Leaving your home church can be a stressful mixed bag of emotions. Leaving a dysfunctional, controlling and very condemning church is a complete crisis. Were there good people who loved God in that church? Absolutely.
When you leave a church like that, you don’t feel like you fit in anywhere else. There was a part of me that was drawn to that harsh, judgmental preaching style. That part of me is called shame.
A person who experiences shame feels flawed at the core. The bad feelings carried within the self [such as guilt, self loathing, and feelings of failure] are not a result of what they did, but instead are about “who they believe they are.”
What a perfect fit. A pastor who motivates through shame and guilt, a dad who did the same and this deep feeling inside of me that I’m no good and never will be.
The sad part is that further down the road that feeling inside me is going to tell me to end my life because no one will care.
Shame is a grid that one views the world through. It is a hyper critical self image that demands perfection. A person who has shame as a core issue will beat themselves up endlessly without mercy. My head was not a safe place for me to be, an endless loop would play in my head saying how stupid I am or what a piece of shit I was. For me trials and hardships were seen as punishments or lessons from God. Simple bad fortune or cause and effect sequences that went against me, like flat tires or traffic tickets was payback for something I had done wrong.
Hell, with a friend like God, who needs a devil?
The Book of Job was taught not as “Wisdom Literature” even though the reader should understand that because it is written in poetic prose. We were told that it was a literal historical document giving the reader theological insight about why bad things happen to innocent people.
God and Satan having a wager on how an innocent man will react to having his family wiped out is not good theology. Job being joyful in the end because he is wealthier and his new daughters are prettier than the old ones should turn any ones stomach. ( It is one of the most incredible books ever written. Notice, after he meets God face to face and is declared innocent he gets back much more than he lost. Jobs story is a beautiful Old Testament picture of being justified and receiving our reward at the end of our life of faithfulness.)
For a person like me with shame issues, the story of the devil tempting God to do evil so God can prove the devil wrong made sense. That is exactly the way the world looked to me. God allows people to suffer because he likes to teach lessons that way.
“Ouch I just broke my rib falling out of the tub… welp, what lesson do you have for me today Lord?”
My bad theology and the real world were on a collision course. I found it difficult to pray. I felt a deep sense of loss and isolation from God. I battled self condemnation constantly.
This crushing feeling that I didn’t “do my Christianity right”, was tearing my theology apart. Suffering and the problem of evil had been the focus of my studies for many years; I had all the answers for everyone else’s pain, but not my own. My safe and secure beliefs, my world view, my center of gravity began to collapse. My marriage, business, home and family disintegrated in a matter of months. The only thing that made sense was that God was cursing me.
Shame has many faces, but one common characteristic is a difficulty with receiving God’s love.
I have always understood that God loves me. I have so many times felt his grace and mercy. As I started recognizing my shame issue, I realized that the only way I could experience God was in repentance. I also started listening to my prayers to God in my head as I would drift off to sleep. I would keep repeating “Lord forgive me.” “Lord I’m sorry.” “Lord please help me.”
What am I repenting for? Is this the only way I can pray?
The only way I could accept and receive Gods love is if I was telling him I am sorry for being a bad person. As long as we both understood that I was not worthy of his love and a sinner, then I could receive his love.
When I was a child the only time my dad would say he loved me was after he yelled at me.
Making peace with God and ourselves is extremely difficult when shame is blocking the way.
(I really hope someone is helped by this because it’s really making me sick to write it.
Man, I was really screwed up.)
More thoughts on this later… A lot later..