Stumbling in the Dark with Jesus

When our oldest daughter, Alicia, was almost four years old, we renovated the entire house we lived in at that time. As a result, everything was under construction at the same time, except for the living room and kitchen.

To contain the mess, and make renovations as efficient as possible, we set up beds for the whole family in the living room area, for several weeks. This included a crib mattress, two toddler beds and a mattress for Tim and me, creating a bit of an obstacle course.

Our bedtime routine always ended with praying for our children, followed by good night hugs and kisses, and then lights out, the same way it had been when we had separate bedrooms. Daddy was usually the one to turn out the light, and the last one to crawl in bed.

Several evenings into our shared bedroom space, Alicia announced that she would like to tuck everyone in after prayers and turn out the lights. I wasn’t sure she could find her way to bed in the dark, but she insisted she could do it, so we agreed.

She went around the room, making sure everyone was tucked in, then turned out the light. We heard a few footsteps before there was a ‘bump’, indicating she had walked into something.

“Are you okay, Alicia?” we asked.

“Yes.”

A few more footsteps, followed by another bump, and we asked again if she was okay. Again she said she was. This continued until we heard her crawl in bed and tuck herself in.

We asked if she needs us to come over and tuck her blankets around her, but her answer came back with confidence, “Nope. I can do it.”

There is something delightful about a child’s determination, and their ability to persevere, when they set their minds to something. It felt wrong to me, to let my preschooler stumble around in the dark, and I had to resist the urge to get up, turn on the light and help her. Her determination to do what she set her mind to doing, even though she had a few little bumps in the process, was admirable.

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In contrast, on another evening, Alicia went out to the barn with Daddy, Grandpa and a few other children, while Grandma and I went out for a while. Somehow we not communicated clearly, and Tim missed that Grandma and I were going to be away, so when Alicia asked if she could go into the house, he said yes.

It wasn’t dark yet when she arrived at the house, but when she realized Grandma and I were not there, she was frightened and started crying. After wandering around a bit, she returned to the barn to find her daddy, quite distressed. When I returned home, she was still quite upset with me for having abandoned her.

The confidence she had in the dark that night, was a direct result of her security. With Tim and I in the room, talking her through the bumps, she knew that immediately, if something happened, we’d be there for her. In the light, with no one there, she had no confidence, because she felt abandoned. The dark was safer for her than the light, based on comfort, security, and relationship.

When I look at my life journey, I see spiritual parallels to these experiences. In going through a difficult phase in faith journey I have, at times, felt much like my daughter, stumbling in the dark. I could not always see my way.

I’ve had a few ‘bumps’ during those times but, even in my lowest moments, there was one constant, and that is the awareness that God is near. Not the ‘feeling’, but the ‘knowing’.

During some of my hardest moments as a believer my mind returned to the years of hard living apart from faith in Jesus, and nothing of that life, that loneliness, appeals to me.

I may not always be strong… I’m never perfect…. I might stumble, even fall in the dark… but as long as I know that God is with me, no matter what challenge, what struggle, or what uncertainty I experience, I know that I am secure.

I would rather stumble through the dark with Jesus, and go through moments of uncertainty and shaken trust, than to have a ‘perfect’ life without Him.

© Trudy Metzger

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The Winds of Change: Forgiving, Releasing and Blessing My Father

I walked into the hospital room, where my dad, now in his early seventies, lay fighting gangrene in his foot. Dad’s health had gradually deteriorated with the onset of Diabetes in his early fifties.

Being a stubborn German–as I am also–he wasn’t willing to change his eating habits to accommodate some disease, so he kept on with the fried potatoes, fried sausage and fried everything else. Twenty years later he was paying full price for it.

The foot refused to heal. It would take time. Lots of time. Dad, a driven man who seldom held still, a workaholic who pushed himself and his children as hard as he could, was stuck in bed, indefinitely. Flat on his back. Doing nothing.

It all began over 9/11. I spent that morning at home, wondering what the attacks meant. Feeling insecure. Most of us remember that day as vividly as if it was yesterday. The day the world changed. (I google searched that phrase, and 9/11 popped up all over the place.)

In early childhood my parents had spoken graphically of biblical reference to the world burning up. This teaching was usually associated with some bad behaviour, and shared in a half pleading, half monotone, guilt trip. The warning that, if we did not behave well, the world would burn up and we’d be stuck burning in hell forever and ever. But maybe, just maybe, with enough begging for forgiveness, God may find it in His heart to forgive us.

