I have been reflecting the past few days on recovery. Recovery means different things to different people, as we are all aware. It means different things depending on the extent of the recovery period. A weekend bender requires less recovery than a broken leg. Of course, this goes without saying. A person recovering from painful, private experiences in the distant and not-so-distant past requires more intense therapy than would a minor slight or insult.
We often don’t allow ourselves enough time for recovery- which is a given in this busy, ‘rush-rush’ world we live in. But when what we are recovering from is deeply felt, we need time for introspection. Time to heal. And time to understand what is involved in that process. The hope is that in time, we will become a better person for all we have endured.
I believe we are all on different roads of recovery.
My road to recovery looks like this: once upon a time there was a little girl who grew up in a Christian home. She was exposed to certain ideals within that setting which made her a better person for it. She was afforded certain privileges. By which, I mean to say she was exposed to and offered experiences which include the many unique and varied personalities/people who were extended hospitality as they passed through the area and thus her home. She was allowed comfortable familiarity within the setting of a church family. She was afforded a small town upbringing. Many people knew this girl and her family on the basis of their position within the church thus enabling the girl and her family protective status. There were many people who cared about this girl throughout the years.
But that little girl was exposed to other things which were less than ideal. Less than idyllic. Less than perfect. Things like legalistic ideas about what a Christian should and shouldn’t do. Things like cruelty in the name of faith. And she was exposed to ideas that challenged a view of God as Loving. As gracious. As compassionate. As kind.
In time, that little girl grew up to be a bigger girl who saw God as a Person. But she believed that Person was harsh and exacting. Vindictive and angry. That little girl thought God was out to expose her and all her many, many sins. And she believed that she could never meet God’s approval without being exactly the kind of person described to her by the many and varied preachers that stood before her (behind the varied and multiple church pulpits she encountered, week in and week out). That girl always felt shame and tremendous guilt. Guilt for everything- from the smallest of infractions to the largest of transgressions she could conjure up in her mind. Because God was all about sin. And sin was pretty well everything.
Let’s just stop here for a moment. It takes some people a lifetime to recover from trauma. What if you were traumatized by an incident that left an impression on you to such a degree that it left you believing (erroneously) that you would never be good enough for anyone- especially God? Wouldn’t that be trauma in its own right? What if you believed this your whole life? Traumatizing. And yet, we don’t stop to talk about this in Christian circles- this reduction to shame and guilt which we see as evidence in many Christian’s lives, which I believe is this way because we are afraid of exposing to the world that we are not as perfect as we’d like to think we are.
Well, it took that little girl years to realize that God was certainly who He said He was- He was perfect LOVE. And it took her even more years to understand even the tiniest of inklings about what that meant. That love is many things, but never vindictive. Love is many things but never harsh or exacting. Love is many things but it is never cruel. It is many things but it never shames or exposes to ridicule. And that this is so is because true love is patient- it is kind. It doesn’t want what it is not entitled to. It refrains from boasting and from pride. It does not dishonor others- it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It doesn’t keep a track record of all the things done wrong so as to expose and humiliate. Rather, it (love) rejoices, protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.
Love is pro-active. And when it is done God’s way- it is flawless.
And if this is true- that God is love, then He loves us before anything else. Before discipline. Before consequences. Before judgement. Before accountability. He loves us first. The relationship that follows matures into one that allows for growth and change- that allows for human responsibility. But before any of this can ever occur, God must be seen as love. He must be seen as the epitome of love-as we can understand it with our finite minds. Or the maturing to faith will be absolutely pointless.
I get really tired of hearing by way of Christian leadership from various platforms about how terrible people are- how sinful we all are, how guilty we should feel, those of us not following the absolute letter of the law. Because I don’t think that is God speaking. And I think there is a world of people who have been left to recover from the effects of Christianity that claims to be like God when it is the exact opposite. What I think we need to hear is how vast the love of God is for us. And we need to know: God is with us and God is for us. That message could never be preached enough- because I don’t know if we will ever truly understand this principle, this side of eternity.
We are all on different roads. Our roads of recovery might look different, but they are often the same. We are healing from the inside out. And in the process, there must be a decision made: will we allow these experiences in our lives to make us better for having gone through them? Or will they leave us feeling bitter?
It’s time to trade in the bitter for the better. Because in spite of all we’ve been through, there are always moments of growth and renewal. And those are the very moments which define us- which make us better.
Our roads may begin from different places and lead us down different paths, but it is up to us to embrace and choose: what will make us bitter- and what will ultimately make us better.
Hi. My name is Lori. I am recovering from legalism in the Christian church. But I am daily realizing that God can make beauty from ashes. Better wine from bitter fruit. I may not be perfect. But I am enough.
And I am loved.