So, now that we had been living, dressing, worshipping, eating, reading, talking, and thinking Mennonite for going on three years, and educating our daughter in their school for about 3 months, what could we do in order to leave?? How could we make a clean break of it? How could we leave without scarring our relationship with our children? These were all questions we faced. (The complications of an entire family coming into, and then some or all leaving a Mennonite church, has broken up or estranged many a family.)
Much of what we had heard from those in the church that had raised red flags about us staying there had been conveniently(?) said while our children were not around. Important things seem to be purposely said after the children are outside or off playing somewhere. My belief is that this is purposely done, because then if the parents don’t become members in the church then they still have a chance to bring the children in later. (This is also the belief of others who have left, not just us.) And since they believe that you have to be a part of the Mennonite church to ensure your salvation, this is important to them. They see it as a duty, to at least “save” your children, if you aren’t willing to stay and be “saved”. (In this effort, their young people have even been known to “happen” by your house and stop for a visit with the older children to talk if they see them alone outside, especially in the beginning.)
All this being said, we had to be very careful how we communicated with our older three children especially. They had seen only part of the picture, and didn’t fully know what had caused us to leave. And we were not in the healthiest place mentally and emotionally at that point to constructively communicate that to them. So we took it honestly, bluntly, but slowly. It took time and patience. I believe that they now see what we were trying to say then.
The biggest comfort that I had in those moment was my time with God, just crying and praying. Not only did He strengthen me, but He brought to light something that I very much had to learn.
I had been bitter and angry at the Mennonite church toward the end, largely because I saw a people who very much judged not only those around them, but the world that they kept at arms length outside their “Mennonite bubble”. The more that I saw the damage of their judgement within the church, the more uncomfortable I became. But when I heard and read countless messages from their church basically condemning people outside the Mennonite church as “so called Christians” because they did not choose to seek to live like them, I became enraged. I had come from outside the Mennonite church. And I had been a VERY passionate follower of Christ long before I had even thought about entering their church. What about the wonderful spirit-led Christians that I knew that would never step foot in a Mennonite church? How can they look down on them simply because they aren’t, and never will be, Mennonite?! (One article in a newsletter of theirs actually warned of the dangers of wearing casual clothing [non-Mennonite clothing]. It claimed that casual clothing NEGATED your witness to others. Not that it lessened your witness, mind you, but that it negated your witness altogether. Really?!?! [Insert sigh, and head shake here.])
Then, just as my anger over all of this was at it’s worst, God revealed something very powerful to me. He told me that I was on dangerous ground as I pointed all this judgement and anger toward them. He basically said to me, “YOU started this, and I am just simply putting a mirror to what you need to change. You need to stop judging them, or you will be in danger of my judgement. For years, you have judged countless Christians for not living up to YOUR standards of how a Christian should live!”
That was over two years ago now. I have fully repented, but I am still not perfect at this. God has humbled me, time and time again. But there is a lot less judgement, and a lot more grace in my heart then there you used to be.
He has even called me to be reach out to those in the Mennonite churches that we left. I believe that we need to show them that there are authentic Christians outside their churches. They won’t seek to associate too much with us unless we are seeking to come into their church. But just as Jesus pursues us with his relentless, unwavering love, so he calls me to show them that His love burns bright in me as I seek to extend the same to them.
May I be equal to the task, and to God be the glory!
Lord, give us new eyes to see those around us. Even when they look perfect and all put together, may we see their need. May we not beat them over the head in judgement, but come to them in compassion. May we remember that true love is not about condoning nor about condemning. That is your job, and as a human I don’t have the full picture. It is about encouraging and loving in a godly way. It is about being the example that others want to live up to, not because they have to, but because they see your love in our actions and words. And they realize that you are the perfect example in our lives, and that your truth and love is true happiness. Please guide and lead me as I seek to serve you Lord, in serving those around me. Amen