When I was a little girl, going to church on Saturday (because we were Seventh-day Adventist Christians), was a disaster. I was apparently in my feminist phase, and I refused to wear dresses. I used to throw tantrums. Yes, the same woman who is quiet and reserved today—the one whom many dub phlegmatic and calm—was a stomping, screaming terror.
Why were the worst days on Sabbath? And not just for me, but for my whole family? We all yelled at each other, piled into the car with frowns on our faces, and crinkled brows. We drove to church seething at one another. My parents usually still made me wear a dress…after up to an hour of screaming at me and me screaming back.
Then we got to church and acted happy—I think. Truth is, my memory has left a lot of gaps, especially of the early years, which makes it hard to write a memoir sometimes. So here’s a digression…because this is a messy testimony…
Blanking Out the Past…Because It Hurts
I’ve been writing to my roots (writing this blog and writing my memoir) for about a year, and memories of my childhood are just starting to surface. It was only in the second draft of my memoir, after my editor pushed me to go there, that I delved into my formative years. Why is this?
I think it’s because I needed time to get back there. After my parents’ divorce and my depression, my suicide attempts and my hospitalizations, the present moment—the struggle to just maintain life and just be—became all consuming. I plumb forgot about my past, bad and good.
I used my parents’ divorce and the mess surrounding it to justify my depression and my eating disorder, among other self-sabotaging behaviors. I discounted the fact that—hello—I had depressive tendencies long before my home blew up. And now we go back to the story.
In writing to my roots, I’ve uncovered the ugly truth that I was always a melancholy child. Facing the fact that the problem has always been inside me—and it didn’t come from any externals (although it was certainly exacerbated by them)—has been hard. It means I can’t totally blame the dysfunction of my early adulthood on my parents or my church or anyone else—except the enemy of my soul.
It’s hit me hard lately that he was attacking me from very early on. I always had the tendencies to stress and despondency and impossible perfection that I still blog about. I remember freaking out about doing my fifth grade Science worksheets “just right.” I remember that my sixth grade Minnesota portfolio had to excel everyone else’s. Every year of elementary, I had to beat out the other kids in the reading program.
At home, I used to rant and rave about how stressed I was, making entire days a living hell for my parents. I learned there was some power in airing all my negative thoughts—“Life sucks,” “I wish I could die”—because they got me some attention. Even when I was shut away in my room, I wallowed for hours, yelling, weeping, complaining. Everyone knew when I was in a bad mood, because it clouded the whole house.
It’s amazing to me that these messages found their way into my brain so early, and that life was sometimes too heavy to handle, even at age ten. (Satan’s that good—I mean, that bad—isn’t he?)
Okay, let me pause again. These admissions are really embarrassing, but I make them in hopes of showing how our negative roots (negative thoughts) must lead to more and more negative fruits (negative behaviors) later in life. In my case, though my outward tantrums stopped around teenage-hood, I found other ways, inward ways, to sulk. The biggest way was keeping a very negative journal from age fourteen until age twenty-five—which, though less visible to the world, still reinforced my poisonous thoughts every bit as much as my childhood tantrums.
Tantrums Change…Temperaments Don’t…or Do They?
For most of my life, I’ve classed myself as a Christian. However, after I married and entered my adult phase (which events, I think, happened in that order), it always struck me as problematic that I still lived with my negative, “please let me die” thoughts. Was this the kind of fruit a truly “born-again” Christian should be producing?
Writing on the new life in Christ we are promised when we accept Jesus as our Savior, Paul said, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). Romans 8:1-17 is all about living life through the Spirit, in fact, and it’s all about inward renewal, or thoughts. It tells me Jesus conquered “sin in sinful man” so that I could live not according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit (vss. 3 and 4).
The true, spirit-filled life doesn’t sound like it includes wanting to die. The “born-again” experience doesn’t seem like it has room for thoughts like, “Life sucks.” When I think back now to my life before rebirth, I see what Paul meant by his statement, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”
Before I accepted Jesus as my Savior on the inside, my mind was centered on death…which tells me that, although I was “in the church,” I wasn’t really “born-again.”
In part 2, I will explore why some Christians are depressed, and why my “Christian” family eventually imploded.
Thanks for sharing. This is well-written, too.
Thanks for reading! There is more to come.
Whenever I read your post – Its kind of so real to me! We are separated by oceans, but share some same experiences and I’m waiting to read your Part 2 !! The wanting to rest forever is still not gone away completely! Im in the phase Paul says “I do want I do not want to do! And there’s a war fiercely raging between the spirit and the flesh! And this post of yours just tells me I don’t want to give my daughter the experience that you went through may be!
I’m so glad you’re reading. The “I do what I don’t want to do” is a tough phase that we all go through, many times! Yes, you are right about a war raging between the spirit and the flesh–I talk about this more in part 2. Don’t give up! This process takes time! God will forever be working on each one of us, but be encouraged that it will get easier!
Thanks for sharing these deep parts of yourself and for bringing out some of these complex issues that bounce around in our heads. We think these things, but we rarely bring them to light – to other godly people and to the light of God’s truth. I so appreciate that you are doing this. When we are quiet enough and introspective enough to let God’s light shine in those dark place – and be brave enough and vulnerable enough before Him to trust Him with those places…then we can really start to heal.
Thanks for being vulnerable and brave.
Thanks for the kind and encouraging words, Kate. These are some important posts this month that I felt I had to do before moving forward with my book. I hope this soul-baring and uprooting of the truth will end up blessing others.