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Monica Pickard spent twenty years of her adult life as a child care provider. During that time, with the help of her husband, she raised her son who has been diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Delay. She learned to navigate a world that was new to her – the world of Special Needs. She now shares these experiences and the wisdom they taught her, with love and heartfelt compassion for the human condition.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fear of God, Part One: Confusion

Joshua with his Grandpa Pickard 1990
“Sin is the refusal to keep growing.” ~ Saint Gregory of Nyssa
            
           Let me start this post by telling you, the things I am going to write about here are not easy for me to write. Actually, the words have poured out of me onto the pages like water over a waterfall, but that is not what I mean. I am grateful for the opportunity to purge myself of these issues that have bottled up inside for so many years. It may be difficult for some of my family and friends to read some of my past feelings and that is what makes it difficult for me. It is not easy to discuss these subjects without feeling like I might offend someone, but I assure you that offense is not my intention. As the saying goes, never discuss religion or politics! How will we share and grow if we don’t discuss it? I have been planning to write some posts about religion since I started this blog, but fear of offending readers has kept me from it until now. I was inspired recently by a few simple words written in a comment on Facebook and it gave me the courage I needed and pushed me to say what I feel in my heart. The discussion was about controversial statements that were made in the media about a group of people being sinners. In regards to my Facebook post my cousin wrote,

“I am confused...”

           Such beautiful words those are. My cousin’s words were followed by profound questions mixed with fear of going to hell. In reading her words, I realized that confusion is a magical state to be in. It is as if God, Love, the universe, the source, whatever you choose to call it, is beckoning you to explore. You are being invited to discover wisdom. I like to think the words ‘I am confused’ evoke hope in the universe that the mind of God will eventually be discovered.
           My cousin’s words reminded me of the confusion I faced most of my life. There are still some things I am confused about, but stripping away the layers of dogma and rhetoric surrounding religion has helped me to clear much of my confusion. My picture of God as a child and even well into my adulthood was of a mystical old man living among the clouds who could see all and know all and kept track of who was worthy of heaven and who would be banished to hell for eternity. At times, I pictured him as a loving man. At other times, I thought of a wrathful man who could not easily be pleased. I was afraid of the power he wielded over me and my family. My confusion surrounded the contradictions of things I was told, things I learned in church and things I heard in the media. I could not wrap my mind around a god that loved unconditionally and also would plan for and allow his own child to be killed on the cross because of my sins. Even after that horrible sacrifice, he was still holding my sins over me as a threat to my eternal afterlife. If he could sacrifice his son, who was pure and righteous, in such a torturous manner, how could I possibly please him? I was told that Jesus was crucified for our sins so that we would forever be forgiven. I could never shake the feeling of that being a pretty awful thing to do to your kid! I wondered why that needed to happen and why God could not just forgive without a sacrifice of that magnitude.
            I could not understand how humans could do something horrific, like murder someone, and be forgiven and allowed to enter heaven by simply accepting Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. I thought about people like Hitler. Is it possible that he got into heaven by saying the proper words before he died if he truly, truly believed them? I did not want to think so considering all he had done to humanity. I knew other people who did not want to think so, either. When I overheard conversations about Hitler people would say he killed himself, which is a sin that gets you sent straight to hell. How do we know suicide gets us sent straight to hell? Has anyone ever come back from hell and told us so? How do we know anything that happens after death? When someone claims to have had a near-death experience we are always skeptical of their story, so how do we know who to believe? Is it a matter of education; do we believe our clergy because they studied these things? Even though they did study these issues, they are still alive, so how do they know?
            The idea of hell never really sat well with me because it was a major contradiction to the unconditional love of God. Unconditional love is just that – unconditional, no conditions, love without any condition what-so-ever, no matter what you do or say you are loved. In my mind, god would not send you to hell for eternity, with all of the fire and torture and demons, if he loved you unconditionally. But what if I am wrong? That question always followed my logic. 
           Another area of religion I had trouble with was questions of free will. I learned that God gave us free will, but he wants us to use it for good rather than sin. Why bother giving it to us? Would it not be easier for him to just not give it to us rather than keeping score? He would always be pleased and never would have to punish anyone. But I learned he wants us to choose him. He wants us to make a conscious effort to choose him. It is like a test. Why test us if his nature is to ultimately get his way by condemning us to hell or rewarding us with heaven? Are we toys? It seemed like a pretty sick game to me. Can we honestly believe this loving father would harm us in this way? Would you ever harm your child in that way?
            We think of children’s questions as their attempts to learn, but maybe sometimes the questions of a child are an indication of our need to further explore what we are teaching them; to really make a conscious effort to understand God’s love.  
            My confusion escalated as I grew up and became a mother. Many questions arose in me after Joshua was diagnosed. The older he became the less understanding he had of concepts at his age level and he was completely unable to grasp this concept of heaven and hell, or even God and Jesus. How would he enter heaven and avoid being sent to hell? He cannot say the proper words, ‘I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,’ nor was I sure he could even think them. But surely god would not send someone so innocent to hell when he does not understand the rules! What if he commits a sin without meaning to? There are so many it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will! I began to question my childhood concept of God, pondering how Joshua could enter heaven while not understanding sin or making a vow to Jesus. I wondered why God would create him with disabilities. It seemed he was being punished for things he was unable to conceive of doing and before having a chance to choose right or wrong. It seemed both me and my husband were being punished through our worry over our precious child and his future, but for what? Living together before marriage? For thousands of years, other’s had done that and delivered children without disabilities. That could not possibly be the reason, could it? If it was, why single us out?
            Everyone in my life was trying to make sense of it, as well. I could tell because they would come to me and offer their opinion as to why MY child was born this way. Often they had come to the conclusion that certain people are strong enough to handle it and other people are not. God gives these special children to people who are worthy of them because God knows they will be well cared for by people like us. People who told me that love me deeply and I always knew they wanted me to be comforted by their words. The words they said caused me more confusion and made me feel like I was being punished for being good or for being strong. I knew those words were not true. I had already seen evidence of it in Joshua’s classroom at his special education school. There was a boy who was physically and mentally disabled who was sent to school with spoiled milk in a bottle. He was not well cared for. I would see his mother and siblings out in public and she was extremely stressed and depressed. I saw her slap one of her other children. Obviously, she was given one of these special children and was not equipped to handle him or her other children. The loving people who told me this theory had no idea of the turmoil going on inside of me. I was fearful, confused, distraught and doubtful of my abilities to handle everything being thrust at me in this new life I had not expected. The more people said this to me the more pissed off I became internally, not at them, but at the theory. It made no sense to me.
            Another person had an even less appealing story to tell me. It was a story of sin. When I asked someone of faith why they thought God allows people to be born in Josh’s condition they told me it was because of sin. It was not, necessarily, my sin or my husband’s sin that brought this upon our precious one, according to this person, but because of sin in the world. I was told that God creates people with mental and physical challenges because there needed to be an atonement for the sins of humanity. Come on! Are you freaking kidding me? I thought that was Jesus' job! THAT was the most ridiculous thing I had been told. I mean no disrespect to the person who told me that and I only tell this because it was a defining moment in my life. I had already given up believing in God, but that felt like getting slapped in the face. I was more convinced than ever that god did not exist, but honestly, being told that was a huge letdown. I was disappointed because I think I was looking for a way to believe in god again. I missed him. After hearing that, I wanted absolutely nothing more to do with him. I was more convinced than ever that he was a made up delusion to give people hope and make them behave. My confusion was greater than ever.
            Fear is powerful in keeping us bound to ideas that have been ingrained in us over the course of our lives, especially when we fear hell. The fear of God’s wrath seeps into our psyche and gets a powerful grip on us. When I first told someone I no longer believed in God, this person was shocked and responded with, “Wow, you just said that out loud.” 

