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Archive for September 7th, 2009

Chapel (c) Lynda Bernhardt***** religious triggers *****

A reader emailed me the following questions:

May I ask what your faith walk has been like in this journey you are on? Has there been much prayer involved? Have you been a part of a church? Or is the faith you have a different kind?…Can you elaborate for me what you mean when you say you always had faith that God would help you?

Because many of you are likely struggling with your faith as you heal from child abuse, I thought I would post my response here. This is my own faith story.

Neither of my parents was religious when I was born. When I was eight years old, my mother/abuser joined a Southern Baptist church, which is where I followed their requirements to “be saved.” My father remained an atheist until the day he died. A grabbed onto religion, hoping that it would save me from my h#$% on earth, but that did not stop. I would go to church with my mother and sister by day and then be abused by night.

My mother is mentally ill and has a pattern with churches. She joins a church and becomes ultra-involved. She will hear a voice (which she believes is from God) telling her that the pastor is doing something wrong. She will confront the pastor, who disregards her message. She will then rally other people to try to oust the pastor, and then the elders will ask her to leave. This has been her pattern since the 1970’s and, as far as I know, continues to this day.

As a result, I visited and joined many different churches of all denominations throughout my childhood, mostly staying the longest in Pentecostal types of churches. When I was fifteen, I really embraced my faith as mine and decided to read the entire Bible cover to cover. As a result of reading the Bible for myself and having such a broad view of all of these denominations who thought that their way was the “right” way, I built a faith foundation that does not really fit into any mold.

When I was 16, my father (the “good” parent) died suddenly, and my mother started abusing me again. At this point, I decided I wanted nothing to do with a God who would abandon me to these circumstances. I refused to go to church for the next 11 years. During that time, I questioned my faith to the core – Is there a God? If there is, why is there so much suffering in the world? How can I reconcile the erratic God that my mother presented with the God I needed? Many religious people see this as sacrilege, but I see this time in my life as building a firm foundation of embracing my faith as mine and not just regurgitating what other people told me about God.

After 11 years, a friend who was a new Christian asked me to join a Bible study at work. I did it just for her, but that was the beginning of God wooing me back. Soon after this, I learned that I was infertile and really needed comfort at a level that nobody else could give me. Healing from the loss of my father was hard without leaning on God, so I decided to try dealing with the infertility by embracing the faith that I had as a teenager.

During this time, I joined a Presbyterian church, moved to a different state, and then joined a United Methodist church, where I am still a member today. I do not consider myself to be a “Methodist,” but I love my church and the dear friends I have made there. I embrace many beliefs not held by Methodists, the most notable being a belief in reincarnation. I have enough similar beliefs for it to work. I am very active in my Sunday School class and even facilitate a Bible study. Anyone in one of my studies will tell you that my studies are different from any other class. :0)

Prayer has been a part of my life since I was eight. Even when I walked away from God, I would still send out prayers, but they were more about expressing my anger toward God than about receiving His grace.

God was faithful in my infertility journey. I became a mother in a different way – through adoption – and my life is so much deeper and richer because of that experience. So, when the flashbacks started, I held onto the experience of God being faithful through the infertility years for the hope of God being faithful through the child abuse healing process.

I have gone through periods in which praying to God was triggering, but I have pushed through all of that. I have a very deep faith in God (which is part of how I came up with the pen name of “Faith”). I could not have survived the healing process without leaning on God. I don’t know how other child abuse survivors manage without having that safe place to fall apart. I am not judging anyone because I can understand all too well pushing God away for not protecting you from the abuse. However, I, myself, would not have survived the healing process without a faith in God.

So, that is my faith story in a nutshell. It is much more involved than that, but this provides the big picture.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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