Habitual Christian (by Jessilyn Justice)

churchsign-1To tell you my church story is to tell you my life story, the pulse of my existence.

Part I

My parents are big believers in Proverbs 22:6 and not just a repeat-this-verse-after-me way.

Every thought that crosses my mind is infused with church culture, both the practical and the spiritual, as I literally grew up in the church, as my parents are pastors.

I’ve had more pizza with the pastor than pizza on my couch. I know exactly how many church chairs (six) need to be lined up so I can sleep while the elders meet. Challenge me to a game of hide and go seek in our church’s old sanctuary, and I can guarantee my victory.

At the same time, I know precisely how to pray for each person who asks, and even those who don’t. I can speak in tongues at the drop of a hat. I can grieve and rejoice.

I went on my first international mission trip when I was 9. I remember seeing some woman with gauze over her eye standing in her doorway. I asked my dad who asked the missionary if we could pray for her. She let me, as I was this chubby 9-year-old American girl with curls that couldn’t be contained.

Turns out she was a drug lord, but the real Lord completely healed her eye, which she was supposed to have surgically removed.

I went to two over-night summer camps: Camp Wonder Book and Camp Straight Street. I can recite countless verses from memory, many of which I chanted to myself before I fell asleep.

The highlight of my summer for a dozen years was Vineyard pastors’ conferences. Finally, I was among people who got what it was like to grow up in the church.

I remember sitting in a youth group meeting where the pastor asked people to identify someone in the room they thought, for sure, was a Christian. Heads swiveled in my direction.

I went to public high school where I would sing worship songs under my breath as I traveled from class to class.

When I was 17, I went to Kenya with my father. While he spoke with the men about budgetary issues, I sat with pastors’ wives and talked. And talked. And talked.

I spoke openly, honestly; laughed loudly.

“You’re so free,” several said.

And then when I was 18, it all fell apart. (I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe in sowing and reaping, which is why I still can’t figure this out. Out of respect for the people involved — and maybe to show them I am the better person — I won’t use names.)

Part II

When I was 16, my longtime youth pastor announced he was starting a nonprofit, which is a fantastic service, and I couldn’t be more delighted with his//the organization’s success.

But then we hired someone else, someone who was loud, passionate and oh-so-spiritual. There was a cult of sorts surrounding this pastor – people who are so obsessed with being anti-religious that it’s basically a religion.

In short, I didn’t fit in to this group.

Adjusting to being a spiritual outcast after growing up in the church is quite difficult – especially when the reason wasn’t drugs, pornography, sexual deviance.

Nope. I read “Twilight.” And like that, my world fell apart.

That was actually the last straw. Before that, I’d broken a few “cardinal” sins.

  1.      When everyone else was laughing because they were high on Jesus (it’s a thing), I didn’t. I was just quiet. I was told the reason I wasn’t laughing was because I had demonic activity in my life I needed to deal with.
  2.      I had a dream that wasn’t entirely appropriate. I told the youth pastor at the time, and she rebuked me – as in told the “spirits” (aka demons) around me that they had to leave me alone.
  3.      I couldn’t actually picture Jesus when I prayed. The group I was involved with held an intervention of sorts after a Bible study one night, and I cried and cried and cried, trying my best to picture Jesus. I was told that the reason I could not see Jesus was because there was sin in my life stopping me.

And then I read “Twilight.” And I liked it. And I saw the movie. Around that same time, the following happened:

  1.      That same group invited me to a movie (“Up,” which I will not watch to this day because of this), then informed me that I was not allowed to sit with them.
  2.      They informed me I was no longer allowed to sit with them at church and physically moved my stuff to a different part of the sanctuary.
  3.      Two girls went to give me hugs and then stopped, turned away and basically ignored me for the next several months.

These are a few specific examples to say the following: I was rejected, and it hurt. I was manipulated by scriptures to do what this group thought was favorable to God, and when I went against the grain, I was shoved out. Kind of literally.

This rejection led to an emotional spiral to places you don’t want to think about.

I was enveloped in loneliness, bitterness, depression. I cried out to God and felt ignored. I was terrified of anything having to do with the Holy Spirit because of how hurt I was by this group.

As a former cutter, I began to snap rubber bands against my wrist as a different form of self-harm. Sometimes the rubber bands would snap so hard that my tattoo would swell – my tattoo that means “Set free from the dominion of sin, liberated, unchained and unleashed.”

Though I felt like I was in a void, I still attended church. Couldn’t let the church members realize something might actually be wrong with the pastor’s daughter, could we?

Part III

My parents told me I could skip church the morning of March 14, 2009, so long as I attended the evening service with a prophetess I’d never met/heard of.

When I arrived at church, this lady was praying for someone else. I sat down and started snapping my rubber band. The lady finished her prayer and approached me.

“You’re Jessilyn.” It wasn’t a question. I nodded.

“You’re the apple of God’s eye.” There was more, but that’s all I remember.

That’s when the healing began.


Back to Proverbs 22:6, I was trained up and I’m not turning.

In college, I was able to coast on the fumes of my community’s Christianity. The school functioned as a church, so I didn’t necessarily feel the need to attend a church.

I traveled to Hong Kong, where I dealt with a lot of my aversion to things of the Holy Spirit by simply seeing the spiritual gifts in practice in a healthy way.

Like your physical body, the church can be healthy or it can be sick.

Just because you have a bruise on your arm doesn’t mean you can’t run.

In the same way, just because you have been hurt by the church does not mean you can do without a spiritual community and a place to serve. In time, (possibly a very, very, very long time) healing will come, and you will be able to use the once-wounded part again. Most of the people who hurt me have apologized, and we are rebuilding our friendships.

Until then, continue to seek, to ask questions, to struggle and serve. Comparison is the death of spirituality, so focus on your journey, not others.

Jessilyn Justice has guest written for the Accidental Extrovert before (this isn’t her first guest writing rodeo.) She resides both in Alabama and online on her blog

2 thoughts on “Habitual Christian (by Jessilyn Justice)

  1. Pingback: We all know the girls that I am talking about | Jessilyn Justice

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