I grew up in the church, not literally, but definitely figuratively. I was raised in a Mennonite Church and ‘gave my life to the Lord’ at summer camp when I was 8 years old. I have recently reflected on the messages I received that made me, an 8 year old, think I was such a sinner that I needed a saviour but, none the less, I thought I needed one. I remember being sincere in my prayer and happy that I had made the adults around me, the camp staff, happy, and no doubt the Lord, happy too.
When I was 14, I switched camps and attended a baptist camp with a friend and it was here that I found my first community. I loved being part of the camp crowd which turned into 5 years of camps, both as a counselor and as a camper, and a whole lotta clean fun. Here, I really solidified how badly I needed a saviour, learned I couldn’t really trust myself due to my sinful nature and was happy to keep returning to the camp to repent and re-dedicate myself to the Lord. I had great friendships and always felt like my connections here kept me out of trouble and on the straight and narrow, exactly what I thought the Lord required of me.
At 18, I was finished high school and did my first YWAM, Youth With a Mission School…the most exciting way I could think of, at the time, to continue dedicating my life to Jesus. I chose a Mercy School and the title and content of said school was about learning to work with abused and neglected kids. I didn’t realize at the time that the little one I needed to learn to work with was me.
I loved belonging to the church/religious community. I was a huge conformist and I loved the safety and security I received from people telling me what to believe and what was important. I was, I like to say, a card carrying member. This was a group I didn’t want to be on the outside of. Out-sourcing my personal power seemed like a small price to pay in order to have my community and belonging needs met. I should add that those needs are important to our development in the first half of life and that’s where I was, the first half of my life. The task of that time of life is deciding who we will do life with, and I was doing life with my church people, oh, and Jesus.
Because my need to find favour with God and people was so strong, I was exactly the kind of person you would want filling your pew on a Sunday morning. I wasn’t going to rock any boats and my dedication to all things Jesus was sincere. I took the idea of more of Jesus and less of me, to heart. I wanted to be pleasing to him, be unconditionally loved by someone (Jesus), and belong - as in be on the inside of the ‘us against them’ story, the, ‘I’m in you’re out’ narrative that usually accompanies first half of life people.
I did not know my own value both because of the trauma in my history but also because the church had taught me, and taught me well, that the only value I actually had as a person, was in what Jesus had done for me by dying on the cross to save my sinful arse. After all, if it weren’t for Jesus, god himself wouldn’t even be able to look at me but luckily, when god looked down on me from on high, he saw Jesus, not me. Whew! So, in light of this great gift he had given me, there must be something I could give back to the lord, as a small gesture of my undying appreciation. A wee thank you, as it were. But what could that be? My life in service didn’t seem like quite enough. All of me, didn’t quite cut it, there must be more.
I had little or no understanding of my own trauma history and unresolved childhood pain. I had no idea about co-dependence, conflict avoidance, conformity as a survival strategy, or how the message of Jesus as the great cosmic rescuer resonated with me on such a deep level because I too was a great rescuer. Takes one to know one. The rescuer/victim narrative is what our culture is built on and a feature of our survival stories. All I knew was that what I felt and wanted could not be trusted on any deep level and that I needed someone to show me the way. This is often the internalized story of traumatized children….there is something deeply wrong with me. It’s no wonder, then, that I bought so completely into the story that someone, Jesus, could use what was really ‘right’ with him, to cover what was so deeply ‘wrong’ with me. In this, I could play the victim to his rescuer. Someone save me from myself.
This sense of striving to earn salvation, which, even though you are only supposed to have to do that once, continues in the background as a low grade fear of not quite measuring up. Maybe you only need to get saved once but you can definitely fall out of favour and you must always remember that satan roams around like a lion, ready to devour you, which adds to the sense of having to be on guard. While the sense of 'being on guard' or of having to 'walk on eggshells because you never know what is going to happen' or the ability to ‘read a room’ when you enter it and adjust your behaviour according to the needs in the room, are embodied survival strategies born out of our childhood trauma, they are also reinforced by a religious story that teaches you that your heart is deceitful above all else, that you can’t be trusted and that danger lurks EVERYWHERE!
Another message that I internalized was the message that the highest calling for women, the most important thing they can offer to the planet is themselves, in the form of marriage and motherhood. All else fades away but these will last forever! What Jesus really wants, if you are truly dedicated, is access to your womb. Yes, I was one of those. And, I was sincere about it. I wanted to give the lord permission to chose every aspect of my life, including how many kids I had, and I did. After all, as I mentioned before, he must increase and I must decrease, more of him, less of me.
More of them, less of me, and so I had 6.
Now, I do not regret giving birth to 6 fantastic humans it’s just that as I pull apart my motivation for the things I did in my life, I am sobered by the fact that having 6 kids was never about them, it was about me. It wasn’t even about Jesus, it was about my need for belonging, my unhealed abandonment wounds - never wanting to find myself alone again, my need to be loved, my need to out-source my personal power, my need to belong inside a system. You name it, it was about me. This is how it is. We all have a survival strategy born out of our childhood story, our trauma, our unhealed wounds and we tell ourselves a story around it, dress it up as very noble. The truth is that a part of me was co-dependent, a rescuer, a conformist and needing desperately to earn my value as a human being and the church both modeled and reinforced my beliefs.
My story might not be yours, but the pattern is the same. We base our decisions, we build our lives around our survival stories, not who we actually are. The task of the second half of life (not a chronological age) is to heal and to unravel our survival story so that we can truly understand the why and who of who we are, learn to love ourselves deeply, recover our sense of personal authority, and live ourselves into our Sacred Dance. Human beings who do this deep work of transformation, unraveling and the recovering of themselves are medicine for the planet, just in how they show up every day.
This is the task of our adult selves.
Dismantle the survival story.
Uncover the trauma.
Reveal the truth to yourself.
This is what our planet needs.
This is what we need.
Luckily, this is not where my story ends. Stay tuned for the second half of this post, the second half of my life…well not all of it. The part where I take my womb back from the Lord and tell him he can’t have it, find an even deeper spirituality, the part where I leave my marriage of 30 years to head out into the world on my own, I recover my own personal power, heal, know what I believe and what I am about and why I no longer need Jesus to save me, in any way.
This is really the miracle of my story since the church braces against dismantling and instead offers certainty. Certainty prevents growth. Dismantling leads to transformation. I will always be grateful for the doors that burst open in myself, allowing me to question, wrestle, heal, dismantle and transform.