speakers, and could approach religious debates with compassion, humor, and intelligence.
With the help of a support system that included people with their own stories of spiritual transitions and growth, I was able to find new truths and widen my perspective.
Face Your Fears And Release The Shame
During my exploration---and after a bit of therapy---I found that I'd held church leaders and other Christians to a high, unrealistic standard, almost as if they were gods. I had to come to terms with their humanity, and I had to reconnect with the concept that God is greater than man. I had to offer grace to them and to myself.
As humans, none of us are perfect, and shame is not something that nurtures the spirit, nor does it help us in connection with God---at least not for me. The more shame I felt for not being perfect---and for the childhood memories from church---the less I wanted to even fool with God or anything spiritual. In the same vein, I still hold Christian leaders to a certain standard, and when I see red flags, I pray about it, watch, and then act accordingly. This is a constant work-in-progress, but I'm grateful I have an open heart and the opportunity to even do this. Some of us are so hardened from trauma that we cannot see ourselves through to salvation or freedom, and I think God lives in that space where we forgive ourselves and others for hurt of the past.
I also had to say, "Well, Janell, are you really mad at the 'church' or at yourself? What has God asked you to do that you are not doing? How can you be an asset?" I still struggle with this because again, trauma is trauma, but I find that if I put things into a self-accountability perspective, I can look at my journey more optimistically instead of just saying forget about it. For example, I can say, "Oh, the pastor has asked for two offerings in the past 45 minutes. I'm out," or I can say, "Hmmm, I wonder what the Bible says about tithing? How does this play into my role in being here? Where is the money going? Do I see tangible results of what this church is invested in? What is God moving me to do at this moment?" and make a decision from there.
This is my thought process for continuing to move forward and giving the journey a chance.
For anyone who is questioning spiritual connections they've made with God, whether it was due to childhood or adult trauma, I challenge you to continue through the process, ask questions in the journey, seek God in prayer and meditation, get therapy---do all you can to connect with where your heart and spirit find a home. Your spirit is directly linked to all other aspects of your life, so it's important to invest attention to that part of yourself.
I'm not ignoring nor disregarding the issues in religion---especially within Christian churches---but I choose to focus on what God has for me to do and my role in shifting the narrative. I've found peace in the redemptive and servant aspects of Christ, and I've been able to survive other traumatic experiences through my faith in God and belief in Christ. It suits me. It is what I believe in. It anchors me. My spiritual health means a lot to me, and I plan to nurture it just like any other aspect of my life.
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This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Imma tell y’all what — it seems like not one week goes by when I don’t see some sort of so-called term that has me like, “What in the world?” For instance, when I first stumbled upon “self-partnering,” honestly, I laughed. Then shared it with some other single people as well as married folks I know. And I kid you not, every individual was like, “What the heck does that mean?” When I told them that it was yet, one more way to seemingly define single living, basically everyone’s follow-up was, “Oh, brother.”
Why can’t (more) singles just be single and be okay with that? Good Lord. Why does there need to be some sort of relational play-on-words to make it sound like we’re with someone — even if we’re not?
Now masterdating? Even though it’s not even close to being a “real” word, it’s something that also brought a laugh outta me — although it was then followed by a genuine smile. The laugh because I almost immediately caught the play-on-words. The smile was due to the intention behind it all.
If you’re not familiar with what masterdating is and you’re curious about why you should even care, take a few moments to at least skim through what it’s about and why I think participating, as a single person, is a pretty cool (and effective) concept.
Masturdate: a date w oneself
What’s Masterdating All About?
Masterdating. Okay, so let the word marinate for just a moment. What does it sound like? Yeah…exactly. And since a huge part of masturbation centers around self-pleasure, it’s cool to explore how “self-dating” could produce similar (as far as pleasure is concerned in a broader sense) results. Because masterdating is all about spending quality time with yourself, pampering yourself, treating yourself— and yes, taking yourself out on dates.
Any of you who may think that masterdating is a consolation prize — and a pitiful one at that — for not being able to go out with another human being or get that dream $200 first date that social media was all in a tizzy about last year (bookmark that) — personally, I think that you’re the demographic who needs to try out masterdating first and the most. Why? Off top, I’ll share my three good reasons.
3 Reasons To Strongly Consider Masterdating
1. It’s an intimate way to get to know yourself better. I’ve been working with couples for a pretty long time at this point and if there’s a pattern that I see arise, OFTEN, it’s that two people are oftentimes so busy trying to “find their person” that they didn’t even know who they were. As a direct result, they found themselves in a relationship with someone who only complemented the “kiddie pool version” of who they were.
That’s why it can be so beneficial to spend time getting to know yourself on the “deep end” of things: what makes you tick, what your passions are, what you want most out of life, what are your interests beyond obvious things — and masterdating can help you to discover all of this. Whether it’s traveling alone or taking out a weekend to drink some wine and journal, the more you get to know yourself, the clearer you’ll be about who complements you on a romantic and friendship level.
2. It will definitely help to boost your confidence levels. I guess since I’m an ambivert, I don’t really get why people freak out at the mere thought of going to a restaurant or movie alone. Personally, I think it requires a helluva lot more energy and gumption to wait around and plan stuff with other people (#Elmoshrug). However, whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, there’s no way around the fact that the more comfortable you get with doing things alone, the more your confidence levels will increase — no, soar — because of it.
One article that I read on the topic said that doing things alone can make you more creative, improve your mental health, and help you to be totally okay with being alone (so that you’re not “needy” for other people’s attention). A psychotherapist from a New York Times article on the benefits of spending time alone said, “Getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout.” And when you’re able to stare negativity in its face without flinching, how could that not make you bolder, more self-secure, and hopeful about your life?
