Following the Truth

Maybe faith isn’t about certainty, but learning to ask – and sit in the complexity of – good questions.

This post was circulating on my Facebook feed last week. It caused me to sit with the complex question and wonder what is my faith really based on? Is it based on what others have taught me to believe with absolute certainty, or is it based on what I have learned by asking and sitting in the complexities of good questions.

Socrates said in order to discover the truth, we need to follow it and see where it leads. My own journey took me back to when I was in my 20s and began attending church with my husband. While I am grateful for the years I spent in this church and what I learned about the Bible and Jesus, there were things about this environment that were obstacles to me discovering my own true faith.

As a survivor of childhood abuse and emotional neglect, I had learned to survive by finding control wherever I could. This control was always at the expense of my true self numbed by the fear of upsetting my parents. It only felt safe to be myself when I was alone writing stories that I hid under my bed. I found relief by eating Little Debbie cakes and Poptarts and escaping into horror novels and movies. In my teenage years, I sought relief and acceptance through self-destructive behaviors such as drinking too much and unhealthy relationships.

In the 90s, I grew into an adult, who unbeknownst to myself, was carrying a tremendous amount of trauma in my body and soul. There was little information at the time about PTSD, much less complex trauma. I had no understanding of what trauma was, or that I was even suffering. I continued to function with the same coping mechanisms that had kept me alive throughout my childhood. I did what I could to maintain control. I numbed painful emotions to keep myself from being overwhelmed. I focused on living in ways that kept others happy. One of the ways I was able to do this, was by attending church. I discovered if I lived focused solely on what I believed God wanted me to do, that I experienced temporary relief with myself and in my relationship with others. Even as I write this, I find myself wondering what could possibly be bad about this? I understand now, the problem was I lived for God the same way I had lived with my parents; in fear of judgment and disapproval. When my parents were unhappy, it meant I suffered. Whenever something bad happened in my life, it was easy to conclude what I had always concluded, that God was judging or displeased with me. So I worked really hard to try and keep God happy. When I read the Bible and learned about these ways, I felt better about myself. When I had a bad day and skipped reading my Bible or praying, I felt guilty. When I prayed a lot, saying I was sorry over and over again, it brought a little relief. I lived my earliest years as a Christian in this cycle. I was even baptized twice just to make sure that I was really saved. During this time, I went to church twice a week, but felt guilty when I missed choir practice or refused to volunteer to keep the nursery. Looking back on my time in this church, I realize that despite my legalistic views there was a lot of good there. The pastor was a good man who taught the Bible faithfully and led the choir I was in. I learned a lot about Jesus from his kind and gentle way of teaching. He faithfully taught what he was supposed to teach according to the denomination that he was a part of. There were also two women in the church who took their roles of leading the younger women seriously. Both of these ladies tried to love me well based on their understanding of what I needed. They shared scriptures that communicated the love and forgiveness of God. One of them gave of her time and opened up her home to me. She was a beautiful person inside and out. She brought relief to my soul on the bad days by being present and listening, but no matter how many times she told me God loved me, I just couldn’t get past the belief that he was deeply disappointed in me. I remember her sharing with me one day about a troubled young girl she had taken into her home and tried to help. She said the girl just never seemed to be able to get that God and others loved her. Her voice was filled with sadness and grief, revealing how much she still cared about her, when she told me she learned from her experience with this troubled soul, that for some people love just wasn’t enough to help them. Her message filled my own heart with despair even though I know that was never her intent. This beautiful woman did not live with the complexities I did. She seemed content with the beliefs she had as being all she needed. When I remember the good days in that church, I sometimes wish those beliefs had been enough for me, too. But it wasn’t enough for me, because the only truth that seemed to resonate and sink into my identity was the one that told me there was nothing good in me. That I was a sinner who deserved death and without Jesus I would continue to screw up my life. It seemed believable, because it was what I had been telling myself my whole life in order to survive. As long as I believed I was the problem, I had at least some control over my life, until I lost control, and then I had no idea what to do or who would save me from myself.

We were created to do more than just survive. Those of us who are in recovery with a diagnosis of CPTSD have to work hard on a daily basis to remind ourselves that this is true. We work hard to focus on our goals in places that feel dangerous at times with people who remind us of those who brought us harm. We get overwhelmed easily but learn new ways to bring calm to ourselves that don’t involve harming ourselves or others. It is a process. Some of us will get better faster. Some of us will progress more slowly. The absolute best we can do for ourselves is to learn how to love ourselves throughout our day to day lives.

Thankfully, today I have learned that Jesus is a lot more complex than I thought He was, too. Unlike the many religious environments that teach only one way of understanding God that I am unable to fit in with, I have come to believe that I am in good company, because Jesus didn’t fit in either. His use of questions rather than giving us all the answers communicate that He wants us to find the answers ourselves. Jesus does not resist our complexities, rather He embraces them.

Jesus does not resist our complexities, rather He embraces them.

He knows better than anyone else that we need to discover for ourselves the identities we lost as children when we were conforming to what everyone else wanted in order to survive.

Socrates, the founder of Western philosophy, taught others to follow the truth so they could discover for themselves where it led them. According to The World History Encyclopedia, “However his (Socrates) teachings were interpreted, it seems clear that Socrates’ main focus was on how to live a good and virtuous life.” Sadly, because his commitment to the truth threatened the control of others, Socrates, like Jesus, was sentenced to death with a charge of “denying the gods recognized by the state and introducing new divinities, and, secondly, of corrupting the young.”

In my own recovery journey of learning how to live with CPTSD, I am discovering that finding the truth begins with the commitment to take care of myself first. Following the truth to see where it leads, involves a journey through many layers in my human psyche. Layers of expectations of myself and others. Layers of judgment. Layers of shame and control. Layers that are best removed with the kindness, care, and compassion from ourselves and the motivation to live a healthier life. While it can be a painful and disillusioning journey at times, it is worth it. Because the truth is worth it.

I encourage you if you are a survivor of religious trauma and/or CPTSD, to keep looking for the truth. Be curious and kind to yourself as you continue on your healing journey, because the truth of how beautifully complex and unique you are is closer than you think. Your truth matters. Your faith matters. You matter.

Maybe faith isn’t about certainty, but learning to ask – and sit in the complexity of – good questions.

For this is the command of God, as I would have you know: and I believe that to this day no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons and your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed. Socrates

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