“Finding Your Voice”

If you are a new reader, this “Voices From The Last Pew” series is about how past experiences may influence what we hear in a church setting or scripture reading, even when not intended. We don’t know about this place. We only know for sure what she is hearing and what she is thinking. We know some of her history that has brought her to this place.

This post has taken some time to get the pose right and fitting with the idea of finding one’s voice. Hopefully it looks as if this woman on the last pew is able to speak, ready to speak, but choosing not to because that is her choice, not anyone else’s choice for her. She has found her voice. This is so very important for anyone who has experienced any form of abuse.

The secrecy and shame that often accompany abuse can keep a person from saying that they have been harmed and can carry over into many other life areas. They may feel overwhelmed and worried about what would happen if someone knew the truth.

It bothered me at first that she said along with everyone else “Thanks be to God” after a scripture verse is read that tells her to be quiet in church because she is a woman. It almost felt to me like she was agreeing.

The next words from the speaker may be, “These words from Paul the Apostle have been used in oppressive and abusive ways, and for that, I am truly sorry. Here in this community of believers, we put more weight on these other words also from Paul: ‘there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ So how can we let those words give life here in our community?”

Words can give life, but words can also give death. Finding our voice, using it remove those words of death, is critical for healing, I believe. Words of death like “You are stupid and worthless” only have power when they are kept inside.

I had tried to write the “dilemma” part of this post as being about how to get around the man’s beliefs and faulty logic. It’s difficult to change the mind of anyone who argues as illogically as this: “Men are better enabled than women to understand God’s Word, and it says so in God’s Word. Therefore if a woman disagrees with that, then she has only proven this point.” It’s just lousy logic like saying “God’s Word is inspired by the same Holy Spirit that is in me, so if you don’t agree with me about what God’s Word says, you don’t have God’s Spirit in you. You’ve probably got a demon inside you instead.” Or even something as totally nonsensical as “It’s shameful for a woman to have no shame!”

Here is the dilemma that I want to write about instead.

You want to tell others what has happened. You know that this will make you feel better because you desperately need the support of family and friends. You know in your heart how someone treated you was wrong, destroying your dignity and worth. But you know that you will most likely have to answer questions like “Why did this happen?” and “Why did you let it go on for so long?” You may have been asking yourself those questions as well. There are no good answers. “Why?” is my least favorite kind of question in situations like this because even if there is an answer, it seldom makes a person feel better. It always seems to lead to another “Why?” which is likely to cause you to falsely blame yourself.

If you are like the young woman on this last pew, you have been through a great deal. Maybe like her, you fell in love at a very young age. Maybe like her, you believed that when you fell in love, it would be forever and with just the right person. God would join you together, and nothing could separate you.

So you wonder, “How could I have missed God’s will for me?” and “Why didn’t I listen to God?” and “The minister said God joined us together. How can that all fall apart? Why?”

These questions, though well-intended, end up making you feel like there was something you could have done to prevent the situation. You wonder if maybe you were blind or week or stupid. That’s not the case at all, but it can sure feel that way, particularly when there has been someone in your life who is very good at being manipulative and shifting blame onto you.

Another question, almost as harmful, is “Why did that person treat you like that?” Quite honestly, the last thing you need is to try to imagine that “Why?” because it can very quickly lead you to feeling sorry for the person who has harmed you. Dwelling on things like this can not only keep you up all night, they can take you back to the dangerous place where you were.

My best advice is to seriously avoid the “Why?” questions. Tell what happened. Tell the facts. “I was blind” is not a fact. “I was weak” is not a fact. “I was stupid” is certainly not a fact. “He told me I was possessed by a demon because I would not obey him” is a fact. It’s what he said. “He hit me across my face with the back of his hand while I was standing at the kitchen sink preparing something he didn’t want for dinner” is a fact. It’s what he did. I think that’s why this woman in the graphic looks so confident. She is stating facts.

Perhaps the better questions to ask may be, “What was learned from this?” and “How can things be done differently in the next relationship?” That’s true if you are dealing with something like this yourself in your own thought life or helping someone else to deal with it when they are sharing with you. I think that’s why this woman in the graphic looks so self-assured. She is able to say what she will do.

One final key to finding your voice, I believe, is talking aloud to Our Heavenly Father. There is a strength in doing so which comes from the Holy Spirit’s guidance in what to say. It may also come from hearing your own voice speaking aloud what fear and shame wanted you to keep silent and secret. It is amazing how prayer works.

Here is the only part that I’m putting in bold. If you can relate to this and are struggling with this or know someone who is…seek counseling. There are resources available that can help you. I’m just drawing and writing from my limited perspective. But there are professionals that can help you.

If you are in an unsafe situation, get out! Get help! There are shelters that will protect you. That is more important than anything else!

