This letter may come as a surprise to you, since our paths have gone separate ways and I have no ongoing relationship or connections with you. (No doubt we both remember well how that went down.)
I hardly know where to begin… My thoughts may be best expressed with splashes of ink, representing the tears I have cried. How to unravel those thoughts and share with you what is on my heart?
If you have forgotten who I am, I was the teenager, who was bound, bent and determined to defy you, and all leadership. At least that is how you saw it. In reality, and not to justify rebellion, but to help you understand other teenagers like me, I was confused. I knew that breaking your rules would get me in trouble. And it did. But I also knew that then you would see me, that you would know how angry I felt. Maybe, just maybe, then you would reach out and help me.
I was angry for so many reasons that I cannot tell them all. But there are a few very important reasons I would like to share with you. First, I was angry because I was always criticized. My dresses were too ‘edgy’, always pushing the standard, always ‘riding the fence’, as we were often told. My hair was never pulled back quite tight enough. My heels were a bit too high–even the ones I was given by your daughter. I talked to freely, and wasn’t ‘meek and quiet’, the way a woman should be.
I looked around too much when I entered a room. (This was said to be flirtatious, attention seeking. But if you had grown up in my home, where at any turn you could get hit, where your father threatened to kill you, then you too would learn to always be aware of your environment. And you’d pretend to be confident too, to make yourself feel less vulnerable.)
Alone in my room at night, I would sit on my deep window sill, sometimes for hours into the night, just looking at the sky, and crying. Fearful. Any sound in the night made my heart freeze.
What if it was Jesus coming back and He too found me unacceptable? I so desperately wanted to know God, back then. Wanted so much to know I was in His family. Accepted. Saved. Loved. But for all my prayers and crying, I felt as though I was never good enough. Almost every revival meetings I stood to my feet, fighting guilt, shame and rejection. Maybe this time would be the magic moment. It never came.
The church sang “Almost Persuaded”, and I was that… Almost Persuaded that I would never make it. They sang, “Just as I am…” but I knew that ‘as I was’ would never be good enough for God. They sang, “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is calling…” and somehow my heart knew it was true, but all I could really hear was the loud screams of judgement… that I was a failure, destined to never know peace.
Meetings, after meetings, I fought this battle. Always ending with the same desperate hopelessness. Little did I realize that my guilt was false guilt. The result of memories deeply buried in my subconscious, that would surface many years later. And only after coming to terms with the sexual abuse and violence of early childhood, and the abuse that later happened in the church, would that guilt and shame finally leave me.
Only then would I sit through revival meetings in peace, with the confidence that I am a part of God’s family. I don’t need to measure up. Yes, I give Him the best that I can, because I love Him, but my salvation does not rise and fall, on false guilt, or when I fall into sin. He loves me. Accepts me. I am His. And when He shows me that I have sinned, I repent quickly, because I love Him.
More importantly, He loves me. He thinks I’m so special that He sings over me with delight. (Zephaniah 3:17) He has even written a book about me! Having discovered that love, I have learned to love Him, and love others.
And one of the things that His forgiving love has taught me, is to forgive others. Because of that love, I forgive you.
I learned many years later that you knew of the abuse I suffered, and did nothing. You covered it, to protect your family name… because the perpetrator was your son. All the while you excommunicated congregants for bad attitudes, for listening to the radio, for not wearing the right clothes, among other things that you labelled sin. But the sins of your sons, and other church members, you kept carefully hidden for the sake of image. How that wounded my heart!
This taught me that God does not care about my pain and suffering, but cares very much that I look right and act religious. And it affirmed the belief that God loves other people more than He loves me. How desperately I wanted His love and acceptance.
I spent years trying to earn His favour before I finally fell to my knees and begged Him to remove every lying voice, and show me who He really is. I wept for days, as I read the stories of Jesus and the church in rest of the New Testament, as though I was reading them for the first time. And then I felt secure.
I knew other preachers who did not do what you did, and I thank God for their kinder examples. But you had the greater influence, and somehow I couldn’t see past the confusion you brought into my life, to see that Jesus is more like them…
So I forgive you. I forgive you for turning a blind eye to the abuse I suffered. I forgive you for judging me harshly, while protecting sin in your own family and household. I forgive you for spiritual rape… by using God’s name for personal agenda, and telling me that what you do is God-blessed.
And each time I remember what you did, I will choose to forgive you, again, and again, and again.
I pray that you will repent, find mercy and get to know intimately the true God… the God of love, justice and mercy.
~ one broken teen ~
© Trudy Metzger