Tuesday, July 22, 2008

An unexpected legacy of my god-belief

I think I internalized some fundamentally messed up ideas about love and relationships with men, thanks to my years of fundamentalist belief.

Here’s what I mean: my relationship with God over the years seems to have taught me that love is a relationship in which:
  • I show up consistently and give it my all;
  • I am faithful and devoted no matter what;
  • if anything seems ‘off’ or wrong, I scour myself for flaws, sins, and shortcomings (and assume it’s my fault);
  • I accept silence, absence, and/or general lack of tangible reciprocation from the object of my affections as normal;
  • I thus get supremely excited over any small crumb of attention I receive (and take it as evidence of deep love on their side);
  • I generally take an attitude of self-sacrifice and self-deprivation toward my beloved – I give, give, give and don’t worry about what I receive back.

During my devout years, if I didn’t “feel” God’s love, it was clearly my fault and I needed to do more to put myself back in God’s good graces. Or I just needed to accept that sometimes God is silent or is teaching me something. My job was to hang on, keep loving Him even if He wasn't showing love toward me in any recognizable or specific or direct way. My job was to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that God really does love me. My job was to accept that a one-way relationship was okay. My job was to believe that there would ultimately be a huge payoff for hanging on when I wasn’t getting much out of it - I would be rewarded for my patience and longsuffering. My job was to interpret some vague or diffuse event or circumstance as clear evidence of God’s involvement in my life and deep care for me. And it was presumptuous and wrong of me to ask God for more. He operates on his timetable, not mine. I am puny and little; God is infinite and not obligated to do anything for me.

But don’t doubt for a second that God is love.

So guess what? My boyfriends have been just as aloof, inscrutable, silent, and untouchable as God seemed to be.

I’ve chosen distant men who are inconsistent in their affections, and I have poured my love and devotion into them, never really expecting reciprocation, and being (subconsciously) terrified that if I ask or demand anything more or better, I will be chastised, rejected, abandoned. It has been normal for me to feel a consistent longing and sense of loneliness in all of my romantic relationships.

And when things have gone to hell with these guys, I have inevitably blamed myself and scoured everything that happened in the relationship to figure out where I went wrong and thus caused things to fall apart. It is incredibly difficult for me to look at these guys and see that they were lacking something, that they were broken, hurting, inadequate, selfish, or whatever. Just like with God, I find it extremely difficult to critique them in any meaningful way - a residual sense of faithfulness, idealism, optimism, I guess. It’s even true with this ex, who hurt me more than anyone before him: he lied and cheated, yet I still feel as though I did something wrong to make him want to betray me.

I am doing a lot of work in counseling to understand these patterns, because I have have have to change them if I am ever going to form a healthy, mutually loving, relationship with a worthy partner.

But damn, those are some messed up ‘love lessons’ I took away, huh?


Anonymous said...

Insightful. I hadn't thought of it in these specific terms, but this is why I cringe a little every time I hear someone say "God is love" or cite Jesus as the paragon of love.

lowendaction said...


Those are some amazing breakthroughs, and I can't wait to hear what more you continue to discover on your journey.

I would add only one thing, and that is to challenge you that many of these false understandings of God/love might be far more due to misguided churchianity, and less to do with God Himself. IOW, I hope that you might take the oportunity to look in to some of these principals through your new indipendant and self-reasoning perspective, and shed the skewed teachings that has far to many of todays churches entangled.

Bottom line, don't through out God just because your uber-conservative-fundamentalist-mid-western-churchianistic uprbinging tought you their screwed up version of God. I'm not trying to slam you or your upbringing, but I used to live in Kansas...I know.

Through my bible reading and times shared with fellow Christians out here in Cali, I've come to know a God who's love sounds nothing like what you've described. But don't take my word for it...

steph said...

wow. good post. it is extremely frustrating when you realize just how much crap you've put up with in relationships and how it's probably directly related to the completely one-sided relationship with god that encompassed your whole life for so many years... not that i can relate or anything :)

i have no doubt that you're going to make it through this thing. therapy helps. time helps a lot.

and, not to change the subject (sorry for this slapdash), but zoe, if you're reading this - i can't get on your blog anymore. help. thanks.

jennypo said...

...yes, that is a lot of destruction, perhaps aided by the fact that you appear to have also been given the idea that your love for a man should be the same as your love for God-? How many women (and men, for that matter!) have given and given and given until they had nothing left, and then blamed themselves for an unhealthy relationship, convinced that they ought to have given just a little bit more? Clearly, as you point out, this is not the answer.

I think it is great that you are getting counselling and taking action against this kind of destruction in your life. I also think it's great that you refuse to accept the kind of God who asks for all and fails to give it; who requires a faith as blind as stupidity; whose claim to be 'loving' appears as, alternately, a command and a desperate plea for you to love him.

