Monday, August 22, 2016

Let's Talk About Faith Part 12: Bible Study

Previously on Let's Talk About Faith: Introduction / Pre-Church / Confirmation / Saved / Jump / Healing / Mission / Prayer / TheOnly / Work / Leadership /

All throughout my years in church as an adult, I had experience with Bible study.  I attended one on my community college campus as a part of the Christian Student Organization.  I even led one once, with help from Liam.

More often, though, I was a part of young adult Bible study as a part of church at The Edge.  Usually, these meetings consisted of praying for a long time, studying scripture and then hanging out late into the evening.

[Waiting for a ride to Bible study, 2003.]

FAITH WITHOUT SECURITY:

It was after I left college that Bible study started to feel more difficult for me.  At the time, I could not pinpoint why being there sparked so much anxiety in me.  I only knew that one-on-one I felt secure, acknowledged and calm.  But put me in a group of ten or so people, and I shut down.  There were always people I did not know as well as others.  I felt I could not trust and open up to them.  So I stayed very quiet.  

The result of my withdrawing meant that no one spoke to me, and I felt overlooked and like I did not matter.  These feelings began in earnest after the healing conference in 2001.  Friends didn’t get my silence.  To be honest, I didn’t either.  I dismissed myself as a slacker for the times I skipped when my anxiety around them became too severe, and called my own struggles “dumb” and “sad.”  

As with other endeavors in or around church, I always did better if I felt I belonged and was welcomed and valued in that space.  While I felt safe around a few people at our Bible study, there were others I just didn’t feel secure around.

One instance after church, I think, gives a compelling example:

Liam had given me a ride to church that morning, as usual.  While he was busy before church started, I found a friend to visit with, who also attended our Bible study.

“Are you feeling social today?” I asked her.  “Do you want to do something with me?”

“No…  I have to clean and do laundry.”

“Oh, okay.  You’ve gotta be an adult sometimes, right?” I joked.

“Actually, if you can find a whole bunch of people to go out to lunch with, I’ll do that.”

“Oh…” I said, her words stinging and the implication clear: hanging out with me alone was not preferable.  

It hurt to be rejected, but I had dealt with this kind of thing my whole life, so I tried not to let it affect me too much.

Afterward, Liam had misplaced his car keys, and had to call his best friend (I’ll call him Judah) for a ride home.  Liam had gotten in the car, which held Judah, his wife, and Lisa.  I was last.  

I had handed one crutch into the car to Liam and pulled back just enough to catch my balance with one crutch when Judah floored the gas and peeled away.  The back door of the car remained wide open.  

I stood there, stunned, and well-aware of just how close I had come to being dragged or run over.  When Judah backed up seconds later, he had a careless wide smile on his face.  “I’m sorry,” he apologized, sounding anything but apologetic.  “I thought you were in already.  I thought I heard the door close.”

Judah’s wife asked if I was okay but no one addressed what Judah had done, or the fact that he continued to drive recklessly all the way home, seemingly showing off for the car full of people.

FAITH WITHOUT RESPECT:

Around 2004, our large Bible study broke off into smaller groups, in hopes of fostering a greater connection and honesty within each group.  My small group consisted of a good friend, and two other girls.  One, Eliza, gave me a ride after my experience receiving unwanted prayer and being interrogated about my failure to use the elevator.  

“So, he basically stared me down the whole time.  It was really uncomfortable.”

“Why would you be uncomfortable?  He was just being nice,” she insisted.

“But it wasn’t nice.  He was, like, mad at me for walking past him.  It was rude.”

“Well, I think you’re just being paranoid,” she said dismissively.

Even though the conversation obviously was not going well, I persisted, wanting nothing more than to be understood.  I shared about how being prayed for intimidated and scared me.  I shared that I disliked the assumption that I must want prayer, even though I no longer went forward, consented, or indicated I wanted it in any way.

“...And I get that I’m being hypocritical.  I hate being viewed as a condition to fix, but I also really dislike even associating with others with disabilities at all because of the way we are lumped together and treated like we are inferior.”

“I think you’re settling," Eliza said firmly.

“I can see how you’d think that I was lacking something, because of where you’re coming from, but--”

“No, I’m not talking about physically.  I’m talking about emotions.”

