As many of you now know, I grew up in a cult. My cult was weird and sometimes the ministers said or did things that were hurtful, but for the most part I feel like I mostly took the good. Like a strong sense of faith and close relationship with God and left most of the bad. I felt like I always knew what I was getting with them.
I always felt very close to God. My father and I didn't get along that well and so started to see God as my father, as odd as that may seem. I would talk to him constantly in my head, during quiet moments or laying awake at night waiting for sleep to come, I'd just talk to him. And I felt very much like God was the reason for what I call my "semi-charmed" life.
God was with me when I was alone, at night when I was scared and just whenever I felt like talking. And I loved him. Now my sisters may find this surprising because I am also very quiet about my faith. Not because I'm ashamed (or at least not then) but because I just felt very private about it. My church taught us to pray in private and I grew up thinking it to be a very sacred and personal thing.
Then I went off to college and met my Jimmy Eat World. He was a born again Christian active in a campus christian youth group. Since we didn't date till the very end of the school year freshman year it wasn't until Sophomore year that I met the people from his group and started attending some of their meetings. By that time we were already engaged, since he waited a full few weeks to ask me to marry him.
During the summer we got engaged, we had a conversation that would end up causing a major hurt that last for 10 years. Somehow we were on the topic of religion and prayer and I was talking about how my church didn't talk a ton about Jesus and our relationship was more with God than with Jesus. I knew and believed in Jesus but God was who I prayed to. He said something to me that essentially meant that God didn't hear my prayers and it hurt so badly I began weeping.
Well he clamped his mouth shut and never brought up the topic again. But now that I was going to his meetings and he was a Small Group Bible Study Leader it became an issue. But not between us.
The leader of the campus group (who I began referring to as Bad Man) called Jimmy in and asked him whether or not I was Christian. Jimmy, going off of the one conversation we'd had that summer, told him no. So Bad Man told Jimmy that he either had to leave me, forcefully convert me or lose his position as a leader.
Jimmy came to me and told me this, pulled out some chart they'd given him and went through the force conversion. I cried the entire time and by the end he determined I was indeed a Christian and forgot about it.
But I didn't. For weeks after, really we refer to this time period as the month of November, I would weep uncontrollably. We'd be walking home from the dining hall and I'd collapse into the grass and just cry. I was so hurt and angry because I'd always been so strong in my faith and now, the people who were supposed to be examples of real Christians, were telling me I wasn't good enough. My relationship with God wasn't good enough. My cult had made me, as a person, feel not good enough. But never my faith.
Jimmy couldn't understand why I wept and why I hurt until finally I was able to get him to see why it hurt me so. He cried, said he was sorry and all seemed well. But it wasn't. God seemed gone from me. I believed as much as ever before but I didn't feel him around me anymore. That loss was huge in my life. I tried to get it back, I prayed to get it back, I cried and pleaded. But no matter what, I couldn't find it and I couldn't fake it.
I continued going to his little group gatherings and tried to make friendly but I always left feeling less than. All conversations turned to whether or not this person or that was or was not a christian and how doing this would be a great way to witness to people.
I wanted to scream at them that human beings were not some slabs of meat, that they had thoughts and feeling. When I asked them about being friends with non-Christians they'd say,
"Oh yes, Bad Man encourages us to be friends with non-believers so we can bring them to Christ."
That was all non-Christians were to them, just fodder to convert and not worth a second thought otherwise. This disgusted me. But oh well, they weren't my friends and they weren't really Jimmy's friends either. But gradually I found myself generalizing all Christians as believing the same way and slowly I became ashamed to call myself a Christian. Even though I was.
Ten years went by and I was still unable to talk about what happened without breaking into tears. We tried to go to church but walking into a large group of Christians scared the heck out of me.
One day I sat with a professed Christian outreach worker who worked with the homeless and told him my story and you know what he said? Pretty callously he told me to get over it. Gee, if it were that easy I would have done that TEN FREAKING YEARS AGO! Rather than walking around spiritually broken. But thanks for your advice Professed Christian Outreach worker.
I had come to terms that there was nothing I could do to get back what I felt had been taken from me.
Then we moved to Chicago and everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. As more and more things went wrong I started to feel the need to find a church and after searching the nets I found one I thought I would feel safe at. I don't remember the denomination, maybe Lutheran, but I went there and we were greeted with such love, welcoming and acceptance that something in me healed.
I guess that little congregation renewed my faith in Christians. When it was time for us to leave Chicago I emailed the pastor about how much his church meant to me and he responded with a thank you and an apology for the "spiritual abuse" I had suffered. I had never heard it called that before but it resonated with me.
I guess I just wanted to share this story, people have asked where my 10 years of spiritual darkness came from so here it is. Some of you may think it sounds angry and accusing, and if so, I am sorry. This is only the truth of what happened to me and the truth of my feelings.
I can embrace my Christianity now and I feel God inside me again. I have found a beautiful, wonderful church that I'm very proud to be a part of. I am lucky. There are many people out there that have been harmed spiritually and never find their way back. And I want to say, to anyone out there that ever felt harmed by a Christian in the name of Christianity, I am so very sorry.
For more of What DOESN'T Work for you, go see Shannon!
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