Thursday, June 20, 2013

"God, I Am Troubled"

That was the bold heading of the ad in the classified section of the tabloid I regularly read as I teenager. I would buy such things (along with Mad magazine) when I had extra money. In the solitude of my bedroom I thought intensely about the troubled world outside my cocoon.
Sometimes, however, much of my turmoil came from within. Somehow I had come to fear that I might have committed the unpardonable sin - literally, not in some figurative sense.
I was raised as a Pentecostal Christian. I was, even by my teen years, slowly working my way away from that. But it was the basic framework of my outlook. And as Pentecostals, we were big on the Holy Ghost. And Jesus, as I was well aware from my personal Bible studies, had given a very sobering warning:
Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31,32).
Had I not begun to question some of the things I had grown up believing? Had not those troubling questions that come from attempting to square the world in all its gorious (I don't think that's really a word) ugliness with the idea of a God-created stage. Okay, I knew that this was supposedly a fallen world, thanks to our parents Adam and Eve. But still, it just seemed to me that God had given Satan and his minions a whole lot of leeway for making evil.
What's more, then as now, I had a somewhat irreverent sense of humor - even when it came to the sacred. Maybe especially when it came to the sacred!
In those dark and quiet early morning hours - when the television had gone off the air (as it did back in the olden days), when the house was still because the rest of my family was fast asleep - I worried that perhaps I had crossed that line, that point of no return.
Things had been rough for me since my parents split when I was eleven years old. Mom and Dad stopped attending church regularly. They needed time to recalibrate their lives, I suppose. It was a crazy time for all of us as went on with our lives. God was no longer the presence He had been for me - at least the way I had always conceived of it. Perhaps He no longer loved me since my heart had started to harden.
The pain the divorce of my parents brought into my life is a pain I can't describe. One day it seemed we were a happy God-fearing, church-attending family. The next day, everything was crazy. And I say it has never been the same again for me. The secure foundation upon which my early years was being built was swept away in flash, as if some horrible flood had covered everything in sight.
I was once fourth in my class in intelligence and accomplishment. My parents were so proud of that fact. But it was different after the breakup of my family. I couldn't focus on my studies. I faked illness a lot to get out of school. I was soon falling behind.
By the time I was near and in high school, my education was becoming something of a joke. I flunked the 9th grade because of my poor attendance. I didn't repeat that grade because my principal had confidence in my potential. But for years I had been eking by with Ds - the lowest passing grade - in most of the subjects I took.
Now during those summer months when the nights were hot and long, when I had too much free time on my hands, I saw that "God, I am troubled ad" and was almost tempted to write. They offered a little crucifix necklace that I could wear, or maybe that I could hold close to my heart and try again to pray. I'm certain now that this was a money making enterprise more than an earnest attempt get people back into the boat and out of the troubled seas of sin. But I was desperate at the time. I was looking for a lifeline.
I do remember praying that prayer, though: "God, I am troubled." I can remember lying by the open window beside my bed, lying in the dark stillness, looking up into the Heavens, and asking God to take the pain from my heart, to restore the joy and fellowship I once felt I had.
He didn't.
I grew colder. I doubted more. I moved further away from the shore. At times over the years it seemed as if the current was sweeping me back. But always my intellect got in my way. Or maybe my heart was just hardening. Doubting became ever easier and in time I could raise a hundred objections to every religious argument anyone could raise with me. And lots of people - great and small (I mean simple Christians as well as educated clergy) - gave it a go trying to get me back right with God.
God, I am troubled still. But I've seen too much, been through too much, went through too much with others to be satisfied with pat answers, to ignore the hard questions and truly reasonable objections to the morality play view of life. Still, I can't help myself from thinking about the great battle between Good and Evil. Still, I want to align myself with the Good. Still, all that is Evil angers and vexes me. 
Nope, no neat little ending to this tortured scream from the depths of my soul. It's real. The emptiness inside me is real. The pain of loss is palpable and though I've clutched at a million things in life trying to find some substitute for what I feel I lost, there has never been relief.

Is it just me? 


  1. No, it's not just you, though for me there is no pull back towards "God" and for me there is no hardening of the heart, though my heart is forever beaten up and broken, surely weakened in so many ways. But that is my story. My title would be God I'm Tired. But again, that is my story.

