My mom, my sister, my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins – people that were once my world – have been actively shunning me for most of my life. Until the age of 15, I was a committed Jehovah’s Witness. I made the decision to disassociate myself and for the past 21 years I have experienced radical ostracism from family and friends. I want to tell you about the pain this shunning has caused.
Until this past weekend, I had not spoken to my mom at length in 20 years. She called me on Saturday and we spoke for 30 minutes. I didn’t even recognize her voice. We had a normal conversation and I soaked it in like a sponge. I asked her if I could visit and she reluctantly agreed. Sunday after church, a friend and I drove four hours one-way for a two-hour visit with my mom.
I left feeling that our visit could not have gone any better. My mom seemed broken, lonely, and depressed. She’s in poor health. In this moment of weakness, she reached out to me. It was something she had never done before. Choosing to meet with me brought anger and shame from her family and it has pushed her back into the fold and pushed me back into isolation.
I received this message from her the morning after our visit: “Michael I have to let you know that I have to go back to the way it was. Only in emergencies can you contact me. I just really needed to know some things to come to peace about the past. But my stand is the same as it was. I wish you and your family well. Please respect me and don’t respond to this. Just let it go. I won’t say anymore.”
I was crushed. I’m still reeling.
Why It Hurts
My family doesn’t want me. I’m not who they want me to be.
Why am I writing this with the emotions so fresh? Honestly, I am not the best at expressing my feelings. I hope that my experience will be of some benefit to others who may have experienced this type of suffering.
Shunning is abuse. Psychologists have confirmed that intense social rejection has the same effects on the brain as physical abuse. George Bernand Shaw wrote that “silence is the most perfect expression of scorn.” If someone hits me, it communicates a lack of value and respect for my person. If someone ignores me completely, their message is clear – you don’t matter to me at all.
I have lived with that feeling for over 20 years. I suffer from panic disorder and anxiety. I struggle to express my emotions correctly. I feel relationally broken most of the time.
How I Respond
I used to be angry. I used to be bitter. I suppose I still am a little. A few years ago, I don’t think I could have offered my mom as much grace as I did a few days ago. I received her in love and acceptance. I offered her forgiveness and kindness and affection. I opened my heart only to have to shoved back into my chest the next day.
A good friend reminded me that there is One who can relate. Jesus looked out over the city of Jerusalem and wept over their blindness. They would reject the only One who could bring them peace. He would suffer at the hands of the people who should have loved Him. In self-righteousness, the Jews hung unconditional love on a tree to die.
I’m not Jesus, but I am united to Him. His suffering for me helps me process my own suffering. His love for me is perfect even when I’m not. I will heal because perfect love drives out fear. I will forgive because I have been forgiven. I will hope for my mom and the others who are lost and hurting.
More than that, His family has become my family. Dozens of people who love me were praying for me this weekend. Those people are not blood relatives, but they care because we share the blood of Christ. I have received so many encouraging words. Jesus is loving me through His church.
If you know the pain caused by shunning, or know someone who does, point them to Jesus and His church. It still hurts, but I am not alone. He will go before me. He will never leave me.