Two years ago, I went to my new pastor and reported how I’d been involved in an inappropriate relationship with the former pastor that had been very damaging to my own mental health. At the time, I didn’t recognize how much damage had been done. I just knew I couldn’t keep it a secret anymore, nor could I live with the constant chaos going on in my soul.
Looking back on that time, I realize that most of those in leadership did not know how to deal with the truth. There was concern that gossip would damage the reputation of the church. There was concern of how people would react, and how many would be damaged. There was more concern for controlling the damage than telling the truth. So they did what they could to minimize the damage, and created a story that was more palatable for people in the church and community, covering up the fact that it was spiritual abuse and allowing people to conclude that it was a consensual affair.
I’ve told this story again and again on this blog in an effort to help others understand that whenever a pastor has an inappropriate relationship with a member of the congregation, it is always abusive, especially in my case when I went to him for counseling, and he groomed me for abuse and took advantage of my weakness.
But I’ve recognized lately that I need to back away from feeling that it is my responsibility to change people’s minds about this. I can only share my story and trust God to lead others to the truth. I’ve also come to the conclusion that the problem runs a lot deeper than people just not being informed. I think the problem is that many in the church are not emotionally healthy enough to deal with the truth about a lot of painful things.
And lately I have come to understand that this isn’t just a church problem. It’s a human problem.
At the core of being human is the desire to avoid or minimize pain in an effort to control our lives, and I am no exception.
So rather than point fingers and blame and get angry again, I will continue on my journey to work on my own emotional health and how I can better deal with circumstances in my own life that I overreact to – which are often very little things like being stuck in traffic, kids who don’t pick up after themselves and disrupt the controlled clean environment I like to maintain, and also kids who don’t do their homework after I’ve told them ten times. These are such simple things on the surface which should be easy enough to fix, but yet I find myself overreacting to. They are also things that gnaw away at my heart causing shame, because no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to get a handle on them.
At the root of my overreacting even on this small scale, is a need for control and an attempt to avoid the things that are unpleasant.
I’ve also discovered if these little overreactions are not dealt with on a deeper level the shame continues to build, my stress level stays up, and I begin to overreact even more.
The real problem is that I myself struggle to deal with the truth of how messy our lives can be. And I attempt to make life more palatable and cover it up by controlling things on the surface. But I’m seeing how unhealthy and ineffective this is.
So how can one deal with the reality that life is full of things that we cannot control? Sometimes we have to sit in traffic. Sometimes we have to be patient with other’s messiness. Sometimes we have to let go of the need to control others, and allow them to learn from their mistakes.
The path begins with oneself and recognizing that we do not have control over so many things. The only thing we can control is our own choices, and we can only do this by accepting all of who we are and finding compassion for oneself.
I’ve shamed myself for most of my life for everything bad that’s ever happened to me. If I believed things were all my fault when I was an abused kid, at least I thought I had a little control. It was too unimaginable to believe that the parents who were supposed to keep me safe were at fault.
But the truth is – it was their fault that I was harmed. I was a child who could not control what my father did. It was his responsibility to do that. It was my mother’s responsibility to pay attention and ask questions, but she didn’t either. Both were coping with life rather than processing the real painful truth and how they could get help.
I can no longer hold myself responsible for their actions or the actions of anyone else. It was not my fault that my former pastor abused me. It was not my fault that the the church leaders lied.
In order to find peace, I must release all the responsibility I’ve felt for others actions. Then I must release all rejection that I feel towards myself. So many times an unseen battle goes on in my mind…I criticize myself for making a mistake. In turn, I criticize the kids for making one. It’s a vicious cycle.
Inner peace is crucial if we are to experience outer peace.
And this can only come by accepting and not avoiding all the beautiful and terrible things about this life for what they really are, and find peace despite the circumstances, taking responsibility for only the things we have been given responsibility for.
Jesus said that in this world tribulation would come, but not to be overwhelmed because He has overcome all of it. Jesus didn’t say these words as a pat answer to help us avoid our pain. Jesus said these words because they are true and we need to remember them because life is hard. Jesus didn’t cover the truth of how messy us humans are. Rather, He revealed the truth everywhere He went and invited us to accept His love, compassion and forgiveness despite our messiness. Because accepting these things is the only way to true peace.
My friend Nancy made a joke recently about the fear sometimes in church about meditation because of it being more of an Eastern practice. She said Christians probably ought to avoid Aisian food as well. She made me laugh at the silliness of it all. It has amazed me how my own attempts to find God have lead me further away from Him. In meditation these past few weeks using a secular app, I am not looking for God, but He has suprised me by showing up. A reminder to me that I really do need to stop trying so hard!
Even though most of the time I don’t understand what He’s doing, I’m comforted to know that He is here with us all the time.
In Him, there is no condemnation.
In Him, there is peace, forgiveness and total acceptance.
In Him, I am loved.
And the more I accept His love, the more I can accept myself and others around me no matter how messy we.
We love Him because He has first loved us.
It’s a love that we cannot control, but one we can trust.
It’s a love that doesn’t cover the truth but exposes it, and then takes away our shame.
It’s a love that calls us to do the same for each other and ourselves.
Love one another as I have loved you…