Friday, April 14, 2017
How to Start Healing From Religious Rejection (And the Rest of Them)
As I continue to go through a therapeutic journey, I repeat the scenario in my mind,"How would my life have been different if I stayed in Bible College (like I felt I was supposed to all these decades--deep down, or within denial, or in other contexts)?" The underlying foundation of truth supporting this returning question can also be presented in one specific inquiry: Why would God ask an incapable teenager to remain in a place that was lonely, full of rejection, misery, and darkness?
I have mulled over this question the last few days during depression--a time when I am incapable of doing much more. God has asked,"What have you repeated as truths you learned about yourself during that time of your life?"
This is easy because Bible College was one of the first traumatizing experiences in my life. I went down the list:
1. No good man can ever love a girl like me.
2. I look and act weird. Even though my behavior is correct, if I don't look and act a certain way, I'll never be accepted by religious leaders.
3. Godly leaders accept people based on the way they dress and act, regardless if behind the scenes, they are committing the sins that I'm accused of because I do not dress and act a certain way.
4. Religious leaders are cruel to my mother and want me to accept that cruelty as righteous behavior.
5. People who are like me will be targeted and punished. People who are superficially spiritual will be rewarded and promoted even when they are committing any number of transgressions behind closed doors--or sometimes out in the open, because not all sin is equal. My sin is worse than the sins of these people.
I am still processing this. But God did address the first truth I learned. I thought about a guy I had not recalled in probably 9 or 10 years.
He was from a very religious, pure, Dugger-like family. He was enigmatic although strange and outlandish. He was funny, all the guys liked him. He wasn't afraid of what people thought of him and that especially flowed over into one specific category: his love for me.
I was involved at the time, long distance, with one of the worst boyfriends I've probably ever had. This guy was your prototype Christian male--he was a virgin, committed to purity, he had never dated, he worshiped, read the Bible, quoted Scripture. Yet he loved me. Many of the guys at Bible College warned him about me (even though I myself was still a virgin I was considered sullied). He didn't listen and also defended me.
He snuck up to the women's dorms once and wrote on the dry erase board on my door. And I remembered a conversation that we had in the laundry room. Why I hadn't ever thought of this during years of bad relationships, I thought to myself, I'll never know. But then, of course, I knew: I accepted the lies of others about myself--people who were intended to protect me, love me, and guide me--as truths instead of recognizing their own short-sighted, prideful neglect.
I accepted the lie as truth.
In the laundry room that day, I attempted to dissuade his arguments for why I was worthy--your parents would never accept a girl like me. I smoke. I'm in a relationship. I've done drugs.
I recalled a conversation from 1999 in which this epitome of a good, Christian man rebuked every word and action I wielded to reject him: "My parents will love you because my love for you will demand that they do so. I'll help you stop smoking, because I don't want you to do anything that damages your body. You're in a relationship with a man who treats you poorly and doesn't recognize what you're worth. I know my family would disagree, but I really don't think pot is that bad."
I could not accept him because I could not accept the truth--the real truth--about myself. I left college after my second semester. I can honestly say I have either rarely or never thought about him or those moments of pure, unique affection since they happened.
We had to return a book to Liberty University's library yesterday. We passed the chapel and I had a flashback to praying there after work one night with a very nice-looking, homosexual young man who always wore a suit to work and rarely spoke to anyone. I am certain I have never thought about the event until yesterday. But it came back to me. We had worked the same department one night while I was still part time and for some reason, he opened up to me about some problem he was having.
I can't imagine what would've possessed me to take him to LU's chapel and pray with him and in his standoffish behavior and dignity I cannot fathom why he accepted the invitation. But he did. I don't remember his name or the problem, but what I do remember is his face after the prayer. He looked at me with genuine love and affection.
I'm not quite sure why I thought of that moment. God has asked me,"How would things have been different if you had been the person you are now? How would Bible College have affected you?"
