The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment Eckhart Tolle.
I started reading Tolle’s book a couple of days ago. I haven’t made it very far. Reading it has caused me to stop and reflect on my spiritual experiences in ways I never have before.
The word God, Tolle says, has been misused for thousands of years and has lost it’s original meaning.
What comes to your mind when you think about God?
It is a simple but profound question I found myself asking reading Tolle’s book this morning.
When I ask myself this question, I realize that even the word God brings up memories of things that I would rather forget.
This realization brings up a lot of feelings for me. Sadness, grief, despair, loss. Shame, guilt, fear, and overwhelming emptiness. These emotions manifest themselves starting in my throat and spreading down into my chest.
The path of healing for trauma survivors is acknowledging the pain of our losses and giving ourselves the time we need to grieve. I acknowledge that one of the biggest losses I have experienced is the relationship I once had with God.
I used to think that this loss was about no longer being able to attend church due to overwhelming triggers. But reading Tolle’s book caused me to understand that my losses go much deeper than that.
Tolle describes the moment he experienced a spiritual awakening that came after tremendous internal suffering when he realized there were two identities inside himself. A false self that he describes as: unhappy and deeply fearful self, which is ultimately a fiction of the mind. And his true self that he describes as: my true nature as the ever-present I am: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form.
While I would not describe my own spiritual awakening with the same words as Tolle, our experiences were much the same. I, too, in a moment of intense mental suffering became aware of the divisions inside of myself that kept my soul in chaos.
After my abusive father passed away a few months prior to my experience, I was bombarded with a mixture of overwhelming emotions. I recognize now these emotions were there because my body was holding onto trauma that needed to be released; years of suppressed memories that my mind, in order to protect me, caused me to forget.
Peace came when I realized there were many voices inside of my head motivated by fear and shame. Voices that I understand now became a part of my identity as a result of ongoing childhood abuse. Voices that I believed were just a part of me. My own spiritual awakening brought relief and release when I finally realized the cacophony of voices inside my head were not telling me the truth about myself.
I experienced God for the first time after months of intense suffering when He awakened my mind to the truth of who I was through the words of a Twila Paris song.
And there are many wondrous voices,
Day and night they fill the air,
But there is one so small and quiet,
I would know it anywhere…
Where He Leads Me Twila Paris
Hearing these words caused something to awaken inside my mind; an awareness that the shame-filled voices were not who I really was. On this day, I believed that God spoke in a peaceful quiet voice telling me that I had never been alone. This voice motivated me to read my Bible. Up until this time, I’d only felt shame reading it. I tended to gravitate towards the ones that only communicated how I had mistreated God’s temple. Deep down I believed there was something evil about me that had caused all the bad things in my life to happen. However, after listening to this song I read verses that communicated something else. And these verses flooded my soul with an unseen hope I had never known before.
For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:24-27 NKJV
I read and reread these verses that day. For the first time I truly understood that God was not angry with me. Memories of my childhood began to flash before my mind. I no longer felt shame about who I was. Rather, I felt tremendous sadness over how I had been abused. I felt the deep sense that God had seen how I had been mistreated, and He grieved with and for me.
I experienced God for the first time when I was in my 20’s when some of the most confusing memories brought tremendous suffering. More suffering would come after this.
Experiencing God did not take away my pain, nor did it prevent that pain from leading me down more harmful paths.
But what this experience did, and what it continues to do is reveal to me a loving Creator who holds our pain and never leaves us alone.
I recognize as I read back over what I started to write a few weeks ago that I have let other hurting humans define for way too long who I am and who God is.
One only needs to Google God or church to see how many different opinions there are about God.
One only needs to walk through the doors of a church, and ask a pastor to help them understand God, and be given an answer that totally causes them to doubt everything they ever knew to be true.
One only needs to be abused by a spiritual leader to forget who the real God is.
I can testify that despite whatever paths our pain or others abuse take us down, God never forgets who we are to Him.
I can also testify that one comes the closest to experiencing the true God when we experience our true selves.
One of the things I appreciate the most in the trauma coaching program that I am enrolled in is that a coaching relationship is a peer relationship, and sessions are client led. We are taught that every person has what they need inside themselves to heal. A coaches job is to help a client discover for themselves who they really are. As a spiritual abuse survivor, this has had a huge impact on me.
I realize one must never allow another person to define who they are or who God is for them.
We must discover this for ourselves.
If you are interested in learning more, this is a very helpful article by Robyn Brickel, MA LMFT about how trauma impacts the way we view ourselves:
Why it’s Important to Identify as a Trauma Survivor
Pete Walker’s website is another helpful resource in understanding how complex childhood trauma impacts our lives.