    Without saying publicly who it is (except to say it wasn't me), I had a young woman in our home have a total mental breakdown, as serious break because she was sure she had blasphemed the Holy Spirit. And it was all in front of her pastor husband who was as useless as tits on a bull in helping her. I'm the one who had to bring her back. I think Doug that there are probably countless stories like yours and hers and I think all those fears in a way cause permanent psychological harm for some people. It's a terrible thing to add to the development of a child especially in addition to all the other stress you endured. I just want to add though this woman spent a bit of time with her not yet pastor husband in a pentecostal church and that is where her fear began. Everyone was rolling around the floor and speaking in tongues and she was alone sitting in a chair. She was sure that somehow she had sinned big time and had committed the unpardonable sin.

    My heart goes out to you and I am touched by your sharing your scream. Zoe.

  2. I find it interesting that those who were raised with the most religious backgrounds seem to be the most confused, tortured, questioning, lost, and often dumbfounded. I thought the God stuff was supposed to do just the opposite, "Jesus take the wheel," and "He has a plan." Well, let's see where our journey together takes us. We are one--this I know.

  3. @ Zoe,

    I think a lot folks had that fear about the unpardonable sin. My mom related to me a story her mother told her about a woman they knew who stood up in the middle of church and blurted out that she had committed the unforgivable sin and was damned forever. She got up and ran out of the church and we don't know what happened to her after that.

    To understand my story I think you have to realize how ideal my childhood years (up until the divorce) were, even poverty aside. The divorce to my mind was a sort repudiation of the basic family values my brothers and I were reared on. It didn't make sense in the big picture and had a horrible effect on my brothers and me. And my parents started acting flaking afterwards as well.

    I have never managed to regain the peace and comfort of my early years. The religion of my youth was a foundation for all that. But a man can't return to his youth and I know it. The loneliness and and feeling of abandonment never left me. But I guess life is made up of such defining moments.

  4. @ Diane,

    I think that may be a bit of an over-generalization. Actually, most of the folks I know and grew up around stayed with their religion and clung closer as life's sorrows mounted. There is a sense of community that church offers some folks that really has to be experienced to be appreciated. My childhood church was like an extended family for me, so when my parents split up I lost not only my blood family but the extended family as well. That was very traumatic for an eleven year old.

  5. Perhaps, but that has been my experience. Take a look at what goes on at churches on Sunday---a man (usually) talking over and over explaining the whys, hows, of a book all he is speaking to should have read. Comforting his group gathered over some event, telling them once again, "They are in a better place." You support my point: a young boy, traumatic experience, needy.

  6. @ Diane,

    I think it is a matter of perspective. For example, I was traumatized by my divorce from my high school sweetheart. I was lost, scared, lonely, and very blue for years and years afterward (sometimes I still get blue thinking about it). I went on to become involved with other women, to be sure, but my divorce did leave a distinct bad taste in my mouth and negative outlook about romantic relationships in general. But others think differently about that.

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  8. Had to start over.....

    Ok... Here is one of the few things I have found where we differ in our journeys. Your questioning came quite early in your life. Mine...well it waited 59 years! Good or bad. I will not be the judge. It just IS.

  9. @ Don,

    I had an irreverent streak even as a child.

  10. I like Don's comment. "It just IS."

    You know that Adam Lambert (singer) song, think the title is "Whatd'ya want from me" . . . something like that. That's what I want to say to people, the universe, whatever, 'What do you want from me? It is was it is.' People say, 'Can't you have faith?' And I don't just mean a Christian faith, but anyone with some sort of faith, be it Christian, New Age, Popscicleism(made that up)? The answer is, 'No I can't. If I could I would.'

    As for questioning, I came out of the womb doing so but it got me into trouble so I learned to isolate myself because I couldn't handle the emotional fallout of asking.

  11. @ Zoe,

    I seem to have a habit of annoying people with my questioning. But that, I think, is usually because of their discomfort with their belief system. Every system has some rather embarrassing angles or weaker spots. I will say my questioning got easier the older I got. But it's a big world. Lots of room for diversity of opinion.