I was trying to take a risk in spite of my fear – go to church. We hadn’t been going for a while again, because my sensitive airways reject cold air. But it was going to be warmer, so on Saturday night I thought I could try it again. But the cold isn’t the only thing keeping me away.
When I woke up on Sunday, fear consumed me. I kept pleading with God, “O God, help me, please. I am so afraid. Please be with me.”
I tried to read from His promises that He will always be with me. And He whispered, “Stay with Me. Let Me stay with you.”
I thought I was all set. What time I am afraid, I will trust in YOU, O God.
But I was helpless with what my mind and body were doing. My identity was splitting again. It’s hard to explain, but I guess they call it disassociating. I disconnect from my thoughts, feelings, and who I really am. It’s so hard to describe what it feels like. Kind of like I’m two people… My true identity gets shoved into the garbage disposal. A different person takes over, one who listlessly rides along in life like a puppet on strings, one with emotions shut off so I won’t feel pain. It’s how I coped at the time of abuse, and sometimes it comes back when memories get triggered.
I kept crying to God. My heart was ready to place my trust in Him. I left the bedroom with brave intentions. My heart was going to plow forward and conquer this fear, because God is with me. Yet I became so confused, because my mind and body weren’t cooperating. I hate that feeling of when my mind and body disconnect. Sometimes I can process it, reason with myself, and come back to “earth,” but sometimes it doesn’t help until I remove myself from the situation and feel “safe” again.
I was out of the zone of reality, the here and now. Without thinking, I would get up with my cup of tea in my hands, pace, then sit in a different spot, and look out the window or try to converse.
My ever-protective, observant husband said, “You look uncomfortable. You’re troubled. Are you afraid someone is going to hurt you again?”
“I don’t knooow…”
I got my coat on and was ready to go out the door, and he stopped me. “You’re trembling.”
“No, I’m not… HOW can you see that?” I thought my trembling was only on the inside.
“Yes, you are. Even your jaw is quivering. I am not going, because you are NOT ready.”
I broke down and sobbed, “But how will I ever get past my fears if I don’t face them? Why can’t I stop being afraid? Do I have no faith?”
After more tears and hugs, I had to admit my husband was right. I was going more because I thought I was keeping him away from it (since he won’t go without me). And for approval from Christians who believe going to church is the right thing to do… If I’m honest with myself, the times I do go are more out of obligation than desire or need. And when I do have the courage to go, the gloom of depression sinks me down, often during the entire week or longer.
For many, going to church is not a problem, because they grew up in a nurturing church with a supportive community. Not me. “Church” is bad memories of spiritual, emotional, mental and sexual abuse.
When I shared the truth of my story many years later with friends, they deserted me. They were willing to believe I was guilty of leading a “poor man of God” astray, but they were not willing to accept the truth – that I was victimized and deeply wounded.
We were hurt again at a couple of other churches since then, so we became even more guarded. I also still hear stories of other hurting souls who are not believed or supported in some churches. Even where perpetrators are more supported and prayed for than the victims are.
Anyway, I am trying to make sense of what happens to me, and I still don’t know. Questions roar and tumble in my mind: Should I just forget about trying to go to church anymore? Should I stop pushing myself? When will all these memory triggers stop? Why do they seem to be getting worse the older I get? Where is my faith?
A few months ago, in a non-denominational Bible study I attend when I am able to, there was a discussion about attending a church. Some concluded that faithful church attendance is not a requirement for salvation, but not going means we are missing out on the blessings of community. My heart cringed and curled up into a fetal position, ashamed and inadequate. I didn’t dare to tell even this safe, nonjudgmental community of beautiful women that I don’t go to church. I reasoned: If I tell them, they won’t understand anyway, they will look differently at me, they won’t like me anymore, they will “preach” at me and hurt me with words, etc.
This is also why I have been struggling whether or not to openly tell you on this blog post. In the corner of my mind, I keep seeing former friends who rejected me shake their heads at me and look at me like I’m a lost cause. But I want to be “real” here, and hopefully I will learn to share it someday at Bible study as well, no matter what the reaction.
As I write this, God is helping me to process my confusion. I beat myself up with – If you really trusted God, you could do this… Satan scoffs me with “Where is your God and His power?” That old legalism still has a condemning “do this or else” hold on me, but I must learn the Spirit gives life, not condemnation and death. It’s not about how many times I go to church. It’s about my relationship with Jesus. God is not confined to four walls. I can worship Him anywhere. The “church” is not a building but the indwelling of Jesus in the hearts of His people all over this world.
Yesterday I read how the disciples were in a room with the doors locked out of fear. Did Jesus walk away because the doors were locked, because they were afraid? No, nothing stops Him from loving His own unconditionally. He entered in and spoke peace to their trembling hearts. The doors were still locked… I still struggle with fear because of past trauma, but Jesus still will never turn His back on me. Even when fear locks the door to my heart, even though my faith is weak, Jesus still chooses to enter and dwell in my heart.
What happened on Sunday is turning out to be a blessing. A lesson in trust… Trusting in God doesn’t always mean taking a risk out of my comfort zone. Trust can mean to wait patiently and allow time for God’s complete healing.
To trust that Jesus will heal me in His time and His way.
To trust Him even though my mind and body react to memory triggers that bind me and limit me.
To trust that maybe He has more use for me in my woundedness than in my being of strong faith.
“If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
for it will surely take place.
It will not be delayed.”
(Habakkuk 2:3 NLT)
I am not perfect, but He loves me anyway. I am not going to keep forcing myself to go to church. I have to let it go for now. I have to quit heaping more guilt on myself for not going, no matter what I hear people say. I have to shake loose from those legalistic shackles and rest in the life and liberty of Jesus. I will not find peace in a building. I will only find peace in Jesus. Jesus understands and doesn’t condemn me for it, so why should I? Instead I will continue to worship Him wherever I am and to seek a closer and more intimate relationship with my Lord and my Redeemer.
I will try to be more gentle on myself and more patient with the healing process. Each day, hour, moment, I will try to lay this cross at the feet of Jesus. Layer by layer, God will heal me, if not here, in the hereafter. Someday all the shackles of fear and shame will disintegrate in the power of God’s saving and healing grace. Meanwhile, I want to accept my brokenness as beautiful in His sight. He can still use this battered, cracked pot.
Are you sometimes impatient with the healing process? Do you beat yourself up because you can’t always do what you think you should be able to if you trusted God enough? Or maybe people condemn you for not being able to move forward more quickly? Be more gentle with yourself. No matter what, Jesus understands. He never condemns. He hurts when we hurt. We don’t have to be completely healed to be used by Him. Sometimes He may have more use for us in our woundedness. God sees our cracks as beautiful!