It's an obvious answer to me. I would've known how to act in order to be accepted. I would've seen the same people do the same things but it wouldn't have mattered. I would understand that they are flawed human beings and I would've done the work and accepted the opportunities and ignored the imperfections because people don't change until it is imperative they do so--or a miracle occurs.
"So did you change because it was imperative that you do so or because a miracle occurred?"
Oh. I see where this is going. Kind of.
"I changed because it was imperative that I do so and before You ask why, it was because I had to stop the pattern of rejection by men in my life, I was getting older, and I was still unmarried and childless which I had always assumed was my purpose."
"So if you were the same person you are now and went back in time to Bible College, you would've used what you've learned so far to become married and have a family?"
I thought about the wonderful guy who said all those powerfully gracious and intuitive things to me, about me. Would I have wanted to marry him?
The answer is no. I wanted the truths he spoke to me. I wanted to recognize and accept the value and worth of being loved for who I was.
"Then note number 6: you accepted the lie that being unmarried and childless for all these years was a failure at being who I've wanted you to be."
When I was 26 years old I stood in my office at work and resigned myself to the fact that my life had not turned out as I had planned. I spent the next decade just accepting the loss of identity, half of which I did through the worst kinds of trauma: death, betrayal, loss of lifetime comforts, rejection. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I was warned by spiritual people who loved me not to come back to Lynchburg. But I did it, I suffered, and here I am now. They said there were bad people living here who would hurt me. Did that happen? Yes. If people who served God (allegedly) rejected me, then I would forgo the purity and aversion to certain behaviors and embrace the ones who accepted me.
Did I suffer? I suffered immensely. I can only imagine that had I stayed in Bible College I would've suffered as well. There may have been ways that I would've avoided troubles that I brought upon myself by participating with the wrong people and things, but the problem was within. It had to be fixed. What did my life teach me?
All people are hypocrites who hurt others because of their own refusal to accept the truth about themselves. I became a receptacle for all kinds of garbage from people of all walks of life.
If the me now was back in college, I would've told that young man that I simply did not want to get married. I could have accepted his love but added,"I want to get a degree. I want to write and travel. I won't be able to do that and invest entirely in marriage and family."
I could not say that unless I loved the person I am now. And I wouldn't love the person I am now unless I had suffered. Believing lies causes suffering, regardless of your reality or circumstances. You can thrive in sports, activities, and grades throughout High School and college. You can marry the right person. You can be promoted in the right jobs. You can look fit and healthy and have great kids who do all the right things. Painful circumstances result in suffering. But if you believe in a lie--even lies that put you in good favor--they will cause you to suffer.
Which brings me to another truth. Often God wants us to suffer. We have to accept that as not only a Biblical truth that is evident in Jesus, but one that is necessary as the outcome of sin and iniquity. Have I been mad at God? Absolutely--especially over the last 9 years. Is He silent at times? Often.
It is the truth that I do love who I am. It is not enough. I must search for excellence. I have to become whole.
One of the major disappointments we all share is not being able to accept we did not get what we wanted from people who were supposed to give it to us. Close to the core of that are failures that are rooted in our lives (or the lives of loved ones) because things did not turn out the way we knew they should. When people talk about grief, this is a grief that causes wounds that often go unrecognized. Death is obvious loss; dreams that continue to go unrealized after decades of trial and error, faithfulness and perseverance--these are grievances that cost us so much yet continue perpetually as they are ignored, stuffed down, and unrealized because of the threat of unbearable pain and mourning.
Don't be afraid. If you start to realize the truth about yourself--all of the yous from infancy to now--what happened to you through no fault of your own, what you've done to others, what you've lost, how people who are close to you have hurt you or continue to hurt you--you will start to see. You will begin to have insight, let go of destructive behaviors. You will become whole.
This is a new and lengthy journey for me. I am pleased that throughout my depression--a depression I am genuinely thankful for since it allows me the time and stillness to truly give these issues attention--I have been helpless to recognize these issues except for the grace and freedom to ask and actually endure the answers.