Goddamage.

The other day I made up a new word without even knowing it. I was hanging out with some of my favorite people in Denver at our spiritual formation-support-group-hanging-with-people-who-understand-how-hard-this-work-in-the-trenches-is, casually talking about the fall-out of controlling ministry practices. In response to one of the comments, I said, “The truth is that just perpetuates God damage.” I guess I said it kind of quickly and so it came out “Goddamage.”

Goddamage.

Say it fast.

Dammit it, I am so sick of Goddamage!

Seriously.

There are many people whose experiences with church and ministry and leaders have deeply damaged their relationship with God and it’s messing with their heart and head.

Who are reeling from spiritual abuse and controlling leaders and unhealthy systems and churches-that-use-or-discard-or-don’t-give-a-rip.

Who grew up in families where they were neglected or abused or controlled, making it hard to believe that God isn’t like that, too.

Who struggle with believing they are loved, valued, wanted by God because of a whole host of life experiences that make it hard to feel.

Goddamage.

It’s real.

And if someone says, “But God is good…God is not like people…the church is made up of imperfect people…I’ll pray for your healing…” I might just inflict some different kind of damage!

Goddamage is real–and simple, trite responses don’t help in the healing process.

It takes a lot more than words to transform these kinds of wounds.

A long time ago, when I was first healing from a ton of shame from my past, I remember how my distorted image of God began to heal. I started to view God not as a judgmental, harsh, mean, punishing God but a loving, kind, forgiving one. It was not an easy shift but over many years and tons of processing and prayers and quiet and people-who-listened-without-trying-to-fix-me, I began to feel more secure in God’s love. And while I am human and still wrestle with it,  I can say that somehow that foundation truly became more solid.

However, the part of God’s character that was and is still hardest for me to accept is that God is actively helping. Part of my Goddamage is a message that I was sent from a very early age that I was on my own, with no one to really truly help me. It’s an abandoned feeling, a “I-have-to-make-it-work-because-if-I-don’t-it’s-not-going-to-happen” feeling. Even after all of the work I’ve done in my spiritual journey, this wound is still there.

Church sometimes didn’t help with it.

In fact, one of the things that has been hardest about my horrid last-straw church experience is how what I went through hit this same wound in a deep and profound way. I was working my tail off on a big church staff trying to live out one of my highest values–that church is supposed to participate in healing Goddamage, in offering corrective experiences, in creating new grooves in our heads and hearts about God that bring life and freedom instead of shame and fear. I really did love the work I was doing seeing people transform in the recovery ministry I was part of. However, once I started rocking the boat in the wider church, things went from bad to worse and I ended up with far-more-Goddamage related to the “I’m on my own and God just stands by and lets it happen” message than ever before. A few things made it even worse–God’s name being thrown around all of the time by the people in power and the ongoing “success” of their organization while I was laying on the side of the road thinking “what in the $#^$&@^ just happened to me? And where is God in all of this?”

Thankfully, over 9 years have passed and I have been in a supportive and honest and lovely faith community for a long time now. I wish I could say that the I’m-all-on-my-own-and-God-is-far-away message was completely healed, but that wouldn’t be true. It’s become less pervasive for sure, but the fallout from my family and faith experiences isn’t going to go down easy.

Goddamage is real and pervasive.

I think it is created in three major ways:

  • Family experiences. Fathers and mothers influence our image of God, they just do. When they are critical or abusive or absent or neglectful or cold and not-nurturing, it’s really hard to believe God isn’t the same way.
  • Church and ministry experiences. Leaders matter. Systems matter. When they are unhealthy or dysfunctional, there’s a fallout. The power that leaders and systems have over our spiritual development is no small thing. Unfortunately, we are taught to trust implicitly, and that trust is very often used and abused for church or personal gain.
  • Jacked up theology. While most all of my Christian experiences included an emphasis on Jesus’ incredible grace, there was also this subtext always playing that we had to “do more, pray more, believe more, memorize more, connect-with-God more, get-right-with-God more.” These messages are more insidious than many of us would like to think, and they really make freedom difficult.

