Suffering for Jesus is My Comfort Zone

Yesterday I got spanked. Someone verbally chastised me. This person has the ability to touch my most painful places, expose them, and leave me to sit with one of my deepest wounds. It is brutal. I’ve told myself over and over again not to put myself in that situation, but I want this person’s acceptance of me as I am so much, I keep trying.

The most difficult part when this happens to me is to stand in the belief that I don’t deserve the lashing. 

I learned before I was 8 years old that Jesus suffered greatly even though he was perfect. I learned I did it to him because I was a sinner like everyone else. I also learned that even though I am not perfect and just a child, my life’s work was to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus is to reach for perfection in holiness and embrace suffering.

That is a very tall order to put on the shoulders of a child. Especially a smart, thoughtful, sensitive, and intense child like I was. And yet, entire Sunday schools are filled with a version of this story.

My first crush was the man that played Jesus during an Easter Passion Play at our large church. I sat in the front row, a first grader. In the play, they tortured Jesus by using a sledge hammer on his hand. I cried out in understandable horror. After the show was over, my mom had Lou…yes, I still remember his name…come down to the front and show me his hands were ok. Then Mom invited him over for dinner.

There’s a picture in our family photo album of him and I sitting together on our living room couch. I’m snuggled up to Lou’s side with a huge grin on my face. 

Jesus and I have quite a history. Like Disciple Thomas, I literally put my little girls hands into his. I’ve carried pleasing him and feeling his feelings since I was a little girl.

My other reality is that my whole life I’ve had to navigate the intensity of my inner life. It requires a lot of attention. So much energy over the years is about me trying to navigate deep sea waters on a life raft.

I tried so hard to apply good theology to my tumultuous insides. I spent so much energy trying to conquer the waves and build a better boat because the waves represented sin. If I was out of balance…not sleeping, majorly crushing on a boy, wanting to have sex, crying too much, overstepping in my words towards others, it was about sin. Even though I was taught Jesus calms the sea, I thought I was like Peter because I was sinking, so I scrambled to do my best to keep my head and heart above water, condemning myself if the waves were crashing over my head.  

The Bible verses are finally starting to fade. I had to stop opening my Bible almost ten years ago now. I can still see the outlines of them, verses I started in the second grade to get awards for memorizing. Most of them were written by Saint Paul, James, Peter…pick whichever male disciple you’d like. They are verses about how to get these waves of sin under control.

This has been a constant, constant quest in my life, because one of those key verses taught me the wages of sin is death. Death of the soul, a heart that began to feel heavy at such a young age; proof I was the sinner the preachers claimed. It was taught at Sunday school, Bible Study Fellowship, Good News Club, and by teachers in the Christian church on how to parent. The theology that children are born in sin is a key tenant of the Christian church and the parenting responsibility for that sin nature to be trained out of children is still prevalent and the worldview in many, many Christian circles. I was parented and I parented with this belief. 

So what does this have to do with what happened yesterday? Well, when I am told what I’ve done wrong by someone who comes from this worldview, it splits me wide open. The places where I hurt the most get exposed to the elements. 

Exposed raw nerves of our emotional pain is just a valid as what can happen to us when our bodies are traumatically injured. And, though I don’t understand why, emotional trauma takes so much longer to heal, if at all. My heart was splayed open again. 

I have to accept for my own mental health that the belief I was born in sin and Jesus had to pay the price and save me is traumatic and not comforting. But to stand in a place of safety that has to turn her back on that belief is very, very scary. It’s scary because in my cells I have believed since I was a little girl that in order to do so I have to turn my back on the God of the Universe and my eternal destiny. And, painfully and unfortunately, I have to turn away from others that expose that wound, too. 

But I have to do it. I cannot live in freedom, safety, and happiness in the second half of my life with this belief that I am called to suffer for Jesus and fight against sin. If a voice of accusation hurts me, I cannot afford to stand there and take it. Try and make up for it. Apologize and serve penance again and again and again. 

Accepting I was a sinner and following Jesus was my only choice in order to live with a God that was absolutely real to me, so real he came over for dinner. But my reality is that the “Good News of the Gospel” was  so traumatic and still lives in my cells that I need to walk away from anything that tells me I’m sinful person This is especially true when I’m told in my most vulnerable places that I will never change. My little girl’s heart just can’t take it.

I feel guilt even writing that sentence. I’m fifty, after all. The voices of accusation tell me I should be beyond this. But all of us have a wound we carry. To expose ourselves to it over and over makes no sense at best and is masochistic at worse. To separate myself from exposure to chastising and punishing language has to happen. God, it hurts. It hurts almost more than believing I am a failing sinner. Because suffering for and being saved by Jesus is my comfort zone. It’s where I have believed I belong for so long.

But it is the place of my childhood trauma. The child in me needs her adult to say instead, 

“You don’t have to do this anymore. Hold my hand and let us live like you don’t deserve to be spanked anymore. I’m opening the gate for you. I know you’re scared of the wild, the unfenced grasslands and cliffs of the fjords, but you don’t have to stay in what feels like a life sentence. It’s ok, we’ll go together. God may or may not follow, but we’ll be alright. I promise.”

I’m reminded of this song that I like so much:

What do you believe about yourself that weighs you down? Is it connected to the religious beliefs that you are familiar with? What makes you afraid to put the weight down? What might freedom look like for YOU? Feel free to leave a comment or message me.