[EXPOSED DAY 1] Is there something from your childhood that rings over and over again in your head - something that your mind & heart grabbed onto & never let it go that still shapes a part of your life today?
In the 70’s & 80’s, in a small(ish) town in Texas, I grew up in an extremely legalistic church community complete with fire & brimstone raining down from the pulpit. When I was in the 4th grade, another preacher arrived that mixed things up! I’m just gonna call him KB.
His preaching style was NOT the fire & brimstone. He dove deep into God’s Word, challenged us, & even dared to play devil’s advocate. He lived around the corner from me & if he was outside when I was walking or riding my bike, I would talk to him. He never missed an opportunity to impart something from the word w/ me when we did.
In one of those impromptu, driveway “church meetings”, he taught me, “Smile on your face. Finger on the verse.” Context & culture were important. He gently nudged a breaking-free, so to speak, from legalism & he introduced hope & love as opposed to the fire & brimstone I was used to. I had been in a desert & was thirsty for the goodness that came from God.
Fast Forward. I was 21, single & pregnant. My parents strongly urged me to go to counseling. But truth be told, when I entered counseling, I was desperate, devastated & severely depressed. I was suicidal - but had told no one at that point. I felt as if my decisions & circumstances had forfeited my place in Heaven. I had completely lost hope. I had a commitment to see the pregnancy through to the end. After which, I had planned to end my life.
My counselor was a gentle, kind soul. I was needing a lot of gentle kindness by the time I got to his office. When I poured out my turmoil, he asked me why I had lost all hope. I really struggled w/ articulating an answer - but what eventually came out was that I lost all hope of Heaven & he was like why? Well, because… because… I messed up. After learning where I grew up, he told me that he could take me down a traditional road of counseling - but it would be a never-ending struggle because I would be working against some things that had formed at my core due to my upbringing. He said in order to break free from that, I needed to undergo de-programming. . . as if I’d been in a cult.
He said that the Bible was the only guide I needed. I had to hold up everything to measure it against the Word of God. IE: If I ever mentioned something about not getting into Heaven, he would tell me to SHOW him where in the Bible it says that. I locked on to “Smile on your face. Finger on the verse.” It was my mantra that got me through. I’ve been through a lot of difficult things in my life. But de-programing is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through. But I made it through because I held on to what KB had given me years earlier - “Smile on your face. Finger on the verse.”
That mantra has taken me to places I never dreamed. It’s led me to hold unpopular opinions & beliefs that aren’t the norm in traditional, conservative Christian circles. I have to remind people that I am not a hypocrite because I believe something different from them. I would be a hypocrite if I went against something I believed. I know why I believe what I believe; if I'm challenged on something, I turn to God’s Word - not popular opinions.
Smile on your face. Finger on the verse. I now map the verse out. I look at Strong’s reference & do word studies. That thirst & hunger for God’s Word to me has never left me since it took hold of me in the 4th grade.
What I had to forgive and let go of? The PTCS - Post Traumatic Church Syndrome. It’s real. It’s paralyzing & carries anger, resentment & bitterness against God’s people - my brothers & sisters. I “detach & flee” from legalism. I’ve learned to recognize it & no longer fear it. I am able to look past it to love my people who still practice this brand of Christianity. I no longer take it as a personal assault when I encounter it. No one’s out to get me brandishing legalism as a weapon. I no longer resent this part of my history because of the beautiful gifts God gave me as a result. I actually embrace it & am grateful for this part of my childhood.
I am able to connect with and help others who’ve lived with some of this same inner turmoil to find a journey to healing. There is hope. There is redemption.
Thank you for sharing your story. And thank you to your wonderful counselor who helped to make sure you were here to share your story. xo, Michele
Thanks for sharing, Great mantra, “Smile on your face. Finger on the verse.”