Story #3 Reclaiming Childhood After Religious Abuse

In our religion, having control over your children was seen as a ticket to heaven. This is the case for many parents in fundamentalist churches and belief systems. The theology is that God entrusts the child’s soul into your hands and you as the parent are responsible for bringing up the child in the fear of God. Unfortunately, what should be a beautiful thing becomes tainted with someone’s personal ideology of child rearing.

In our group parents were fearful of not spanking the child enough or dispensing enough discipline for any perceived disrespect or actual disobedience. Spanking was preached but how and when was not. It was often preached, “don’t go to hell for your children” and that light or mild correction (like Eli gave to his sons in the Old Testament) was tantamount to a sin that would land you in hell. Devout members of our churches would have to acknowledge that a lenient mentality toward child rearing would garner you the label of being a bad parent.

Sadly, another thought that persisted was that children were put in a category as just unsaved. They could feel that they were not fully accepted. The ideology was that they were not saved and therefore subject to the whims of the devil, including lying, stealing, or manipulating. Being a Church of God child “hearing all this truth” and still not being saved was often a bad place to be.  

I know many parents did not allow their children to even pray saying “you’re teaching them to hypocrite” based on scriptures like the following:

 


We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. John 9:31 ESV

 


The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
Proverbs 15:8

Both scriptures were taken out of context and wrongly applied. If a child was of a certain age and not saved, it was as if the parental bond that should be there was cut loose and now because you are accountable you’re treated like any other sinner.

Though not all parents in our denomination had this mentality, but it was certainly in the air. Children were not really seen as children. There were only two categories–saved or unsaved.  You were one or the other. Often, children had little identity aside from “are you saved?”. You were either “in” or “out”. If you were not saved, then you had one foot in hell and were part of the “the others”–the “world”  spoken of in I John 2:15 and if you were saved, and for whatever reason your parents could not vouch for your “salvation”, it could be snatched away from you at any moment. If any saved adult, in fact, felt that you were not saved, then you were in trouble because “Sister so and so” doesn’t believe you’re saved.

One former Church of God member whose mother was a long standing devotee of a Chicago congregation and wished to remain anonymous, described her relationship with her mom and wrote the following in 2016 when I posted the Apology to my daughter:

As an adult today with children of my own, I still desperately search for a female role model to “mother” me as I feel it was lacking immensely in our home. No warmth, no down to earthness, everything was the bible this and God said this and the pastor said this.

I remember trembling when Pastor Miller would preach because my mom would come home and beat the stew out of us for something old that we did or she believed we did, and me the oldest was often the most targeted, because of something Pastor Miller said in the pulpit. As a teenager I longed for a woman to talk to about my growing body, my yearnings toward the opposite sex, and just things that teenagers deal with, but my mother’s head was so in the church cloud she couldn’t relate to me at all, and I would often get beat or punished for some of the things I was feeling.

I have often said, My mother didn’t know how to love us maternally, she only knew the bible way and just enough to stay “saved” in her eyes. People today say it’s a wonder I’m so balanced, warm and loving towards my children, who can talk to me about anything, in fact I call them in my room often as we just talk and laugh.

To this day, I long for a mother and daughter relationship with my mom, but her head is still so far up the church cloud that she neglects her grandchildren the same way we were neglected emotionally. Like a poster wrote above, I grew up hating the church and just started melting and trying to see things differently the last five years.

I wish you would have a raw and open meeting with the saints at 46th and Drexel specifically and read these comments (anonymously of course) to them. Maybe some of the healing can begin.

 

This is a real person with a real story.  And it is not just in one location. There are many fundamentalist types of religious groups that operate along the same wavelength based on what they believe to be God’s standards for obedience. Some parents did not understand the repercussions of misinterpreting such scriptures. However, we as leaders should have known since we handle the word of God and too often mistakes were just passed along to the next generation.

Can we as Christians learn from our mistakes? Can we help others not make the same mistakes? Can we adjust our teaching to make room for the emotional and physical safety of our children? Jesus would want us to do that.

If you can relate to her story, start the conversation in the comments below.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to me.  I’m 56 years old today.  I’m not one of those women that thinks it improper to tell their age.  I’m grateful for every year. I woke up this morning at peace. At peace with myself. At peace with the past and looking forward to my future and the future of my family. That’s saying a lot for me.  I had pined away about lost years and mistakes made, bad decisions but I made a decision one day. To make an affirmation to not dwell on the past and look toward the future. I can remember times, I would wake up depressed on my birthday because I was too worried about what my bad decisions had cost me.  I didn’t really understand what constituted success. Doing something big and notable what the image I was given early in life. Having a house and money was the goal. Since I acquired at least one of those, I was moderately successful.  But I was never enough, never satisfied, I was sent this message by my parents, family and later by my church that no matter how much you do, you are never really enough.    I’m so grateful to have learned so many lessons I wanted to pen them down not just for other people, but so that I can remind myself to continue to grow. 

