Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Lions and Christians and Bears, Oh My! My 10 years of Spiritual Darkness

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!

What's that? You want to comment? Just click on the itty-bitty words below that say "Gimme Some Sugar". Can you see them? Good. We can't wait to chat with you.


Valarie said...

I am so very sorry that people acted that way toward you. Everything we go through in live God knows about and is with us through it all. He was with you then and He is with you now. :) I try not to be judgemental toward people. Notice the word try, but for the most part I try to remember that if they don't know Christ, I don't want their first impression of Him to be me being a hypocrite. I pray that people see Christ in me. I want to plant a seed of faith in their lives.

Valarie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen of A2eatwrite said...

This is why I have some issues with some forms of organized religion. It's the pockets, in all religions, that teach hate or punishment rather than love. I still have issues with organized religion and I'm not sure I'll get over it, although I consider myself very spiritual.

Heather @ Desperately Seeking Sanity said...

And we wonder why so many are turning away from Christianity? Great post...

Ashlee said...

The only thing that has kept me going at times was the knowledge that God is God. The gospel is the gospel. The people are NOT. It can still be hard when people profess to be loving and caring Christians, but when their actions don't match that it can be hard to get past it. I didn't go to church for several years because I felt "unworthy". So, I understand. Only now can I go to church and know that there will be nice people there, and there will be some who are completely clueless, but I'm there to be spiritually fed.
I'm so glad you found a place you can feel welcome. And I feel so badly for you that you went through so many years feeling hurt and lost.

Marie said...

Thank you for this post I am in mid-search for truth and something real, I have seen in all and my faith is...well i can't say I have faith, but I am searching and some way I will be found. But, thank you for taking time to write this.

Sister Sassy said...

Valarie- I think example is the best way! :)

Jen-I SO understand. I did much research before I found my church here in NMI. They are an upstart, just founded it 3 years ago and are social justice focuses. Its very small and everyone tries to do their part to help the church grow and sustain. No one is scary at all! A lot of the people who go, I have learned, are people who have had bad experiences and like the openness and welcoming of the church.

Ashlee- thanks :) It was hard to feel "unworthy" when I knew my faith in God was stronger than most christians I knew. But I couldn't reconcile those feelings. My head knew it, but not my heart.

Marie- I'm glad you have found something of value in my ramblings :) and good luck on your search. I believe you will find the right place for you. Somewhere there is a place where you belong.

Sandy C. said...

I am so glad that you blogged about this. I can certainly relate to feeling harmed spiritually. Especially through college. Thank you for sharing.

Jen said...

I've experienced something like this as well, and it just felt so... predatory. Like sharks sensing blood in the water. I'm so glad you found healing and faith and support and community!

Hairline Fracture said...

First, I think it is wonderful that the cult didn't mess up your faith in God. Second, it is awful that the "Christians" did. I am so glad you found a place where you could be healed of spiritual abuse--the pastor was right, that was exactly what happened. I have encountered so many people who are hungry for faith but they have been hurt so badly that they stay away from any kind of church. My dad said in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, "This church is going to be a hospital, NOT a courthouse!" We are here to help the hurting, not judge and condemn.

Sister Honey Bunch said...

Oooh, I love what Hairline's dad said. Very cool.

I'm all about living the example.

Not being afraid to be honest about my faith but never shoving it down someone's throat.

Soliloquy said...

Wow. Spiritual Abuse is right.

There is TRUTH, and then there is perspective of Truth, right.

The only TRUTH that is TRUE though is that which lines up with scripture.

I'm sorry that you lost TEN whole years to that. But I know that God is big enough to redeem it. He is a God of redemption. And He CAN use your experience for His glory.

Thanks for your transparency here. Seriously.

Natalie Witcher said...

Man, what a journey! I'm glad you know that God isn't keeping a scoreboard

Viola Jaynes said...

I think it is wonderful that you wrote about this. I can so relate to your experience. Your relationship with God as a youngster was so profoundly pure that it makes me angry just to think that someone dared to come between that. I am so sorry this happened to you. I see this all the time....churches that are "Jesus" centered and they feel that unless you use the name of Jesus all the time, that you are not worshiping Him. God is so much bigger, so much greater than the limitations that we place on our believes...and the little magical potions the we conjure up. I am so glad that you have found peace within your own heart again. Thank you for sharing this story! :-)

Sister Sassy said...

Sandy and Jen-I'm sorry you were hurt too. Jen, I know what you mean about sharks. I would see people "witnessing" to the drunk students as they walked home from the bar. It made no sense to me. And there was the man who stood in the square yelling at people that they were going to hell. I mostly ignored him until he pointed out a girl wearing a tank top and shorts and suggested that her clothing was the reason rape was so high. I had to be restrained by my friends to keep from launching at him.

Hairline, I like your dad :), I'm with HB on that.

Sililoquy- thanks for the comments :) its appreciated

Natalie- thanks! :)

Viola- you are right on the mark with how I've felt all about it. I often told JimmyEW that those people were not doing the work of God, that they were working on the other side when they did what they did. I was really strong in God before that. Its SO good to have it back. It was like a huge hole in me.

Viola Jaynes said...

I think "spirituality" is such an extremely personal journey that no other human being on the face of the earth must, or should be allowed to disturb it. I also strongly believe that there is a huge , huge, huge difference between "religion," and the "business of church" from real spirituality. God is a big God and He reveals Himself as uniquely in our hearts, as each of us are made.

Jane said...

I hope that your post, which was so honest and heartfelt, will help others to have the courage to look for a congregation that fits them. The idea that Christianity is one size fits all is very damaging. It took me five years to find a church home when I moved to LA and it was a dark time for me. I would come home from church crying because I mourned the church I left behind in NJ. Finding the right fit is like coming home. Thanks for sharing your journey.

Laane said...

I'm sorry you had to go through that.
When we moved to this area in town, we left a good group behind and found one here. But we didn't feel well with it.

Some people have to smile when I say that I live with a direct line to the Great Spirit.

Feel welcome to read my post about what doesn't work for me and how I try to overcome it.

Enjoy your day!

Sarah said...

Wow - some would say God allowed this difficult journey for the powerful story you have to tell that will resonate with others and give them the hope & joy you have found. I might have to agree with them. I am glad you are so willing to share it all - the good & the bad.

Miss jane said...