One of the things I’ll never understand about Christianity is the absolute need to pretend everything is hunky dory. Of course wanting people to be okay makes sense. That’s a pretty basic aspect of human nature. But life is life and as such, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Death, sickness, famine, bigotry, and a host of other things claim space individually and collectively to make life SUUUUUCK sometimes. Even little annoyances make things difficult.
But the idea that people should “fake it til they make it” is a bit beyond me. To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I left the church entirely.
We found out on March 27, 2016 that my enby’s Chiari Malformation required MAJOR surgery. They had a piece of their skull removed because their brain was too big for their head (an aside – if your kid’s IQ tests read as being brighter than 80% of kids their age, find another explanation than their brain is too big for their head. No one will realize you’re not being facetious.).
That was obviously met with lots of anxiety as their ability to be ambulatory without assistance dwindled with each passing day. Not only that, but they suffered from debilitating migraines which made it hard to function even when they didn’t have to move. The lack of space in the brain caused swelling which led to issues with short term memory, balance, and word retrieval. It was a harrowing experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
But life’s complications didn’t stop there.
My (now passed on) sister was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on April 12, 2016. Since both my mom and oldest child (as well as the third sister in the trifecta) were all cancer survivors, I could sense from the language that the doctors used ahead of the appointment that I needed to be there. Joanna tried to tell me it wasn’t necessary, but when the appointment was moved up, I knew my choice had been made. Like it or not, I was going to be there for when she needed me.
I have never wanted so badly to be wrong.
In the time since then, my enby had a successful surgery with a recovery complicated by the loss of my sister. Grief doesn’t work well with a healing brain. Especially if that brain belongs to a schizophrenic 10 year old. Especially if that schizophrenic 10 year old recovering from brain surgery must also deal with the anxiety of their brother’s nervous breakdown. Joanna’s loss hit us all hard, but my son, her godson, took it worse than any of the kids. His major depressive disorder exploded causing the family to deal with the trauma of her loss on a whole new scale.
His depression is in remission, managed well by a team of clinicians who get my kid and our family and the godsend that is medication. Our enby is doing well, too. They’re pretty young to have an official diagnosis of schizophrenia, but we’ve always known that’s who they are so we’re pretty good at handling it. Most of the time, anyway. Grief counselling as a family was a great choice and one that I would wholeheartedly recommend to any family dealing with a major death.
The kids are alright. Their mom, however is not. And, I’m okay with that.
The whole time Joanna was sick and starting immediately after her death, the churches I was involved in shamed me for being sad. “You should be happy! She’s with Jesus and not in pain!” Okay, well, maybe, but I couldn’t breathe and platitudes didn’t help. I would cry to the point of hyperventilation if someone even mentioned her. Their response was more than tone deaf, it was damaging.
My husband and I have mental illness. All four of our kids have mental illness. We’re not the only family with those markers. People who suffer from depression are told by the church that they’d be better if they just ______ more. Prayed. Hoped. Increased their faith. Gave tithes and offerings. Volunteered. Anything but actually dealt with the issue at hand.
I’ve heard ministers call autism a disorder in need of the healing hand of Jesus (if, that is, parents would tithe the disability payments that they take out of a lack of faith). I’ve heard preachers say that those who commit suicide must not have been Christians as they died without hope of Jesus. This while survivors THAT THEY KNEW ABOUT sit in their congregations. I’ve heard them speak against medication, secular therapy, and yoga inspired breathing and meditation techniques. Because, eeeeeeeeeeeevery Christian knows that yoga is of the devil because *checks notes* reasons.
Yes, that was sarcastic.
I don’t know that I’ll ever go back to church. I don’t necessarily see a reason to, much to the dismay of my family of ministers, elders, pastors, leaders, missionaries, and deacons. Those who know, anyway. Most don’t because that’s a fallout I don’t want to deal with. The point is that people should be able to exist just as they are – to whatever degree of a mess that might be – without feeling like they need to hide that mess for the sake of acceptance. The church has a long and dangerous history of excluding anyone who doesn’t look or act the part. At this rate, I don’t see how Western Christianity can sustain itself. Maybe the next generation of progressive Christians will pick up the mantle and do better. If not, the life of the church may not be as long as it expects.