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When You Lose Your Church Family

When You Lose Your Church Family
Share with a woman who needs hope!

Two nights ago I dreamed I was in the foyer of a church talking, joking, laughing with, and enjoying church people.

These were my people. My tribe. I was safe and happy in their circle of love.

I woke up and felt such a sorrow weighing on my chest and constricting my throat. Because it was just a dream. A distant memory, actually.

Because I lost my church family.

I loved my church family. They were mine because we shared some incredible things.

We shared a faith. We shared a language. We shared a culture. We shared a history.

I used to belong to my tribe, and they belonged to me. We were one, just like God had said we would be.

Until I spoke up and said my husband was hurting me.

For some reason I cannot fathom, that was not acceptable among my people. They no longer talked to me or laughed with me. I had to pine after them from a distance because they no longer enjoyed me.

I became “that woman who said her husband was hurting her.

I would come to learn that…

When a woman says her husband is hurting her, she is:

  • Ungrateful
  • Selfish
  • Airing dirty laundry
  • Lying to herself
  • Wearing the pants
  • Making a mountain out of a molehill
  • Unsubmissive
  • A dripping faucet
  • Jezebel
  • Mean-spirited
  • Rebellious (which is as the sin of witchcraft)

All of the things I had desperately spent my life trying NOT to be.

Brene Brown points out in her new book, Atlas of the Heart, that “we know from the research that unwanted identity is the most powerful elicitor of shame. If you want to know what’s likely to trigger shame for you, then fill in this sentence stem: It’s really important for me not to be perceived as ______”

For me, the word is selfish.

My mom used to scold me if she caught me looking at myself in a mirror or a store window. I was being “selfish.” To this day, I have a difficult time forcing myself to look into the mirror in a public bathroom for fear that someone will think I’m selfish.

I was selfish

  • for speaking my thoughts.
  • For using the word “I” in my writing.
  • For having a different opinion.
  • For not giving someone what they demanded.
  • For not reading their mind correctly in order to provide them with what they needed.
  • For having a blog.
  • For having a business.
  • For having a hobby.
  • For resting.
  • For bringing a store-bought pie to share instead of a homemade one.
  • For having emotions.
  • For talking about my emotions.
  • For having an inner world and daring to share it in a blog post (hi!)
  • For saying my husband was hurting me.

Actually, that’s not quite true. I could say he was hurting me, but I wasn’t allowed to say it too much (maybe once every 5-7 years was okay as long as I didn’t give details and minimized the impact on me), and I wasn’t allowed to do anything about it for myself. That would be selfish.

I had to face my inner shame in order to find my freedom.

In order to find ME.

I had no idea where I began and where I ended. I was enmeshed with everyone around me. I belonged to them. I was swallowed up by them.

But here’s what I learned.

The issue wasn’t that they were swallowing me up and I had no power. The issue was that I allowed them to swallow me up because I had zero boundaries.

Boundaries meant being selfish, and there was too much shame around that identity for me.

So it was a blessing in disguise when my people sent me packing at the first sign of a personal boundary. I had to stare the belly of the monster of shame right down the gullet.

And then I had to jump in.

Like Jonah, I didn’t die in that belly. I found out who I was and why I was created. I found out that to live is to be “selfish” on some level.

If we are not selfish, we would not eat or drink or shower or sleep or take medicine. We would die. Because we are a creation of God, wired for survival, we will preserve ourselves.

  • We will contemplate and have thoughts about our appearance in mirrors.
  • We will have our own thoughts, dreams, and opinions.
  • We will have our own choices and make them.
  • We will make our own mistakes and learn.
  • We will write our own songs and stories and create our own art.
  • We will make our own money and help our own people and change our own world.
  • We will feel our own feelings and share them with the people we trust.
  • We will make our own choices about who we spend time with, have sex with, and serve.
  • We will write emails like this where we talk out our experiences.

That’s our God-given inheritance as His beloved creation.

We call these human rights. And to the degree that we exercise our own healthy boundaries, that is the degree that we grow into selflessness.

We cannot help others grow into the fullness of who God created them to be when we are afraid to “selfishly” grow into our own.