I’ve Learned to Value My Family:

Jackie Kennedy said:

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” 

I wrote, “An Apology to My Daughter”  and we’ve become closer at a time she really needs me, raising her own daughter. After many mistakes, trying to be the perfect parent and following some of the rules of my church instead of seeking God for myself,  I still have time to be a good parent, a present, attentive parent.   I have a chance to pass on those lessons to my granddaughter and my youngest son.  I’ve spoken with children from our church group and realize how impactful that post was to open up doors for them to heal from their own childhoods. There was often this cult-like atmosphere that didn’t serve the gospel well– all children must act the same way and do the same things and act saved even if they’re not. However well-intentioned the motives, the results for the majority of those I have talked to didn’t work. Parents sometimes had to sneak and do things that would benefit their children so no one would know.  Some ended up having to openly repent about decisions they made as a family.  That should never have happened.  Every family is in God’s hands and not the hands of other human beings.  Many of the children in our religious group didn’t go through the normal development process of becoming adults because so many decisions were made for them.  There was so much unnecessary control over families who were not allowed to pray as individuals and come to their own conclusions.  Some were angry at me for writing about this, and others applauded, but whatever the case, it was something I needed to do personally to be genuine and honest about what I see and have experienced.    That honestly has meant volumes to my family.  

 

 

I’ve Learned to Value Myself

I am learning to value myself and the talents God has given me.  I don’t take that lightly. At one point I thought I was highly invested in my talents, but my talents were limited by worrying over what other people thought.  I allowed others to limit things God was giving me to do.  I was always the champion of good causes, but I’m learning to channel that in the right direction. 

I’m Learning about True Friendship

I am also finding others who find value in me as a person, that see worth in who I am, just as I am.  People that motivate me and aren’t afraid to celebrate my gifts.  Who actually want to know me and not an imagined version of me.  

There are people in life who will only associate with you because of a position you may hold, or what they think you can do for them. Or if you’re good at listening, they may just want your listening ear.  Or if you’re good at talking, they may just want you around so you can entertain them.  They’re not bad people, they’re just not that interested in you.  

They don’t really value you as a person. If they had a choice to get to know you, they wouldn’t. You have to recognize how much time to invest with such people. 

I’m Learning about Authenticity

I want realness in my life.  Jesus is real to me. He always understood me, even when I didn’t understand myself and he’s helping me to understand who I am and be comfortable with who I am. I am through with projecting images of success in home, family, church, business. But I accept who I am and what I am and I’m extremely happy with that because we have to learn how to value the simple things in life.  The small victories, the failures that teach us lessons, the atmosphere we give our children at home, the small moments we help other people. That is what is important.

I’ve been asked to take down posts about my real feelings simply to preserve an image and that never works.  What works is possessing the real thing and you will not need to cling to a presentation.

I’m Learning About Purpose

Finding out what the general purpose of life itself is easy.  The Bible tells us that the whole duty of man is to respect God and keep his commandments. Finding out your specific purpose is not so easy.  It takes trying different things, not being afraid of failure or how you may look to understand where your talents lie. That’s a process.  To be an instrument of God for His purpose, to be there for your family, your children and others around you with whatever talents he has given you.  That’s what’s important.

I’m 56 years old and happy about the things I should be happy with: my beautiful daughter and granddaughter, my two sons,  and my made-in-heaven 30-year marriage.

Just Happy

Someone asked me recently what I was doing with myself nowadays. I told them “I’m working on myself.”   The best present I could give me is to have a stable inner self.

I’ve learned to let go of past mistakes and people that want to hold to the past.  It’s important to encircle yourself with a village that will help you move forward. No one is successful on their own. People need other people.  Understanding this is truly honoring the gifts God has left to mankind.  We should respect those that are gifted, no matter whether they’re Christians or non-Christians.  All men have gifts and capabilities.  Every coach needs a coach, every therapist needs a counselor, every minister needs someone to lean on. All good mentors need their own mentors.

I didn’t find my worth in how many people were going to wish me a  Happy Birthday today.   I was satisfied. Although I’m conscious that everyone loves these things, I had no yearning today for praise, approval, and attention.  I am no longer trying to please anyone but God, myself and my family.  Other people matter but not in the way they once did.  My childhood was spent seeking praise and approval from my parents and much of my adulthood was spent trying to fit in and belong in a group that wasn’t that interested in me.  It wasn’t personal,  it was just system that wasn’t interested in anyone much as individuals.

One person I hadn’t seen in years knew me, but I didn’t remember them, told me  “you still have that salvation glow”.  Yes, I do, and that’s because, in the last 2-3 years, I’ve been seeking God for the next chapters in my life and learning new and wonderful things about Him and his Word.  I have been studying the bible to actually understand it, rather than to teach messages that will support what’s been already said. The Spirit of God is not stagnant and I’m trying to follow what he ‘s doing in my life and move along with Him, and that makes me very happy.

Nathanael’s Story is Our Story

Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me?  Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.                                                                                                                                      –St. John 1:48

I’ve read this story many times and didn’t get the depths of this until this morning.  I would read it and think ‘how did Jesus know that Nathaniel had no deceit’ in his heart. Well, of course, Jesus knew all things and as I began to meditate on this more, I realized the depths to which Christ knew men’s hearts.   Continue reading