When God is your abuser

I was being abused and I asked Jesus to help me. I was a little girl--the age of my own twin daughters--and I was away at Bible Camp. I asked Jesus to help me. I prayed over and over. I asked Him to make it stop. But Jesus didn't make it stop. This has been--and continues to be--a huge struggle for me. I do not trust God. And why should I? The God I knew was wrathful and harsh. The God I knew didn't protect me from my abusers. The God I knew was stone silent in the face of my desperate supplications.

Over time, I transferred my abusers' traits to my concept of God. I lived in constant fear of punishment and yet, I also believed that punishment was love. They love me and this is why they hit me.

I began to believe that I was unlovable and inherently bad. I certainly didn't deserve love and I always had to earn it. Love was given or withheld based on my level of obedience. My father told me God's love was conditional. If I disobey I will be disowned by God and my parents.

As a female being raised in a highly-patriarchal culture, I never developed my own understanding of God because God's will would be made known to me through my father and husband. My father was God for me and later, my husband was God for me.

This is probably one of the most dangerous lies of patriarchy: a human being (aka, father, husband, pastor) is God for you. It is the most dangerous lie because if someone controls your concept of God, they control everything.

The result for me was that I cast away my childhood and tried to become a little adult, always trying harder to be good and perfect and without spot or blemish. I lived a scrupulously rigid life but I never measured up. They hit me because they love me.

My survival skills included: controlling every little detail of my life, numbing/abandoning my feelings, avoidance and indirect communication.

I rarely spoke directly or asked for what I needed and wanted. I hinted, suggested or spoke in a baby voice. Like this? Maybe? Pwetty pwease? All kinds of hedging and equivocation. As I grew older I used my words to lash out, to criticize and to question. I whiplashed between passive-aggressive language and harsh, attacking words.

When someone treated me abusively, I adopted coping mechanisms like avoidance. I never confronted their abusive treatment and I even avoided my own feelings about it. It was better to look away, pretend it never happened, everything is fine! la-la-la-la.

I controlled every aspect of my life by following a rigid schedule, becoming scrupulous and harshly critical about my personal appearance, my body, my daily schedule and my confession lists.

But all the control and scrupulosity didn't take away my deep, real need for love. I turned my focus to relationships: seeking friendships and romantic love which would fulfill, heal and make me whole. My emotional intensity enabled me to become deeply intimate with people very quickly. But when someone got too close, I pulled away.

When I left the abusive church environment, I still found the abusive God everywhere I went. It seemed so many Christians believed in a harsh, judgmental concept of God because they were harsh with themselves and others. But I desperately wanted fellowship and I agreed to the terms they set in order to belong. If you want to be part of our fellowship, you must accept our concept of God.

I was willing, once again, to sacrifice my freedom for the feeling of belonging--even if that love and belonging was a substitute for real love.

I never took the time to develop my own understanding of God. I just kept accepting everyone else's version of God. I kept trying make their interpretation of God my own.

I discounted the few times I'd sensed a kind, benevolent God gently guiding my life because I didn't trust myself. So-and-so pastor says God doesn't work that way so I must be wrong.

I hit rock bottom after realizing that even though I was no longer a helpless child, I continued to re-victimize myself by recreating the dysfunctional environment of my childhood.

Numbing myself was a coping mechanism necessary for surviving my dysfunctional childhood but it no longer helps me, it hinders my recovery.

I slowly came to God through the back door, indirectly. I made a connection with Mary. She was safe. She was maternal. She was gentle. I could hide myself in her skirts instead of looking directly at God.

That was a necessary step in my recovery and it was what I needed at the time. But Mary wasn't God and she couldn't effect the full recovery I needed. It has become clear to me that a full recovery means facing my root issue: my unhealthy view of God.

I am learning to listen to the wordless language of feelings. Where words have often destroyed and damaged my concept of God, feeling the feelings God gave me is leading me back to myself. God gave me my feelings and I'm allowed to feel them. I don't need to repress, avoid, manipulate, deny or shame my feelings.

I am learning a new way of living.

I am taking care of myself. I am learning to listen to my gut instinct. As I have begun coming back to myself and taking care of myself, I am being led into a healthy relationship with God that is gentle, trusting and loving.

I don't have to use all the same words as everyone else in order to still have a relationship with God. I can use words that are helpful and put aside the ones that are triggering.

Whenever I feel a tightening sensation in my chest or stomach, I know I'm reverting back to old, abusive concepts of God. But whenever I feel a warmth, looseness and easiness in my chest and stomach, I feel myself relaxing into God as I understand God.

I am learning the paradoxical truth: loving myself leads to loving God and others.

I have a long way to go, but slowly, my understanding of God is separating from the traits of my abusers.