By Magda Wills
There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgement – is one not yet fully formed in love. (I John 4, The Message)
The little girl pressed her nose to the window, tears streaming down her face as she watched the worst storm of the century raging outside. She had come home from school with her brother to find her parents were not there. She was frightened and felt isolated in the big house in rural Ontario with no adults around. She missed the comfort of her old home back in Holland where her grandmother had lived with them. She had always felt so secure there.
At first the fear was for her parents safety, but as darkness set in and the storm raged on, a new terror struck her. What had happened to her parents and baby sister? She remembered the sermon in church when the minister provided a rather graphic account of the last days. He had told children in the congregation that during the rapture naughty children would be running around looking for parents whom God had taken up to heaven. The minister had described the end of time as a horrific storm with thunder and lightening. As the memories of this sermon came to mind, a new and even deeper terror struck her. She began to fear the rapture had come and she had been “left behind,” doomed for hell.
The little girl’s parents eventually came home, having been stranded on a farm down the road where a bridge in the lane way had been washed out. She was relieved to see them but the terror of that night remained with her for years to come. For thirty years she was frightened of thunderstorms until, after ten years in an adult Sunday School class given by a social worker, she was gradually able to let go of the toxic image of God learned during her childhood.
This story was shared in a small group discussion at the Canadian Chapter meeting Work on October 19 when Steve Cadman Neu presented a seminar entitled “Abuse in our Spiritual Home.” Participants who had experienced spiritual abuse in their lives were encouraged to tell their stories. This is my personal story that I still find difficult to relate. Past criticism for over-reacting and denial that this episode actually happened make me feel vulnerable even now as I write.
In his book Becoming Human, Jean Vanier writes “Wisdom grows when we cast a critical eye not only on ourselves but also on the group to which we belong.” Let us not confuse critical thinking with criticism; let us be willing to search our spiritual home to see whether there is any use of fear and control that can lead to spiritual abuse. Let us promote a safe environment for wounded people to tell their stories and find healing just as I did in the adult class led by a member of our profession in our church nearly twenty years ago. With God’s grace, the faith that hurts can also heal.
Editor’s Note: Faith That Hurts, Faith That Heals (1993) a title of a book by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton, published by Thomas Nelson.