I grew up in a conservative Christian home. I don't feel that my parents were abusive when it came to religion or faith. They actually could have been a bit more vocal about their beliefs and it would have been a help to me. But I eventually got into doing some occasional Bible reading on my own and formed my own beliefs which were fairly strong. Amazingly enough, I never questioned whether Jesus really did heal the blind man or why he did not heal me. It was just part of the fabric of Scripture, part of the story about who Jesus was and how he related to the people he encountered while on the earth. It was never a central point in anything for me.
Where I struggled most was in the fact that with very few exceptions the church treated me no different from how the world treated me. This became especially painful when sermons were preached about reaching out to people who are different or hurting. I expected more from the church because they talked that talk. Surely they could see how sad and hurting I was. My husband even chastised me for going to church with a frown on my face. There were days when I would be so moved by what was said or sung and wanted so badly to be touched by God that I would actually brave getting up out of my seat and go and pray at the altar. Nobody ever asked if I wanted someone to pray with me. I was just there by myself.
I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here. My point is that I expected the church to live up to the talk, and very rarely was that done. At 13, I was searching very deeply for God. I assumed other 13-year-olds would be too. But when I went to the classes for the junior highs at church, the girls talked about fine guys and the guys talked about sports, and most did not pay attention to the discussions the teachers were trying to lead. I got to feeling like a goody goody because I was the only one who answered questions. I wasn't included in any of the social activities. Oh, I might be there in body, but that was all. People treated me just like the kids at school did. "Is your food good?" Well, hmmmm... Is yours? That was all they could think to ask if they asked anything at all. Usually they didn't ask. It got to a point where I tired of sitting on the sidelines while they played volleyball or being left sitting in my chair when they all went trotting off to some other activity.
I know my parents were affected by this. I know it hurt them. Mom even offered to change churches or to get up earlier to drive me to some other church where the youth group was stronger. Dad thought that maybe the problem was I was just years ahead of my peers in terms of my spiritual interests. Bless his heart! He was just trying to help me hold onto the one thing I had to hold onto. He thought maybe I'd do better if I could get permission to go into the university class or one of the young adult classes.
I was 14 by this time. I got up the nerve to talk to the pastor. He wasn't receptive at all. He told me I had two choices. I could either sit at home and be a hermit or I could come and deal with life and be thankful for what God gave me.
I kept on going. Eventually, we got a new pastor who did allow me to go into the university class a year early, probably because there were only two other students. His own daughter was just two years older than me. I remember sitting on my bed when we found out they were coming. I was 15. I remember sitting there praying, "Lord, please let her like me." She spoke to me occasionally, but it was always in passing. I tried so hard to be cheerful, to look like nothing was wrong. But the more years you spend trying to convince yourself you're a part of a family who doesn't see you, the harder it is to be cheerful. No, we don't go to church for the people, but I've never been able to come to grips with exactly why we do go to church. God lives in my heart, and He can certainly meet me right here in my house or while I'm on a walk or something. In fact, those are the times I often feel closest to Him.
I'm trying to remember now what they told us in my discipleship training about the purposes of church--something like worship, prayer, fellowship, discipleship, and ... I forget the last one. But if any one of them is absent, then you don't have the church as it's meant to be. And for me, fellowship is very very absent. Mom keeps telling me that I'll never find it if I don't go, and I can see her point. But I'm really struggling with feeling like I'm just going to peer in the windows instead of being part of the family in that house. I would be accepted by the owner of the house, but His kids don't have any manners. *grin* I have friends, but they're scattered over MI, TN, TX, CA, AR, and even the UK and Australia. But I can't find any right here in my own back yard in this town of 90,000 people. Surely there could be one or two in a town this big. But going and, even worse, putting on that happy face and pretending to be something I'm not, is sucking the life out of me.
