Last week, sitting and listening to someone else teach my class, I intercepted something completely damaging to a child’s development in Christ and their own bodies.
The little girl inside myself cringed as it poked the still fresh scars of my own spiritual abuse. Growing up believing that I was a dirty, rotten, sinner, worthless, and not loveable to God.
By God’s grace I have been equipped with the ability to pinpoint the distortion and reframe it almost instantaneously. I can hear it, name it, and re-tell the truth to myself. A skill I never had before.
An 8 year old – does not have this capacity. Their neural pathways are developing, the love map in their brain still being formed. They will innocently believe anything, anyone tells them about who God is.
Here is what happened: I’m going to call this person “H” and you tell me if this hurts your heart as much as it did mine.
H was describing God’s characteristic of understanding. And I quote, “God is understanding of our weakness. We are so weak and we are made from dust.”
My Student: “I’m not weak! I’m strong!!”
My inner dialogue: “YES! Do not take that message on! You are strong”
H’s response to my little girl’s enthusiasm: “Oh! You’ll find out how weak you really are.”
My heart started racing, palms sweating, gut twisting and wrenching inside my body.
My inner dialogue: “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?!!!”
I quickly had to work through all the distortions that haunt me personally. The experiences that I had as a child and woman which taught me about the WRONG GOD were swirling around my psyche.
I breathed deeply, as my pencil flew across the page on my clipboard, documenting every word H said the rest of class.
The last time I checked the word understanding means: “sympathetically aware of other people’s feelings; tolerant”
Not only is God sympathetic He is also EMPATHETIC, He has walked a mile in every one of our shoes.
When I come to him in a ball of tears – he knows what deep rejection feels like and TEARS are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of STRENGTH and SELF-COMPASSION.
When I come to him angry, yelling and cursing. He sits, listens and waits. Then He responds: “Oh my sweet daughter, this is so hard, I love you so much. I am here to hold you. You can yell as much as you want.” Expressing ANGER is not a sign of weakness, but of someone who is human and connected to their emotions – which God himself created!
I don’t need to be told how weak I am, nor does God ever tell me I am weak.
In fact, here are a few things God says about His children.
“ he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
“ Be strong and courageous.”
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might
“they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary”
I could give the benefit of the doubt and say that H is explaining that God is understanding of our human frailty, is this a biblical truth? Sure! He knows we are emotional beings, we get confused, we are living out patterns we used to survive. He created our SYSTEM – so of course he understands, and I believe He does not condemn us for a system He himself designed.
HOWEVER, I can no longer go down that path in the ‘evangelical Christian narrative’ when language like “weak” is used with survivors of trauma, children and the spiritually abused. (which is now about 80% of the population) NO. MORE.
I believe God created us out of the intimacy, love and unity He had with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What was the overflow of that intimacy, belonging and love? His CREATIONS! The land, sea, animals, sky, sun, moon, US and His angels. He DELIGHTS in who we are, we are not ‘weaklings’ which God pushes down with his thumb just to prove to us how strong He is and how weak we are.
Instead of telling an eager, innocent heart, “OH, you’ll find out how weak you are!” Shouldn’t we be telling our children, brothers and sisters, “You’ll find out how strong you are! How brave, brilliant, creative, loving, sparkling, resilient and joyful you really are!” And where do all those things come from? The soul that God created you to be! He does not claim you are ‘weak’, He REJOICES in the fact that His child would come to him with love, in relationship, tell him about all the hard things – and then develop these characteristics from a place of INTIMACY with the Heavenly Father.
Our natural state of our soul is not that of weakness. How could we be weak if the BREATH OF GOD was endowed upon us at the creation of our very SOUL?
Joy is our natural state. We go through this life, in sickness and in health, famine and feast, rich and poor, learning to abide within the belonging and intimacy of our Creator, learning to connect with His joy in thanksgiving. NOT in a place of ‘weakness’. Jesus was the Master of this! He knew how to remain himself, in His joy state, even in hard, confrontational circumstance. He modeled STRENGTH not weakness, and do I not have the heart of Jesus inside me? The whole Christian walk is to LIVE FROM THE HEART THAT JESUS GAVE YOU!
So, shouldn’t we be teaching our children how to collect the sweet moments of goodness from the Lord which give us strength of spirit? Teach them to look for the ways God has EMPOWERED us with vigor to get through hard, difficult events in life? As adults – shouldn’t we be training EACH OTHER in this same process?
This event hurt my heart so much because the CHURCH STILL HAS NOT LEARNED. Dr. Dianne Langberg says, “trauma is the mission field of the 21st century church.”
It is no longer acceptable to speak the language of: “you’re a dirty rotten sinner, you are worthless no better than a speck of dust, you are weak.”
The adults who survived childhood, spiritual and marital abuse carry around so much shame for the entirety of our lives. Our fractured parts have been torn from our soul and carry the shame other people have spewed onto us with their abusive behavior. Our brain interprets these circumstances as, “You are worthless”, “You’ll never be enough”.
