I went to a storytelling workshop. The leader was reading Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way, and she gave the word ‘broken’ as a writing prompt. This is what I wrote.
I don’t know what I would have looked like whole. I began to know how damaging my childhood was in my twenties when a friend said, “Being an adult is hard! Don’t you wish you could go back to being a child?” And everyone in the circle nodded, and I tried to keep the shock off my face while every cell in my body screamed,
I didn’t know I was abused because there were no physical scars. There were no beatings. There was simply a systematic obliteration of my own self. I was like a little doll-girl that was dressed up in the clothes my mother chose and taken to the ball so that everyone could see how wonderful she was. And if, just by chance, I actually started to enjoy myself, or someone paid more attention to me than to her, she would whisper words that pinched and pricked me, hard, to make me cry, so she could point out how ungrateful I was. There was no real ball, of course, but these were the patterns of my childhood. And I knew my dad loved me, but he said, “Keep the peace.”
I met Jesus when I was 17 years old. He scooped me up in his arms and he loved me. I turned my back on performing for my parents and I attended churches where I didn’t have to perform. I could stay home, and raise children. And my churches told me that, even though the world didn’t value it, this was the most important work I could do.
It did seem important. Being a stay-at-home Mom is hard. I had no training and no good role model. I read. I prayed. I cried as I tried to become a different mother than I had had. And as I reached my roots down deep into God’s grace, I grew. Soon I began to develop a voice in women’s groups, on Mother’s Day, with young adults. And little by little God called me out into the world.
The world out here doesn’t look like it did when my mother pulled the strings. I have a cheering section of husband, children, and friends who love me through fears, through failure, and even despite my successes. But it also doesn’t look like what my churches told me. I have value beyond raising children. I have talents. I have abilities. I have a voice. And each of those statements cracks the shell of the old constraints, until I emerge anew. And my church no longer recognizes me.
My first churches said that a woman’s primary role was to serve her husband and raise her children. Faithfulness, for a woman, meant obedience. So it was absolutely frustrating to me that I married a man who refused to tell me what to do, and who instead relied on my leadership in our home. I worshipped lopsidedly for years among Christians who insisted on hierarchy, and then went home with a husband who lifted me to stand by his side. I finally told God that I was sorry, but I was not going to wreck a good marriage trying to make it look like what I was told he wanted.
Eventually, by God’s grace, we landed in a church that ordains women. I went to seminary, and got ordained. But the leadership ignored my polite requests to serve, recoiled at my anger, and told me to wait. So I studied more, and got a Ph.D. And now, I am deciding that 8 years of sitting in the waiting room, watching ministry to which I am not invited, seeing needs I am not allowed to meet, has broken my heart for long enough. It would have hurt less if they had just closed the door.
But I have survived. Sitting around the table, my friends and I discover that we have all survived something: the suicide of a spouse, an alcoholic mother, single parenting. We have scars, all of us. But we have survived the people who have broken us, survived the breakings away that we have chosen. And we, too, have broken people along the way. I wish I could bless them, and bless those, too, who have broken me. And some days I can. But some days, the broken places hurt too much, and I can’t.
So I pray for opportunities to join God’s Spirit in His work of repair, both in myself and in the world. I send out resumes. I preach when I am invited. I teach students who want to learn, and students who don’t, and I pray to love them all well. I have traveled to Germany to learn, to India to teach. I worry that church leaders will point to the work God does through me and sit back smugly, justifying their neglect. But redemption does not negate injustice and I no longer believe that Jesus is like my dad, wanting peace no matter the cost to me. Yet wandering outside of well-travelled roads is hard. So on days when I have ignored long enough the knots in my stomach, I give myself permission to take less risk, just for a little while. Then, once again, I move ahead, praying for the path God opens before me, walking softly so I don’t slam the door behind.
(By Dr. Laura Hunt at laurajhunt.com)