“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection…As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.” –Henri J.M. Nouwen
I have written this post at least five times.
Right now, my fingers are shaking.
I have erased and re-written this sentence RIGHT HERE three times.
I realize this probably sounds dramatic. Forgive me, I’m simply attempting to demonstrate how frightened I get about the kind of theology that was summed up in a pastor’s recent tweet: “Teach your children they are broken. Deeply broken.”
I was raised this way.
I was taught this way.
This kind of theology affects me on a visceral, bodily level.
Which is to say, even though I left an abusive church ten years ago, I’m still cleaning up the wreckage of the destructive belief that says I’m deeply, inherently broken.
Hear me on this: I still struggle every day to believe God loves me.
This is because when you teach a child they are unworthy and somehow intrinsically broken/flawed/less-than, you set them up for disaster–not just in their relationship to God but in their relationships with people.
Indeed, my biggest obstacle in healing from a harmful theological framework has been an inability to receive love. For YEARS after leaving an oppressive church, I could not receive the love of God—and many times, the love of people—because I kept blocking it with the whole “I’m a wretch! I’m a worm! I don’t deserve love!” mentality.
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Speaking from personal experience, when I sincerely believed I was broken/bad, it was nearly impossible for me to receive God’s grace and love.
When I believed I was inherently broken, I stayed in relationships and situations and churches that caused me long-term pain because I didn’t believe I deserved better. I was desperate and needy and clung to people—even harmful people—because having an abuser love me was better than nothing.
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I confused love with neediness and developed an aching need to be rescued. In a weird sort of self-sabotage, I often attached myself to people who were emotionally unavailable and incapable of giving me the love I needed.
Basically, I functioned from a place of internal scarcity. I felt like I was always starving for attention, affirmation and love. This inherent sense of deprivation created a compulsive need to grasp for crumbs. I survived on morsels, on crumbs, on leftovers of love because I didn’t believe a full meal was coming. Even if a full meal did come my way, I passed it up because I didn’t believe I was worthy of eating it myself.
I didn’t let God or others love me.
To summarize, being raised with a “You are deeply broken” theological framework seriously screwed me over.
This is no way to raise children. I mean, unless you’d like them to wrack up thousands of hours in therapy. Not that I know ANYTHING about that.
I have to work my recovery every single day because I’m STILL afraid God hates me.
But there is hope. I can see it in my children. I’m teaching them to live a different way.
When I teach my children the Gospel, I don’t start with: “You are bad, therefore you need Jesus.” I start with: “Before you were born, God loved you.” I start with God’s love and I end with God’s love.
I teach my children they are whole, deeply whole. I teach them they were beautifully created in the image of God. I teach them they are unconditionally loved and cherished—no matter what they do or don’t do. I teach them to be lighthearted, easeful, resting in full assurance that they are loved. I teach them that and nothing and nobody can separate them from the love of Christ.
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I teach them this way because I know, sooner or later, life will catch up to them—as life always does. There will be sorrows, disappointments, setbacks and obstacles. However, if they are deeply rooted in the love of God, they will not be moved. They will not be tossed to and fro.
Indeed, they will have such assurance of their salvation that when they hear harmful ideas about God they will simply laugh and say, “That’s not the voice of MY Shepherd.”
I, too, am learning to let go of my fears and let God love me. Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that is saving a good woman like me.
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