A friend of mine recently wrote of her experiences growing up in a “Christian” home where she and her siblings were taught that the only way to heaven was to act and think a certain way. Whenever they failed to meet that standard, they were punished and told they would burn in Hell for it. Forgiveness could not be attained by merely asking for it; they had to prove themselves worthy of it. She also described how the cruelty of her family’s teachings nearly forced her to give up faith in God.
Her experiences were so foreign to me, yet it still broke my heart.
Every child experiences some form of great pain, pain that never goes away even into adulthood. It forms our long-term fears and can even determine our day-to-day actions. Letting go of those memories is often beyond difficult. The pain is almost part of our DNA, and it surfaces when we’re unsure, scared or hurting. It seems nothing we do helps us to keep pain in the past so it doesn’t effect our present, or determine our future.
About ten years ago, I decided to write in my first blog every painful memory I carried with me. I can’t tell you how cathartic that was. For whatever reason, writing them down and sharing my pains with others made them less painful. They no longer have power over me.
The one pain I never had to deal with is the pain of religion — or at least misinterpreted religion that paints God as cruel, angry and unforgiving. My parents rarely discussed God. They had no faith in him, so there was no reason to talk about what they believed didn’t exist. I remember my mom was a bit hostile when it came to organized religion. I don’t know why for sure, but I’d be willing to bet she was burned by religion much like my friend above.
While she didn’t go into any tirades about her hostility, I knew enough that my rebellion as a teenager was to attend church. No lie.
I consider myself lucky. The church I first attended was focused on Jesus — who he was (and is) — and the love God has for us. Growing up in a home without God, I had no pre-conceived notions of an angry, vengeful and spiteful God, let alone a loving one. When I started my search for God, I was, and am, able to see him with clearer eyes and mind. A clean slate if you will.
One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.
When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’ Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.
That’s the key, I think. Children are innocent. They haven’t learned how to distrust. They believe anything is possible, and that they are worthy of being loved, no matter what. Jesus calls us to be like those children.
Since I started my own spiritual journey with Jesus, I have learned that God does not accuse me, but instead shows me mercy when I do wrong, comforts me when I hurt, cheers for me when I succeed, and shows me a better way when I’ve strayed.
My biggest prayer is that everyone could see God in a similar way. To release any past toxins (religious or otherwise), and to consider the idea of a loving God instead of an angry one. And most of all, that everyone relegate the pains of the past to replace them with the joys of today, and the hopes for tomorrow.
To be children once again.
I can appreciate how difficult that is for some, especially those who have been damaged during their formative years, but Jesus is all about making the impossible possible.