3. It will teach you to value your time more effectively. In every facet of your world, you’re gonna operate from a healthier place if you’re operating from a “full cup” rather than an empty one. When it comes to this topic, think about it — if you’re constantly waiting on someone to call you to go out or wishing for a dream date with some guy, all you’re doing is wasting precious time that you could be spending taking a cooking class or hell, hiring a chef to make you dinner at your own home.
Indeed, waiting has two sides to it: when it’s in the form of patience, it is indeed a virtue, yet when it’s wrapped up in the notion that you’re not really living life unless you have an audience…it is totally working against you. Choose wisely.
10 Solo Date Ideas To Help You To “Master” Masterdating
So, what if you’re someone who has either never considered actually masterdating before or you don’t really know what to do beyond dinner and the movies? Here are a few ideas to consider:
1. Attend a workshop or masterclass that you’re interested in. If there’s something that you’ve always wanted to learn, sign up for a workshop or masterclass. The cool thing about this option is there are probably some in your city, as well as some that you can find online (like here) that are convenient and affordable.
2. Binge-read at a local coffee shop. Aside from their coziness and oftentimes inviting scents, I once read that a lot of us gravitate to coffee shops because we can be around people without having to actually socialize with them. So, if you want to “hang out” while still being able to enjoy a bit of solitude, take a book that you’ve been trying to finish to a local coffee shop, order your favorite latte, and sit in a big-ass comfy chair. Usually, you can sit there for hours, and the staff will be just fine with it (another bonus).
3. Have a spa day in the next town. You can never go wrong with a spa day. And while going with a friend can be fun, sometimes there’s too much talking transpiring to be able to fully chill out and relax. So, go off of the grid, get a change of scenery, and hit up a spa in the next city (or town). There are lots of studies out here supporting that day trips or “daycations” can actually be really good for your long-term health and well-being.
4. See a community play. Some of the best solo dates that I’ve ever been on consisted of taking in some of the local arts in my city. What’s really cool about this particular option is, oftentimes, they are extremely inexpensive, if not totally free of charge (in exchange for making a donation or putting money into a tip jar).
5. Plan a trip. Whenever people say something along the lines of, “If you don’t expect anything, you won’t be disappointed,” I know that they low-key have some (additional) healing to do from past disappointments. There’s simply too much intel out here to support that anticipation (of good stuff) makes us more motivated and optimistic, keeps our dopamine levels up, and makes life more exciting overall.
Since traveling alone is more cost-effective, gives you the freedom to do whatever you want (when you want), and increases the possibility of meeting new people and having new experiences on your journey — why not devote a day this weekend to planning a solo trip? All the way around, it’s good for you.
6. Try your hand at your own “$200 date.” Uh-huh. Roll your eyes if you want to, but it’s real easy to talk left about how a man should be able to just drop $200 like it’s nothing…until you actually try to do it. So yes, while taking yourself out on this type of date could serve as a bit of a reality check, it can also “scratch the itch” of waiting on some dude to do it for you. It’s also way less emotionally draining because, at least when you’re taking your own self out, it’s guaranteed that you’ll enjoy the company…right?
7. DIY some pampering. When you get a chance, check out “5 Reasons You Should Unapologetically Pamper Yourself,” “Want To Love On Yourself? Try These 10 Things At Home.,” “I’ve Got Some Ways For You To Start Pampering Your Soul,” and “When's The Last Time You Actually Pampered Your Vagina?” The bottom line here is pampering is all about, not mere self-maintenance; it’s all about treating yourself to levels of EXTREME SELF-INDULGENCE. So, if nothing else tickles your fancy on this list, at least consider doing that, chile.
8. Feed your creativity. Something that I used to be really good at is art. That said, one of my goddaughters is insanely talented, so she has reminded me to tap back into it. Also, a big part of what got me into the writing world is poetry; I actually used to be a house poet at a local spot. Sometimes, my best quality time moments with myself have been revisiting these creative sides of me — and this is definitely easier to do (and enjoy) alone.
9. Try some stargazing. When’s the last time you took a blanket into your backyard, laid down on it, and just stared at the stars for hours on end? While some say that stargazing can teach you to be mindful, others say that being in that form of nature reduces stress, while others believe that looking up at the universe at night can increase your attention span. All solid reasons to give it a shot, if you ask me.
10. DO. ABSOLUTELY. NOTHING. Let me tell you something that nobody will ever be able to make me feel bad about: doing absolutely nothing. I’ve got data to back me up. Good Housekeeping shares that doing nothing can help you decide how you want to respond or react to certain things. I like howThe Guardian says that taking this approach helps you to regain control of what you give your attention to.
TIME magazine says that it can ultimately make you more productive.BBC offers up that it can help you tap into your ingenuity.Henry Ford Health says that it can make you kinder and a better problem-solver. So, if you want to invest in yourself, do nothing sometimes.
Closing Thoughts from the Lovely Javicia Leslie
While some of y'all may know Javicia Leslie from being the former Batwoman, I discovered her back in the day from the indie series Chef Julian (and yes, "Julian" was right to say that "Mo" looks like Tatyana Ali...the real ones know). Sometimes I'll hop on her IG to see what she's got going on and this story popped up within a few hours of me penning this...so, I took it as hella confirmation.
TREAT YO SELF. WAIT FOR NO ONE.
WAIT FOR NO ONE. TREAT YO SELF.
RINSE AND REPEAT.
Sooo…what kind of masterdating plans do you have for this coming weekend? While going out with others has its perks, hanging out with yourself has a ton of ‘em too. Enjoy!
No…for real. ENJOY!
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