I was shamed in church as a child, but now I have a miracle!
God can turn shame into confidence. He can give us the ability to see an old wound in a new light, forgive and then heal.
There are things we look back on with certainty, sure that we have all the information. For a long time, that was how I saw something that happened in the 2nd grade. This is where my experience with anxiety and fear at church began, but don't worry -- now I have a miracle! The following is a bit intense, but God has consoled me in my afflictions. He has given me beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
I'm seven and in the 2nd grade, excited to take communion for the second time. Sitting in the front row, I don't have to wait long for my turn, but things don't go as expected. The clergyman doesn't stoop down to give me communion, he tosses it, and soon it's rolling off my hand and unto the ground. I have dropped Jesus on the floor!!! The clergyman yells, "Pick it up!" but I don't know what to do. When I remove Jesus from the filthy, dirty floor, do I give Him back? If not, will I get in trouble for eating something that's been on the floor? When the clergyman shouts,"Well, EAT IT!" I know from his expression and tone that I must be very bad.
Walking back to my pew, I feel shame. I try to pray, but a wave of unstoppable face spasms and tears take over. For the next 20 minutes, everyone lined up on the left side of the church passes by me on their way back to their pew. This includes my classmates grades 1- 8, our teachers, and the elderly congregants in the back. With the glance of each passing church member, the crying worsens and my shame intensifies. What is everyone thinking? Can they hear me crying at the back of the church?
That, and difficult experiences later on at a religious high school, led to struggles in adulthood. As my husband would later point out, I was quick to think God was "punishing" me when things in life went wrong, and I had lots of confusing ideas about God that I couldn't put into words or understand. Then, there was the inexplicable social anxiety (only at church), uncontrollable compulsions to prove my worth (with other church members), and the emotional breakdowns if I thought I failed. For more than 15 years, I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't understand that previous experiences had woven fear and insecurity into the context of my personal spirituality and left me with the thought -- You know, you aren't as good as everyone here.
But three years ago, I began to experience miracles! And they have continued to stay with me. Key to untethering myself from false ideas about God, fear, shame, and compulsions to prove my worth, was facing old hurts in EMDR therapy with my Savior by my side. He has helped me understand the past and my worth; even the worth of those who hurt me.
Early on, I remembered what my parents had tried to tell me about that clergyman, which was that he suffered from mental illness after war. I couldn't grasp that as a child, but when the information came back to my mind 40 years later, I understood. How do you minister to others when you yourself are broken? How do you go back to your duties with little to no help healing your mind?
For years, I envisioned storming into that clergyman's office. "You made me drop Jesus! You shamed me in front of everyone!" I had no idea God had something much better in mind. My Savior gave me empathy, then the impossible thing He describes feeling for an enemy - love.
Recently, my mom told me that teachers made sure that clergyman no longer led services for students after that incident, but the adults decided to keep that a secret. While knowing that would have spared me anxiety as a child, I don't blame my teachers or parents for not handling it "right." Would you believe, I made a similar mistake as a parent?
I was reminded of this, when I read a story of a woman whose father stood up to a man who shamed her at church during a similar ordinance when she was a young teen. She'd made the personal decision not to renew her commitment to Jesus Christ by taking sacrament at church. Then, her decision was infiltrated by an adult who kept handing her the tray, not accepting her decision to pass. Ashamed by his insistence, she ended up taking it. When her father realized what had happened, he confronted the man. He let him know that decision was between his daughter and her Savior.
That story reminded me how I had not stood up when a church member shamed my teen (right in front of me) for the same thing. You would think that of ALL people, I would have done something. Instead, it became another moment when I reacted like a child, overwhelmed by shame.
The sting of that experience with my teen, and smaller sting of the clergyman who shamed me as a child, has been swallowed up in my Savior's peace and capacity to heal. Today, is different. I can peacefully stand up. I would even stand up for the clergyman who shamed me and advocate for his mental health needs. My Savior has given me compassion and confidence and He has consecrated my afflictions for my gain. That childhood experience of "dropping Jesus," is precisely what later helped me more fully pick Him up. For that, I love and trust my Savior forever.