when easter's hard.

blog when easter is hardmost of you already all know that i love easter because i’m always rambling about it. i’m definitely not alone on this one. it’s the most popular christian holiday & many more people-who-don’t-identify-with-the-Jesusy-part-of-easter love it, too, with all its chocolate & springtime & fun.

we already celebrated last night at the refuge (we get resurrection sunday about 12 hours earlier than everyone else because we gather on saturday nights). it was sweet & wild & fun, with one of my favorite songs ever and lovely stories of resurrection.

but these days i know more & more people who struggle with easter. in fact, they dread it. it’s become a sad day. a weird day. a disorienting day. a day where the reality of everything they’ve lost when it comes to faith & church is most evident.

today i wanted to honor the reality that while facebook & twitter & churches are abuzz with “he is risen!” and “hallelujahs!”, there are a lot of people who aren’t feeling it today.

and they’re not the people who are happily telling stories about the easter bunny, not at all concerned about going to church no matter how many times their neighbors invite them on christmas & easter. for those friends, they are free from the religious parts of easter.

rather, these current & sometimes-calling-themselves-former christians have spent countless years & hours & heart & time & energy investing in the churches they were part of. they were true believers, dedicated leaders, faithful followers. they were people who knew the Bible inside and out and loved God and people with their whole heart.  they were the first ones there every easter sunday.

this is a group that are often forgotten on this day–ex-church-folks who long for the connection & community & hope that easter offers but can’t bring themselves to walk into any of them this year. they’re what my friend & compatriot in walking wounded: hope for those hurt by church, phyllis mathis, calls “allergic” to church, far beyond just not liking it.

it would be easy to dismiss them, and say “well, they just need to get over it, it’s just one hour” or “we can’t let them ruin our fun” without acknowledging that it really stinks when the luster of easter erodes and you find yourself out on the fringes of everything that once was familiar.

when the thought of walking into a church makes you feel a little sick.

when all of the words to the songs seem silly.

when you’re not sure what you believe about a lot of things you used to believe and so what’s easter supposed to mean then?

when the predictability of the sermons & the messages & the whole kit-and-kaboodle could potentially cause you to jump out of your seat and start screaming.

when nothing related to “church” feels safe or good right now.

i just wanted to say something out loud about it this easter instead of ignore it.

to remind my friends that even though i don’t know this exact feeling because i have my crazy community that is still a safe spot to celebrate easter, i hurt with you for the loss.

to acknowledge that it’s real and not crazy.

to say out loud that i really wish there were better options to hold a sacred space for this season of the spiritual journey that felt familiar enough.

to honor that it really sucks when the system hijacked so much of the good stuff and holds it hostage.

i am well aware that it’s never a great idea to write about something that i haven’t also experienced myself. but i also don’t want to be one of those people who just keeps walking past, so busy in my own little world that i don’t stop to acknowledge my brothers-and-sisters-who-have-lost-so-much.

most of all, my hope is that if you are hurting & lost this easter, that somehow, some way, some slivers of Hope & Resurrection come peeking through this year and you feel less alone.

peace & love from colorado.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

77 Comments

  • I, too, do not know that feeling, but my heart aches for those in that place. Nice of u to honor them.

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    • i was definitely reminded this past week what a gift our weird & wild little community has been to me. so grateful for you!

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  • Easter is a traumatic time for me… A time to remember that the one man in my family, my grandpa Jim, in gone– and the rest of my family are all still here, the ones who celebrated with evil and darkness… a Holiday which could have been so wonderful seems forever wrecked and disgusting.
    I stay in and I don’t come out until it’s over.
    I may brave being with my refuge friends this year, I don’t know yet. We’ll see how I feel when it gets closer to noon…
    Some people have a way of ruining the fun for everyone else, but not because they’re negative nelly’s like me… but because they are evil, and they have done terrible, horrible things to a day that is supposed to be good. That’s just as bad as what so many churches have done to it, and for the same evil guy, too…

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    • love you, my friend. you were missed and yes, it is so hard when so much ickiness is attached to things that are meant for good. meanwhile, i’ll hold on to hope for you that over time, the grip will release and some of these holidays can be redeemed. xo

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  • Thanks, Kathy. Yep, we’re out here those of us who “have spent countless years & hours & heart & time & energy investing in the churches they were part of.” As one who does know the feeling, let me say that you described it pretty well. Thanks for your care & your sensitivity.

