Today's post is written by my beautiful friend Jeri from Heresy in the Heartland.
Jeri grew up in the same patriarchal religious cult I did, and has since left and found her own voice.
Jeri's words echo the heartache I experienced in my own relationship with God,
and like her, I'm ecstatic to have left this relationship behind.
I used to be in an abusive relationship.
My abusive ex was God.
Yes, there were other people involved in the manipulation, bullying, over-protection, brainwashing, deceit, neglect, ignorance, isolation, control, and cruelty. But none of it could have had the effect that it did if it weren't for my "personal relationship" with the God I encountered in my Bible.
I thought I loved him and that he loved me.
I believed he was older and wiser and would take care of me. I gave him my heart, and my will. I didn't make a decision without consulting him.
I thought he hung the stars and made the sun come up every morning. His smile was my sunshine. He warned me about his violent temper: like earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfire. But he assured me that his anger took a long time to heat up. As others had observed, "clouds and thick darkness surround him", but I got used to that.
I was a loyal lover. When other people criticized my God's social skills, I defended his innate goodness, his super IQ, and even his, um, existence? I didn't doubt he was listening, even when he was quiet. I would wake up early to spend time with him. I wrote him poems, hung his promises up on my wall, spent years learning about his preferences and adjusting my tastes to his pleasure.
I depended on him completely and trusted him implicitly, even when it hurt like hell. When I felt ready to burst inside, I'd cry and sing this Twila Paris song:
"Sometimes my little heart can't understand
What's in Your will, what's in Your plan.
So many times I'm tempted to ask You why,
But I can never forget it for long.
Lord, what You do could not be wrong.
So I believe You, even when I must cry.
Do I trust You, Lord?
Does the river flow?
Do I trust You, Lord?
Does the north wind blow?
You can see my heart,
You can read my mind,
And You got to know
That I would rather die
Than to lose my faith
In the One I love.
Do I trust You, Lord?I will trust You, Lord, when I don't know why.
I will trust You, Lord, till the day I die.
I will trust You, Lord, when I'm blind with pain!
You were God before, and You'll never change.
I will trust You, Lord."
Yes. That's the song.
As I learned more about the characteristics of healthy relationships, I came to realize how unhealthy my relationship with God really was.
I saw victims of spiritual abuse whose behavior resembled the symptoms exhibited by Stockholm syndrome victims: "who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness". Come to think of it, that description almost sounds like the paraphrase of a worship song, or a sermon by John Piper, or Jonathan Edwards. What kind of being would be pleased with such fawning submission? Surely not a good god?
I started taking more initiative, making more choices on my own and then running them by God for his "approval".
As I grew emotionally stronger and gained confidence, I was able to see that he had flaws, too. I didn't really need a flawed god. Turns out I'm not really into the strong, silent type, especially if they remain strong and silent when their friends are in trouble. And I have no respect for guys (or gods) who lose their temper and scare little kids.
It took a long time to admit it, but it slowly dawned on me that I would not want to spend a lifetime--much less an eternity--with the God of the Bible, even if I could still believe that my world depended on him.
* * * * * * * *
As Julia Sweeney has described in her monologue Letting Go of God, there is a downside to losing the relationship. When I'm scared or hurt, there's no all-powerful being I can beg to make things better. I don't have a king's ear. I'm not really a princess. Without an imaginary friend, I have to make real friends, or feel very alone.
The universe may not be "on my side", but it does support me in countless ways. While allowing me the freedom to make choices based on my own preferences and what I believe will make me happy, and making no demands in return. I no longer feel obligated to defend my god's behavior, or worry about his temper. I don't spend time coaxing him to intervene on my behalf, assuring him that I know he had a good reason for ignoring my requests, or waiting for him to drop nice things in my lap. There is no more temptation to ingratiate myself. When life is going smoothly, I don't wait for "the other shoe to drop".
Turns out other people didn't like my god much, either. I thought they did when we hung out together, but when I mention him now, they tell me they realized he really was terrible. They're sorry for my experience, they say; I must not have really had a god, or maybe I had the wrong God. They want me to try theirs now. If I just want a good god badly enough, they say, the right one will find me.
I was always told I had an inner void only a god could fill. But since I said goodbye to God, I haven't yet experienced such a void.
I am content without a god.
Life is better without my abusive ex.