Seriously. Jesus is right there with you on the last pew. He is your Advocate and He has nothing but good things to say about you. He will help you to find your voice. Honestly.

“Voices From The Last Pew” Update

This is a “trigger warning” concerning tomorrow’s post for “Voices From The Last Pew.”

It will be titled “Finding Your Voice” and will touch on domestic violence, verbal abuse, bullying behaviors, and manipulation (including the bending of God’s Word to suit one’s own desires to control). The character and situation sketched out is a composite of several different real life situations. One thing is the same with any type of abuse where someone has been shamed into remaining silent: “Finding Your Voice” is extremely important.

I know that some of you are dealing with or recovering from some form of abuse or violence like this, and so I just wanted to provide a “heads up” or “trigger warning” in case some readers may be concerned that this topic will bring up painful memories from the past.

Hopefully it will be a good post, one that the Holy Spirit can use to bring awareness, help, and healing. 

“God’s Transforming Love”

Yesterday was Ascension Day, and it was also the day that I was received into the Episcopal Church after participating in a program called “Pilgrims In Christ” for eight months.

Part of the program involved sharing our “Faith Stories.” I won’t share everything here now, though I may one day.

But I want you to know about St. John’s Church and why I do what I do here with these comic strips (some funny, some serious). If it wasn’t for the people of St. John’s, you wouldn’t be reading any of these comic strips.

Back when the “Pilgrims In Christ” program started last October, I began writing posts here at WordPress, and that led to creating comic strips because it just seemed like the thing to do. There is a great community here at WordPress that has helped and encouraged me, just like the people at St. John’s. In January, I moved all of the graphics over to this website, got more ideas, and have done a few posts in this series called “Voices From The Last Pew.” That’s because when I went to St. John’s for the first time last August, I was honestly set in my mind that it really would be the last church pew ever. So I sat in the back by the door.

You see, they had these amazing words on their website and even on their printed order of worship, words that really seemed too good to be true. A huge part of me wanted to believe that it was just a trick, just a phony promise. Then I could say, “I did it. I’m done. There really isn’t a place for me. They don’t want me and I don’t want them.” It wasn’t that I was planning to give up on Jesus, just church.

Here is the first part of those words. I can’t even read them silently without getting choked up. No lie.

Believe this simple truth: God loves you, no matter who you are. No matter how you have lived your life. No matter your age. No strings attached. At St. John’s, we believe in God’s transforming love…

In my “Faith Story,” I told how I have had a bumpy ride throughout my Christian life. Most of it has been because of a message I carried inside, “God hates you. You’re going to kill yourself. You are going to die and go to hell where you belong.”

As a Christian, I’ve wrecked and crashed and burned more times than I can count. I’ve been way too rigid and rules oriented, and then can’t live up to it. I’ve thrown Bibles against walls and into the trash. I’ve tried to escape from everything in a lot of different ways including alcohol and suicide attempts. I’ve cursed God and Jesus and tried my best to commit the unpardonable sin, whatever that might be. But Jesus never gave up on me.

That “God hates you” message can get planted in a person’s mind and heart in a lot of different ways. When I told my “Faith Story,” I explained how that had happened with me. But here is the thing. It doesn’t matter how it got there. Getting rid of that message is the important thing.

That’s done, I believe, primarily through God’s Transforming Love.

The active component to God’s Transforming Love is the Holy Spirit, and the best delivery method is Christian Community.

If you have sat there on “The Last Pew,” please know that there are a lot of people just like you. I know how difficult it is to say, “I’m going to give this one more try.” But there is a place out there where you can find God’s Transforming Love and the Holy Spirit, just like how I found them at St. John’s Church.

It will be a place where people really do care about you. They don’t want you to just quietly go away. They don’t want you to die and go to hell. They want to pour out God’s Transforming Love on you and receive it back from each other because that’s how God designed Christian Community to work.

Until you find that place, maybe you’ll only have someone at work or a neighbor who truly believes in God’s Transforming Love. But that is a start. Maybe you’ll only have a few people within your current church who truly believe in God’s Transforming Love, but that is a start too. And you have me who truly has experienced God’s Transforming Love.

In the meantime, if you don’t have that place of Christian Community, I really want to renew my commitment to you readers to do all that I can to share God’s Transforming Love to you through these graphics and words.

Thank you, both Readers and People Of St. John’s Church, for sharing God’s Transforming Love with me.

“Voices From The Last Pew” Update

This is a “trigger warning” concerning tomorrow’s post for “Voices From The Last Pew.”

It will be titled “God’s Transforming Love” and will touch on some of my experiences with churches and the time when I really said to myself, “This is the last pew I will ever sit in.”

