Boundaries and Deconstructing
Welcome to Grace and Space, a weekly newsletter from the Deconstructing Mamas Podcast! GRACE for who you have been, are now and SPACE for who you are becoming and will be!
Changing your faith wreaks havoc on relationships of all kinds. It’s the number one thing people ask me about. From parents, siblings and friends to children and spouses, changing your spiritual identity can be painfully disruptive to you and your people.
The relational values that go along with so many religious traditions just heightens the tension. Here are the default mindsets I held for most of my life:
—your closest friends should share your spiritual beliefs
—faith is the most important aspect of any relationships
—if Christ isn’t the center of your relationship, you risk hurting each other or leading each other astray
—you can be sort of friends with people who don’t share your faith, but they aren’t as valuable as other relationships
—caring for someone means telling them the “truth” even when it hurts and holding them accountable for their behavior and beliefs
When this is your frame of reference for relationships, there’s very little room to change your beliefs without losing every bit of intimacy in the process.
This week I asked my Instagram community to share stories of being in relationship with people who remain in the faith traditions they have left. I hoped to get a few responses to better understand what you all are dealing with and maybe quote a few, but was promptly flooded with well over 100 of you sharing what’s hard and how you’re coping. Here’s a sampling of what came in:
“I feel disconnected/irrelevant in their lives since it was the primary thing we discussed.”
“Getting told “the truth in love” was more painful and hurtful - huge hole left in our friendship.”
“I haven’t told them yet because I am so scared. It’s going to be very bad.”
“Not a lot of relationships left because they want nothing to do with us.”
“I thought my relationships were based on more than shared church. Not as true as I thought.”
My heart kept sinking the more I read. We’re certainly feeling the negative affects of these relational values, aren’t we? To be so quickly cast aside when we act on our own convictions, by those who’ve held us most of our lives… there’s just no solution, and no easy fix.
We just can’t control how other people talk to us, act toward us, abandon us, or try to manipulate or coerce us back into certain beliefs and behavior. People are going to do what they’re going to do.
But we have control over how we move forward. We can decide how we want to think about relationships, with people from our past faith and with new people moving forward and hopefully free ourselves from any unnecessary pain and drama.
1. You can decide to be a safe and generous person in your mixed-faith relationships.
I was a bit convicted this week while getting to know the mom of one of my son’s friends. After my always-awkward attempt at explaining my work (uhhh I used to work in churches but now I don’t and I’m not even really that kind of Christian any more and I write for other people who also feel that way… yeah…), she mentioned that she and her family attend a well-known evangelical church in the area. Suddenly I was horrified that this kind woman with the sweet son might look me up and see my Instagram account. Have I said anything offensive about evangelicals that would make her not want to have a playdate with me???
In that moment, I realized that I never want to make anyone feel about their religious beliefs the way that I’ve been made to feel about mine. I want to be the kind of friend I crave: someone who listens with respect and curiosity, who encourages even if they don’t agree, and is truly happy for anyone who finds meaning in their faith.
Questions you might ask yourself to dismantle this mindset:
Are there any relationships that I’m rejecting simply because we no longer agree, that might have life if I could accept our differences?
Am I putting up walls with loved ones simply because I’m not comfortable disagreeing?
How can I be a safe person for existing and future mixed-faith relationships?
2. Your relationships don’t have to be centered or formed around spirituality.
Here’s something that didn’t ever cross my mind when I was immersed in the Christian bubble: people who don’t go to church somehow find community, too. It had been so drilled into me that church was the only place to find meaningful community, that when I left ministry and my Christian community dissolved like cotton candy in a swimming pool, I thought I was destined to be alone forever. Then my therapist pointed out that, like, wow, there are other people in the world besides Christians. Most people find community, she taught me, by pursuing their interests and getting involved in their communities… things that also happen to be really good for self-care and mental health.
I felt so foolish when I recognized that even after church wasn’t an option, I still thought I needed to find spiritually like-minded people in order to have community.
Do I love that I have found all of you and am able to share a common spirituality? YES!!! It’s amazing and the best! But you guys aren’t my only community, and you’re not the only ones in the running to be my friends.
Here's how one person described finding friends:
“I have a public account and started sharing all my hikes, paddle boarding and coffee, etc. I started following people in my community who had the same interests, met up with a few of them and we turned into friends! I also asked a few acquaintances that I thought were cool people to hang out and got to know them better, too. Cutting toxic friends out and being cut out led to a lot of alone time for awhile but I took the space to really invest in myself and eventually met people on a similar path. I think getting comfortable on my own helped me have the confidence to reach out to get to know people. So many people want to be friends; we can just get too shy or nervous to make the first move sometimes.”