I had this dream because I am still processing this loss. I admit it. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but I wonder sometimes if I will never quite overcome my sorrow over this tremendous rejection from my tribe.

All these years later I can’t step foot in a church without feeling like I don’t belong anymore. Which is why the dream I had, which felt so real and beautiful, tore me up inside when I woke up and remembered it wasn’t true.

The other day I had to sell tickets for my daughter’s basketball game. Three of my kids attend a small private church school in our neighborhood, so I get to dip my feet in those waters on a regular basis even though I no longer attend church anywhere.

During my ticket selling assignment, I bantered and laughed with some of the folks coming in. I especially enjoy the older ones with their twinkling eyes and easy teasing.

They have nothing to win or lose. Just life to live.

I can relate to them the most, and I’m drawn to them. The little girl inside is thirsting for that connection. That church-family-love I lost.

And when they went into the game, I was left sitting at that desk trying my darndest not to bust into body-wracking sobs. God help me, I miss my people. I will always miss them.


There is another side to this story inside of me.

Because in that same week I met with the Flying Free members on Zoom and then with the Flying Higher members. We also laugh and cry and pray together. And since we have all been identified as “those rebellious ones” we gather outside the city gates in our huddles and comfort one another.

We are the Church. The Church Jesus is living and breathing and moving in. I remind myself of this, still wishing we could see each other in person. Still wishing we could share potluck meals, listen to missionary adventures on Sunday nights, and sing songs with choirs and Awana kids.

But then I think of the underground church in China and other places where rebels have to hide to survive, and I know I have it good. I’m blessed. The Church is alive and well all over the world, and I am an integral part of it in just one of the varied ways it thrives.

I do believe (because this is the AMAZING God I now worship) that God is Big Enough and Love Enough to restore us to our people. To enfold us back into FAMILY.

I don’t think it will happen here on this planet. Too much smoke and mirrors. People can’t see clearly.

But one day, beautiful butterfly.

One Great Day.

I can’t wait.



P.S. If you have experienced spiritual abuse, you may benefit from the articles and podcast episodes on my website HERE that specifically focus on understanding and healing from spiritual abuse.

Flying Free Sisterhood

An online coaching, education, and support community for women of faith in destructive relationships.

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The Comments

  • Avatar
    Dixie Hurley
    April 13, 2024

    i’m sixty eight now . in my forties my husband sat an eighteen yr old girl on his lap an tickled her under the boobs right in front of me i confronted him on it ,he laughed at me , then quit speaking to me, then tried a while later to strangle me to death , i left him but did not file for divorce . He later kidnapped my developmentally disabled son who was mine from a first marriage he had no legal rights even to see hem had not adopted him had payed no child support no legal rights . kidnapped him from his school . He also started seeing another woman and married her exactly one month after he divorced me an it was final . He then proceeded he an his daughter from his first wife , to spread all across town where we lived and another town where we went to church that i was the Devil incarnate , They said i was a whore who had cheated many times on Him . the fact was i’d been with no one at that time . He nearly destroyed my nursing career because he influenced virtually everyone in town to hate me that much . His best friend also basically kidnapped my daughter too . she had gone an stayed all night with his daughter an then when i went to pick her up when i was to get her back he refused to let me have her or even talk to her . He shoved me and called me a fat bitch dog an told me i’d never we see my daughter again . i had to call the police to go get her back for me . then on top of all this my church family all everyone quit speaking to me , the minister there an another minister in the town where we lived both told me i was the whore Gomar from the bible and that i was going to hell , and that i was lucky my husband had ever even wanted me in the first place . our minister took all the jobs i was doing in church away from me and also would not even let me sing any longer . he let my husband keep all his church jobs . an no one there has ever spoken to me since . i’ve never attended church anyplace since , and never been invited by anyone since to go to church anywhere ever again . i do not blame God or do not hate God either . i love Him . but i’m daily reminded that God does not want me or love me that i’m the most vile piece of crap that ever has lived . i’ve begged God to kill me . but for over twenty years He has let me live . while the man that caused all this Got cancer and survived it , then died a couple of years later of a massive stroke ! Then his daughter went around telling everyone i gave her dad the cancer an then the stroke that killed him . i did not do either . in fact by the time those things happened i had not spoken to or been around him in over a year . i’ve been broken depressed lonely an wanted to die every since because i know exactly how worthless i am .

