Thursday, July 8, 2010

Are You There God? It's me, Penguin.

I read a lot, both on and offline. Online, thanks to my Facebook friends, I am pointed to a number of interesting articles on a daily basis. Articles that both challenge and refine my views. Sometimes it is the comments section of an article that gives me the best insights; everyday people commenting, presenting their point of view and often challenging the article's content. I came across this discussion today and it hit me right between the eyes.

On an article by John W. Loftus, a former Evangelical Christian preacher who is now an atheist, and author of the book Why I Became An Atheist, he discusses thirty things that would have to be true in order for Christianity to be true. It's a great list which shows the improbability of the basic Christian tenets.

What caught my eye though was a few of the comments at the end of the article. Commenter "Hendy" writes:

"We trust god in things we would never credit a human for.

Case in point: at a Christian couple's group my wife and I are in a friend's wife shared a prayer sense that came from (I believe) Therese of Lisieux. She said that god seems distant and near at various times because he plays 'love games' with us. It's his way of being friendly with his children.

I immediately wondered how that would work if when my men's group split off to talk about life if I explained that I had been playing 'love games' with my wife and that I sometimes express affection and then disappear completely for a couple weeks and then come back to surprise her with a loving visit. We translate god's actions into 'love' and 'revelation' in ways we wouldn't in a million years use to describe human behavior."

God plays "love games"? Hmm...this struck me hard, for the reasons commenter "Lynn" writes in response:

"I like what you said re accepting things in our relationship with god that we would never accept in real relationships. All that elusiveness and undependability would definitely be negatives in a spouse.

To me, it's like being married to someone who's neglectful of you. You are so thrilled with the tiny bits of attention and affection you do receive. You make excuses for the neglect-you aren't WORTH the attention and care."

In every single relationship I have had with a man, I have accepted scraps of attention and affection, like a dog at a table waiting for someone to throw it a bone. Having recently walked away from yet another example of this, I am struck by how deep that pattern has been grooved into my brain. And I see that the source of the belief that I'm not worthy of attention and care runs deep and long. It goes back not just to my relationship with my actual father, but the relationship I developed as a Jehovah's Witness with my "heavenly" father.

From a very early age, I was taught that I could talk to God at any time through prayer, that he was there to listen and respond. Of course, I could never tell what that response was. I was always looking for signs that God was responding to my prayers. At times, I saw God everywhere, in every conversation I had with others, in the events taking place around me, in what I would read...I was constantly on the lookout for God's personal attention and care for me. But at some point, I became aware that it was not so easy to parse out God's communication with me. Was that book I just read and my connection to it really God's voice speaking through the book, or am I just imagining something I wish to be true? Sometimes, God felt so close and other times, so very far away. "Love games" indeed.

When you talk to an imaginary friend (read God), you get imaginary answers; answers that you can tell yourself are true over and over and over again, but deep down you know that it's just your wishful thinking trying to make something real that isn't. And the same thing can happen in relationships that have this same sort of perceived closeness/actual distance, you begin to take every little scrap of attention as a sign of more than it is creating an imaginary relationship, one where you're receiving more than you really are. You want to believe that the scraps you are receiving indicate love, when really, the most consistent thing you're receiving in the relationship is neglect. And a deep and gnawing sense of dissatisfaction.

Add to this hide-and-seek I was playing with my unseen father, I had a father in real life who was emotionally and verbally absent. He worked a lot to provide financially for the family, and as my mother would say, "Your father is a man of action; don't expect him to use his words to show his love," as if to excuse the fact that he was emotionally distant and talked very little. If he was feeling things, he wasn't sharing them. He has, in recent years, told me that he just didn't have the words to express his feelings, or thoughts; that he didn't grow up in a family that shared stuff. And while I am saddened by this revelation and feel pity for him, it doesn't make up for the groove that got created in my brain as a result.

Somehow, between the inaction of these two fathers, I grew up thinking that accepting scraps was okay; that I could survive on the meager attempts of my partner to show me love and affection; that it was okay to go for weeks without open communication, if it happened at all. That it was okay that emails didn't receive responses, that matters that needed to be discussed got shifted off to oblivion to await the "right time" for discussion. That I felt as though I had to weigh every bit of communication to see if it was worthy of discussion, since there was so little time to share anything at all. That there was such a lack of open time...spontaneous, unscheduled feel safe enough, to trust enough, to open enough, to share what I was really experiencing.

Eventually, after experiencing so many relationships like this, I learned to be all things to myself: partner, friend, therapist, God, parent, all of it. Sure, I'm grateful for the ability to be so self-sustaining, but now I don't know how to be with people in a healthy way. I don't know how to communicate in a way to be heard. I don't know what to share and what not to share and when it's okay to do so. I don't know how to choose healthy relationships that meet my emotional needs. I don't know how to express myself without feeling completely defeated the instant the words leave my lips. There is this voice in my head constantly censoring, choosing, parsing out what I say because I just don't know what's of value, or whether the person I'm sharing things with is truly interested in what I have to say.

But the worse feeling of all, the worse feeling of all, is that when I speak I feel as though I'm wasting the other person's time, that I'm not worth their attention and care. I have learned to be very sparse with my words as a result. Some say this is a good thing, that concise communication is useful. But it leaves me feeling desperately hollow, that somewhere in between the carefully-chosen words lies the death of a child who just really wanted someone, anyone, to listen to her.

A commenter here on this blog once said that my entries were "timid". He was right. And now I know why.

tall penguin


Magenta said...

I think I understand what you are saying, in that I too lack conversational skills, always wondering whether what I have got to say will interest anyone, and then saying nothing. I often think of approaching neighbors or workmates to try and initiate something which may become a friendship, but don't - because why would they want to spend time with me? What have I got to offer? I am a good listener though - but then find myself in parasitic relationships that leave me drained and sad. When I first started participating in online forums, I would feel hurt and rejected if no-one responded to my posts - after all I sent my innermost thoughts and feelings out into cyberspace - doesn't anyone care? I have discovered that there are people out there who care enough to respond and encourage one another. Reading blogs such as yours has also helped me to realise that, no matter where we live in the world, we can relate to one another on many levels.

tall penguin said...

You have much to offer. You just don't know it yet. Be gentle with yourself. There is much to heal from in leaving the JW's. Eventually you will come to realize how amazing you really are and you'll be able to share that freely.

"I am a good listener though - but then find myself in parasitic relationships that leave me drained and sad."

Yes, this is common in a lot of people, but I find it particularly common in ex-JWs. The whole JW construct is emotionally incestuous. Feeling forced to socialize three times a week at meetings, plus field service and conventions; and to always have a smile on your face and not "stumble" anyone is a pretty large load for anyone to carry. It creates really poor relationship boundaries, so that later we don't quite know how to be in healthy relationship with anyone, even ourselves. Especially ourselves.

There's also the whole "rely on Jehovah" thing which, in the end, denies your own intuition about people and situations and abdicates your ability to be autonomous and make your own decisions. It all makes for some really faulty premises on which to base your life.

I used to feel the same when I started posting on online forums. Honestly, I still feel my stomach churn every time I post a blog entry here, thinking, "Ugh, who really cares?" But, I care. I write mainly for me. This blog helps me process my own experience. And I trust that that is enough. When readers like yourself come along, it's icing on the cake. I am happy that my process can be useful to someone else.

And, as you've discovered, there are people out in cyberspace who do care. I look forward to hearing more from you here, Magenta. Feel free to comment whenever you like, even on older posts. I will do my best to respond.