Raise your hand if you just got inspired to go try to make some new friends 🙋🏻♀️.
3. You are strong enough to set boundaries and still be okay.
So we've established that you can be a safe person willing to be in a mutually respectful relationship with people with different beliefs, and you can make friendships that aren’t centered on spirituality. But what about all those relationships that aren’t respecting your beliefs, and aren’t willing to talk about anything besides spirituality?
This is where it comes down to the most boring answer that we will repeat over and over to ourselves 50 times a day and still struggle to actually implement and maintain:
Just like you can decide what kind of person you want to be in your relationships, you can also decide what words and behaviors you can accept and which you cannot in your relationships.
According to a video I can no longer find on Instagram, true boundaries aren’t something we can enforce on others; but something we are in control of ourselves. So saying, “you can’t say that to me” is not a boundary, because you can’t control what someone else says. Saying, “if you say that to me, I’m going to hang up the phone,” is a boundary because it’s something that you can control.
There are lots of people writing good things about boundaries so I won’t try to wax too eloquently on it. (The Holistic Psychologistt has had some helpful reels showing examples of setting good boundaries lately!) I will only say that, from experience, setting boundaries with close relationships is extremely difficult and also, extremely freeing and affirming. I have had huge parts of my soul stop clamoring in anguish once I set a boundary, because I finally proved to the tenderest and most defensive parts of me that I’m trustworthy and will protect myself above all.
If you know there’s a boundary that you need to set, but you know the fallout will be substantial, consider this me cheering you on with pompoms and confetti. You can do it. You’re worth it.
There are probably more mindsets to deconstruct about relationships. We can’t hit them all. Just know that you are not powerless in your difficult relationships. You are not at the mercy of the people in your life to decide how they want your relationships to be. You can decide what sort of person you want to be, and go forth and manage your existing relationships and form new ones accordingly. --JOY VETTERLEIN--
This Week on the Podcast: Joy Vetterlein, author of that incredibly helpful article about boundaries and deconstructing, is our guest this week. Joy is a lifelong church girl and former-pastor-turned-misfit-rebel who got tired of being hurt and seeing other people get hurt by evangelical Christianity. She's here to help you find your own path to spirituality, especially if you feel like a "spiritual misfit" just like her. Joy is a fellow deconstructing mama who spent much of her journey being the poster child for Christianity while at the same time being miserable. When she lost her pastoral job (along with her calling and identity), she also lost her willingness to pretend anymore. She reminds us that although she was crushed, she was also freed. If you haven't heard about Joy yet on this ever-evolving faith journey, you are going to want to listen to this episode. She unpacks so many things about faith and motherhood that will leave you wanting more and more. We know we do and that's why we follow her on all her social media platforms and also receive her Sunday Soul Care emails every week, that feed our own Deconstructing Mama souls. You will want to as well! You can find Joy at the following: Website: www.joyvetterlein.com Instagram: @joyvetterlein
Facebook: Joy Vetterlein Creative
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Esther was interviewed this past week for the first time on a YouTube channel called LOVE UNRELENTING. How fun is that? You can watch this powerful 8-minute video of her chatting up a storm about HELL and how the whole doctrine comes from humanity being pushed by fear instead of being led by love, something so harmful to both us and our kids. (Also don't mind the laptop glare in her glasses...YIKES!)
This song. That's all. This song. The Plowshare Prayer. Listen over and over and over again! And then go and follow her on Spotify or wherever you listen to music. Did we mention that you should listen to it over and over and over again?
We love love love this from our podcast guest this week! Buying it for ourselves! Find new meaning and reclaim lost joy in the tradition, season and story of Christmas—even if you don’t believe in it anymore. Includes:
Digital ebook with 28 reflections
Daily emails 11/27-12/24 with:
Printable of The Christmas Epic: a poetic paraphrase
Reimagining Christmas playlist on Spotify Purchase it HERE and DO NOT MISS OUT!
We also want to remind you that we are so glad you are here. We wouldn't be the same without you. You will always find GRACE for where you've been and who you are now, and SPACE for who you are becoming and will be.
Carry on, our new-found friends. Welcome to the twisty-windy, full -of-adventure faith path that's laid out before us all. Love,
Lizz & Esther P.S. SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER HERE!