           The response shocked me because I knew this person felt the same way I did, based on previous conversations, but we had never actually come right out and voiced it. I said, 
“You feel the same way, don’t you?”
“I am not saying that out loud. What if you are wrong? You will go to hell.”
“Do you not realize that if God is real then he already knows how I feel and my saying it out loud will not be any worse than my feeling it? Besides, I don’t believe in hell, either. What good is hell without a god to send you there?”
“Still, I am not taking that chance, just in case. I don’t want to end up in hell.”
           How funny is that? This person felt it, but refused to say it, ‘just in case.’ That cracks me up! I bet, however, you might be able to relate. Even if you have never stopped believing, you probably can understand the fear of not wanting to say it out loud.

“The greatest fun in life is having the chair of your own ego pulled out from under you so that the only place you land is in the lap of God’s grace.” ~ Hafiz

            My extraordinary son led me to discover that God and the ways of God are nothing close to our human imaginings. My confusion, my suffering and my fear for his eternal life brought on the questions that led me to a new way of knowing God. God works in mysterious ways, indeed. I believe Joshua came into my life to un-teach me about my childhood god. I had to stop believing in the god I grew up knowing in order to make room for new insight. One of my cousin’s questions was about a false god. Yes, as a child I believed in a false god and I believe now that some of our clergy members are still teaching about this false god. They don’t know any better. This is the god they grew up knowing, learning of this god from their ancestors and being told not to question these things nor to have any doubt; to just HAVE FAITH.

            I know many people who have been fine with this teaching and this god until a major life event happens to them and their faith is shaken. They begin to question and doubt. I now understand that you can’t get to the full truth without doubt.
            That pretty much sums up my fears and confusion regarding God. This post is getting pretty long, so I am doing another post on what I have come to understand about all of this. I will publish it in a couple of days. Until then, love to you always.  Part Two: Healing Revelations

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