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On my blog entry entitled, Talking about Child Abuse with Religious People, a reader posted the following comment:

So, the premise of this conversation here is: ‘if my religion says I should forgive, then I should forgive, however, my religion also proposes hell which means forgiveness is only for those who repent; then I don’t need to forgive.’ If your abuser’s one day came to you and told you in tears that they’re extremely sorry and repentant, would you forgive then? would you even believe them? … Why not try to decide for yourself? It seems like some of you are already doing this, but maybe you’re still looking for someone outside of yourself to tell you that it’s OK not to forgive. Is forgiveness something that you feel you need to do in order to feel peace? what does forgiveness even mean for you? (for YOU, not a definition the bible or someone gave you). I find that, when someone says something that really gets to me, it is because in some way I feel that they are right. Why is it even an issue when people tell you that you *should* forgive? do you believe them on some level? ~ Luna Sol

I have long since put this issue behind me, but at the time that I was wrestling with how to reconcile my definition of forgiveness with my religion’s definition, it wasn’t because I wanted anyone necessarily defining it for me. Instead, my faith was such an instrumental part of my healing process that what my faith had to say about different issues carried a lot of weight.

What I learned through lots of prayer and critical thinking was that church doctrine and faith are often not the same thing. The scriptures were written thousands of years ago, translated into English, interpreted by “men of the cloth,” and then passed down from generation to generation. I often wonder how many rituals and beliefs started as one thing but evolved into something else.

Part of my healing journey involved taking a step back and reading scripture from a fresh perspective without the influence of what I was always taught about a particular passage. The topic of forgiveness is one of these areas. I have come to define forgiveness as an internal choice that I make to stop nursing my bitterness toward someone who has wronged me – to stop spending my time thinking about that person. To do this requires no action on the part of the one who wronged me.

My personal definition of forgiveness has nothing whatsoever to do with reconciliation. I believe this is one area where church doctrine is way off the mark – if reconciliation were a required element of forgiveness, I simply could not do it. By my definition, I have forgiven my abusers, but I have also cut of all contact with them. I am 100% comfortable with this decision, and when questioned about it at church, I have no problem backing it up with scripture.

I have many other areas of my faith where I diverge from mainstream Christian doctrine, but I can back it all up Biblically (which is, of course, only relevant to people who believe the Bible). One example is my belief in reincarnation. All areas in which I diverge have come after lots of prayer and critical thinking, and my divergences have brought me immense healing rather than the whole “I guess we’ll know when we get to Heaven” cop out that some people give me when they are not open to considering alternative perspectives.

My advice to people who wrestle with their faith is to question it down to its core. In my opinion, any faith that cannot withstand critical thinking and Socratic questioning isn’t of much value. I am not saying that I have all the answers, but through lots of praying and questioning, I have found the answers to the questions I needed answers for the most without having to “wait to get to Heaven to ask.”

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*** religious triggers ***

This is a continuation from this blog entry.

I want to focus on this part of Lizzy’s question:

How do you handle the balance between not being able to undo the past and it\’s scars and the whole ”Jesus heals all” attitude? ~ Lizzy

I am (thankfully) in a season of recognizing how far I have come with my healing. That is not to say that I won’t have a whole lot of sludge to work through as the holidays roll around … only that, at the present time, I am in a season of respite, which I am enjoying immensely.

My experience has been that, as my emotional wounds heal into scars, they stop hurting. I have experienced this many times. If you read through my blog, you will see me writing about processing lots of pain, but I am not typically dealing with the same emotional wound for years on end. Some emotional wounds take me longer to heal, but they do, in fact, heal.

No, I cannot change the past, but the past loses its power over me as I heal. As an example, when I first recovered the memories of animal rape, I could not look anyone in the eye because I felt such deep shame. I worked through my feelings about those experiences, and now I can talk about without feeling any shame or emotional pain. It’s not something I go around telling everyone (nor is there a need to do this). It is also something I don’t think about on a daily basis. It is something I experienced as a girl, but it is not something that continues to hurt me as a woman (since healing it).

This does not mean that I am immune from triggers. If I were to watch a movie with an animal rape scene, I am sure I would feel triggered, and I would use my tools (deep breathing, walking out of the theater, etc.) to calm myself back down. I might feel “off” for a few days, but then I might go months without thinking about the animal rapes at all.

I do believe that God has the power to heal all, but it takes time and work. Because I endured so much trauma, I don’t know at what point, if ever, I will have experienced healing in all areas. What I can tell you is that I am no longer the brokenhearted woman I used to be, and I view my life much differently than I used to. My past has not changed, but my perspective about my past has.

I do not write about religious topics like this very often because I don’t want to exclude my readers who are triggered by religion, but talking about God’s healing power is actually one of my favorite topics! I am glad you asked the questions.

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*** religious triggers ***

On my blog entry entitled Deeper Awareness of Healing from Child Abuse, a reader asked the following question.

