In this post, I’m going to write about my experience of Easter this year. I know Easter can be as difficult a holiday as Christmas for many people. Almost universally, people who have come from abusive religious backgrounds find that it triggers a host of unpleasant memories and feelings. I fully respect that, and I will not blame anyone in the slightest for not continuing to read this post. Because my experiences are different, I want to be able to talk about that, but not at the expense of people who are hurting. Take care of yourselves first, and only read this if you feel able.
Happy Monday! I didn’t post anything about Easter yesterday, as I was too busy enjoying my day. It was the first time we’d celebrated the holiday at our current church, and let me tell you, Lutherans do Easter better than any church I’ve ever been in. I think my favorite part was singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I haven’t done it in years, and we had a brass quartet to accompany us. My 10-year-old bravely conquered the soprano part in his second time singing with the choir. I had to laugh when I looked over and saw that he was a bit flushed from the effort but bearing an expression of pride in his accomplishment.
While I was up in the choir loft, enjoying the service, it occurred to me that for the first time in ages, I actually feel the promised freedom. Part of it is that the Cross is treated far differently in our church than in other ones I’ve been in. But even more is the sense that I’ve at last united long-separated parts of myself that I’d tucked away in secret boxes so I wouldn’t have to open them or look at them.
For as long as I’ve been a Christian, the Cross has been a symbol of shame. Despite my beliefs, something in me feared and loathed it. I chalk that up to the standard teachings of many churches—that we deserve darkness, death, and eternal punishment because we are so terrible that God, in God’s goodness, cannot bear to look on us. But it’s all okay because Jesus took our place, and if we only believe that sincerely enough, God will let us into his heaven.
Well, pardon me, but that’s pretty fucked up.
Eventually, I realized that and removed myself from what I feel is an abusive, controlling belief system. Somehow, though, I never did quite shake the sense that I wasn’t ever going to be good enough for God. Not through doing good deeds, as there is never a point where I would feel I’d done enough. Not through self-control and refraining from sin, as I always felt like my outward image didn’t match my inner thoughts (which were “sinful”). And not through belief, as I’d given up the idea that a single thought could be the difference between eternal bliss and eternal burning.
Yesterday, singing joyful praises with my church, it occurred to me that I’d simply never given myself permission to be good enough because I’ve spent a lifetime defining myself by someone else’s standards. Whether that was members of my family, my peers at school, or church authorities, I had the sense that nothing I did would ever be enough to deserve what I wanted: not to be loved, but to be liked.
When I posted this on Saturday, I expected to have a mix of reactions. I thought a lot of people might judge me negatively—even those I knew wouldn’t condemn me. I feared I might have hurt people by not being honest sooner, and I worried that others would simply scoff and tell me (again) that I don’t really matter. In short, I didn’t really fear loss of love but loss of being liked.
It’s true that I lost a few people on Facebook. (The only person to unfollow me on Twitter was an impersonal news site, and I’m pretty sure it’s not related.) On the other hand, not one person was critical, negative, or harsh. I had this amazing outpouring of love and support. It floored me, honestly.
While Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus, I felt as though I, too, was experiencing a resurrection of sorts. The sense of being completely who I was meant to be hit me full-force. Along with that came the realization that I don’t actually need anyone’s approval, from any corner. People will like me or they won’t, and it’s not up to me to do or not do something to change that fact. Not only that, I don’t even want to!
I still don’t know how all those things converge, but I’m not sure I need to. Right now, it seems like enough to move towards being a healthier person. I’m starting with giving myself permission to be good enough, and I’ll see where that leads me. I hope that you, too, can allow yourself that freedom.