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  • Kathy, Thank you for being my “comforter” today!

    I really don’t feel sad about missing church after two decades of pastoring, but I am just a little lonely. It seems like there must be something in between playing the church game and isolation.

    In the midst of these feelings, I found encouragement last night while at a party with my granddaughters. One of them turned to me and said something to the effect that she didn’t feel comfortable at the church of her manipulative ex-boyfriend anymore. Then she confided that she felt very comfortable talking to me about “spiritual matters” which gave way to a deep and meandering conversation among her friends as we sipped cocktails in her garage.

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    • now that’s a pretty story, my friend, and a lovely way to celebrate easter & hope seeping through in strange ways.

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  • “to honor that it really sucks when the system hijacked so much of the good stuff and holds it hostage.”
    I haven’t been one who has been hurt (yet?) but I can appreciate this.
    I have started to think that the blame is because we are never taught to be disciples, because there are so few disciples.
    And if I have hurt anyone because of my naivety or stupidity, . . .
    We see each other as adults, but in our spiritual lives, may be toddlers, or even younger. Its too bad we don’t develop spiritual eyes that can see each other as we really are and give more grace. But that, too, is a frightening thought – to be seen as we really are.

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    • thanks for sharing & i really like your thought of how we don’t treat each other as adults. so much of the system is built on child-managing, not disciple-nurturing. i really think the scariest thing for all of us is to be seen & to really see others. i think that is the essence of christian community.

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  • My first Easter without the organized church. My husband, two children and I sat in the living room discussing what Easter truly means as well as the history of the eggs and bunny. A combination of religion and paganism openly discussed in a loving environment while giving a Jesus and genuine prayer of Thanksgiving. I didn’t miss being in the institute of a church building but it did feel odd. Cathy states quite well the mixed emotions I deal with daily. Thank you for your effort to understand with compassion. God is doing a mighty thing with former church building dwellers but as for now, my family needs to heal. Thanks!

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    • thank you, traci, for taking time to share. sounds like a really fun conversation together. i am glad you are doing whatever you need to do to heal & breath & be together.

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    • it needed to be said, thanks for always reminding me of important things.

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  • How very like you to remember … Thank you, Kathy. I’m honored to know you …

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    • i feel the same about you, so grateful that our paths crossed. your wisdom & heart are so encouraging to me.

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  • This post was one of the best parts of my day today. Thank you for remembering us and reminding us that we’re not alone.

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  • Kathy, thank you.

    Hmm…just 2 weeks ago, for my own sanity, I had to (once again) walk away from “church”. The little fellowship I gad been involved in has de-volved into church – and that was frustrating – but the they began teaching thing that essentially labelled me demonic (they don’t know this – they know my history, but somehow don’t connect the dots to the teaching)…I know I should probably talk to them about it, but I don’t have the emotional energy; just started working again… So, yeah. They had been planning a Good Friday candlelight communion, etc…. and I had too walk away or risk losing myself to the wrong thing again.

    So, again, thanks.

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    • $*#$^!&!*!*. “devolved into church..” argh. i am glad you are taking good care of yourself as you figure out what a next step might be with them. love from across the hills.

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      • Thanks. 🙂 Love back. Right now, I wish one of us was closer…

        You know, the leader did a series of teachings on ‘demonology’ – something that was part of my denominational upbringing. And he made some bold, blanket statements that I hadn’t heard since I walked away from the ‘cult’ 5 years ago.

        “Doctors can’t take blood and diagnose depression. That’s because depression isn’t an illness, it’s demonic. Epilepsy is a demon. In fact, mental illness is just something the world came up with to explain the effects of demons in someone’s life.”

