I have always believed in God. I have been a Christian my entire life. Some conservative Christians might say that my beliefs are unconventional, but I call myself a Christian.
When I was a child, I imagined God as a projection of my parents. This is actually quite common among children. I assumed that if God was an authority figure, God must use that power like my parents used their power. Obviously, this did not bode well for my relationship with God. I saw God as the old testament God on steroids. My God was punitive. My God did not forgive. My God had rules that were inconsistent and hard to understand. My God was angry … even raging. My God was not happy with me. My God didn’t love me.
So, as I tried to figure out how to survive in the world around me, I decided to make a deal with God. My deal was something a traumatized child might contrive. You protect me from harm and I will be perfect. Unfortunately, my deal didn’t work. I was still raped. I was still beaten. I was still sold. I could only come to one conclusion. I guess I was not perfect yet.
I went to church and heard all the key phrases. “God will save you.” “You need to find God.” “God loves you.” All those phrases just pushed me further away from God because it confirmed my belief that I wasn’t as good as everyone else. I didn’t feel saved. I didn’t feel loved. And I didn’t understand how to change that.
So, I kept trying. I kept cleaning the house and studying in school and trying to follow my parents’ inconsistent rules. It didn’t help that my parents constantly told me that I was not worth much. I decided God must agree with them.
When I made it to adulthood, the sexual abuse stopped, but the difficulty in relationships didn’t. My self esteem was ridiculously low, so I kept attracting the wrong people. The types of problems shifted. It was no longer the abuse that reminded me that God didn’t love me … it was anything bad that happened in my life.
Of course, life is meant to have challenges, so I was constantly reminded of my imperfection. I had the perfect house. I had the perfect job. I was always working … for my job or my home. I rarely rested. I didn’t think that I was allowed to rest until I was perfect, and clearly, I was not perfect yet.
When I started recovery, my image of God was one of the primary issues. I had to stop believing that God was punishing me. I had to stop believing that God didn’t love me. It was critical to my recovery. But I had to figure it out on my own. That message could not come from anyone else.
So, don’t tell a survivor that God will save them.
Tell them that they are perfect … just as they are.
Tell them every day.