I’ve been blogging for a long, long time, and I’ve shared pieces of my own good, bad (and occasionally excruciating) experiences with the church. I’ve wrestled with God over these experiences, and continue to journey on with him with a limp. One of the most gratifying things about writing online is I hear from fellow wrestlers. Some continue to gimp with Jesus as I do.
Others have chosen to run in the opposite direction. I recently heard from someone who fled the fundamentalism of his childhood. His parents were well-meaning followers of a rigid, Bill Gothard-flavored stream of Christianity. Perhaps “pond” would be a better word than “stream”, as this guy said that the church of his childhood seemed to preach that they alone were Real Believers. In any case, his parents expended a lot of energy trying to gain the approval of the self-appointed pope-in-charge of the church – the pastor. His parents’ fear transmitted to their son: “There was no abuse in our home except for the abuse my parents passed on to us. None of us in our family could ever measure up to the impossible standards in this fundamentalist world.”
Newton’s Third Law of Motion tells us that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. This guy spent his early twenties fighting off guilt and shame, and the next decade after that using the debris of his childhood to build a successful life for himself and his family.
David Kinnaman’s 2012 UnChristian and dozens of memoirs and hundreds of blogs have detailed my the same kind of sadly-familiar story. Though we Christians are called to self-giving love, we’ve branded ourselves well by what we loathe. This young man’s story reminded me again that my own need for approval from an authority figure as a young believer left me vulnerable to abuse from a few power-warped church leaders. I carried my own version of the fear virus into my home, just as his parents had. After I dealt with the fear, I was left with regret over what I’d passed on to my kids like a carrier.
I heard a great deal of anger in this young man’s words. He values diversity in almost all forms, he told me. The one group he can’t abide are those from the faith tribe of his childhood. He has nothing but scorn for them. Rightly so, as his sense of injustice at the wrong he suffered through no fault of his own is shared by God. Yet, I recognized just below the surface of the anger in his words a deep sense of grief and regret. This person wanted a different childhood and could never have it. Forces beyond his control had stolen a “normal” life from him. His anger serves as a protection as he continues to process what has been lost. I recognized by his reach-out to me that perhaps he is growing weary of staying angry.
The warped practice of faith must always merit holy anger. Read the prophets, or watch Jesus interact with the Pharisees. That anger burns clean, and doesn’t consume what is good. On the other hand, God can re-form the humpty-dumpty broken pieces of life and faith left in the wake of pain, hurt and abuse. This young man can never get back the childhood he longs for. But there is a way to make peace with the past. I wrote in If Only: Letting Go Of Regret:
Regrets fragment our hearts. Perhaps because I’d long believed that God’s peace primarily described a placid emotional state, I figured the best way to deal with my regrets that most definitely didn’t leave me feeling at all peaceful was to avoid dealing with them. Keeping them buried behind walls in my heart seemed a sure way to stay at peace. I’d read passages like Psalm 103:11-12 (“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”) and I would tell myself that if God said he forgave me, then I just needed to act like that calm Hawaiian sunset scene – or else! I missed the fact that God was the one doing the work of reconciliation.
As I began to ponder the true meaning of shalom, I realized that wholeness can only come as I submit to God and he reconnects all of the fragmented pieces of my past. This wholeness means I will flourish in the present, and be free to follow Christ into the future without fear or false limitations.
Job described his reclamation mission with these words: “He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light.” (Job 12:22) David knew a thing or two about how God’s pursuit of him, regrets and all. He expressed it beautifully when he wrote, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Ps. 139:11-12)
The work of shalom demanded I stop avoiding my if only’s. The Prince of Peace wanted to stand with me in order to face my regrets. His Spirit would teach me how the Father would reclaim what I’d buried there.
He knew far better than I did what was on the far side of those dividing walls I’d erected with such precision in my heart.
Reconciliation is an ongoing work of the Spirit. He has been at work in my friend’s life, though right now, my friend would not see it that way. I have faith enough in the shalom of God for the both of us.
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