It was already, for various reasons, not the best day. Then evening came and a Facebook post I read, meant to be a helpful source of information for people leaving and healing from spiritually abusive churches, sent me into a tailspin. Actually the post did nothing of the sort — it was my own reactions to what it triggered inside me.
If you followed my previous blog, you may remember the series I wrote about my “fall to grace”. Let me emphasize that the church we ended up leaving was not spiritually abusive; they were dear, sweet brothers and sisters in Christ, and much tears were shed when we realized that serious doctrinal incompatibility made us no longer at home in that fellowship. The legalistic burden I had placed upon myself during the time we were members was far beyond any they would have placed on me.
So, when I read the Facebook post, I thought, escaping my legalistic prison was hard enough without having to exit a controlling church group.
But then I remembered the group I was involved in during my early teens. It was supposedly just a Bible Study — only we called it a “Bible Rap” because it was the early 70’s and the group had a real counter-cultural hippie flavor to it. There were no obvious older adult leaders that I could tell, just a bunch of young “Jesus People”, mostly new converts, and an older guy everyone held in awe, even though he was rarely there. They were a zealous and serious group of kids, but misguided.
Anyway, I remember being surrounded by older girls (I was probably the youngest kid, by at least a couple years, who attended) and they were demanding me to confess the SECRET SIN in my life, because there had to be some, it was obvious, or my spiritual experiences would match theirs exactly. I remember week after week of confessing everything that I could think of, “real sins” like the cigarette I had smoked with my brother, or my chronic sins like being “lazy” (undiagnosed inattentive ADHD) at school, having a “messy” room, etc., etc. I was far from perfect, but I was basically a good kid. However, the way I was being questioned, one would think I was a hardened, bank-robbing, murderous young harlot just pretending to be a junior high kid. Those weekly interrogation sessions were only one aspect of how controlling and pushy and borderline abusive they were.
My first thought at this memory was, What idiots they were. There was no secret sin! and then I suddenly remembered that there was “secret sin” in my life, only it was not my sin, but it was a secret I felt forced to keep.
That was what hit me: Aha, they were right. There was secret sin in my life. And, stupid as it sounds, I felt like collapsing in a heap on the floor, buried under an avalanche of decades worth of junk. Suddenly I doubted everything because they had, in my mind, been proven right…which meant the sin of others was my fault, which meant all sorts of other awful stuff was true after all…
I didn’t collapse, but I didn’t cope in the healthiest way either.
Now, in the light of day, I’m amazed that this ragtag group of ex-hippies could still have such power over me all these years later.
But, most of all, I’m saddened at my response to these confusing, disturbing memories. I don’t expect to be so “healed” that I have mental clarity over every memory, or that I won’t momentarily get sucked back in by the lies that tormented me for so long. I believe there is a turf war raging over my very soul — not because I’m so special but because there is a war raging over all of our souls.
I need to stop running away, and stop hiding.
Yes, it’s the only way I knew how to cope for years upon years, but I know better now. As long as I respond on auto-pilot, I will never form healthier habits. I am tired of being kicked around by my past.
It wasn’t until morning that I thought to pray about how I felt so beat up by the rabbit trails of false conclusions my mind went down the night before. It wasn’t until morning that I shared my struggle with my husband and my “tribe”. Those things need to become my first line of defense.
Pray. If need be, call in reinforcements.
It’s time I stopped trying to carry burdens I was never meant to carry. “Come unto me, all who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. But I keep piling burdens on myself…guilt for things long ago forgiven, false guilt for the sins of others, shame I didn’t deserve, rules God never intended…and there are people who would hasten to add yet more. It’s time to lay all that down and ask for help when I need it.