Yet there is a love that sacrifices, that waits, that accepts hurt, and is not stepped on or beaten down. The fact is, we can only give the love we have received. In order to love God and others as we are meant to, we must first know what it is to be loved by him. If we try to love while in need of love, we place our entire selves at the mercy of the one we love. This is romantic, and so long as we receive the same kind of love in return, it can be bliss, but it's also dangerous and unhealthy.

The greatest tragedy of all is not that this messed-up concept of love has destroyed your relationships or even your confidence (though that is tragedy enough!) - but rather, that it has destroyed your concept of the God who can set you free and enable you to love deeply and sacrificially without becoming a doormat.

God's love is not the light, saccharine stuff shlepped around on church signs and at youth conferences. It is difficult. It hurt him, and it will hurt us. But here's the difference: the God who loves enough to give his all is not emptied nor, as we sometimes imagine, broken in pieces at our rejection.

I'm so sorry for all your hurt, Slapdash. You are better off without the God you have given up, and with time, you will be better off without the man who failed to return the love and respect you gave. Don't give up on the possibility of there being a God you can trust, or a partner you can trust. Both are hard to find, but they exist.

OneSmallStep said...

Is there any way to escape the list of things you've listed so long as we are also taught that we deserve nothing but hell? Especially if hell is defined as the absence of love, then aren't we essentially being taught that we don't deserve any love whatsoever?

I don't think there's any way not to internalize this, if that's a core teaching you've absorbed since you were born.

I am glad to see that you aren't reacting in a way that says you deserve what your ex did to you, and are identifying the root causes in terms of your patterns. ANd that you're able to recognize it. Teachings from such an early age can become incredibly ingrained, and hard to see.

Put yourself first, in a healthy way. And it sounds like you're doing just that.

Slapdash said...

I definitely appreciate all of your kind thoughts. The virtual hugs are awesome (she types as she looks as lowend's avatar of The Hoff).

And here I thought I had done most of the processing I needed to do on the faith front. *sigh*

To be honest, my biggest priority right now is straightening out my views about myself and relationships with other people.

As to LD's and jennypo's thoughts that there is a different God out there who IS love...and that I shouldn't throw god away altogether just because of these messed up ideas...

well, to be honest, I think to get to a different god you have to start moving away from Christianity. I'm not really in theology mode right now, but I think I agree with OSS that some of what I internalized is because of the concept of hell/punishment/redemption. Though I would say that it's those ideas COUPLED with the very touchy feely personal buddy-buddy Jesus relationship that creates the ultimately mixed message that I took away.

For now, it's enough for me to identify these broad themes as part of my problem. Other themes are emerging from looking at my family relationships.

It's a scary place to be, unpacking all these very subconscious drivers and beliefs that have shaped you. It feels like even deeper work than examining the tenets of the faith, which is what I've spent most of my time thinking about when it comes to this blog.

lowendaction said...

slap...the Hoff's got nothing but love fo ya!!!

So allow me to share this tiny chapter from my life.

After I had left my parents home (and country, they were/are missionaries/church-planters in Germany) I also made a conscious break from God. Though I respected my parents faith, it was not my own. And so I felt the need to completely remove myself from the God I had been raised with, and find something that I can call my own. I explored many options for a while. But it was in my appartment, away and removed from any churches, in a very deep and dark depression, where I found this essence which I can now call God. I refused to buy in to what the churches tried to teach me. What I found, huddled in the corner of my dark appartment, was an extremely personal discovery which became the birth of a strange, wonderful and scary journey that I am very much still on. The fact that I have only now (some 14 years later) began to find others who are journying with a similar God as mine, is an amazing and also sad fact. I have come to learn that what the larger church call God has little to nothing in common with whom I now call Lord.

Again, not an attempt at swaying you one way or the other. Just sharing a little slice of my journey, as you share yours with us. And I for one thank you for that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Slapdash! Like you, I've been a bit quiet. But I'm back to blogging again and I haven't forgotten you.

Again, I'm so sorry about your break-up and the reasons behind it.

This post and the previous one were quite insightful, and I couldn't help identifying with the points you raised. Sometimes I also wonder about my mate-picking abilities, lol.

But it's great that you're working through all these issues, and finding answers to most, if not all of them.

Once again, you've inspired me. :)

Slapdash said...

Hi lady!

Thanks for dropping by. I checked out your blog and it sounds like you've been through quite a rough period yourself. :(

I'm in a major rebuilding period. It feels like everything has been shattered, cracked, shaken up. I'm starting to get my feet back under me, but every time I make progress there's some little emotional setback. Argh.

Anyway, happy Labor Day weekend (if you're in the states)... Keep writing. I'm going to try to get back at it myself. :)