So to come down to my question … I am extreemly wary of Christian therapists. My expectation is that they are going to to claim that if you can give all the hurt to God, forgive in His anem, then all will be healed and you will go on to live a full life, no hurts, love the people who did it to you. Over and over I have heard that ”Jesus heals everything”, ”give it all to Him and He will take it away”, ”release your unforgiveness and He will bring healing and love”. I know I’m mocking, but seriously! It leaves me feeling like the people who say these things have never experienced anything that deeply wounded them.

So how do you respon to this kind of comment? Are you open about your past with your Christian friends? How do you handle the balance between not being able to undo the past and it\’s scars and the whole ”Jesus heals all” attitude? ~ Lizzy

Let me start by addressing the Christian therapist issue. There is a difference between a “Christian therapist” and a therapist who is a Christian. My therapist is a Christian, but he is a psychologist first. This is what I needed. My issues were too complex for a “let’s pray you through this” kind of therapy. I needed sound psychotherapy to work through my many issues.

I actually do believe that God has the power to heal our deepest wounds. I believe this because I have experienced it! However, as you know from reading my blog, the healing has happened over a long period of time and with lots of work. God is not going to wave a magic wand and erase the pain. I believe that God is interested in more than taking the pain away – the healing process itself can build a deeper relationship between you and God as you gradually heal, and I think that well-meaning Christians often miss this aspect.

They also miss that if God waved a magic wand and instantly took my pain away, I would lose the ability to minister to others who have experienced similar pain. The fact that my healing has taken place gradually and with lots of ups and downs is relatable, even to those reading my blog who have no Christian faith. God loves those people as well, and my sharing my healing journey can encourage them in their healing as well. There is a bigger picture than just **my** healing.

I am very open about my past, but I typically talk about it in general terms, saying things like “I survived severe childhood abuse” rather than getting into specifics. I have no trouble talking about it and will get more specific if asked, but most people who have not been abused cannot handle hearing my stories. As long as the other person is respectful, I maintain this boundary. However, if someone tries to argue with me, I am not above sharing a particularly graphic experience to shut her up. LOL

As an example with the forgiveness piece (many people have trouble at first with my choice not to have a relationship with my mother) … I will ask if a woman is raped by a stranger while jogging in Central Park, is she forever obligated to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with her rapist after she forgives him? Of course, the other person says no. I ask isn’t what my mother did to me even worse than a one-time rape? Most people have no response to this.

This blog entry is getting too long. I will continue tomorrow…

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*******trigger warning — religion*******

As I shared before, one concern I had about beginning therapy was the cost. The therapist I found was not covered by my insurance, but I really wanted to work with him. How was I going to explain to hub that I wanted to spend hundreds of dollars a month on a shrink?

I also did not know how I could possibly tell my husband that my mother had sexually abused me. Hub already did not like her, but I feared that he would not believe me. Heck, I barely believed myself. I went back and forth every other day questioning whether I was just making this stuff up.

I had only one therapy session before hub, my son, and I were going back to my hometown to visit with my mother as well as other family and friends. My therapist (T) said that I needed to cut all personal contact with my mother (visits and phone calls) for the first few months of therapy. I balked, saying that there was no way I could do this. He assured me that, if I chose to continue having personal contact with my mother, it would greatly impede his ability to help me through therapy.

So, I worked up the courage to lie and tell my mother in front of my sister (who knew ahead of time) that I was entering therapy for “childhood issues” and that the therapist wanted me not to have phone calls or visits with any family members just for a few months. My mother was surprisingly supportive as long as she believed that my sister would be cut off, too.

Hub and I then visited with my grandparents, who gave me a $1,000 check for Christmas. They had never done this before, and there was no way I could have seen this coming. I kept tearing up because I knew this was God’s hand. Not only had I been provided with the funds for several weeks of therapy, but this gave me a segue for telling hub about the abuse. I began by saying, “I know what I want to use this money for…” I took a deep breath and told him the truth.

Hub was completely freaked out but also believed me. He talked with his parents, who told him that he needed to be 100% supportive of me going into therapy if I believed that I needed it. So, all roadblocks were cleared for me – finding the therapist, the money to pay for it, and the courage to tell hub what was going on. This was one of those rare moments when I knew as it unfolded that God was moving in my life.

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**** Religious Triggers ****

On my blog entry entitled Getting Past Feeling like God Deserted You after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

For the last 10 years I would call myself an atheist because I can’t believe in a god who is all powerful and all knowing that would not intervene while children get hurt. That’s just so hard for my head to wrap around. … You said that god never promised to save children from harm, but shouldn’t it be expected from an all powerful being? … I remember begging for god to show himself to me and to help me with this burden. I gave him an ultimatum (I know who am I to give god an ultimatum) that if he didn’t show himself to me then I was done. I waited ….he never came. I downed 150 pills and drank some alchohol. Fortunately/Unfortunately? I survived. … I can’t remember exactly how the parable goes but the gist was that the shepherd left the 99 and went back to save the 1. Isn’t that essentially gods promise to save us? ~ Journey

You can read Journey’s full comment here. (Journey – I LOVE your screen name!)

