Before faith came, we were held in custody under law, confined for the faith that was to be revealed. Consequently, the law was our disciplinarian for Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian. For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3: 23-29, New American Bible translation.
I promised God that one out of every ten of my posts on this blog would be dedicated to witnessing for my faith in Christ. These posts will be under the catagory of “Christianity: My Journey,” and if visitors and posters to this blog choose not to read these items, that’s fine. But I have promises to keep…
Where to begin? Oh, where do I begin? What led me to be a Christian? How could I possibly begin?
Maybe I’ll begin with what *didn’t* lead me to Christ.
I grew up in a family of a stay-at-home mother, breadwinner father, and children. I will not go into explicit detail because this is how people get stalked over the Internet; disclosing too many details gives cyberstalkers an “in.” However, I will say this: my family was about as unhappy, dysfunctional, and nasty as you could get before becoming Lois Jurgens-level awful. Alcoholism, wife-beating, and child abuse and neglect reigned in the family. Truthfully, we weren’t really a family, more a collection of individuals drowning in a maelstrom of chemical dependency, hate, torment, and chaos. I grew up to be one hell of an unhappy little girl, and I saw the ugliest gender dynamics you could possibly imagine. I didn’t witness any marital rape, but I saw one hell of a lot of violence that my father perpetrated on my mother. My brother and I were also on the receiving end of a lot of abuse and neglect by my mother. I found myself walking around when I was eight or nine actively wishing that I had never been born, and one of my brother’s second-grade teachers reported to my mother that my brother had stood up in front of the classroom and said, “Nobody loves me; nobody cares.”
Have I set the stage to explain why I became so escapist?
Because I really did become one.
Some children will lash out at the world around them when abused and neglected. My tack was the opposite. I chose to become very withdrawn, and I escaped into my own little world. I didn’t have any social skills worth a damn, and I was picked on and ostracized at school–with very few friends. I read books incessantly, didn’t want to go out and play too often, and holed up in my room whenever I could. The library was a refuge for me, and at one point it was turning into a home away from home, particularly during the summer. Life just didn’t seem worthwhile outside of a book, and I lived to escape life. There is a very thin line between self-pity and depression, and as a kid I was incessantly going back and forth over the line all the time. Even now I struggle with figuring out the difference between legitimate grief for a childhood I never had versus just wallowing in “poor me-ism.” Yeah, I know, poor baby.:D I don’t pretend to think I have a “plight,” not now. But we all have to struggle with our inner demons, and mine are typical of the millenium-era white upper-middle class order: depression and a dysfuntional family of origin. Among others.
So here I was, tooling around at age 8 or 9, and looking for something to escape to, something to make my life better. When I walked home from school or around my small town, I used to pass a little Baptist church. I walked there pretty frequently, and I got very curious. I began to ask my mother and father if I could go to Sunday school. My mother, who had been brought up in a highly religious family with many kids and who was by denomination a Methodist, was quite pleased, and said “yes.” So I began going, every Sunday.
Sunday school was my first real experience with religion. I had a smattering at home; my mother and I used to watch the Billy Graham television crusades together, and she taught me the Lord’s Prayer. But Sunday school took it to a whole new level. I quickly became “churched,” going every Sunday to the classroom in the Baptist church for lessons. It was exposure to social situations, and it was exposure to caring, loving Sunday-school teachers who were teaching faith to kids. By all accounts, it should have been the healthiest thing for me.
The problem is that it wasn’t.
I’m of the opinion that one should be very, very careful just *how* religion is taught to kids. You never know just what highly suggestible child from an abusive/neglectful home riddled with domestic violence is looking more for an escape than a relationship with the Divine.
I quickly turned into a little religious addict; I turned to a religion to self-medicate my pain. The problem is that the religion I was learning didn’t bring me close to God or bring me to the reality of Jesus Christ–in part because too much emphasis was placed on Biblical literalism and legalism and not enough on experiencing the reality of the Lamb of God. I learned the wrong things about God–learned that he was a vengeful, cruel God who punished people at the drop of a hat. I learned that if you didn’t do things exactly the way He told you to and be “born again,” you would burn in hell forever. I learned that God was male and that husbands had the right to boss wives around, and that if women didn’t obey, they weren’t pleasing God. Needless to say, the emotional ramifications for me were ugly; I swore even as a little girl that if God really wanted wives to obey husbands, that I would never, ever get married so that I wouldn’t have to be under the thumb of a man. (Now at age 44, I think I can smile at my subconscious mind in amusement and tell it that marriage isn’t a Divinely-ordained threat to autonomy for women and that the little Baptist church had it wrong.:) ) I learned that I wasn’t good enough as a human being, that I was born with original sin, and therefore I was “evil.” No one had explained to me the concept of hamartia as the human condition that was meant in the New Testament as the *original sin* we’re all born with–translating literally as “to be without a share in,” “missing the mark,” a tendency to misperceive and *not* hit the goals of holiness or to *not* have holiness. Note that this is a far cry and concept from being born evil, but this isn’t what I–and probably the other kids in the Sunday school–weren’t getting. That was a big chunk of the problem.
I learned to interpret the Bible literally and unquestioningly, to take it word-for-word, just as it says–a recipe for disaster in the mind and heart of a child. I know that the Sunday school teachers were trying to teach us that God loves us unconditionally; I remember that we would all sing, “Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World,” the refrain still humming in my ears sometimes: “Red and yellow, black and white/they are precious in His sight/Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
But that was only part of the hymn. Another part of the hymn was, “Jesus wants the little children, to be careful what they do/ Honor father, mother dear /Keep their hearts so full of cheer/ Then he’ll take them home to glory by and by.”
And quite possibly, this is what screwed me up in my little Baptist church more than anything.
My parents weren’t parents in the true sense of the word; they were two alcoholics, battering husband and battering wife–neither one of them qualified or able to parent. Both of them were abusive to us kids or highly neglectful; neither one of them was present for us in the way that children need their parents to be present. We really didn’t have a mother or father, not in the true sense of the words. And “honoring” your parents in those days meant obeying them to a “t” and not questioning *anything* they did–a recipe for psychological disaster when dealing with alcoholics.
The cognitive dissonance that was created between being taught by Sunday school to obey and honor my parents (or Jesus won’t take you to glory!) and experiencing the chaos in a family with two chemically-dependent non-parents was something my young mind couldn’t handle. I couldn’t satisfy the religious demands of my church and be a dutiful daughter without playing a major mind game on myself. I couldn’t tell the truth to myself and be who the adults in my life thought I should be. I went into denial, day-dreaming, and escapism as my way of coping. In other words, I had to lie to myself so thoroughly that I couldn’t see the real truth of what was happening in my family.
The problem is, of course, is that the more you lie to yourself, the less experience of the Living Water you’ll have.