I would like to say that the quote above was from some wise, well-known, smart guy who has been afforded the respect of many who heed his words and wait expectantly for his next nugget of wisdom to help them guide their lives. Alas, the words are my own, and they are not said with the encouragement that they should being to my life, but as a warning to myself that the past is a place where it is not always sunny. As the old saying goes, “Here, there be monsters.”
This post is going to be the first of a couple that will take us on a journey through my spiritual journey from a small, country church to where I find myself today. I am not sure how detailed it will get as I have some boundaries in writing it that will put some constraints on what I share. The goal is to speak truth in love by sharing a journey. It is not about slinging mud.
Let me start by saying that one of the fundamental issues I will be discussing in this series of posts is the topic of spiritual abuse. I had never heard of the concept until a couple of years ago, and it really made me think about years gone by, and I had to deal with some stuff that it brought up. Spiritual abuse is basically defined as using religion to force people to do things by pouring out guilt and shame and creating a performance-based value of a person through the twisting of Scripture to meet the desires of the abuser.
Many people would call that a cult, and they would be right. The problem is that in many churches it is something that happens behind the scenes every day. It is covered up with words that are good and necessary in the life of a believer, but the meanings have been twisted subtly. It might not be a big deal if you look at the little individual differences, but it can be like radiation poisoning. It builds up in the body until you finally get sick. Once you get sick, it is hard to get better. Very hard.
So, here we go. My testimony. A testimony is just my story. Warts and all. This is not about other people, but about where I was and where I am now. If I offend someone, I apologize in advance, but please know that I am not trying to hurt, just hoping that in telling my story someone else might be able to helped or encouraged to know they were not alone.
I was born into a Christian family and from the start I was in church. Most of my earliest memories of church are of doing a task or saying some words and then I would get a treat. I liked treats, and was smart enough to realize that the more good things I did and said, the more treats I got. I liked it! I heard a lot of Bible stories and since I like stories I thought church was great.
When I was four years old I got a burn on my arm. It wasn’t anything significant, but I remember that it hurt a lot. (I was four!) That following Sunday our lesson was about Hell. As the teacher talked about eternal fire and suffering, you can bet she had my attention! By the end of the class when she asked if anyone wanted Jesus to come into their hearts to save them from an eternal fire, I jumped at the opportunity. I remember a lot of people being very happy for me, but not much else.
Over the next five years I grew up in church and attended a church school. We were there every time the doors were open, and I continued to learn a lot about the Bible – especially the parts that focused on obedience. We had a pastor at that time that I remember very fondly for his smile, his love of laughter and fun, and for his booming voice when he sang or preached. I was very sad when he moved on to a new church.
Up to this time in my life I do not believe that I had experienced any real spiritual abuse. My obedience to God was stressed heavily in church and school, but I have no memories of guilt, shame, or manipulation coming from my church, school, or spiritual leaders in my life. I have a lot of respect for the people that had been at work in my life up to that point, and I appreciate the groundwork they did of putting a healthy even if a little heavy focus on obedience to God while still telling me about the love that God has for us. That would soon change.
I have been praying about it, and I have decided not to go into a lot of detail regarding the next 7 years. There are stories that are not mine to tell.
Over the next seven years church and school changed for me and a lot of other people too. I am not going to say that it was no fun at all, but it became intense, and by the end of that time, the times of fun were fewer and farther apart.
Here are a few things that I remember:
1. The law was still alive and well. – While I was a Christian and secure in my Salvation, there was an unhealthy focus on works. I heard so often how my best was worthless in God’s eyes. I heard that in order to please God I had to always do what was right,and that every time something went wrong in my life it was because God was punishing me for a sin that I had not confessed.
2. Grace was a gift given at salvation. – God’s grace was a wonderful gift, and it allowed us to have eternal life.
3. The pastor’s words were equal to Scripture. – you were never allowed to question what he said, even for clarification. There were times I asked questions about how he had presented things from a passage of Scripture, and I was told that I should just trust him. After all, he was the pastor. Obedience to him was the same as obedience to God.
4. I was as good as what they could see. – This was what led to some serious struggles in my personal character. It created a culture of deception in the youth in our church and school. We knew we could never be as good as we were told we needed to be, so we gave up trying! Instead a second life was born. A chameleon ability was brought out that allowed me to fit in with who I needed to fit in with when it was needed. If they liked what they saw then I was not given my portion of shame.
By the time I was 16 I still knew I was a Christian, but I didn’t know why anymore. I knew what I believed, and I didn’t get involved with any of the “really bad stuff”, but I was not living the way God wanted me to, nor was I sure that it would do any good anyway. I said I knew Him, but we were pretty much strangers to each other.
(To be continued…)
In HIS Grip,