Journey’s question is basically, “Shouldn’t an all-powerful being be expected to protect children?” Despite what you might have heard from well-meaning religious people, the answer to this question is no. I wrestled with this issue when I read the book The Shack by William Paul Young. See my blog entry entitled Words of Wisdom from “The Shack”: Do Children Have a “Right” to be Protected?.

Our innate feelings about justice and fairness scream that, if someone is all powerful, that power should be used to protect the weak and powerless. In the Bible, God Himself mandated this numerous times, telling his people to take care of the widow, orphan, and alien (the weak and helpless in that time period). Protecting the weak is our jobs as adults. We cannot just sit back and wait for divine intervention – We must take a stand and protect children, not because they have a right to be protected but because we love them.

For whatever reason (probably to fill the pews and collection plates), many religious people have sold us a bill of goods, saying that if you believe in God, He will keep you safe. That is simply not Biblical. Jesus Himself was crucified, as was Peter. Stephen was stoned to death. Saul murdered numerous Christians before his conversion. There is no place in the Bible that promises us heaven on earth. Our earthly lives are about growth, not security and safety.

Because some religious people have filled their pews by selling the lie that God will keep everyone safe, they have erected barriers to those of us who were not safe as children. I do believe that God does ultimately keep us safe, but that is spiritually, not physically or emotionally. I actually believe in reincarnation, which adds a whole different dimension to being safe. If you believe that you have one life and then you die forever, you are going to be angry about your lot in life and experiences. You will also view a short life as a tragedy.

However, if you believe in reincarnation, you see that this life and its hardships are only just a tiny sliver of your experiences. I am always okay because nothing can harm me (the spirit). My body might suffer and will eventually die, but I am not my body. My spirit transcends this one lifetime. I am here to learn life lesson, which will forever shape who I am becoming. However, as I let go of the expectation of being physically safe on earth, I also let go of the fear of being forever harmed by anything that anyone ever does to me. I am only here on earth for a little while, and my worries and concerns in this life will be meaningless after I return to spirit form. The one exception is the connection I make with others – that transcends this lifetime.

As for God not coming to you that night – I think it was God’s coming that prevented 150 pills and alcohol from taking your life. My experience has been that God always shows up, but I cannot always hear him when I am overwhelmed with my emotions. I must first pour out all of the pain before there is room inside to fill up with His peace. I suspect you passed out before you got to that point. I would encourage you try again. Lock yourself in a room and tell God that you are not leaving until He makes Himself known to you. Begin by getting out your anger. Yell and scream, punch pillows, and bless Him out. This will uncork the tears. Let yourself cry the tears until you cannot cry any longer. This is the point at which you will feel God’s presence. Right now, you have too many emotions drowning out His voice.

Also, remember that God’s voice is found in a whisper, not in something dramatic. It is also found through others who reach out to you. Sometimes we need a version of God with skin. :0)

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********** religious triggers **********

On my blog entry entitled My Own Faith Journey after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I’m curious how you got past the feeling that [God] deserted you in your childhood when you really needed Him. ~ Ivory

It took me a long time to move past feeling abandoned by God. I used to ask what the h@#$ good is it being God if He cannot even prevent one child from being abused. However, I came to realize that I was viewing my situation under faulty assumptions.

I blame organized religion for part of the problem. Churches often are guilty of saying things like, “God will keep you safe.” However, that simply is not biblical. Many of the apostles were martyred, and even Jesus himself was crucified. So, telling little kids that they will be safe if they believe in God is just plain wrong.

You will not find anywhere in the Bible that promises that God will keep you from being hurt if you believe in Him or trust Him. I think that church folks made this up to give them a false sense of security. That way, as long as they do X, Y, and Z, then they believe that they are safe as they go about their daily lives. The truth is that, if they have managed to live their lives without being traumatized, they are simply lucky.

Once I accepted the fact that God never promised to keep children safe, I recognized that I was blaming God for failing to do something that He never promised to do in the first place. It is not God’s job to keep my kid safe – that is my job as an adult who loves him. If all adults loved all kids, then no child would be abused. However, there are many people in the world who do not love kids, not even their own children, and that is the reason for child abuse. There is plenty of blame to go around, but God is not where I place the blame.

I do not believe that God deserted me. In fact, I believe He was ever-present, giving me the gift of dissociative identity disorder (DID) and the hope that the future would be better so that I could survive the abuse. God promises to heal broken hearts, not to prevent them from breaking. God also charges His people to protect children. Those who did not heed his instructions will suffer one day. I blame the adults in my life who did not protect me for the abuse, not God.

Back to the question of how I reached this place – It was through a lot of Bible study, prayer (including lots of “prayers” that were really just me yelling at God), and meditation. It also involved letting go of what churches had told me about who God is and exploring who God is myself. God cannot be contained in a church or even in a book like the Bible. The Bible points us to who God is, but it cannot contain Him. To really get to know God, you have to reach out and invite Him in. Like Job, I wanted God to “defend” Himself, and, like Job, I found that I was asking the wrong questions.

Does this help?

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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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