        “If you see someone who has reverted to old behaviors – starts cussing, quits reading their Bible, these are signs of demonic influence. The answer is to ‘hammer’ the ‘Word of God’ into the situation until that ‘rock’ of demonic influence breaks.” (Used Jeremiah 23:29 as text to back this up.) He actually said that the ‘Word of God’ was more powerful than the name of Jesus. Sigh.

        This is straight out of the old-time Pentecostal playbook – the one I grew up in. Interestingly, the above symptoms are also identical to the ones exhibited by someone detoxing from a religiously abusive situation.

        The thing that blew me away was that this was so out of left field from what I expected from him.

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  • Thanks for this. I don’t really know if I could say that I’ve been hurt directly by the church or Christians, but I have been questioning just about everything lately, to the point of teetering on the edge of disbelief and not being sure which direction I’m going to fall. I’ve felt awkward and out of place in my own family for a long time because of that, and especially today of all days. Thank you for your kind thoughts towards those like me who aren’t sure of where they are now, who don’t feel safe talking to others about the way they feel and don’t feel safe or free in church anymore.

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    • thanks, KC, yeah, i think you are in good company on this, not really “church wounded” but “faith shifted” and what does that mean for all kinds of things. “awkward” is a word that seems to come up a lot in this situation. and awkward always feels so uncomfortable. thanks for reading & taking time to share.

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  • I almost left my church’s egg hunt Saturday because I was so overwraught with (bad) emotion. Today was better because I actually ran into people who were caring and authentic Christ-followers. Yesterday, all I could see was hypocrisy – which I know wasn’t the whole picture – there were good people there yesterday, too. I just didn’t happen to run into them. I blogged on a similar topic when I got home today. It helped me process, and showed me also what I want to be in my walk with Christ.

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    • thanks for sharing, amanda. hard stuff. glad that you were able to write about it, there is something really cathartic about that process instead of it just spinning around inside of us.

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  • Thank you so much for writing this. Just what I needed to read today.

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  • Yeah Kathy, I am not feeling it this year. Well I guess I shouldn’t say that, because the fact that I’ve been fighting kinda a manic-depressive mood lately. It’s kinda hard to look up. But I do rejoice that He has Risen. 🙂

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    • thanks for taking time to share, eddy. oh that tug under is so hard. hope & peace from afar.

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  • The day seemed like a normal Sunday for us – every other week we spend time with the homeless. The first homeless person wished us a “Happy Easter!, as did most of the homeless we talked to.

    Three guys, however, gave us more. (We went with the intention of being the givers!) One fellow asked if we were planning to go to church today. We told him “This is our church service, spending time with you.” He replied, “That is cool. That is so cool!”

    The second fellow told us his life story for the past fourteen years, including stints in prison (for stupid things he had done), but repeatedly told us how good God has been to him, and that God’s grace is free for everyone, even people who mess up and do stupid stuff, and it is free, free, free.

    The third fellow was a Vietnam vet (we meet lots of vets on the street), had been badly injured in the war, and had been a POW for several years (part of them spent in a small bamboo cage). I remember reading his story on the front page of the newspapers in the 60’s, and checked it out again this afternoon. He has a bullet hole in his head, lives on the sidewalk and is filthy, yet he had lots of good things to say about the love of God for all of us.

    What can I say except we met with the church on Easter? Probably my favorite Easter “service” ever.

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  • Yep. That’s me to a tee, Kathy. Thanks for follwing your heart because your word spoke to and comforted mine. The journey in the wilderness continues but without the golden calf that we ask kleaders to construct to help us remember the God we can’t afford to forget. Unfortunately, the calf is a distraction from the Mystery that leads us to a new land.

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  • Hurting…but not lost. Thank you for stopping to acknowledge what so many people refuse to honour.

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    • thanks for sharing. i love the acknowledgement that we can be hurting but not lost. so good to remember. peace.

