Please allow me to share with you a little of my own baby steps in this area, and tell you about a wonderful service you might find helpful as you take the time and space you need to re-adjust.
When I returned to the world, even though there was a real peace in the knowledge that leaving was what He was asking of me, I still felt the weight of a very radical life change. I had moved half way around the world, had no income or means, and was completely dependent on the goodness of others for several months. I felt a little isolated, too; there just isn’t any kind of experience analogous to living and leaving religious life. It was something I need to explore and talk about in order to process it and adjust to the “new normal”, but with whom could I discuss it?
I tried to talk with family and friends. They wanted so badly to help, to comfort, to assist with the adjustment, and did what they could; yet I needed something they were not equipped to give. I needed to speak with someone who had lived something similar to what I had lived. I needed someone who on some level could understand the experience, because it was a shared experience.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .””
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Lewis knew what he was talking about!!!
Friendship is so important through life’s ups and downs, but often the type of friendship that helps most is the very type Lewis defines here. Re-connecting with a few very dear friends who had also entered and left was the very best thing that could happen to me. We lived in different timezones, but somehow we managed to organise times for Skype calls where we could enjoy each other’s company, reminisce a little and support each other through our respective adjustments. Shared experience, a great deal of gentleness with each other and some quality time… and all of a sudden I was experiencing healing. The Lord was working through these wonderful women and drawing me closer to Himself all the while!
Then my need for this fellowship encountered an extraordinary blessing: the Leonie’s Longing ministry. Leonie’s Longing are a not-for-profit based in the United States, but with a global reach. As far as officially who they are, I’ll let their own “about” page do the talking on that. But I WILL tell you what I have experienced.
When I first contacted Leonie’s Longing I was tentative, afraid, even. I did not share particularly personal information – my heart was hurting and I needed badly to protect it. I gave only those essential facts, the bare minimum of what I needed to convey to be able to receive whatever assistance they could offer. A member of their team of volunteers responded so gently and simply. There was no pressure to respond again, but I did… after a little time had passed. I was still so afraid, so it took a little while before I was ready to reach out again and continue the conversation. Over a period of many months an occasional email went back and forth, but that was all because it was about as much as I could deal with. Each time what was offered was real support and a willing ear, accompanied by respect for my privacy and patience with my fear. Reading the various blog posts of many young women who had similar experiences to my own… but seeing it all through their eyes… was SO HELPFUL. Occasionally, even I now write the odd post here or there for their blog, in my own little effort to give back just a little bit, because I am so very grateful for the support and the sense of community I have found through them. I’d love to be able to help others in the same way… to “pay it forward”, so to speak.
So if you are looking for prayer support, for fellowship… even practical support in your area, you may find this ministry helpful like I did. May the Lord bless, comfort and provide for each of you as you adjust to life out in the world again.