Last week I just didn’t have any words after the Las Vegas massacre. They completely eluded me, and I shared a brief post on my blog. For now, that’s all I’ve got as I wrestle with the tangled up feelings inside related to guns and violence and the current state of our nation. Meanwhile, I will keep sharing about what this Patheos blog is centered on–shifting faith.
A few years ago I made up a new word. In a conversation with some Denver friends casually talking about the fall-out of controlling ministry practices I said, “The truth is that just perpetuates God damage.” I guess I said it kind of quickly and it came out “Goddamage.”
There are many people whose experiences with church and ministry and leaders have deeply damaged our relationship with God and it’s messing with our heart and head.
Who are reeling from spiritual abuse, controlling leaders, harmful theology, and unhealthy systems and churches-that-use-or-discard-or-don’t-give-a-rip.
Who grew up in families where we were neglected or abused or controlled, making it hard to believe that God isn’t like that, too.
Who struggle with believing we are loved, valued, wanted by God because of a whole host of life experiences that make it hard to feel.
I think Goddamage is created in three major ways:
- Family experiences. Fathers and mothers influence our image of God, they just do. When they are critical or abusive or absent or neglectful or cold and not-nurturing, it’s really hard to believe God isn’t the same way.
- Church and ministry experiences. Leaders matter. Systems matter. When they are unhealthy or dysfunctional, there’s a fallout. The power that leaders and systems have over our spiritual development is no small thing. Unfortunately, we are taught to trust implicitly, and that trust is very often used and abused for church or personal gain.
- Jacked up theology. While most all of my Christian experiences included an emphasis on Jesus’ incredible grace, there was also this subtext always playing that we had to “do more, pray more, believe more, memorize more, connect-with-God more, get-right-with-God more.” These messages are more insidious than many of us would like to think, and they really make freedom difficult.
One of the reasons there’s so much pain when it comes to Goddamage is that people don’t know quite what to do with it.
When someone responds to the pain of Goddamage with, “But God is good…God is not like people…the church is made up of imperfect people…I’ll pray for your healing…” it only adds to the damage.
Simple, trite responses don’t help heal Goddamage.
It takes a lot more than words to transform these kinds of God wounds.
A long time ago, when I was first healing from mounds of shame from my past, I remember how my distorted image of God began to heal. I started to view God not as a judgmental, harsh, mean, punishing God but a loving, kind, merciful one. It was not an easy shift, but over many years and countless hours of processing, seeking healing, quiet, and people-who-listened-and-loved-me-without-trying-to-fix-me, I slowly began to feel more secure in God’s love.
With a stronger sense of God’s love under my belt, I am still continually healing from the wounds of systems that undervalue women, keep the marginalized underneath power, and elevate the rich and resourced while proclaiming Jesus.
The current political administration and its entanglement with a particular stream of evangelical Christianity has definitely added salt to this wound.
But I know that there’s a way forward from Goddamage, and I always hope and pray and wish and long for supernatural healing for all those who are experiencing its pain.
Living systems help.
The radical upside-down ways of Jesus moving through our heads and hearts and practices help.
Counseling, spiritual direction, kindred spirits help.
I’m sure you can add a few other things that help, too.
Today, I just wanted to acknowledge the ravages of Goddamage.
But they don’t have to ruin us forever.
I hope and pray more and more healing comes for those who bear these wounds.
May we all somehow play a part in healing others’ Goddamage so that healing can come, month by month, year by year, decade by decade.