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  • I am struck this Easter with how my savior was beaten by hands he created, mocked by those whose breath he gave, and denied by the one he had called. Yet he forgave them, he bore this sin as his own.   Out from death he came not with vengeance, anger, nor sword, but with the promise of His Spirit to be entrusted to a weak and silly band of followers. He came with a message of repentance and forgiveness. Seems foolish to me. You’d think he would have learned his lesson. You just can’t trust people, they’ll keep hurting you.  But God has a way of taking the foolish things of this world to shame the wise and using the suffering from the world For His glory. Oh, thank you Jesus for your daily mercies.

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    • thanks for sharing jennifer, that is the third time i have heard that verse this week, all through different lenses. so interesting.

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  • Interesting perspective, but I wonder more about the rationale of your “walking wounded.” Are these the people who still adhere to religion but are no longer comfortable with the organization, or are they folks who have jettisoned religion altogether? For the latter group (myself included) I imagine a guiltless Easter spent with friends and family, celebrating the beauty and sense of renewal that Spring brings. I hope others might discover that same peace.

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    • i think “walking wounded” tend to be those who are struggling with their church exit or with church pain somehow as opposed to those who have deconstructed and have found a peaceful place to land. not all those who are walking wounded were necessarily hurt overtly by church but sometimes the pain comes from the church not being able to handle their questions, doubts, shifts, etc. that is only my perspective on the semantics of it. i think that the place you have landed is where many hope to end up, a “guiltless easter…celebrating..” thanks for sharing.

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      • Kathy, yes I think I get what you’re saying now. It’s as if folks are in the midst of a slowly desolving marriage, and then suddenly a silent drive past the restaurant where you and your spouse shared your first date reminds you of the joy you once felt with each other. But in the next moment, the idea that joy may be lost makes the pain all the more real.

        I hope your readers remember that they are each incredible in their own right, that they cut themselves some slack and allow themselves a bit of latitiude to think and feel without guilt, and that they find the peace they seek 🙂

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  • Tipping my hat to you Kathy…I can see why Phyllis loves you so…and Jesus too!

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    • thanks, judi, for reading. so glad to be doing some of this work with phyllis for walking wounded. you know how amazing she is.

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  • Thank you for putting this into words. Even if you haven’t personally experienced these feelings, you certainly write about them as if you do.

    I don’t need everyone at church to doubt and struggle with the gospel as I do. Just being understood by those who press on in believing would more than enough for me.

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    • thanks, lynn, i really appreciate what you said about not needing everyone to be in the same place, but how important it is to be understood. i really believe that shouldn’t be as hard as it is seems to be for so many churches. it’s a very interesting phenomenon, how little we tolerate anything that makes us uncomfortable. peace and hope to you.

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  • Just so many things that I want to say. I did not know so many existed. I mean, I knew…but I didn’t. It feels good to know I am not alone. I am going to read more here before I say more but I’ll be back around to comment. Thank you for remembering those of us who live seemingly forgotten. (and just to clarify, I don’t feel forgotten by God…just by His people)
    PS…I don’t know about the pc-ness of this but I want to invite you to dumpster dive a bit into some of my pages. It just would feel nice to be heard.

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  • I just jumped over here from Rachel Held Evans’ blog and I am so glad I did. Nearly 30 years ago I re-entered church as an adult because I had a crush on an assistant pastor. My faith journey took me to another church eventually where I heard my call to ministry. This was a community for which the stated values were to reach those abused, rejected and wounded by the church. I loved this community and faithfully entered formation under the pastor there, getting into seminary and struggling through the process until ordination. Directly after that, I was abused, rejected and wounded by that church community because I saw through the veil that the real values were blind obedience and money, ostensibly in the cause of mission but with no accountability to any structure or authority.

    I spent several years feeling crushed, finding myself bi-vocational and getting creative about staying in the ministry. I now serve a lay-led, nondenominational church “for people of all faiths and of uncertain faith.” I am the pastoral counselor and there is no senior pastor position that could morph into an abusive structure. The lay board runs everything and I serve them with pastoral care and lending expertise when appropriate. We are small but powerful and work hard at accountability and integrity.

