The Joy Of The Lord Was (Part of) My Trauma

CW: Religion. Religious harm

I was asked a simple question by my new therapist today. “How has your faith changed?”

Here’s one part of a possible answer:

I am glad that “the joy of the Lord” is no longer my strength.
In too many places I was told by the sincerest of believers that it was.
Furthermore I was told that not feeling that joy was sin.

Depression was stigmatised.
As a tract said, “Depression is caused by sin.” REAL Christians know the truth so won’t get really depressed.
“I was depressed and I prayed about it and God took it away, so I don’t know what your problem is.” Someone I’d never met phoned me across a country to tell me that.

Anxiety was stigmatised.
“Do not worry. God knows the sparrows so nothing bad can happen to you. Not really. So repent of worry.”

Sadness was stigmatised.
“What right have you got to be sad when Jesus did so much for you? Accept his holy will.”
Or in my Catholic days, “Offer all your sufferings to God on the cross of Christ, joyfully, happily, for the sake of the prayers of Mary and the Pope.”

Humanity was stigmatised. At least, a large part of our humanity. Many religions do that. Much of the new age teaching does it. Even some bad pop psychology books do, influenced by anti-human spiritualities and by cultures based on aspects of anti-humanism.

“Deny your negative feelings. No sadness. No fear.” And either all guilt and all shame or no guilt or shame depending on the path.
“Deny yourself. Didn’t Paul fast, and suffer gladly, and pummel his body? The church itself is built on the blood of the martyrs and the prayers of monastics. Keep building.”
“Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad …”
“Here’s your spiritual prescription. Just read these Bible verses three times a day and you’ll be joyful in a week.”
“So why don’t you pray about it?”
“His yoke is easy and his burden is light. So if you’re suffering you’re rejecting his gift and his presence. Your salvation is at risk.”
“Depression is unbiblical. God’s calling you to repent and trust in him.”
“Trust in the Lord. He’ll sort everything.”
“Trust and obey. For there’s no other way to be happy …” I can finger pick that song on the ukelele!
Or from many sources, including the best selling Christian book in history, “Hate yourself.”

Yes. Hate yourself. You’re a wretch. Every day you heap more sorrows and pain onto Jesus as he hung on the cross. No matter how much you live the faith, turn back to Christ.

And of course, “Queer is bad. Gay is bad. Transgender is bad.” Sometimes even, as in my first churches, “Pray and be healed if you’re struggling with it.” I’d already crushed my gender many years before so this was only encouragement to perpetually crush any tiny suspicions. It also caused me to live in a way damaging to other people.

I believed. Lived my faith with all I could give. I thought I knew that I only had to live the faith better and I’d be exceedingly glad too.

So for twenty years the “God of life” killed me as I daily tried to crucify myself with Jesus that I might live. Or not, because that life wasn’t particularly worth living.

I was already quite crucified. Otherwise I’d never have been vulnerable enough to hear the “good news” that a God would save me from the eternal flames I deserved.

No. The joy of the Lord is NOT my strength.
I am my strength.
Friends, relationships, creativity, soft toys, nature, and much more are my strength.

But God? No. I’ve left God and so been freed from that man-made “law of sin and death.” My God, if anything is sin, was sin. My God was death.

I didn’t know “how much it cost to see my sin upon the cross.” I know now. I’m still in a process of recovery from my religion. Only since leaving have I learned more about how much it messed me up and how many other people have been messed up. Often they were messed up by people like the one I spent two decades trying to be.

Unfortunately if I say these things to Christians I’m usually told that it’s because I didn’t have or live the right faith. Either because I didn’t give myself to it well enough, which is a lie from the imaginary hell, or because I had the wrong idea of God and should come back and serve the proper version.
The idea I had was the one received. I know now that it was definitely wrong but that doesn’t mean another version of God is right.

I am scarred by faith. Scars adding to those I already had. And all the crappiness of my religion still lurks in my head ready to accuse. All the dogma too. So when I was asked today how I found God my head screamed out against the Arminian heresy! It’s highly annoying that several years after making a final break with the church my head still leaps to do these things and it throws “godly” accusations at me too.

Recovery is hard.

Recovery is possible.

Recovery is worth it.

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