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Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Road To Freedom

My family was heavily influenced by IBLP/ATI during my teen years. Though, for financial reasons, we never were actually "in" ATI, we went to several seminars, were involved in Character First and Children's Institutes, conformed to all the rules, hung out with ATI folks, and used second-hand ATI curriculum. My sister and I were not only Character Coaches for our area school district and home-link, we actually taught a week-long Children's Institute in ID one year. Normally, families who aren't actually in ATI can't do all these things, but we had a lot of friends in high places in the ATI world that vouched for us so we were "in" without being "in". Not that it really matters...the legalistic lifestyle and teachings still did their damage.

We were forced to wear dresses, give up our evil "rock" music, and make other lifestyle changes demanded by the teachings of this group. My parents really stressed the unconditional submission to authority, the idea of which they were first introduced to and encouraged in by IBLP. Though I was allowed to go to our youth Bible study at church, I could only go if my dad went too, thereby showing that I was under his authority. (Because most of this was pushed by my mom, and baby-sitting a responsible teenager was inconvenient, they eventually gave up and let me go with friends.) I wasn't allowed to go anywhere or do anything with the youth group if Dad couldn't go too. From the time I was about 12, I'd had a heart for missions. It was my dream to be a missionary in my single years and to serve God wherever He would lead. But because of ATI's teachings about authorities and women's roles, I was never allowed to fulfill that dream. I watched other young ladies go overseas with such jealousy and I couldn't understand how a desire to serve God in that way could be "bad" and "rebellious" just because I was a female.

The older I got, the more out-of-control the idea of submission to my parent's authority became. I was a romantic girl at heart. I had so many dreams of serving God and living an adventuresome life. I hated being told that because I was a woman, my place was in the home, not the mission field (unless I married a missionary, of course; or unless I was older, maybe, and still unmarried). I was told that my desires for adventure and romance were rebellious and that I was discontent. That those desires came from my "wicked" heart and needed to be conquered.

I tried, truly I did. I remember crying myself to sleep nights because I couldn't make myself be the kind of person my parents and God wanted me to be. My parents gave me ATI sanctioned books on courtship and submitting to authority, which made me try harder then feel guilty when I'd fail. It was a never-ending process of shame. I remember having to fill out a "contract" to become a CI teacher. On it, I had to pledge to be totally submissive to my father who was my proper authority. I remember signing it with much guilt because I could never seem to submit enough and had started to question a lot of the things my parents required of me. I felt guilty for a long time about signing that contract because I knew, in my heart, that I really wasn't submissive and signing that contract was dishonest.

It all became a drive in me to do better, be better, conquer my flesh, and find acceptance from my parents and God. (Because, of course, if you are not pleasing to your parents then God can't be pleased with you either.) Finally, somewhere around the time I fell in love with the man who is my husband, I gave up. I knew that I could never be the person they wanted me to be and I "rebelled". I decided to go to college, move out, get a job, listen to Christian music, and court my boyfriend. I started wearing pants and cute, girly clothes...though at first I still wore my old skirts when visiting my family every weekend. When I did decide to respectfully tell my parents that I would dress how they'd like when I was home but how I liked when I was away, they told me not to bother. My heart was rebellious so I might as well "show the world". It saddened me, but was a relief of sorts. I was so tired of pretending.

Somewhere during that time, God had been speaking to me. He had been showing me who I was to Him and Who He is to me. Through the counsel of Godly people and a few good books, I started down my path to spiritual freedom. My journey with Jesus really began around that time, around my 18th year when I stopped trying to measure up to the standards that had been placed on me. I stopped trying to be someone I was not and started walking in who God had made me. It was scary and difficult because all the old voices in my heart screamed for me to go back; all the lies and teachings on submission were still powerful strongholds in my heart and the false guilt was overwhelming at times. But through it all, I knew that I could never go back and that God didn't want me to. Once I started down the road to freedom, there was no turning back. I had tasted life and was drunk with the joy of it all.

After three years of school, trying to reconcile with my parents, and courting my man, they finally gave us permission to marry. I think they just gave up and decided that I wasn't going to follow all the perfect formulas in the courtship books and that eventually I'd probably just marry without their blessing. My parents eventually had to face the fact that they had lost the hearts of all of their children. It took our "rebellion" to realize that something went terribly wrong. That they had followed a lie…a lie that had promised life and instead produced brokeness. That the perfect, Godly life promised by ATI et al had never come to pass. They began to change, slowly, and to try to get the hearts of their children back. There has been a lot of healing in my family and we couldn't be more different today than we were 7 years ago. But we have a long way to go. Old habits die hard and heart-wounds are not healed overnight. It is God's grace and mercy that we all still like each other and spend most Sunday's all together at my parent's house. I do believe that our family is stronger because of what we went through. God works all thing as good for those who follow Him...even when we are following, stumbling through the darkness.

Many of my struggles today are still because of lies I followed then. I still find myself performing to be accepted. ATI, along with most of the conservative homeschooling systems, is all about performance and behavior. About conforming to a standard that was held up as God's. About doing, doing, doing, until your heart follows along. “Fake it 'til you Make it.” It's a battle of "who is more holy", with those who wear the longest skirts, listen to the "godliest" music, and obey their parents until death coming out at the top. If you don't measure up, you're not acceptable. It was all about what we DID, not who we were or who God is. It was performance-based salvation at its finest.

There were other issues beside the submission/rebellion teachings that played a part in my life. ATI’s teachings on "ungodly" music were very convincing. But all it took was a few music theory and logic classes in college for me to see the fallacies and error in their reasonings. Modesty was a huge one. I hated wearing shapeless dresses all the time and being told that if a man lusted after me, it was always my fault. This brought about a fear of my beauty that took a long time to heal. It's been a long journey to find a balance in my beliefs. To figure out which teachings from my childhood were from God, and which were made by man.

The biggest issue I have with the whole cult is the aura of "holier-than-everyone-else" and "we know things that you other Christians don't that makes us better than you, you poor things". I'm sorry, but skirt lengths, Bible versions, and music should not be about proving to everyone how holy I am. We went around with an "insider" attitude that caused us to look down on every other Christian we encountered. It was very subtle, this heart-condition, but very harmful. We never did it on purpose, it was just a direct result of being "in". This is legalism at it's finest. It first started bothering me when one day I realized that we didn't get stopped by strangers in the grocery store asking if we were Christians any more. We got stopped by perfect strangers who asked if we were ATI (there was a lot of ATI people in the city we lived in). And when visiting new churches, the first question asked of us was not "are you followers of Christ?" it was "Are you ATI?" As if that's what really mattered. For years this would bother me without me knowing why. Now I know.


  1. Oh my! I wasn't raised ATI, but with the same exact spiritual oppression (hyper-fundamentalist). Praise God for HIS grace; my legalistic works, constant lack of assurance, constant guilt were unnecessary. Christ paid it all! I'm 38; free 20 years, but still dealing with the baggage.

  2. I've been browsing your blog all day and have fallen in love. I come from a similar background, not ATI, and luckily my parents were great. Overall they were balanced in their beliefs. Being a MK or PK most of my growing up years though brought on a lot of pressure and I was under a lot of fundie rules because of that. Thankfully I think I turned out alright, but I can't say it hasn't been hard and taken some healing! Outsiders never seem to understand, but I come here and read your writings and it is really refreshing to hear it from someone else who has been there before. Thank you for being courageous and saying what needs to be said. You have been a blessing and encouragement! I'm following your blog now and look forward to seeing more posts in the future!