Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When the Word Becomes a Weapon

Upon my exit from the land of Evangelical Culture, there was one thing that surprised me most. After all that time amid small groups, Bible studies, Bible classes in college, chapel, etc., the pages of my Bible were well worn and I enjoyed digging into the text. But after my departure, things changed. The words themselves were the same, but reading them left me numb. I did not respond to them as I once had. They seemed foreign to me. I struggled to separate the text itself from the hurtful manner in which it had been distorted - distortions that resulted in abuse, control, and oppression. Those distortions now clouded out the true meaning of the texts.

I had never heard anyone talk about this. I wondered if something was wrong with me or if anyone else had experienced this. I do still read my Bible, but it took a new approach to get me there.

Yesterday I can across an article documenting an experience very similar to my own. If you've ever been in that situation, are currently in that situation, or are simply curious, I would encourage you to read it. The article is a bit long, but worth it. Below is the link along with a few excepts I especially enjoyed.

How Do You Study the Bible After Someone Has Bludgeoned You With It? 
(Quick side note: The title totally reminds me of this clip from the movie "Saved!")

"I want the reader to read, hear, and know well that I would have done anything to be able to read and study like I had before the crushing blow of realization of spiritual abuse knocked me flat. I had to develop an entirely new relationship with the Word and Bible Study (based upon purer motives), and this did not come easily or quickly for me."

"I knew that I’d been shaken, but I had no idea how deeply all of this would affect me. I felt like an empty shell of a hypocrite who had started out to worship and serve and know God. My motives and my efforts were good, yet I’d been mixed up in horrible things and with some flawed and dangerous people, serving the church instead of God."

"For all of my diligent study and seeking God, neither my knowledge of the Bible nor the Holy Spirit in me protected me from this terrible harm! It seemed and felt like my whole religious experience had been flawed from the beginning, and I THOUGHT that I WAS standing “in His strength alone!” I’d done everything I knew to do to be wise and true, yet I’d believed a lie. Did I even have any radar? What good had it done me? I’d stumbled, fell, and I’d been hurt. In my black and white thought, it felt like the whole of the journey had been wrong, and it was the foundation for MY EVERYTHING.

The next morning, I picked up my Bible and *BAM*! For the first time in my life, those well-worn pages felt foreign and strange. I knew that book and could quote it and find in it what I could not quote by memory. I’d taken what was given to me and made it my own. Or had I?... At the time, the trauma was too intense for me to think clearly through the self-doubt. I went into an existential panic, unable to figure out what was really real. I knew those verses and I’d known what they meant."

"All I knew was that this Bible felt unsafe because I couldn’t trust myself at all. How did I know anything? I broke out into a cold sweat and wanted to vomit. I knew that Word was my best medicine, but if I couldn’t be sure about what it meant, the meaning I ascribed to the words could potentially be as bad as the poison I’d been ladling down my throat for four years in Mumford and Gothard Land. I’d taken it and had no clue that I’d been drinking something tainted. And then I felt anger that was so intense, I did not even understand it as anger."

"I don’t know how to communicate to you how deeply devastated I was. As I think back on it and having moved through this old pain, I cannot even really connect with the terrible pain anymore myself, a good thing. I mourned as if someone had died, but I wasn’t sure who had died. I think that a huge chunk of my carnal nature died, but a fantasy died too – one I’d lived in for most of my life."

I could go on, but I'll leave some of the article for you to read for yourself.  She goes on to explain what helped her work through it. The idea of this process being one of loss and mourning is one that resonates with me. Although I can't relate to every aspect of what she's saying, it's always comforting to know that this struggle isn't uncommon for those who have left unhealthy religious situations. If this is the journey that you are currently on, I hope you find help or comfort in this and I wish you all the best.