I don’t if it is something my parents said, specifically, or if they implied it, but somewhere I drew the conclusion that it would be bombs and war that would set the world ablaze. And in that burning, the saints would be rescued and the rest of the planet left behind to burn up and create the eternal hell.

Not terribly biblical, from what I read now, but, still, the seeds that had been planted in childhood, resurfaced that morning of 9/11. Had that end come? Was it only a matter of minutes? Days? Hours? My comfort was my faith in Jesus. Regardless of the outcome, I knew that He was my answer. My hope.

A day or two later I received word that the hospital Dad was in was on lock-down. They had received a bomb threat.

The mind is a fragile thing, after something like that. After seeing the trade centre go down that way. People running and screaming. Lives lost. Children left fatherless or motherless. Confusion and mayhem on the streets. Fear. Rage. Anxiety. Grief.

To have Dad hospitalized was bad enough, but the uncertainty of a threat at the hospital, even though it turned out to be a false alarm, was … a little crazy.

I tried to drive the hour and thirty minutes at least once or twice a week, to see Dad. Because we were still Mennonite and didn’t have TV, it was at the hospital where I first watched the news footage. My mind tried to comprehend it all.

At the same time I was trying to prepare myself for the worst with Dad. He seemed fragile, his health teetering on a dangerous cliff. A slight imbalance anywhere, it seemed, and he was sure to slip off the edge.

I made an appointment for my younger sister, Dad’s power of attorney, and myself to go see his doctor and discuss the severity of his health issues. Dr. Andrews kindly and forthrightly answered all questions. Dad’s heart, at best, functioned at approximately 17 to 25%. They would only do an amputation if it became critically necessary, as that would put Dad at risk of heart failure during surgery.

The thought of him dying, in and of itself, didn’t totally alarm me. Nor did knowing how fragile his health was. When it came his time to go, I would be the last one lined up to pull him back. I had resigned myself to what life had been, had made the best choices I knew how, and had long forgiven him. I was ready to release him on every level, except one. I didn’t knowing where he was at in his faith, or what he had done with the past. His sins. The violence. The abuse. Was he a forgiven man? Did he believe in Jesus, as his Saviour?

Life had been very hard for him as well, and watching him grow old and cantankerous, and losing his sanity, wasn’t something I wanted to witness. It would not be pleasant. Whatever abuses he had suffered growing up, whether at the hands of family or friends, it had left him scarred. Badly scarred.

Church life had also left him struggling. When I visited him during that hospital stay, he shared those struggles with me. He admitted how hard it was to forgive the bishop at the Lakeview church–the same bishop who had swept his son’s sexual abuse under the carpet. It was difficult, but Dad chose repeatedly to forgive.

Tim and I were in the process of leaving the Mennonite church over that time. While Countryside had been kind, and much healing had happened for me there, in the end things went sour. Not so much between us and the church–we kept a good relationship with them to the end–but in the way we saw things handled with other situations within the church.

The hardest part was that one could never tell where God’s work ended and the devil took over. There were those in leadership with the purest of hearts, who were terribly misunderstood, and there were those with personal agendas.It was difficult to tell at times, which was which.

The last six months became increasingly difficult. Sunday after Sunday, the life drained from me. And Sunday after Sunday I would go home, depressed, telling Tim I was done–I could not do it any more. Somehow church was no longer about Jesus. We didn’t see Him lifted high. The focus had shifted from God, to agendas. To battles of various sorts. And it was no longer life-giving.

We had already sensed for some time that God wanted me in women’s ministry, and it wasn’t going to happen there. Ultimately that call to ministry was the deciding factor. On April 2, 2001, we made our final visit to Countryside church, before withdrawing our membership and moving on.

Tim and I started gradually making changes. I didn’t look as Mennonite as I had before. I still wore a veil, of sorts, but not much of one, and I wore ‘normal’ clothes.

Dad, who had been religiously strict about these things, inevitably noticed. On my first visit I had prepared myself for a religious ‘once over’ from him. I decided I would sit and listen, calmly state my position and forbid an argument. I was a big girl and it was the choice my husband and I had made.

True to my expectations, Dad asked. “So what kind of church do you attend now?”

I told him we were not sure where we would go, or what we would do, but that we were visiting Elmira Pentecostal and liked it very much. I struggled a bit with loneliness, not having couples our age that we connected with, but there were a lot of great people, and I enjoyed the teaching.

“Tell me more about the church,” he said, “what is it like?”

