In my about section, I mentioned the goal of this journey including three things: physical, mental and spiritual health. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been all for sharing about the first two but have been, for months now, avoiding the last one. For some reason, I’m not afraid to share that I struggle with depression and that I’m taking antidepressants… yet I’m afraid to openly admit that I’m struggling spiritually. Well, I guess I admitted it right there. In order to be honest to myself and to you, I’m going to share where I’m at on my journey towards spiritual health.
A brief background: I was raised in a strict evangelical Christian home. My earliest memories start when my dad decided to start a ministry in one of the roughest, poorest parts of our town. He taught Good News class several times a week, we went to Church every Sunday, and my dad brought his beliefs into every aspect of my life. Simply, he was my authority figure when it came to Christianity. However, I do not believe he was a good example or teacher of the true spirit of God: he relied heavily upon guilting, punishing, and restricting in most circumstances where those did not ever belong. And while I knew things were different for me, that I had questions about things I “knew” but didn’t understand, I didn’t actually examine that until my authority figure shattered the beliefs he had taught me and left me to pick up the pieces. Since that day, a year and a half ago, I have been trying to avoid the disconnect I feel within myself.
At first, I thought: I know that it’s not God’s fault that my dad made those decisions and since God is not to blame, nothing will change. After I dropped out of the Christian college I had dreamed about going to due to severe and debilitating depression, I realized that things had changed. Things had definitely changed. I started to dislike Christian music (which used to a huge part of my life), started to dislike sermons which led to the dislike of going to church which led to the dislike of being around Christians who brought up God’s love or blessing or forgiveness in every conversation, no matter the topic.
I didn’t feel God’s love, I didn’t feel his blessings and I sure didn’t feel forgiveness towards my dad. What I felt was betrayal, hypocrisy, and rejection… and I did not want to be around those who would tell me to “just pray” and that “God would heal my family” and that I was “disobeying God” by not forgiving my dad. I’ve said those words to others in the past and when they gave me a fake smile or polite nod and thanks, I didn’t understand why. Now being on the other side, I do. Thoughts fly through your head during those conversations: you don’t understand, it’s not that simple, I couldn’t forgive him even if I wanted to and most often: please just shut up because you have no idea what you’re talking about. I know, those are not kind thoughts, not even fair thoughts, really, but they are real thoughts. While in that much pain and confusion, my thought processes were barely working at all so needless to say, having others throw thoughts at me that reminded me of the very one who caused the pain and confusion in the first place wasn’t always welcomed warmly.
After most of the hype died down and people stopped asking about how I was, I became even more aware of the growing emptiness inside. And just as vast was the anger. While talking to a friend on a street corner last winter I confessed that the anger, the pure rage inside, was what was keeping me going; if I forgave and lost that anger, I’m not sure I could continue on knowing the pain that was underneath. While part of me knew that wasn’t true and knew anger would do more damage to me than anyone else, that part of me wasn’t winning. After feeling so much anger for so long, I didn’t know who I would be if it wasn’t there anymore; the anger had started to define me. The anger and emptiness led to bouts of severe depression which has only come under control quite recently.
With the depression gone, I can feel and experience life more realistically. Which means all that spiritual emptiness and disconnect is more realistic now too. Even now, when I hear pastors speak (on the rare occasion that I do attend a Sunday service) – ok, total side thought but an important one: the other reason that churches lost their appeal to me was because during the 12 years or so of ministry work, my family at some point attended most major churches in the city. At no shock to me, every time we went to a new one, someone already knew who my dad was. And the amount grew and grew until I would get stopped in grocery stores (nevertheless churches) to be asked if I was his daughter. Anyway, due to the fact that most people don’t know the truth about my dad, attending church led to a lot of ignorant question and phrases about him: for example, the most common one I heard being “You’re Rob’s daughter? You are so lucky! Do you realize how amazing he is? He is such a great example of a man of God” No joke. For years, I gave the polite nod because even back then I knew my dad wasn’t who everyone thought him to be. All that to say, less church = less reminders of the pain. Ok, back to when I hear pastors speak…
Even now, where I hear a pastor speak, all I can hear is my dad’s voice. There’s even this occurrence where I think pastors look like him… everyone around me always disagrees. No matter the passage, I hear my dad teaching it. I think of times he used it to teach me or punish me or guilt trip me. I’ve sought out advice on what to do about this and it’s been suggested that reading the Bible myself should help and that I need to remember that it’s not about the pastor, it’s about the Word of God and God himself. Well, once again, it’s not that simple. I wish so much that it was! If my dad had not been so zealous in his beliefs (which I don’t believe were always biblical) I probably would have an easier time separating his teachings from the actual passages.