People say God provides everything we need. So what? Is this just a cross I take up daily or something? A lot of times I hear that you get over depression by giving to others. My whole life has been spent giving and giving. People who know me call it codependency. That wasn't how I meant it to be. There's tons in my heart that I'd give, but nobody wants it. Good grief, I don't even want to be telling someone how miserable I am all the time! I truly do just want someone to be around, to talk to, to tell what neat things I learned that day. I'm not ungrateful for my friends over the world--I don't know how I would make it without them. But my voice is silent and my hands empty.
I've been trying to figure out what it was that took away my interest in and passion for church. Even in the teen years, I was dreadfully unhappy but there were certain things about church I could not do without. I think there were a couple of things, and perhaps they worked on top of each other. In 1991, I encountered for the first time someone who truly believed I had not been healed because I or my parents didn't have enough faith. Both of us were 18 years old. Looking back now, we were obviously worlds apart. She had grown up in a very legalistic family. I had grown up in a family where you just persevered through whatever trials came your way because God is always there and will carry you through. But these were differences I couldn't reconcile. I had never questioned my faith, never questioned what I had been taught. But I didn't know why I believed it. I just believed it, counted it as truth.
It was then that I started desperately wanting healing. I struggled with this for many years--really, up until very recently since the surgery. I'm beginning to be at peace with this particular experience now and to regard it as plain old ignorance on her part. She was very young, had grown up with her health and much of what she wanted, and to her anything less than perfection wasn't really good enough and there must be some sin or lack of faith involved. If you fixed it or were right with God, well, surely He could do no less than give you everything! All was available in Jesus' name.
Well, during these years of struggling, I became involved with the Assemblies of God. I'm not knocking the AG at all--there were many things about AG that I cherished, and I am much closer to God now because of my time there. But I was also deeply hurt there. I am not generally a shout and dance kind of person. I like the freedom to do this if that is how I feel like worshipping, but I don't feel that any other worship style is less acceptable or heartfelt. But during my final months at the AG church in East TX, there was a couple who were new to the faith who decided to hold nightly prayer meetings at their home. A lot of the younger (30's) membership went regularly, and a couple of the elders (one precious old lady in her 80's who by that time was becoming very weak and I don't think she lived much longer, and one other female I think).
I went with a friend and her children. The kids were all herded back into a back room so that they would not disturb the praying. There was a lot of praying in tongues--again, something which I'm not opposed to but something which is in my experience often misused--and "prophesying." As the weeks went on, there also began to be a lot of spiritual warfare stuff. Eventually, it got to a point where there was nothing but spiritual warfare stuff. It was not entered into cautiously. There was no prayer or discernment involved. It was very, very cultish. Everyone would form a circle, and the person being prayed for would be in the middle. When it was my turn, the focus was always on making me shout and claim my healing. And every night I would cry and beg God to touch me, and eventually I would beg Him to just make them stop. I think once I did shout just so they would leave me alone. They just roared with excitement and wanted me to do it some more. And I never was healed. They just kept telling me it would happen in God's time.
Finally, I went and talked to the pastor of the church. He became very upset when I told him what was going on and said that this was not authorized by the leadership of the church and I needed to be very careful. I didn't go any more after that. But a lot of damage had already been done, especially since the holders of the prayer meeting were very active in the church and were always at the forefront when someone wanted to be prayed for, especially if there could be anything demonic involved. I've seen what they did to my roommate, and if I had realized that was abuseback then I never would have taken her there. I stopped going to church there a couple of months after stopping going to the prayer meetings.
I've tried to find a church home since then, but usually I just can't find any excitement in going to church, and I think it was then that the stuff I wrote about started to be so much more painful. I know that this stuff all needs healing. I know that I should be forgiving, but I don't know how to get to the point of forgiving. I guess I can't get to that point if I've never acknowledged what was done as abusive. Is that how this works? Am I getting anywhere with all this? I don't want to give up my faith. It's all I've had for so many times in my life. I've thought about it a few times, but it's too much a part of me. If I could get past this damage, I wonder what kind of person I would be.