I can feel the tension. I sit quietly, scared to speak. “Just let her go. It won’t hurt her. She needs to be with the other children.” My father is stubborn, but my Auntie is more stubborn. Reluctantly my parents let me go and I leave with a sense of fear that will stay with me most of my life.
I sit on the basement floor with the other children, listening and trying to not move. The teacher is telling a Bible story and I’m wondering when she’s going to start yelling and reading from the big book. She gives us a paper to color and there is a man and a lamb and a child. She tells us to color and keeps talking about Jesus. I know who Jesus is. He’s the son of God. He’s the one who died for my sins. I don’t exactly know what *THAT* means, but I know the story.
The teacher is now using puppets to tell a story. I laugh but I have this sense I shouldn’t laugh. I know church is supposed to be serious but I can’t help myself. She tells us we are going to sing. I LOVE singing. Singing is my absolute most favorite thing in the world.
Jesus loves me, this I know…
Jesus loves me?
For the Bible tells me so…
Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.
I am looking at all the children around me and I’m not singing. I don’t know the words. I want to cry.
Yes Jesus Loves me. Yes Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
I don’t know how, but the second time around I sing just as loud as the girl beside me, “YES Jesus loves me.”
Later I am in my room drawing and I begin to sing, “Yes, Jesus loves me.” I have no idea what the words mean but I like the way they make me feel. My father comes into my room. “What are you singing?” I tell him it’s a song I learned at Auntie’s church. I think he’s going to be happy how fast I learned a song. But he’s not. “You shouldn’t sing that song. It’s from Babylon.” I have no idea where Babylon is but I know I don’t want to go there. This is when I learn that Sunday school is bad and Sunday School songs are even more bad than going to Sunday School. And I sit here, a 42 year old mother, and still wonder if Jesus loves me simply because the Bible tells me so.
While little children learned that Jesus loved them I learned Jesus required me to die. While little children learned that God is love I learned that God is hate. While little children learned that they were beautifully knit together in their mother’s womb I learned to repent to God for being born a girl. While little children learned to trust Jesus I learned how to do just the right thing to keep his Father from zapping me into a billion pieces. I grew up with a toxic faith and believed the simplicity of Christianity was toxic to my faith. I was raised to believe I was a special person, in a special group of people with a special purpose. I learned to fear others outside of our church and to be especially wary of our family who would cause us to lose the vision. Jesus wanted us to be in his Bride but we’d have to stay completely spotless, completely virgin and away from the world AND especially Christianity which we called Babylon. And then I left that place and Jesus wrecked my life. (I love how Jen Hatmaker says that!)
I’ve been in so much pain lately. Enough pain that it’s taken me to my knees deep in the spiraling darkness. I’ve begged God to just let me die more than I want to admit. I’ve sat in a bed sobbing while my sister sits beside me telling me just how much Jesus loves me. I’ve been brave and reached out to others, hoping they won’t reach back with more of the same toxicity I’ve felt my whole life. I’ve screamed, yelled, cussed and told the husband at least twice that I’m just done with this faith thing because it’s really a load of dirt that means NOTHING. But I can’t let it go. My soul knows who I am and it knows who my Abba is and even if I could intellectually think it all away, I can’t rationalize what I know. Jesus himself came to me in the darkness and pulled me out. I can’t deny who he is and what he did and I can’t ignore that he DOES, indeed, LOVE *ME*.
But there’s this deep imbedded fear that I can’t escape. It’s like a thorn in my side and I can’t quite get ahold of it firm enough to pull it out. I fear that I’m going to spend my whole life believing that he loves me, where I’m at, in my weakness and my brain that I can’t control at times, and I’m going to stand at the end of my life and he’ll say, “What were you thinking? That’s not what I meant at all.”
The fear that I will never measure up to what he wants me to be, that I’ll never do enough, love enough, believe the right things, ask the correct questions, love the right people, read the right Bible or understand the true doctrine overwhelms me and I cannot breathe. And although I hear his voice telling me, “I love you.” I hear the voices from my childhood telling me, “He doesn’t love you. You are not someone worthy of love.” It’s easier to reprogram a computer than it is to reprogram my brain.
The election season and the fighting and division within Christianity has been hard to take. All I see is more of the same. God hates them but loves us. And although we tout, “Hate the sin, love the sinner” all I hear is the same thing my father taught me to believe. The Bible does not tell me that Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me that who I am is a desperately wicked person, and if, only if I’m willing to deny who I am then he’ll love me. And I’m supposed to believe that God created me, knit me together in my mother’s womb, except he made me to be someone he hates so much that he can’t be near me because I’m a sinner and God hates sin. And the more I hear the stories the more my already struggling brain hears that I’m not good enough, I’m not worthy of love and I begin to believe what I fear, “That I’m not someone God wants.”
I’m told the way out of this is to pray. But I prayed. I prayed my whole life and I was still molested, my father still beat my mother, I still have haunting memories of things A child should never see or hear, I still have scars and my father-in-law, as much and as hard as I begged God, is STILL DEAD. It’s hard to pray when prayer seems to hurt more than it helps.
I’m told to read God’s word, a phrase which on a good day I can stand, on a bad day makes me want to throw things. I’m told the answers are in the book if I seek I will find them. But I read that book. I memorized the book. I knew the way the old and new weave together. I learned how to find a scripture faster than the kid next to me. I love the way the word is spoken and sings when it’s handled properly. But that same word, the one that could bring life, was used to bring me death. It was used to kill who I am. It left me wounded and bleeding and dead for over 20 years of my life. It was used to tell me that abuse is normal, that God demands a child be beat black and blue to bring her will and spirit under control. It was used to show me how much God hated my female body and my wicked femininity and how my gender, my personhood was entirely responsible for the messy, sinful world we live in. It was used to divide me from my family and my community and my humanity. And once I was married it was used to remind me that I could only submit to a man, my husband…my pastor…the ministry as a whole to be clean before God. I could not reach to him on my own. I could not read the scriptures and receive revelation on my own, but it must be through my husband…and ultimately, that husband was to be my PASTOR, not the man who pledged his life to me. So reading the book right now, it’s just not possible. It’s way too painful.
So I’m left with one thing. One tiny string to grasp. And it is this. A song that my father forbid me to sing. A song that I defiantly taught my own girls. A song that even if I don’t understand right now, I know one day I will.
Jesus loves me, this I KNOW…for the Bible tells me so.