I remember while growing up that people always talked about “feeling God” and “hearing from God” and having this distinct feeling that God was there. Around the end of elementary school and from there on out I remember being so confused by why I didn’t feel it like everyone else, like I was supposed to. Even at the peak of my belief I felt like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t understand what people meant by feeling God’s presence/peace/word/etc. and in my young eyes, that meant that I wasn’t a good enough Christian, that there was something that I wasn’t doing well enough for God to speak to me. Looking back, that is just so sad. No child should ever feel like they aren’t good enough for God to love them.
Only recently have I realized the confusion, in part, came from a base belief that this “feeling” was the only way to connect with God. If you didn’t have it, you weren’t a real Christian. How I became so blinded, I have no idea. There is so much more to it. God is infinite and to think there is a finite amount of ways to communicate with him is naive. Now, I’m not talking about worshiping the “god of ___ or ___” or speaking to spirits or to one’s own “internal god” and claiming it’s a connection with god. I still believe that Jesus Christ is part of the trinity of the one and only true God… it’s just that I was raised with such a limited view on how to connect with him. Somehow I didn’t know that enjoying and appreciating God’s creation, taking proper care of your “temple” (body), meditating, acting in the way Jesus taught, going through hard times and getting angry with God or going through good times and still getting angry at him were all still totally valid connections with God. The list goes on and on too. It’s different for so many people and I feel like the Church has labeled some as taboo because they’re different. I’ve given up trying to fully understand the complexity of God and I am just glad he’s big enough to understand me.
So where am I right now? Well, I go through times where I feel compelled to listen to worship music which I think is a big step. Church is still a hard one. Reading the Bible is too. I’m currently finding other ways to grow closer to God such as learning how to see myself the way I was created (which is beautiful and strong and brave and all those other things I don’t always believe I am) by seeking proper mental health care and feeding my body proper nutrients. I’m giving a closer look at meditation at the moment. I have good friends who practice Buddhist mediation and I want to learn how to distinguish their practices from their beliefs then use those practices to bring me closer to God. I think learning the ability to shut out the world, my own distracting thoughts and spend quiet time with God will be an amazing step for me. Growing up, I would have feared that participating in anything that was at all tied to Buddhism (or any other religion) would mean I wasn’t a proper Christian. But I look, in awe, at the amazing ability of monks from many different cultures to control their thoughts, be silent and have enough focus to spend hours in prayer/contemplation. I have to say, they must be doing something right and I want to learn how to apply those techniques on my own journey to closeness with God. Meditation isn’t a practice of most Western cultures and honestly, looking at the state of our society, I’m thinking that’s a good thing.
Phew. It’s all out there now. I know it’s a lot but that’s what happens when you build up thoughts for months (years, really). I am eternally grateful that God knows my heart, he understands my pain and struggles, and knows I’m trying. It might be a steep hill and I fall at times, but I continue to climb.
Sweetheart, thank you for supporting me through this trying time. Family, thank you for loving me no matter what. Friends, thank you for making me consider my beliefs by sharing about your own.
Speaking of, you’ll notice a new tab at the top of the blog called Share Your Thoughts. It’s a place that you can share a thought or question or belief or inspiring word or anything else! I’d love to hear from you all and there’s a little box you can click if you’re ok with me using the content in my posts (with credit to you) which I think would be totally awesome. Equally as awesome would be leaving that box blank and knowing that I will read and appreciate your contribution. You can also leave your email and I will try to respond to all who give it. Thank you in advance! I love you all!