As difficult as these six and a half months have been since my friend’s death, life has been good to me in some surprising ways. In February, Maggie (my boss) invited me to come and work in the Editing department at IHOP with the rest of the editors. I formally joined a denomination that encourages the use of my reason and emotions. The cross began to play a central role in my life, and as it did so I moved beyond merely hating fundamentalism to understanding what Christianity is really about. I wrote one-third of a memoir and became an outspoken defender of poetry, humility, love, and the goodness of God.
I began to feel things. After Betania’s death I was extraordinarily attuned to my own emotions. I cried regularly, sometimes for no reason. And the more I began to feel things, the more I felt free to express myself.
Those who have never struggled with feeling and expressing their own emotions probably won’t understand what a dramatic change this is. Elizabeth Esther has written movingly on her blog of growing up in a cultish fundamentalist environment, of being abused on a near-daily basis. It was only when she discovered God’s maternal compassion that she realized it was safe to be who she is, and to let who she is come forth. “Where words have often destroyed and damaged my concept of God, feeling the feelings God gave me is leading me back to myself. God gave me my feelings and I’m allowed to feel them. I don’t need to repress, avoid, manipulate, deny or shame my feelings.”
Probably the hardest thing for me about being raised in an abusive home, going to a legalistic church, and ending up in a cult was the loss of my own voice. I have never felt safe expressing what I really feel in front of other people. I willfully suppress my own wants and desires and concerns and suspicions so the other person doesn’t feel uncomfortable. Last night I had a long talk with a friend about some concerns we had both had about our relationship, and I told her very forthrightly what I had been feeling and I realized we should have had this conversations weeks ago but I had been putting it off because I worried that if I confronted her about our problems it would be the end of our friendship. “I think if the other person knew what I was feeling,” I told her, “they would destroy me.”
Ironically, this willful suppression of who I am, and a near-total caving in to the other person, has been the death of more friendships than my wanton self-expression.
Slowly, very slowly in these last six months I’ve been sounding the extraordinary depths of my own emotional sensitivity and calling out what I need, what I fear, what I hate. In spite of the ugly rhetoric that sometimes imbues our Bible study, I’m finding there a place where I can air my potentially dangerous and criminal views about God without fear of reprisals. Out of those tragic events God has brought me friends who are not at a loss to express themselves. I’m rereading the novels of Charles Dickens and finding in them a model for the kind of acutely-felt and impassioned writing that I aspire to write. Because I’m tired of writing without a voice, and I’m tired of living without a voice, and I want to feel things and say things and be known and heard, and I think I could be really beautiful if I learned to stop living for others and began to feel and think and speak freely, as me. Lately, my heart is so soft; there are so many feelings; the profusion of everything is overwhelming. I just stare at it, marveling. And sometimes it aches, and even bleeds, but it’s the best kind of bleeding, I think, because I feel my own joys and griefs so keenly, and the joys and griefs of so many others.