    Yesterday I delivered the Easter message from the pulpit, but the congregation reached out and gave the message of love to the community.

    A decade ago, I was crushed and wanted never to be in a church again. However, I knew the reality of Resurrection as a gift from God, not something any institution could ever give. I am grateful to God for holding me close and guiding me toward community again. And I am grateful to you for so clearly articulating not only the effects of ecclesial abuses of power, but also the healing that is ours from God in the fullness of time.

    Much love!
    Rev. John Magisano

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    • thanks, john, i always love hearing stories like yours. beautiful. what’s so real, though, is how often it takes some kind of crash/big shift/hitting the wall/etc. to get to a new place. i love hearing what you are doing, always such a gift to do what we love without the trappings of power and a system-that’s-beyond-us-all. peace to you.

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  • While it’s not about faith, which I still have….it is about the church which has been a piece of the betrayal. My ex-husband of nearly 25 years was a pastor and chose about two years ago to begin a relationship with a best friend. He continued the lies throughout our couple’s therapy and possible reconciliation and was then married, less than a year after our divorce, in my former church (He had NOT served as pastor there). Difficult to understand the choice the clergy made since both families (the other for nearly 20 years) had been active members of the congregation. While I realize it was “legal” for them to marry—-it does seem immoral and unjust.

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    • thanks, jodi, oh that is a hard and painful story. thanks for your honesty. peace.

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  • I can relate to the comments about Easter here. My wife invited me to join her at a church that I experience as fear-hell-brimstone-shame-based. I felt really guilty saying no. Even though I’m a psychologist, I suffer from RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome), something like PTSD that is further illustrated in Dr Marlene Winell’s book, Leaving the Fold.

    So I wrote this poem and shared it with a few fellow fundamentalists in recovery and it made me feel better:

    Easter Sunday, Bittersweet
    by Bruce L Thiessen

    Easter Sunday, bittersweet
    For those once driven
    To Christ’s feet
    With promises of life, eternal
    And to be spared from that inferno

    To those who were made
    … To feel His pain
    With words of grace
    Mixed with guilt and shame
    And beautiful hymns
    With sweet refrain
    Climbing aboard that glory train

    Easter, a bittersweet surprise
    Promises mixed with bold-faced lies
    Go to church and sing his praise
    Who wouldn’t on such a
    Glorious day
    Aren’t you grateful
    That our Lord has risen
    And all of your sins
    Have been forgiven?
    I am, and yet
    I’m grieving too
    As I sit here
    Chained to a poisoned pew

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    • whoa, that is really powerful stuff, bruce. thanks for sharing. as you know, healing from the trauma of religion is rough, so many tentacles into so many areas of our psyche and soul. i’ll be thinking of that line “chained to a poisoned pew” for a while. peace.

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    • ps: i am traveling today and can’t log on to facebook for some reason but thanks for sharing there, too.

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  • Holy wow, did this resonate for so many. Grateful that you are a safe place and learn with us what it can mean to be places of refuge. xo

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    • yeah, i had no idea. i just came home form the refuge and rattled what was swirling around in my head. wild, really, all of these shifts for so many. grateful for online community and the weird ways we can feel less alone (and maybe eventually move, ha ha).

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  • Kathy,
    This Easter was a quiet one… I kept thinking about honoring the day, but the last place I wanted to be was a church. I just thought of the exuberance over egg hunts, the merriment over resurrection without much thought given to deeper challenges of the cross, the extroverted expressions of celebration… and all of it just shut me down. As an introvert, I opted for a quiet morning of reflection. I read a Brueggemann sermon on the newness of Easter and found quiet joy, unhindered by gimmicks. I heard there was a real horse trotted into the church sanctuary – and I was sooo glad I stayed home. I think that is exactly what I feared… a gimmick that would cheapen not enhance. I am close to what you expressed, not completely, but enough to whisper Amen. So thankful for your sensitivity to others – even amid the holiest of seasons. Blessings.

