Random Blog Clay Feet: January 25, 2008
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Friday, January 25, 2008

37 Years Ago Today...

It may appear that I have quit writing so much recently. Actually that is not the case. It is just that I am processing something very much in writing that is still a little too personal to post for all the world to see at this point. I suspect that maybe soon I will go back and bring much of it out and post it as another inductive study, probably on my other site, Deeperword.

My study began earlier this week when I came under strong conviction of the presence of bitterness in my life that I need to face more decidedly and find freedom from. The following text came to my mind from Hebrews 12, See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. (Hebrews 12:15 NRSV) As a result I decided to spend whatever time was needed to explore the context of this verse to see if God would show me some of the reasons, the roots for the bitterness that is poisoning my life and my relationships.

Most of this bitterness is so ever-present and feels so normal that I cannot even recognize it as bitterness. To me I guess that it just seems to be what I consider normal because that is all I have ever known as the context for life. It is only when I begin to get a glimpse of what life might be like outside my own paradigms that I begin to sense that maybe what I always assumed was normal is maybe very warped perceptions of reality. As I get more acquainted with the feelings that my heart has had for most of my life, as it begins to feel safe enough to slowly allow my left brain to catch a glimpse of it here and there, I am sickened at all the confused ideas and assumptions about God that are drawn from much of my painful past.

The right brain, what I consider the seat or processing center of the heart, does not work logically like the left brain and so its conclusions are not easily understood by a left-brain dominant thinker. But the Spirit of God has been working for quite awhile to awaken some of the very dark places of my heart and my past in order to bring light and healing and life into the dead places within me. As I have spent the past few days meditating and writing what I am learning from Hebrews 12, I can see that this whole chapter has a wealth of resources for uncovering many places from which bitterness can spring up. It also has a lot of things to say about how to counteract and receive healing for those roots. I am carefully working my way through this chapter each day listening for whatever God wants to show me and trying to not let my head get too far ahead of my heart. That means that I need to stop at times and just listen to both my heart and for anything the Spirit wants to show me that cannot come from logic or exegesis.

Soon after I woke up this morning I began to thank God for what He is doing in my life. As I felt the surge of strength from the act of gratitude beginning to lift my spirit, I remembered that exactly 42 years ago this morning I had one of the major turning points in my personal relationship with God just after I woke up. I will never forget it for it marked a sharp turning point for me to reject a life of suffocating false religion that had by that time very nearly driven me to literal insanity.

It would likely take too long to explain it all, but I will give just a little background. Over the previous few years leading up to my 16th birthday I had become increasingly what I would perceive as paranoid-schizophrenic. I had a very intense hatred toward God that was fueled by my increasing hatred toward my Dad who was at a loss as to how to force me to be a good boy and a Christian. But overriding that, and again reflective of my relationship with my Dad, I was even more terrified of admitting that I hated God or my Dad for fear of unimaginably dire consequences. I could not even allow my thoughts to entertain an awareness of my hatred for very long for fear that I would be punished even more severely, so I worked incessantly to be what I now see as the perfect hypocrite.

While I writhed with resentment and bitterness on the inside against the lack of love and nurture and the abusive “discipline” I experienced, at the same time I spent increasingly nearly every waking moment trying to eradicate “sin” from my conscious mind and heart in an attempt to appease a threatening deity who was keeping close watch on me in order to discover any excuse to keep me out of heaven and fry me in the fires of hell for the slightest infraction.

And when I say every waking moment I mean that quite literally. By the time I was around 12 or 13 the intensity of these opposing forces within me had become agonizing and ever-present. On the one hand I was increasingly desiring to rebel, to enjoy the alluring pleasures of sin, sex and “rock” music. I would sneak out my window at night, crawl across the length of our steep roof and slide down the porch posts to go the the neighbors house to watch television until late at night. This allowed me to have feelings of relief or escape from my inner turmoil but at the same time added to my increasing sense of guilt and fear. When my sister finked on me one night and got me in trouble with my Mom who put a stop to my escape outlet (that is a whole other story full of emotions) I was left with an even more closed heart filling up with explosive resentment.

My mind was always under rigid control from my religious training that was deeply ingrained in my psych and kept me from indulging in many things that my flesh increasingly craved to do. This battle was considered by most all the religious people around me to be just the normal struggle of being a Christian, at least that what I assumed. But I now realize that what I was experiencing was completely unknown to anyone else and was far more severe than anyone imagined. Of course it was fueled by the legal approach to living the Christian life. Almost no one understood the importance of having an intimate relationship with a loving God as the foundation of the Christian life before trying to work on behavior. That was considered to be a dangerous heresy by my father and probably many others in the church, so I was left with a battle between two false gods inside of my soul that nearly caused me to lose my sanity.

The symptoms of this duel inside of me was that every time a thought would come to my mind that I felt might be considered wrong by God that I was required to confess it and beg for forgiveness from God. If I did not deal with every potential sin, as well as dig up every past mistake and sin and extract forgiveness for all of those too, then I would lose all hope of salvation. Of course, there was also the constant threat that at any moment my life could be snuffed out by an accident and I would face my eternal fate based on my “standing” with God at that particular moment. Hence, the intense need to keep up to date to that very second with all my confession and forgiveness routine. It became almost a game of life and death, a duel between me trying to perfect myself through “contrition” and confessions and God on the other side always looking for that one little sin that would give Him excuse to nail me to the wall and justify Him keeping me out of heaven. This was the agony of mind that kept me occupied for literally maybe 4 years or so of my life.

