Ash Wednesday:What Religious Abuse looks like Ten Years Later

I hate going back to what happened to make me struggle with things. Those of you who know me are probably rolling your eyes. I don’t blame you, because no matter how much I don’t want to talk about it, I do it often. Im still trying to figure out how to exist in a world that seems easier to other people than it is to to me, and I am a little slow on the uptake. Today’s deep dive into The History of Things That Make My Life Complicated, is a kind of abuse that sparked anxiety in me that I have not heard many talk about. That is, religious abuse.

So first of all, let’s talk about what I mean when I say religious abuse. There are a million different definitions for each type of abuse and this is no exception. My definition of religious abuse is anytime religion is used as a weapon, especially to manipulate the person. To clarify, I do think it can be done unintentionally, which I believe about other kinds of abuse as well, and I’ve written about that in the past, but the effect of the abuse stays the same the either way.

I don’t want to get into the exact specifics of what kind of religious abuse I experienced right now. What I do want to talk about is why it matters at all. Traditionally, it seems that a majority of people psychologically associate God with the authority figures who are meant to teach them about Him. What this means is that one’s parents, priest, nuns, Catholic school teachers, are all representatives of God, so psychologically we believe that God holds those traits. The problem with this is that when the representative of God is abusive, the victim starts to believe that God also is abusive, even if they wouldn’t phrase it that way.

In my experience, the most problematic issue that stems from this is a paralyzing confusion about who God is that leads to an inability to pursue a relationship with Him without intense self-examination and careful processing of the past. For example, if something in my life goes wrong, or might go wrong, I have a deep inner conviction that God is punishing me for something, and I have to work incredibly hard through prayer and self-analysis to convince myself that that is not what is happening. If someone mentions evil people, I am immediately sure that I am evil, and I have to re-process the conversation in my head and, so to speak, talk myself down off the ledge. If I miss a prayer for one day, then I become terrified that the entire day is going to go badly and I am going to die so that God can send me to Hell. Sometimes, if I am trying to decide whether or not to do something, my fear about what God does or does not want me to do is so paralyzing that I do nothing out of fear, or worse sometimes I end up choosing whichever option does NOT make me happy, just to be on the safe side.

This was much worse when I had no idea it was going on, and I have seen it in other people who eventually figure out why they are struggling with particular issues. It caused me to ruin chances I had of doing things I really loved, out of fear that God wouldn’t love me anymore if I did them. It caused me to not try to fulfill my dreams because God didn’t want me to have them. It caused me to stop doing things that bring me joy because it seemed like God was angry every time I did something that made me happy. It made me hate life because every single thing I did was so important because I was so afraid of Hell.

The interesting thing about this topic coming up around Lent for me, is that Lent was the focal point of some severe fear and trauma for me. I will never forget the year I was convinced the world was ending because JPII and Terri Schiavo died right before Easter. I will never forget my absolute panic on the way to Good Friday service because I thought that the whole world was going to go dark for Three Days of Darkness and we were going to go to Hell because we were not at home.

I am terrified of lent.

Every year I become convinced that God will rain every kind of suffering He can imagine down on me because “It’s that time of year,” but you know what? The last several years, I asked Him to show me who He was for Lent. He has rained graces down on me that I never could have imagined.

In 2017, I was convinced that my pregnancy was going to end in a still birth or miscarriage and I would maybe die, or if the baby made it, I would die and never get to hold her, because she was due in lent. The night of Ash Wednesday my terrifying pre-term labor got so bad, I really thought I was going to die, but instead I gave birth to an insanely healthy 31-week old baby. She needed some assistance, but nothing like what anyone had expected. She was a total spitfire, bit the doctor on her way into the world, and ripped out her oxygen tube because she didn’t need it anymore. My nurses were so kind to me, the priest who visited me revolutionized my faith life, my body recovered so rapidly that everyone was beyond shocked. I was tired, like anyone would be, but I was the happiest I had ever been. Later in lent, I lost my job, and it was the answer to almost a year f begging God to find me a way to be a stay at home mom. God heard my prayers-big, scary, terrifying, barely even hopeful prayers. I still can’t fathom sometimes how completely He heard me.

Last year was a little less spectacular, but still just as important. He gave me rest from anxiety during my pregnancy so much so that for a few weeks my hyperemesis gravidarum was almost imperceptible. I stayed pregnant until 40 weeks(past Easter this time) and she was perfect.

This year, I got cocky. I thought, oh I’ll do Lent the way everyone else does. God made it very clear to me, “Oh honey, you are not ready for that, I need to hold you for a little bit,” with me in tears on Fat Tuesday. So this year, I’m going to be little again, I’m going to ask God to show me who He is again, because I keep forgetting and doubting Him. But the nice thing is, it was His idea. 😉 So if you think you might need to, this lent, give up your pride. Ask God to take care of you, and show you what you need. He is so much more than we give Him credit for.

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