Since leaving home, I have struggled my way to forgiveness countless times. Each memory starts the struggle over again, so my mind has gotten pretty good at sticking its fingers in its ears and chanting “La la la, I’m not remembering this!” So why, in my effort to forgive and forget, am I bringing up the past I don’t even want to think about?
It’s for women like my mom who may not particularly want kids or have the ability to teach them well but who are being guilt-tripped into thinking that God wants them to birth and educate an unlimited procession of children.
It’s for men like my dad who take as gospel that God is giving them both the responsibility to control their children and a Get Out of Jail Free card to use whatever means necessary.
It’s for parents who think they are supposed to ignore the mental anguish of making their own babies suffer because souls are on the line.
It’s for sincere-hearted people who are told they are unworthy to interpret God’s influence on their lives and agree to let more charismatic people tell them what to believe.
It’s for children who feel in their heart of hearts that they should never have been born because that is the message imprinted every day on their bodies and minds.
I have gotten in touch with some of the other survivors to come out of the cult that influenced my childhood, and the behind-the-scenes truth could not be farther from the idyllic appearance that drew my parents in. It was much as you would expect knowing my story. There was rampant abuse perpetrated by church leaders and parents alike. Families were threatened, coerced, and manipulated into staying on the compound. People with illnesses or injuries were forbidden from seeking medical help. The families that looked so pristine at church meetings hurt each other horribly behind closed doors. The one that particularly inspired my parents recently escaped the group’s confines and fell to pieces on the other side; the parents are now divorced, the children that left with them are bitter, and the children and grandchildren that stayed behind have disowned the rest.
Another family that we had close ties with also crumbled. Their situation was not as extreme as ours, but they took the doctrine of isolation very seriously and crippled their children’s relationships outside the family. Their oldest daughter, now in her mid-twenties, is pregnant with her third child and going through her third divorce. She does not have custody of her other two children, and she wants nothing to do with her old home. One sibling has taken her side; the others look as lost in photos as her parents.
And my family? Before my parents finally abandoned their crusade against imperfection, one sibling attempted suicide multiple times. One became an expert manipulator and a bully. One acted out on friends with the same violence we encountered at home. One became an unapologetic atheist. One suffered from a compulsive stress-related disorder. A few developed learning disabilities. I had unrelenting nightmares. Holidays and special occasions were battlegrounds. To this day, we don’t discuss personal things, and we don’t bring up the past. We’re a far cry from the shiny, happy family my parents envisioned, and I understand all the more why God doesn’t use force to make us into better people: because it simply doesn’t work.
When Christians use the word “grace,” I don’t fully understand what they mean, but I know I experience it every day, both in my ability to wield it and in the gentle way God is centering my life around hope. I have to think that if my parents had encountered that kind of grace (or understood it for what it was), our family would be drastically different today… none of us condemned by impossible ideals, none of us trapped into violence, none of us terrified or broken by each other’s hands, none of us still living under the thumb of that old bully Shame. The scandalous truth is that perfection is a myth and that’s okay. I believe our capacities for kindness and understanding increase dramatically when we accept that, and it adds one more poignant hope to my list: that my family’s story is not yet finished.
Sparrows Flutter by Hillary McFarland
Why Good People Do Bad Things Inside a Cultish Church by Elizabeth Esther
To Those Who May Be Shocked, Disappointed, and Hurt by the News of My Apostasy by Vyckie Garrison
Barry’s Post by Barry Bishop
Patriarchy and Our Daughters by Taunya
In Which I Discuss the Unthinkable by Laurie M.
Christian Brainwashing? by Betsy Markman
Word Games by Lewis Wells
Christian Families on the Edge by Rachel D. Ramer
Antidotes to Spiritual Abuse by Eric M. Paździora
Moving On by Darcy
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (by Jesus)