(Ironically, this type of thinking and view of God is almost identical to that of the great church that was so derided as the epitome of false religion by most members of my own church. I had become just like those I was taught to despise.)

I can remember driving my bicycle in traffic and repeatedly closing my eyes and making very fast confession/begging-forgiveness prayers hopefully fast enough to get my eyes open again before getting creamed by a car or running into something. This may sound hilarious, but to me it was deadly serious. And why did I close my eyes while riding my bike? Because God would be upset if I didn't close my eyes when I prayed. And that would give Him yet another excuse to accuse me.

There are many others things I could describe about that time in my life, but I think you can get the gist of what I was going on inside of me. As the guilt and fear and terror extended their tentacles within me, my heart continued to seethe with more and more anger and rage at the unfairness and oppression of it all. But then I would try to suppress my anger for fear of God's wrath and the internal conflict continued to escalate. There was no one that I could trust to share what was going on inside and I felt very isolated. In my frustration I longed to be free of this conflict and just enjoy sin and the seeming relief that it promised to give me, but my religious brain was so strong with fear that it prevented me from acting out what my heart desperately wanted to indulge in. I suppose that result was considered a success by those who believed that fear was the right motive for preventing sin in our lives.

This brings me to my 16th birthday and what happened that cold morning when I woke up on the top bunk in a dormitory in Tennessee. I had been thinking about all of this inner activity and had begun musing that maybe there was something wrong with my Christian experience. I didn't really notice anyone else going through what I was experiencing and my paranoia was keeping me from having any healthy relationships. In the back of my mind the idea began to grow, though very, very small, that maybe, just maybe God did not intend for me to live this way all of my life.

That thought had all the hallmarks of a dangerous heresy and I dismissed it many times in fear of Divine punishment, but it continued to resurface. Finally that morning I decided to face myself square on and make a determined decision as to how I was going to continue to live.

I have always been a rather pragmatic, left-brain dominant person and as such I believed that a birthday was really an arbitrary assignment, and event only meaningful by artificial designation. A person really is no different on their birthday than they would be waking up on any other day – that simply makes sense. But that morning something else woke up inside of me and began to question my logical mind and ask, “What if I am wrong? What if turning 16 really is significant and I am just too pragmatic to admit it? What if that popular saying, 'turning 16 and never been kissed' actually had some hidden meaning in it that most of us don't know about? What if 16 was an important number in people's lives?What if I do have the option today to actually become a completely different person? What if I really have the option to make a radical decision that violates everything my tyrannical mind insists is true?”

These thoughts were terrifying to me but at the same time very appealing. I was exhausted from all the years of fighting inside and I had come to the point where I felt that maybe hell would not be much worse than living life as I was. If this is what it took to get into heaven then maybe it was just too much work, too high a price to pay. But that other thought that had been lurking in the dark shadows of my mind trying to escape extermination by my dogmatism was starting to glow brighter. What if, by some outside chance that I didn't know about yet, God actually had a better way to live that was not so exhausting and debilitating? What if He would actually allow me to make some mistakes without viciously attacking me or abandoning me altogether? What if He was actually different than everything my mind had assembled together in fear and dread?

As I lay there that morning waiting to get out of bed and pondering what I should do about this problem, I finally made up my mind that I was going to take what felt like the highest gamble of my life and not reflexively pray, confess and beg forgiveness for every “wrong” impulse that might cross my mind that day. I had actually come to the point that I included every temptation as something that had to be confessed as well as known sins because I was not sure where God drew the line between an impulse toward an evil thought and entertaining that evil thought, so I treated them all the same just to play it safe. You can imagine how many things that could involve for an early teenager with hormones beginning to fill his system and an equal amount of guilt for every feeling or desire for love or sex. I was about ready to either change the way I related to God or begin to consider suicide to escape the pain. And suicide was not an option either because God would punish me even more for that too.

So I made my fateful decision with a great deal of trepidation and that whole day I resisted every impulse to compulsively “pray”. I began to notice how much extra time I had to actually interact with other people and how much relief I began to feel inside. And most importantly, I sensed at some deeper level a feeling of confirmation from somewhere outside myself that I had made a right decision and that indeed, God had something much better for me than the hell I had been experiencing for so many years. I had turned a corner in my life the day I turned 16 and had begun to reject the false image of God that had been painted in such terrifying colors in my heart.

I wish I could say that I saw a much clearer picture of a loving God and my life was dramatically transformed, but that did not happen. I spent many more years in a legalistic relationship with God, though not to the extent that I had up to that point. There were millions of lies about God that still blackened His face that took many years to slowly unmask and address, but the process had started and the progress began.

I am still in the process of unmasking many of those early lies that still cause me trouble and confusion. I am sure many who read what I write or listen to me very long can pick up on the intensity with which I address certain issues. That comes from my anger about all the lies that have kept me away for so long from the One who could have made so many years of my life so much sweeter if I had not been so darkened in my heart and mind. I still resent the fact that it is so difficult for me to become free of many lies yet today that remain hidden in my heart and damage my relationships. I am ever seeking any means or ministry that shows promise of effectively exposing and bringing healing to these lies and their resultant dysfunction in my life. Some have even called me a “ministry junkie”. That is the journey that I am still on today, learning to reject the distorted images of God and seeking to see the real truth in His face.

So now you know what happened 37 years ago today, for what its worth.