    • Natalie Hoffman
      Natalie Hoffman
      → Dixie Hurley
      April 13, 2024

      I’m so sorry Little Dixie has been surrounded by abusers her entire life. I wrote a book about Little Natalie called All the Scary Little Gods. I wrote it for women who may wonder why God doesn’t rescue them and why He seems silent in the face of abuse. I think it may help you. You can find it on Amazon HERE. I recently did an interview about my book on the Filled to Flourish podcast that might be helpful. (((hugs)))

  • Avatar
    May 4, 2023

    I can relate so much to this article, and actually wondered if anyone out there felt the same loss I did. I was a pastor’s wife for 30 years, in the same church for all those years. I had no one else in my life besides the church family, until the day I spoke up about my husband (now ex). That was their pastor and they were his “fan club”, and speaking up made me an instant enemy. Thank you, Natalie, for showing us all the path to healing!

    • Avatar
      → Kim
      February 6, 2024

      I was a pastor’s wife for 24 years. I am in the beginning stages of moving out and in the process of finalizing my divorce. I feel so lost without serving in church. Still dealing with so many emotions. I am sorry we did not get the fairy tale story. Sending you lots of love my sister.

  • Avatar
    Dawn Christiansen
    April 26, 2023

    My heart has been broken by every single church I have ever attended for any amount of time except for the church we moved away from when I was 13. Every. Single. One. And right now, the thought of walking into another church and starting all over again makes me literally sick to my stomach. I am simultaneously hungry and completely repulsed by church. And it is a weird place to be. It hurts and I am relieved at the same time. It leaves a weird feeling like a whirlwind in my soul; a vacuum and a repulser at the same time.

  • Avatar
    Tricia Rutherford
    April 26, 2023

    Thank you for sharing, Natalie. I was just sitting at my computer this morning feeling so disconnected. I tried a new church recently and it felt so… off. I couldn’t connect with the message or even the music.
    Just knowing I’m not in the boat alone offers relief.
    Thank you.

  • Avatar
    Kyndra Dykstra
    April 25, 2023

    I have belonged to the Protestant Reformed church, almost all my life. I am pretty much at my church for the money because nothing else makes sense. I can’t get a full time job unless it’s in school (I am a medical assistant) or a work from home job. I am my kids primary care giver. I have almost all the time. Besides every other weekend. How am I supposed to make it on my own. Hardly any child support.

  • Avatar
    April 13, 2022

    This article is me!

    – Going back a few years. I’m over the worst now, it took a long while to understand what was happening……

  • Avatar
    January 27, 2022

    I didn’t lose my church family.

    I lost my daughter.

    Because she abandoned my church, of which she had been a member for 23 years, and joined another ‘church’/cult. Their teaching was that my daughter’s new church family was more important than her biological family.

    I no longer have the daughter I loved and cherished. She says I am just the womb she grew in. 🙁

  • Avatar
    January 22, 2022

    I can relate after losing my church family of almost 14 years
    I can relate to the PTSD as every time I step into another church I hear my pastors words of no church will like you. Every time I sing I hear his words of your worship is so terrible that people are having trouble worshiping here. I am shattered and none of my friends are picking up the pieces

  • Avatar
    Susan Cain
    January 21, 2022

    I can sooo relate to this. I grew up in the church and love the REAL body of believers there. The internal shame from being told I’m selfish and so blind that I don’t even see it and the external shame from those with their own religious mindsets kinda takes the oxygen out of the church room. But… I’m closer to Jesus than ever! He’s walked with me every step of my way out of abuse. And His presence with me trumps man’s shame. Good to know manmade stumbling blocks will not be found in heaven.

  • Avatar
    January 21, 2022

    It is heartbreaking that abusers are supported and victims are rejected. I am happy to say that I have found churches in my journey that literally are based on the grace of Christ. It is terrifying to take the risk to enter the building and then face the people but grace is to be found along with a new tribe. Would it be possible to create a network of grace focused and trauma informed churches who band together to support and enfold the hurting?