Discovering God’s Love After Growing Up In an Abusive Catholic Home

Discovering God’s Love After Growing Up In an Abusive Catholic Home August 23, 2020


by guest contributor

For anyone who has grown up in a Catholic household with abusive parents, there is a day of reckoning (many days, weeks, honestly, years of reckoning) that must take place before the love of God can even begin to make sense, before it can be internalized and then become a lived truth. When the foundational aspect of parental love is lacking or broken or conditional or abusive, you’re building your life, and your entire point of reference for it, on incredibly shaky ground. And unless the painstaking work of dismantling the existing structures so you can lay a new foundation, a solid foundation, takes place, that ground will always be shaky and any relationship with God (or really, anyone else) will forever be hanging in the balance. I know because I have built my house on shifting sands only to turn around and watch it burn many times.

I have known, as all cradle Catholics do, that God is Love, but I have felt, as almost all abused children do, that that Love didn’t extend to me. I have lived my faith out of habit, out of fear, out of a desire to be accepted, out of necessity, but I have never lived my faith out of love. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ve never experienced God’s love, but it’s like experiencing the ocean with your eyes closed and your nose plugged: you’re missing out on so much depth and beauty and reality.

The last four years have been spent actively burning to the ground every last trace of God in my life. I stopped going to Mass, I removed every piece of religious art from my home, I threw away my library of religious books, I renounced the Catholic Church many times, and when my daughter was born, I refused to let her be baptized. I hated God and I had an insatiable scorched earth policy in my heart when it came to Him. A perfect storm of events led me to this point, but the reality is, it had all been a long time coming. And while I hesitate to say that mortal sin is ever necessary, I realize that for me, all this dismantling was.

This time last year, I would have promised you that I would never step foot into a church again. But staring into the ashes, a curious thing happened. My heart began to ache, absolutely throb, for God.

It’s an ache I ignored, or satisfied with distraction, or used to further my one woman war on God.  But the ache persisted. I started therapy (absolutely wonderful, necessary, life-changing therapy, for the record!), but a year in, I know that all this work to rewire my brain or retrain my thoughts, won’t be sufficient unless I let God into my heart and let Him truly penetrate the darkness. Which sounds great, but practically speaking, what does that look like?

For me, it means returning to the darkest moments of my life, with God, and giving them to Him. It would be easy(ish) to go to confession and pretend I could start anew. But I can’t yet, because as much as I desire God, I desire stability and peace as well, and those things just won’t happen building my house on the same foundation. So, I’ll sit here in the uncomfortable awkwardness and let God touch the darkness. I’ll let Him touch that place in my heart that hated Him to the point of destruction. I’ll let Him touch the place in my heart where I felt abandoned, betrayed, ignored, and forgotten by Him, and I’ll let Him touch the deepest parts of my own depravity, trusting that the God of the crucifixion can handle the ugliness of my own sin.

And this is where we will sit, me and God, in truth, in light, in wretchedly blissful uncomfortableness, until the reality of His Love, His permanence, His Providence, His real desire for me, starts to become a lived reality. Because I’m starting to see that my pierced heart, is His pierced Heart, and in it is the full experience of love. It’s a cringeworthy mess of a love story, but no matter the failed love of humanity, the love of God restores all.

image credit: 800px-Sad-Mental-Illness.jpg

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