Breaking the Power of the past was this week's theme for our church's GROW Discipleship initative, based on a chapter of Peter Scazzero's book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. As a pastor for decades, and a counsellor and clergy supervisor for many of those years, I have seen lots of people who have realised they needed to "Go Back in Order to Go Forward" - which is the title of the Scazzero chapter relating to Families of Origin and the power they have to rule our present life. I have seen:
- people whose experience of an enmeshed or a chaotic family had a deleterious effect on their marriage
- people whose view of themselves was shaped by childhood sexual abuse or emotional neglect
- girls whose have developed an eating disorder in response to a controlling parent or parents (though I'm not saying this is always the case)
- women who experienced the pain of giving up a child for adoption in the sixties or seventies and have never disclosed that to their husband or children
- twins whose adult relationships have borne the unachievable burden of wanting spouse or children to be as close as the sibling
- people whose experience of ministers and churches has been toxic for their concept of God
- and many more such examples.
In each case people have been freed or at least helped by identifying the "scripts" driving their adult feelings and choices. In some cases they have needed more information (no, mum didn't die because I 'lost' her), in some cases more compassion (yes, my work-addicted Dad was distant and demanding, but that is what his father was like with him) and in some cases more boundaries (my parents may desperately want me to take over the family farm but I can choose for myself).
This month I have been reading a great book that touches on many of these issues. Its called Angry Conversations with God and its by Susan Isaacs, a writer and comedian, and follower of Jesus. Susan chronicles her rocky relationship with the Almighty in a cuttingly insightful memoir about her "middle-class white girl’s Dark Night of the Soul". She introduces herself by saying:
"I was raised Lutheran: Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Lutheran. But as an adult I tried everything: Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Rock ‘n’ Roll Slackers 4 Jesus, Actors for Yahweh. Then I said, ‘Screw it’ and became a drunk and a slut. Well, a Lutheran slut - I slept with only two guys. Then I got sober and into AA, where they said I could pick whatever god I wanted. But I didn’t pick God; God picked me.
I’ve known Him as long as I can remember.”
I’ve known Him as long as I can remember.”
When aspiring actress Susan finds herself loveless, jobless, and feeling utterly disillusioned with God, she goes to her church friends for help. One of them tries to reassure her by saying that relationship with God is like a love story, a 'sacred romance' where God pursues us, commits to us and brings purpose and meaning to our lives. Susan's snarky response to such sentimentalism was that "if God is my husband, then we need marriage counselling".
The line was meant as a throwaway, but the idea grows on her, so she decides to find a marriage counsellor to hear her out. Rudy is a former pastor on the way to being a licensed therapist , and just the right person to work with Susan in what turns out to be a quirky but very insightful therapeutic journey, an original take on talking to God. Susan presents the therapy sessions as a memoir, a fictionalised conversation crafted to present truths she discovered about herself, her family and God, over many months with Rudy. By arguing back and forth with God (and sometimes Jesus) she identifies how her father's anger, her mother's passivity and her (many) pastors' eccentricities have contributed to her feelings that God has abandoned her. "Susan casts herself as the neglected wife and God as the deadbeat spouse, while skewering American Churchianity. But soon she must admit the god in her head is not the real one. Is she willing to love the real God, “for better or worse?”
This book gave me heaps of laughs, but also some amazing insights. It reassured me that God does indeed love me and have my best interests at heart. Best I think is its conviction that God can and does use our imperfect families and defective faith communities to teach and transform us.We can Break the Power of the Past.
Do not call to mind the former things,or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth.
An Ancient Tale: "A man was traveling along a path. He saw a great expanse of water, with the near shore dubious and risky, the further shore secure and free from risk, but with neither a ferryboat nor a bridge going from this shore to the other. He decided to gather grass, twigs, branches, and leaves and, having bound them together to make a raft, crossed over to safety on the other shore by propelling the craft with his hands and feet. Upon reaching the shore, he thought, 'How useful this raft has been to me! Why don't I carry it on my back wherever I go?' And so he continued on his journey up hill and down valley, ever carrying on his back the raft, in case he would ever need it. Would the man, in doing that, be doing what should be done with the raft?