Then, we hear a preacher, teacher, and/or bible study leader share with us a gospel that should be LIFE-GIVING, LIFTING, RESCUING and BEAUTIFUL, yet their words are filled with more shame and misery.
We are given “pat”, “perscriptive” answers which leave our heart feeling unheard, unseen, and bewildered. We think “well, those aren’t true for me, so God must not love me. He must not care for me, and He sounds like a controlling narcissist- just like my dad.”
You see, the people WE were raised with, said the same thing as “H”. We weren’t allowed to express the opinions of ourselves. Asking questions wasn’t safe and neither was giving an alternative point of view. All things Bible and God were SHOVED down our throats while at the same time, most of us had parent(s) who neglected to be the hands and feet of Jesus to their own children. For our parents, it was more about controlling your children through FEAR, because of their own idolatry of image within the church. “OH! You’re a pastor/elder/deacon? How DARE your daughter act that way in church!”
Let’s go back to what ‘H’ said to a room full of vulnerable children: “Oh! You’ll find out how weak you really are.”
What if that child is living in a home where they are neglected, abandoned, homeless, raped, criticized, unheard and unseen? Their experiences tell them that they are worthless, they don’t matter and they are unlovable. The map in their brain is forever altered. They will grow up with as much brain damage, if not more than drug addicts and/or physical abuse survivors.
The little one in my class who called out, “I’m not weak! I’m strong!” In fact, has experienced these exact events as described above. Her teacher behind her (me) has also experienced these exact events as described above.
The teacher is able to rapid-fire the reframe, so as not to take the oppression onto her identity, The child is left feeling confused – going home to experience circumstances that ARE wiring her brain to feel weak, powerless and worthless.
In my righteous anger, I am reminded of what Jesus said, “ It were better for him that a millstone were hung about his neck, and he cast it into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (NKJV)
OR, put another way: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” (NLT)
So stop. Just stop. This language is no longer appropriate in the church to show others the love of Jesus. The times are different, we MUST use TRAUMA informed language to speak to those who carry the shame and condemnation of generations.
The TRUTH of the gospel sounds, looks and feels different when viewed through a lens of trauma.
LISTEN TO THE STORIES of the forgotten, lay down your pride and LEARN from their wounds. ADJUST the language of your message, as Jesus adjusted his spoken words in each city. As a matter of fact, don’t speak for a while. Just LISTEN.
Would you dare to sit with the homeless drug addict in his tent and hear his pain?
Would you risk your own comfortability to listen as a woman describes how her dad repeatedly raped and beat her?
Would you willingly look eye to eye with a sex trafficked victim as she tells you about her life?
Better yet, would you be brave enough to explore your own wounds and longings?
I am honored to be in the presence of these BEAUTIFUL souls on a weekly basis.
It is those who suffer, the least of these – who have been misled and tormented by the exclusion of the church.
YOUR LANGUAGE MATTERS!
Just now as I finish editing this, the Lord gave me a BEAUTIFUL opposite experience with my counselor. I was able to witness in real time, the exact thing I plead to the church in this post.
My counselor did not realize the material she was using was filled with trite/pat answers about who God is. It is good, SOUND, RICH and WONDERFUL material. I love it, though she did not realize that all these passages in the texts we’ve been using to study God and His Word were triggering each woman in our group. Each woman grew up believing God was controlling and unloving – because someone SHOWED us so and TOLD us so. Consequently, instead of focusing on our intended topic, we would all ask the same questions about WHO God is – due to the distortions from our wounds within childhood and the church.
Through our Pastor’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and HER HUMILITY – she finally realized what was happening. She paused and said, “I figured it out, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m so sorry it took me so long to realize you were hearing things in this way and being so triggered.”
I felt a sudden happiness and relief that FINALLY, my counselor was SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE!!!! SHE GOT IT! We can communicate so much more efficiently now!! She was ALWAYS on my side, gracious and understanding – she knows how to be Jesus in the pain. Yet, when it comes to WORDS and God and Bible, I know a new intimacy and breakthrough will come to fruition because of her awareness.
In a moment’s notice she CHANGED HER LANGUAGE. The truth is still the same, but NOT the words she will use to describe it.
I thanked her for her vulnerability and sensitivity. She was now discussing and teaching Biblical concepts THROUGH A TRAUMA LENSE. She understood that what people did and said to us, affected the way we read and HEAR in the present.
Stop telling victims that they are being “pressed” to surrender, “suffering” in order to be rescued, and “weak” because they are human. Please stop telling us that “God is good”, “His ways are higher than our ways.”
Are these things true? Of course! But THIS IS NOT THE PLACE TO START FOR THE ABUSED, NOR VULNERABLE CHILDREN. It is not HIS voice that you are representing to me or the children.
The God I know came alongside me in the PIT of my trauma, He didn’t speak. He only gave ACTIONS OF KINDNESS.
LISTEN and LEARN from the people you so desperately want to trust in Jesus.
In the words of my dear sisters:
MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS
No more excuses for pride, arrogance and the gospel.