I learned as a child to PRETEND. Everyone loves a happy girl. No one likes a crybaby. Even when you fall down and hurt yourself, or if someone hurts you, “GET UP AND STOP CRYING”, was the voice you heard yelling out to you. Crying was a sign of weakness, and I didn’t want to be weak. The truth was I was duped, taken advantage of, and the silence was given to me as a technique to control, rather than to LIBERATE me. PRETENDING made me depressed as a child. But, no one around me would know it. I kept a smile on my face, yet often thought of running away or taking my own life, but was afraid. My entire life was ruled by fear, and that gave me a lot of anxiety. Again, no one would know because I was trained to PRETEND. This followed me into adulthood and into every aspect of my life.
An unhealthy dating relationship ran me into the arms of Christ. I was a college student, attending on a scholarship, who worked hard, had two jobs, excited about life, and wanted a life drastically different from what I grew up watching. I thought I was doing good, and PRETENDING became somewhat REAL to me. Yet, I found myself dating a drug dealer, who himself struggled with mental and emotional issues. Yep, a disaster waiting to happen and it did. I realized after losing everything – scholarship, virginity, dignity, and so much more – trying to hold onto this dysfunctional relationship, I needed to let go. I had lost control and turned to Christ, by accident. I know there are no “accidents”, and I realized later it was providence. My best friend asked me to come to a church with her, and I ended up staying.
I found strength the closer I got to Christ. I felt loved and encouraged to live a better life, but I still struggled. It was the stuff no one could see or knew that ate me alive inside. Gaining strength from His POWERFUL was amazing. I needed to trust someone who didn’t want something from me, and would be there no matter what. The more I drew closer to Christ, the more I saw He was that THE ONE. I eventually let my other relationship go. My relationship with the church however, would take a turn and I learned quickly that this might not be a safe place.
Not everyone was ready or willing to hear about the daily battles I faced in my heart/mind. Things that I didn’t even ask for, but was given as a child in a package of generational curses with a bow. I so desperately wanted to give it back, but couldn’t. I felt alone and didn’t notice any examples of how to share struggles. During testimony time at church one day, I felt the pull by God to share a testimony of how He brought me through a terrible time months prior to joining the church. I had an abortion and was so ashamed and broken. But, joining the church saved me from depression. I was grateful to God for helping me to be able to let that guilt go and be free because of his grace. After church service, folks came up to me and said that I should not have shared that there, and that It was too personal. I got the cold shoulder after that day. But, one woman came up to me, hugged me and told me that she was thankful for what I shared. She wanted to spend more time with me and we talked more after that day. I now look back and realized she was wanting to mentor me, help me to grow, instead of push me away. Overwhelmingly though, I felt like an alien on a foreign planet.
No one talked about how to overcome physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and depression. In fact, I picked up a faint hint of, “God takes care of all that once you come to him”, smell. Yet, I know I still struggled, so either God is not real, or I am just too bad for Him to help. I concluded I was just too bad for these folks. In other church services folks would share about struggles with eating chocolate or potato chips. I often concluded the church was not safe, and thus don’t share there.
Let me say this, my first experience with Christ was not as an Adventist Christian, but a Pentecostal Christian. However, having been an Adventist now for about 18 ½ years, these experiences I believe are and for me have been universal, not limited to Adventism. I also know that there are so many in the church who are working to change that atmosphere and have always been open and working to make it a safe place.
Vulnerability was never taught or modeled to me. It was however, something that I longed for. A freedom to share and know you will be loved regardless of how uncomfortable others may be with it. It may mean being an outcast because you break down the walls of silence. I have grown to be more and more ok with that. Once I found safety with Christ, and my Identity in Him, I felt free to tell the world the truth, MY truth, past and present. It didn’t happen overnight, but I’ve gained strength through Christ and hearing others share their stories.
When no one’s looking, I am a person who struggles with anxiety and fear. Constantly on my knees, in the closet, crying out to God to help me with my thoughts. I am a person who has to apologizes to my spouse and children because I overreact sometimes due to a fear or anxiety. When no one’s looking, I am battling the thoughts and memories I have from childhood that I can see as clear as day, as if they just happened. Talking to God in my mind and repeating to myself that “I AM LOVED”, “I AM FREE”. When no one’s looking, I am looking at them, and wondering if they know that I know, even though they haven’t said a word, that they have been abused, because it takes one to know one. When no one’s looking, who I am really is someone who wants to love and be loved.
Ending PRETENDING is a revolutionary door being opened for the church community and what it means to me is a beginning of FREEDOM for so many who suffer in silence.