“Well, this morning before I came to see you, I called Pastor Brian and immediately he asked if he could pray for you before I come see you. He prayed for your healing and for my travels,” I said.

Even as I spoke, I realized I wasn’t telling him about the denomination, its beliefs or what I assumed he was really asking. Things like, do they wear head coverings and skirts and have uncut hair, and that type of thing. But, to my amazement, rather than challenging me, Dad looked peaceful.

“That’s a good church,” he said. “Stay there.”

We didn’t stay there, because the loneliness wore me down, but to have Dad bless our journey was a powerful thing. And that blessing was the first of many signs that a  transformation had taken place in my dad.

The winds of change were blowing… The weeks that followed were filled with moments that brought full closure and peace to our relationship, as Dad spoke words of affirmation and repentance that I never expected to hear from him.

To Be Continued….

© Trudy Metzger

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Spiritual Abuse Part 20__Jesus, More than Enough

About ten years ago I met for a chat with Sandy, a woman who was extremely abused by the church she attends. Twenty years since the abuse started, and with ongoing abuse, she is still in that church accepting it as normal. She pursues ‘God’ most religiously and complies with all rituals and church expectations, but dare to mention the name of Jesus, or talk about relationship with God, and she begins to squirm.

“Do you love Jesus?” I asked her one day in the middle of a religious discussion.

“I love God,” she responded in a matter-of-fact, but slightly raised voice.

“But what do you do with Jesus?” I asked again. Her answer was the same as the first time. Talking about Jesus as the only hope for freedom from the bondage of both religion and sin is not comfortable. She fears an intimate relationship with God through Jesus because it is unfamiliar to her, and past religious abuse makes it unsafe. It is much easier to master the externals.

The very name of Jesus cries for relationship. For grace. For mercy. For forgiveness. For love. For being accepted as we are. This is an uncomfortable thing for an individual who has been severely violated and has spent most of his or her life trying to win and earn that approval. They don’t know how to simply receive love and acceptance, no strings attached. That requires trust–something a victim finds difficult. It also requires authenticity–admitting that I am sinful and my attempts are ‘filthy rags’–and that requires humility, something performers do not have in abundance.

Rebelling against God, because of Spiritual Abuse, rather than turning to performance, requires the same hardness toward God. To pursue God and religion, trying frantically to earn His approval, while closing our hearts to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is a hardness of one kind. Closing our hearts completely to God, denying Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and living a life of sin is a hardness of another sort. The root is the same: pride. But it looks different from a distance. Religiosity has a way of appearing better, somehow… even holy and righteous. Rebelling in sin looks worse, at least from a distance, and the self-righteous will be quick to judge, like the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. They will religiously pass on detailed prayer requests, that amount to nothing more than sanctified gossip, outlining the sins of the rebellious.

God says we are all sinners and our attempts at being acceptable through our own goodness or righteousness is like filthy rags–not acceptable. Only the death of His Son, Jesus is enough. (Isaiah 64:6)

Imagine if your son heard that someone was going to bomb a large stadium filled with people. Suppose that he intercepted the bomber and lost his life, along with the bomber, and the people in the stadium lived. A few witnesses testified to your son’s heroic act. Imagine if, when the people in the stadium heard about it, they came by to see you bringing gifts–trophies, certificates, diplomas–anything to make themselves look good. What if you started talking about your son, and they looked at you as if you’re crazy, and said they don’t want to hear how your son saved them? What if they insisted on being the centre of attention and did not care about your son’s sacrifice that saved their lives.

God is a good Father. When God came to earth and inhabited human flesh in the body of Jesus Christ, He remained fully God. However, the body He lived in was fully flesh and God watched His Son Jesus die for our sins, die to make us acceptable. It is arrogant, and a slap in the face of God, to think that even one small act on my part can assist in that saving when Jesus already gave His life. To put complete faith in Jesus, requires humility.

The cultural practices, beliefs or doctrines that I embrace, without making them a Salvation issue, are a perfectly acceptable gift to God. They hold no redemptive power, but neither does it offend the heart of God. To attach it to Salvation is sinful and perverse. But any gift given as a form of pure worship to God, rather than to try to make ourselves acceptable, is a treasure in His heart.

If you are caught up believing in cultural practices as a means to get to heaven, or if you fear eternal separation from God if you let them go, I encourage you to take those beliefs to God and ask  Him to redeem them. He won’t ask you to stop doing them–they don’t bother Him, and there’s no more salvation in abandoning them than in keeping them. But He will offer to break their power of you. He came to set you free.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

Go to first post in this series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/