The Scars that Throb

buds2I was getting ready for work the other morning when I was struck by a sudden pang to see my father. Because of some terrible things he did, I cut him out of my life a couple of years ago. He hasn’t called in several months, and I was worried that something might be wrong. What if he’s dying? I thought.

And then I thought, if he were dying, would it change anything for me? I still have little capacity to tolerate any sort of drama. Talking to him wouldn’t close the rift that he created in my heart, wouldn’t bring back the years I lost feeling unsafe with him. And then I felt it: that old, all-too-familiar ache of having been robbed of a nourishing father/daughter relationship. Memories and milestones I should have had, but didn’t. And I had to pause and breathe and just let the wave of grief wash over me.

Overall, I’m happier and healthier these days, but I still have these moments when the scars throb, when I have to face the fact that I was hurt in significant, life-altering ways. I recently shared some of my story with a colleague, and he said, “I hope you continue to heal and are stronger for it.” I responded: “I will certainly be wiser and more compassionate, but never stronger.” I’m learning to walk with an emotional limp.

Today, the pain was back but in a different way. Today, I attended a membership orientation at the Unitarian Universalist Church. I went mainly to learn more about the denomination. I was one of two people from a Pentecostal background; most of the others were former Catholics. I soon learned that I was the only one there who still maintained belief in Christ’s divinity…or any ties to the conservative Christian community. When it came time to sign the membership book, I abstained.

I abstained because…I want to be absolutely sure this is where I’m supposed to be. In the sea of conflict that is my faith, the UU Church has been a harbor of rest. I can go and sing and connect with people who genuinely want to accept me. I can feel challenged to live better without being condemned or guilt-tripped for not living perfectly in the first place. It’s like seeing the sun after driving all night. You’re glad the darkness is over, but you’re dead tired and disoriented. The sunlight stings a bit. And all you want to do is lie down.

I just want to lie down.

I still work for a conservative Christian organization, and a couple of weeks ago, I was given a new title and a raise. I’m doing work that I absolutely love, and collaborating and worshiping with amazing people. After nearly four years there, they feel like family. And when I took the new title, I decided–in spite of some past dissatisfaction–that I would stay a little while longer and put my talents to full use.

But it does put me in a very awkward position. Asking evangelicals to be at ease with either Unitarianism or Universalism is like asking cats to be at ease in space. This is the ultimate compromise, the forbidden slippery slope–everything I and they have been warned against. How can you grow spiritually if your church isn’t preaching Jesus as the only way? I can explain, but it’s going to take a few minutes and challenge all of your assumptions.

But to go there, to the UU Church, and realize that I’m still the odd woman out…that really got the old scars throbbing. And today, I wondered if this is what Jesus is really calling me to: to hold the tension between these two, very different worlds. To occupy this no mans land. Lord, have mercy.

I just want to be. And for that to be enough.

I still feel, deep in my heart, some sort of call to ministry. But I don’t know how to answer it. The way still isn’t clear. Sometimes I have wondered, as deeply as I’ve been hurt by the evangelical church, if it wouldn’t just be easier to give it all up.

But then I try and find it impossible. The memory of His divine presence is etched into my heart. And His voice whispers, “I just want you to follow me–wherever I go.”

6 responses to “The Scars that Throb

  1. oh, April! I am stuck in ⎌a small town parish where a lot of the people don’t like me. I’m not precisely everyone’s cup of tea, never have been! I so STRONGLY sympathize with the fire’s right to be there too! But once, someone of the Unitarian faith told me that Jesus wasn’t so special, he was just the first person to learn to use the “Christ power” and I just can’t accept that.
    Jesus is God. They are One.
    I just can’t accept those other things, and I believe in the Eucharist, so I am still Catholic! I can’t be anything else, I guess! I wish you could join me….is there a United Church of Christ where you are? They seem to be very welcoming and non-judgemental! Best wishes in your searchings!

  2. Oh, my!
    This is tricky! I once heard the phrase, “The presence of my father’s absence was enormous in my life” and it struck me so hard I literally went to bed four a few days.
    I have been going through the grief of that lately and am responding to the call to enter that void of renewal…not what I want to do but what there IS to do, and because the only thing I have to do in this life is to fight the “internal jihad” and give the glory to God, it is what I CHOOSE to do…I am not a victim of the world I see.
    I understand the space of crucifixion you now occupy (the pulling apart of the space time structure of thought you have built to get to the center where truth lies, the middle of the paradox) it is the dead center where space and time cross that you are hung on.
    No platitudes or ritualistic maneuvers can set us free–it is God himself that takes that last step.
    For myself it is simply “Mary’s Prayer”, over and over “Let it be done to me according to thy will” –it is the only way to birth the Christ.
    There is so much out there that could help you–you cannot lose the relationship with Jesus–that’s just fear talking…and the only thing required is willingness.
    Because of my vicious Penecostal background–and rapes and beatings and deep poverty-it took a great deal to get me to trust God. But I stand on the other side of that narrow path, on a broad plane, and only urge you forward–not back, the fear of “backsliding” is simply that which keeps us as sheep. If you feel that you truly are called to be a Shepard (“feed my sheep”) then it’s time for trust…
    You are loved, you can’t get lost, not ever!
    You are welcome to call me–(916) 213-7287–I have been where you are hanging…
    God’s love will see you through.

  3. April said: “Today, the pain was back but in a different way.”

    Hi. Here is the always faithful but inevitable comment from your friend Dover. Take a deep breath.

