Updated: Feb 5, 2019
Religious Pain When I worked at a care center for kids age 3-12 I met a young boy who tried to kill himself 12 times. He was five years old and wouldn't tell anyone why. On Sunday, while watching Veggie Tales with the kids, he climbed on my lap and told me what was wrong. "I know I'm bad," he said. "And I want to die before I'm so bad that I can't go to heaven."
My heart broke and that day I decided to go to seminary to ensure that at least one pulpit in America would stop creating religious wounds.
Each week I hear more stories of individuals who have been lied to and told that they God's love is limited. To anyone who has heard words like these, I am sorry. I assure you, God is so much bigger than our faithful tunnel vision.
I wrote a book called Mr. Grumpy Christian to support kids who have experiences like this, but today I want to share a few ways adults with the wounds of religious abuse can work on healing them.
Faithful Baby Steps to Heal Religious Pain (from faith alone to faith in community)
Create a sacred space - It could be a drawer, a shelf, a corner or any other space that works for you. Put things in the space that connect you to God, including: bits of nature (shells, rocks, flowers); photos, cards, inspirational phrases; a bible; or anything else that is important to you.
Read Faithful Self Care Books - there are lots of books by others who have been inured by faith. Books by authors like Anne Lamott, Jeanette Winterson and Nadia Bolz-Webber may help you feel less alone. The authors I have listed above are also humorous writers. I picked them, to remind you to
Laugh - Finding faithful people with a sense of humor can help you experience a positive emotion with faith. Some of my favorite faithful ways to laugh is to watch the Vicar of Dibley or the comedy of Eddy Izzard.
Reignite your Senses - Miss the smells of church? Light the same incense from your childhood. Taste some of the foods that delight your tongue and remind you God is good. Listen to podcasts or recorded sermons. Get a massage to remind your body it is good and that others can care for you.Sing - Whether you choose a hymn or another song that connects you to God, vibrating your voice in honor of the sacred is a part of faithful practice around the globe.
Look for God in Nature - Some find God near water, on top of mountains or in the beauty of the woods.
Love - One of the best ways to learn about the kind of love God has for you is to give and receive love.
Join an Online Worship Service - Find one on your own, or you can always join my services at Grace Lutheran each Sunday at 10:30 am PST. I stream them on Facebook Live.
Refuse to Get Stuck
The ideas above are available for you to choose your own adventure. If something works for you, do it. If something doesn't work for you, don't do it. Saying "no" and learning to express when people are pushing you away from faith will also be a part of your healing process.
When it is too hard to connect with communities, work on your individual connection to God. When it is too hard to sing, read about faith. When contemporary people bug you or are mean, learn more about faithful people of the past (saints, bible characters, reformers, etc). When church buildings trigger you, connect with a pastor through social media.
The most important thing you can do is to refuse to get stuck. Keep moving and working on connecting with God.
When you are able, remember that it was the Kid-dom of God that hurt you, not God (hopefully).
Your Pain is Real Only you will be able to check in with your body to see when you are able to worship with others again. Be gentle with yourself. The pain caused by religion and faithful people is a very real thing, even if no one around you understands it. As someone who has experienced religious adversity, I know how hard it is to even consider opening yourself up to faith again. I am proud of you for your willingness to try.
Blessings on your journey. I'm rooting for you.