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    • thanks for sharing kelley, i look so forward to meeting you. i always love hearing stories of people just taking good care of their souls. a little quiet, a little brueggemann, a little-soul-stirring is a beautiful way to celebrate. i can picture the horse trampling on that peace. oh, the nutty things we do on easter!

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  • Kathy, I am just now seeing this post as I somehow missed it last week. WOW – it’s like you do know the feeling, or at least my feelings about Easter. It hit particularly hard this year for some reason. We actually celebrated the holiday on Saturday with family but didn’t do anything on Sunday. I haven’t been inside a church for several years and when I think about going to church I do get a sick feeling. I (and my family) spent most of our lives centered around the local church and the community there. I do miss the community and the activities but I can’t go back to the way things are as I feel like the church duped me on some important things. I know that people probably do think that I should get over it but it’s not that easy. It’s like finding out that a good friend or your spouse has been lying to you for a long time about something that was very important to you – about something that you had trusted them to be honest with you about. You lose trust – you feel betrayed and hurt and foolish and afraid. You’ve tried to talk to someone there about what happened and they have defended what they did without even seeming to care about you – so basically you have lost hope. It’s hard and especially at a times like Easter. Thanks for being sensitive and for caring. It helps.

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    • oh my friend, thank you for sharing. tough stuff. i think the “you should just get over it” is the most common response and really, that’s what so many inside of the system think. and that hurts. it’s so dismissive and glosses over the deeper issues. love and hope from colorado, i’m so glad i know you.

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  • the power in a simple nod of acknowledgement of a persons pain. this is a profound experience and reminder to me that what is clear or life giving to me can be a moment of deep sorrow for a friend. thanks again for doing what you do so well, helping us in very practical ways keep the work of love at the top of the list, even above my own celebration.
    it is mind blowing, that what you thought was a simple, quickie blog post stirs so deep a response.

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    • thanks, karl, yeah, there’s a lot of an awful lot of pain out there, so much more than probably any of us realize.

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  • I just found your blog today, and I’m reading through each post in tears as I’m sitting home from church once again as my children are with their father for the weekend. I can’t bring myself as the “good girl” to put myself through the charade when they’re not here. This Easter post resonated so much with me. I sat at home alone on Easter morning, trying to will myself to get dressed and worship with my friends, and I just couldn’t do it. I knew I was going to get questions from them and my kids about why I didn’t go, and was wondering how I was going to justify myself on the holiest day of the year. But I know what Jesus did for me. Sitting all dressed up in a pew and smiling for everyone and singing was just not what I needed to be doing when I knew in my heart that sanctuary was the last place I wanted to be. How is that honoring what Jesus did on the cross? I absolutely believe and don’t question my faith at all. I question how the church has told me to live and worship. I’ve been on a journey for the last few years that has made me question everything I’ve been told I need to believe if I’m going to be a good Christian woman, wife and mother. I’ve tossed pretty much all of it aside, but that’s left me to figure out how God truly wants me to live. While I’m so much closer to Him because of it, I feel like I don’t truly belong anywhere as far as church goes. And then what do I do with my kids? So many questions. I’m looking forward to digging deeper into your blog because I think I’ll find a lot more comfort in what I’ll read. Thank you…

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    • hey karyn, sorry for the late response on this. thanks so much for sharing where you were at this year. oh this transition out of being a “good christian woman, wife, and mother” in the typical sense is a hard & lonely one. but in the end, such a freeing one. much hope and peace from colorado. glad you found your way here.

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  • My daughter pointed me to you. This is very much me positionally, but the church didn’t ever hurt me. It was always a blessing. I just lost the ability to believe, and now it would be just weird to be in church singing and affirming things that don’t any longer ring true. Trust me, it was happier and more meaningful before, and I REALLY long for Easter especially. My loss of faith and joy has cost me my marriage as well. It is very lonely without God and His family.

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