    Actually, from what you said, I think the pain was back not in a different way—but in the same way—which is why it hurts so much. Please allow me to explain.

    Your father screwed you over with abuse, and you felt the need to withdraw from him and get some space to breathe. This is perfectly reasonable and understandable.

    You also have a Heavenly Father, and that Father too is associated with being screwed over and suffering abuse in your mind. Consequently, you also felt a need to withdraw and get some space to breathe.

    The two experiences contain so many parallel factors that one necessarily kindles the fire of the other on a subconscious level.

    However, one key difference between the two exists, and it is the most important factor. Your biological father really did screw you over with abuse. However, in your Pentecostal church, your Heavenly Father did not screw you over with abuse. Instead, at your old church, PEOPLE in the church hierarchy and your pastor (who are not as intelligent, astute, learned, and spiritually sensitive as you are) screwed over both you and the Heavenly Father with lots of nonsense that amounted to spiritual abuse. The only people Jesus really abused in the New Testament were the Scribes and Pharisees and the money changers in the temple—and they way-y-y-y-y-y-y-y needed it. Loving you as I do, and knowing you like to always make your own decisions on matters, my friendly suggestion—just a suggestion for your consideration— would be to find a way in your brain wires to short-circuit the connection between the abuse dished out by your Earthly father and the abused dished out by your church (falsely) in the name of your Heavenly Father.

    Just a couple of extra notes:

    1) I have extended family members who are members of the Unitarian Universalist Church. One of them once said to me, and this is an exact quote:

    “We have the most wonderful church because we don’t believe in anything.”

    Fair enough. This would imply that people on various different spiritual paths can meet there, be members, retain their own personal spiritual beliefs, and still fit in and be comfortable. Now—a little anthropology. Famous French anthropologist Emile Durkheim posited an idea that has proven to be true repeatedly in the study of human organizations. It goes something like this (paraphrased but set in quotation marks for emphasis):

    “All human organizations exist in a state of duality. There is the way the organization says it works on the surface (The Officially Stated Ideal), but always beneath that, there is another parallel stream, which is the way the organization actually works (The Actual Undercurrent Reality), and it is usually very different from the widely broadcast ideal.”

    The UUC is all smiles and roses and tolerant and welcoming—-blah, blah, blah on the surface (The Officially Stated Ideal). I used to attend parties with my UUC family members, and their Head Minister (Howard Box—now deceased) spent large amounts of casual but very loud party talk dissing Southern Baptist preachers and what seemed to me basic Christian principles. You and I both know many SBC preachers deserved it. However, after years of associating with my UUC family members, I have come away with the distinct impression that the UUC does not have much use for Jesus Christ and the notion of his divinity (The Actual Undercurrent Reality).

    I would kindly and gently propose that you have a talk with your UCC Head Minister about the fact that you have many strong traditional Christian beliefs that you are firmly committed to never abandoning—if that is truly the case—and see what he says about church membership. The second thing I would do is to stick around your UUC for a year or so and see what happens, particularly in Sunday school settings. Pretend you are an ethnographer sitting down with a newly discovered tribe of primitive people—and just take an objective step back and observe. You may be pleasantly surprised. You may be disappointed. I suspect you will be disappointed in the end and will learn that Jesus was a human teacher who said a lot of warm and fuzzy things—but that was it. You may also encounter peer pressure to change your beliefs—and in the end sense that people dislike you and really wish you were not there because you retain the real Jesus—not the domesticated Pentecostal Jesus—in your mind and heart. My impression is that the UUC is a warm and welcoming place for people who want to be “Spiritual”
    while at the same time avoiding most traditional religious beliefs.

    You might also want to be aware that UUC churches are sometimes subject to physical attacks. Now that we live in the Age of Trump (Jesus help us all), the chances of such attacks against the UUC have, in my opinion, increased, so avoid sitting near an entrance/exit door at your UCC. You can read the story on one such attack here:

    One of your commenters (above) suggested the United Church Of Christ as a possible alternative if your UUC adventure fails. The United Church of Christ is very much like the UUC, but it retains traditional Christian elements you seem to want to retain—without being dogmatic about them. Another possibility is a nondenominational church like this one in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It is ministered by a husband-wife team who are former Southern Baptists. They got just as disgusted as you did with the fundie BS, ditched it, and started a church that is a lot like the UUC but still retains a respect for basic Christian principles in a nondogmatic way:

    But by all means—continue exploring at your UUC and in other places. Exploration can be a lot of fun. It is a part of the “seeking” process that Jesus invited people to engage in if they really want to truly find him and find rest for their souls.

  4. Hey sister,
    I got here through you article about the Holy Spirit, and let me just say I’ve never read anything that so accurately describes what I feel within me at times when I pray that flowing river of water warmth when the spirit is awaking me to focus on God. I read this article and I am alarmed for you, I felt like the spirit is calling me to message you- I hope you don’t find that too crazy. I have gone down many roads in my life, in the journey to find the closeness with God that I didn’t feel at certain churches. I just want to encourage you to get in God’s word and find a bible study teacher who will train you in how to grab from the scripture the truths you need to learn. When I read about the relationship you have with your father, I just feel pained, I was sexually abused in my youth and I know that pain well, and would like to offer you a reading suggestion, it is not an answer all, but it is a book that helped me (but it was a battle for me to get through the book, because of my anger issues) look closely at healing and to realize it is a repeated process for me to forgive. The book is called “Lord Heal My Hurts.”