Maybe you were bullied by “the church kids” when you were growing up. Maybe you feel like you have to stop being who you are or hide who you are in order to “fit in” when it comes to church. Maybe you have felt different, unwelcome, and rejected in church. Maybe you can’t really identify anything in particular, but you just feel like a “Church Outsider” for some unknown reason. Those things are what I want to begin looking at in the next “Voices From The Last Pew.”

I know that some of you are dealing with or recovering from some form of abuse or discrimination that involved people in church leadership positions or occurred in a church setting. So even though that’s not what this post will be about, for some people just the word “church” can stir up painful things about sexual abuse, religious abuse, doctrinal abuse, and more. This posting today is just a “heads up” or “trigger warning” in case some readers may be concerned that this topic will bring up painful memories from their past.

Hopefully it will be a good post, one that the Holy Spirit can use to bring help and healing to the Church which Christ bought with His Own Blood.

“Forgiveness…Even For Myself?”

(This is a “Trigger Warning” for this post which looks at how childhood sexual abuse can make it difficult for a person to love and forgive themselves.)

There are some verses in the Bible that assume things about how people are.

There is no commandment in the Bible to love yourself. It’s just assumed that everyone does.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39 (KJV)

There is no commandment in the Bible to forgive yourself. It’s just assumed that everyone does.

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:15 (KJV)

But not everyone loves themselves. Not everyone forgives themselves.

This can be true when we have made bad choices mostly perhaps on our own such as choosing addictions like drugs or alcohol, starving ourselves or cutting ourselves.

This can be true as well when we have been manipulated or forced into making bad choices without fully understanding what is going on or what the consequences will be. Childhood sexual abuse can make it very difficult for a person to love themselves and to forgive themselves.

Sometimes there is an abuser, a predator, who has very carefully manipulated the situation so that they seem to be not at fault. The abuser may be “just trying to help” or “taking the place of someone else who can’t or won’t help.” These are lies and deceptions that mask their true intentions.

The abuser may even make the child believe that it was really his or her own idea, not the adult’s idea, and that they are just as naive as the child, just playing a game that the child wanted to play. They may say something like “Just remember, this was your idea and what you wanted to do.” They will not say that they are enjoying the manipulation, the power, the control, the sexual thrill.

Looking back with adult survivor eyes, there may be pain, embarrassment, and the feeling of betraying oneself. You may doubt yourself. You may blame yourself for not being smart enough, for being gullible, for liking the attention, for allowing yourself to be used like that.

Years and adult decisions can put distance between the adult survivor and the abuser, but how does one make decisions to put distance between oneself? How do you get away from yourself? There is legal recourse that can be taken against an abuser, if you choose to take that route, but how does one take legal recourse against oneself? How do you make yourself pay?

Here is the dilemma.

If someone hurts God, treats Him like He doesn’t matter, then that person is going to pay for that betrayal. You mess with God, you are going to pay. The gun is loaded and cocked. The gun is fired at Jesus instead of you. This is sometimes the way that the Gospel is presented. Someone has to die. It’s either going to be Jesus or Me.

If someone hurts Me, treats Me like I don’t matter, then that person is going to pay for that betrayal. You mess with Me, you are going to pay. The gun is loaded and cocked. Only in this case, the gun is fired at Me.

When we hurt and betray ourselves, that’s not against God. That’s not messing with God, so maybe Jesus didn’t die for that. God gave Jesus to die for the hurts we give to God. Jesus took the penalty that rightly should be ours.

But who am I going to give to die for the hurts I gave to myself? The only person I can give to die for the hurts I gave to myself is me.

Stuff like this can make you want to kill yourself. No lie.

So think about how Christ and His Cross are presented. Is it like “when there is sin, the gun is loaded and cocked so somebody has got to die”? Jesus was crucified so God could change His mind about us? Is that right?

This next quote was part of our message on The Second Sunday Of Easter, and it came at just the right time as I was thinking through what to say in this post:

“Jesus didn’t come to change God’s mind about us, but to change our minds about God.”

This is an important message for everyone, on the last pew or not.

There is only one thing that I want to add for those on the last pew who hate themselves and are unable to forgive themselves for whatever reason, including those who believed lies, were misled, and abused as children. Even though everyone has a different story, is remains true for everyone who was abused as a child.

“Jesus also came to change our minds about ourselves.”

You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong.

You were never in control of the situation, even if you were led to believe that you were. You could not have been smarter. You could not have figured it out on your own. Your abuser was not your equal. Your predator had a plan to succeed no matter what you did or didn’t do.

I believe with all of my heart that just as Jesus came to change our minds about God, He also came to change our minds about ourselves.

He can change your mind about yourself, and He can heal you.

Here is the only other part that I’m putting in bold. If you can relate to this and are struggling with this or know someone who is…seek counseling. There are resources available that can help you. I’m just drawing and writing from my limited perspective. But there are professionals that can help you. Seriously. Jesus is right there with you on the last pew. Honestly.