“How can I ‘settle’ emotionally?” I asked, confused.

“You know what I mean….” Eliza insisted, like I was being willfully obtuse.

“No, I really don’t.  Church is still kind of new for me.  So some things I still just don’t get.  I honestly don’t understand how I can ‘settle’ emotionally.  Like, what does that mean?”

“It’s like…  You don’t want to change.  You like things to be just the way they are.  They could be different.  Physically, emotionally, whatever, you know?  But your sinful thinking is going to hold you back every time.  Until you decide you want to live differently, things are going to just continue this way.”

“I didn’t choose this, though,” I insisted.

“You said before you don’t even like associating with people who have disabilities.  The power to change it has always been in your hands.  God is big enough.  He could do it.  But you won’t let Him.”

“I told you already, I had a horrible experience getting prayer for healing.”

“I think that’s just an excuse.”

“It’s not, though.”

“You’re going to do what you want to do, obviously, and that’s fine.  It’s your choice, but I know what you really said.  I know the truth.  Even if you don’t want to admit it.”

The whole conversation was beyond bizarre, and every time I spoke, Eliza was intent on looking for inconsistencies in what I was saying to prove I wasn’t being honest with her.  It ended on her terms, too, with her trying to get me to discount everything I said, and believing - still - that I was lying about all of it.

I spent the rest of the night feeling incredibly ashamed whenever I had to get up and walk anywhere.  I knew Eliza was there, watching, and thinking that I could be healed if I wanted to, but I just liked “settling.”  

We spent the rest of the evening filling out spiritual questionnaires at a restaurant while Eliza and another group member discussed their own personal struggles, actively supporting each other, while I was battling my own demons and they seemed not to care.

Three years later, in 2007, our small group had morphed again, and was meeting at my apartment.  Eliza was the only original member still there.  She and the rest were speaking honestly about how their weeks were.  I knew they didn’t want to know the first thing about what I dealt with - Eliza had proven that much in years past.  So I stuck with surface information, never delving too deep.

While we were still in a circle on the floor, Eliza spoke up, unprompted: “You guys want to know what my biggest dream is?  What I pray for more than anything else?”

The rest nodded eagerly.

“I really pray that God gives me cancer, so He can show how faithful He is by healing me.”

While the others spoke about how “awesome” her dream was and agreed, I attempted to close my mouth, which had dropped open in shock.  Besides the fact that I knew people who had lost family members to cancer and the very idea that she would “want” it seemed beyond disrespectful...here I was, sitting across the small circle, with my less-than-perfect body.

I knew what she thought of me.  She had made no secret of it.  

That was the last time I allowed Bible study to be held in my home.

FAITH FADING:

Today, it makes perfect sense to me that I had heightened anxiety in these group settings.  What does it matter if three people fully accept you if there are three more who really don’t value you at all?  What does it matter if you can’t actually count on the three people who accept you to call out the ones who don’t for their egregious endangerment and disrespect?

Does anyone there really respect or value you at all?

That was the question that circled in my head during most Bible studies.  I was there, but I felt invisible ninety percent of the time.  I watched everyone else support each other, but often I did not feel that love and support myself.  

My reality as a young woman with a disability just didn’t match their reality.  And some felt I was choosing a life disabled rather than embracing a life healed and whole, due to a lack of faith.  

As I write this, I am realizing that even though no one overtly asked to pray for my healing, they still were preoccupied by my lack of it.  

***

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4 comments:

  1. Ohhhh Tonia!! I am so sad that you had to go through all of that...and I am completely shocked by what Eliza said to you -- and her prayer for cancer!!!! WHAT?

    I can totally see how these experiences made you feel alienated and insecure...I wish there was something I could say to make some of these memories hurt less, but all I know is that you are one of the most amazing people I've ever met. You don't need to be "healed" -- you are perfect just the way you are and you will always be a part of my community. Of our community. xo

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    1. I always love your comments, K. Thanks for always reading and letting me know your thoughts. Your BEING HERE makes the memories hurt less. So thank you <3

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    2. I've been following this series with great interest, Tonia, as it closely mirrors my own experiences with church attendance. I sure can relate.
      All very well said, and very well done.

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    3. Andrew, Thank you so much. Though I am honestly sorry to hear that you have known so many of these same experiences.

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