CONVERSATION: My Parents Used Religion to Control Me


 My options for friends were limited growing up as the youngest in a family of four and a home schooled kid in Middlebury, Indiana. I grew up in a nice neighborhood with a few kids my age, but not many. Most of our neighbors were retired and days were quiet. To get us four kids out of the house, my mom would take us on cleaning assignments in various homes in the area. Those cleaning assignments weren't really an escape for me from my dull childhood. 

My escape was in our church.

Our church was in a town nearby that had over 600 people on average per service. It had beautiful, newer construction with real pews and a huge stage. The live music was phenomenal. We were faithful church goers. We were there for most any service, event, or study you could think of. I loved going to church because my best friend, Carly was there. 

Carly grew up differently than me. 

She was the oldest in a family of four and I was the youngest. Her life was fast and her parents were wild. They had her young and didn't take the best care of her. Her aunt would bring her to church every Wednesday and Sunday, which I thought was cool of them. She never cared that my clothes were old, that I didn't know any shows on Nick Jr., or that I wasn't the best reader. She made sure all the girls at church included me, even though I was extremely awkward back in those days. Once she entered middle school things became different. 

My mom and dad sat me down on a summer Saturday night. I remember I was nervous for church the next day because we were officially in middle school...which meant we would be sitting with the youth group kids. They informed me that they did not want me to continue my friendship with Carly now that we were older. They knew that she grew up in a trailer park and that her mom had her at age sixteen. They knew about her parents drug addictions and their life "full of sin". They explained to me that "girls from homes like that eventually turn into their parents" therefore, I was forbidden to speak to her again now that she was "to that age". I was baffled. I told my parents that I didn't agree and that I didn't think this was right. I told them I thought what they were saying was going against everything I learned at church.  

My dad smacked me in my face and told me not to backtalk. I was sick to my stomach. But, I knew that I had to listen to them. I spent all day, every day with my mom. I couldn't have her angry with me. 

That Sunday morning, Carly came to church with a new notebook and gel pens for us to take sermon notes in. I could tell she was excited and nervous to sit with the "big kids".

"I tried to call you last night so we could plan our outfits!" she said after running up to me with a hug. 

I avoided eye contact and told her I was planning to sit with my parents because I didn't feel well. I could tell that she knew I was lying, but she didn't question me. As she went inside the sanctuary my mom whispered, "She probably stole the paper and pens. How else would she get them?" 

I went to the bathroom and cried. I couldn't believe how cruel my mom was. Carly would have never stolen anything.

As fall went on, I slowly quit answering the phone calls and AIM messages from Carly. She wrote me a few letters and tried multiple times to talk to me in person. But, I avoided her the best I could. I knew that my parents claimed to take parenting seriously, so I trusted that they knew what was best for my future.

At church, I continued sitting with parents so I didn't have to admit to any of the other girls what was going on. I avoided attending youth group for four years and sat with my mom during the women's Wednesday night study so I could avoid Carly. I learned very little about Jesus during that time because I was so confused. I felt more isolated than ever. I didn't understand why I had to sit and learn about Jesus and all He redeemed in Bible times, when my parents didn't have enough hope in Him to redeem the future of my friend. 

Not long after turning fifteen, I began idolizing suicide. I began cutting myself around age sixteen just to relieve the pain I felt. When my mom found out about the cutting, she blamed Carly for that too.

"See?" she said with a hard roll of her eyes. "This is what happens when you associate with girls like her. You become self-destructive." Even though I hadn't directly spoken to Carly in years nor had she ever cut herself, my parents were blaming her. 

I remember feeling betrayed in that moment. I had been trying to tell myself that it didn't matter if I avoided Carly because my parents knew what was best. I now realized that they didn't know what was best. They were the ones who gave me a broken heart and made me feel hopelessness and rejection in the places I shouldn't have felt it - my church and my home. They were using fear and manipulating me to the point that I no longer knew who I was.

That whole situation was about fifteen years ago. What's interesting about it is that Carly was no different than I was in middle school or high school. She graduated, was never dependent on illegal substances, and married a good man. She still attends church and I see her post often on social media about what she's learning about God. She is everything my parents said she wouldn't be. 

My parents no longer speak to me because I'm raising my kids in a co-parenting relationship with my husband who left me two years ago. They believe I should go to court and take the kids away from him because it's an "unnatural" way to raise children. 

I cannot tell you the last time I opened up a Bible or attended a church service. At this time, I'm scared to go to church again because I don't want to be associated with any type of religion. I just want to be thoughtful and a decent human. But, I spend a lot of time wondering if that is the right decision. 

LM ACTION: When starting this blog and reaching out to people requesting conversation submissions, ones like this have been a common theme. At one time or another the person I am speaking with feels that religion is for the purpose of nothing more than oppressing others. They are hurt, calloused, or scared by the thought of opening up to a church again because at some point a member of a church or someone who claims to "know" God says their opinion is right. 

There are many things I don't understand about the way the world worked in the past (Biblical times included), but I do believe in Jesus. I do believe in the freedom He gives. 

When the woman in John 8 was caught committing adultery and should have been stoned according to the laws at that time, Jesus said, "Go and sin no more." That doesn't sound to me like someone who wants to use religion to oppress people.

Like many people, you may have done nothing wrong to even be in a situation where you were hurt by someone who claimed to understand God's will. I can't think of anything worse than when someone twists my words around for their own personal gain...and I can imagine God feels much of the same when His words are twisted. 

One of my favorite verses on this subject is John 16:33, "The Father is with me. I've told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I've conquered the world." 

God the Father was with Jesus the many, many times that He stood up for those wronged at the hands of religion. I firmly believe Jesus came to conquer the world and the brokenness that existed then and exists now. We will never have perfect, seamless lives. But, we do have a hope in a King who overcame it all. 

-- Cayla

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