Oh, how I hope and pray and wish and long for supernatural healing for all those who are experiencing the pain of Goddamage.

It’s possible.

Corrective experiences and friendships that restore broken family relationships and safer people help.

Living systems help.

Little pockets of love and freedom help.

The radical upside-down ways of Jesus moving through our heads and hearts and practices help.

I’m sure you can add a few other things that help, too (I’d love to hear them).

Today, I just wanted to acknowledge the ravages of Goddamage and say that I hope and pray more and more healing comes for those of us who bear these wounds.

May the real and true living God heal us, month by month, year by year, decade by decade. And may we somehow play a part in healing others Goddamage, too.

//

ps: I know that Mother’s Day is a tough day for so many, for all kinds of reasons.  Here are a few posts from the past couple of years that I wrote (plus one I love from someone else).

My heart is with you this weekend!  peace, kathy

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

13 Comments

  • Kathy, thank you so much, from the depths of my heart, for this post. It resonated with me so deeply when you said, “A few things made it even worse–God’s name being thrown around all of the time by the people in power and the ongoing “success” of their organization while I was laying on the side of the road thinking “what in the $#^$&@^ just happened to me?”” That is exactly where I have been these past few months in relation to a church I’ve left.

    Onward, then, to the hard work of healing, and learning to be patient with the process. “May the real and true living God heal us, month by month, year by year, decade by decade. And may we somehow play a part in healing others Goddamage, too.” Yes.

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    • oh, i so appreciate you being honest about what you are in the middle of, here and now. so hard. my heart with you from afar….

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  • “…God’s name being thrown around all of the time by the people in power and the ongoing “success” of their organization while I was laying on the side of the road thinking “what in the $#^$&@^ just happened to me? And where is God in all of this?””

    Wow, I remember that feeling so well! My ‘goddamage’ shook my faith to its foundations, and I’ve been left with a deep mistrust of anyone who claims power, position or title in the name of their god.

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    • that deep mistrust has been one of the hardest parts, and one of the best, too, because even though i can feel cynical, there is sometimes a deeper wisdom that is in there, reminding me to listen, to pause, to use caution, to not blindly accept. i always love your thoughts here…thank you.

      Reply
  • “Oh, how I hope and pray and wish and long for supernatural healing for all those who are experiencing the pain of Goddamage.”
    Beautiful words Kathy but painful experience tells me they don’t actually seem to deliver. It seems to me that once you are ‘Goddamaged’ – such a good word – you are basically stuffed – especially if you don’t appear to conform to the expectations of family/church or worse still – try to live more authentically and make a fuss!
    I’m faring much better since I realised that learning to live with my pain and sickness is down to me, and any support I can afford to pay for; church has not proved a safe place for me to deal with my ‘stuff’ – past or present – despite what it says ‘on the tin’. The hurts run deep but my newly empowered self feels more ok than ever before and oddly free. I’m no longer an awkward, broken, unhealed thorn in the flesh of an unwilling church; I’m just me hidden behind the layers of the past, reaching out where I can, withdrawing when I can’t, and that feels more ok than I ever thought possible.
    Emotionally I feel far more healthy since I stopped believing that ‘only God can heal me’; I’m no longer a ‘failure of faith’ fruitlessly waiting for the fulfilment of empty promises and I’ve even up on hope; can’t tell you how freeing that has turned out to be, despite the loneliness of my current situation and the ‘Goddamage’ that continues to haunt me!

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    • thank you for pointing this out. i really appreciate your perspective, and i guess where i am coming from on “supernatural healing” is exactly what you are talking about–the deeper thing of healing that is unexplainable and without language and probably from a lot of very unexpected sources…love that you are finding freedom…beautiful!

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      • Thanks Kathy, feeling freer certainly helps, but I don’t think there’s anything unexplained going on here; I think it’s a case of plain old fashioned relief! For far too many years I waited and hoped and longed for Jesus to bring healing to my life, in line with the promises of Luke 4 et al, but it never happened no matter how much I tried to depend on him or surrender everything to him. The pressure was huge and the constant disappointment only added to the pain that no amount of hard work, or revelation, ever seemed to heal. Letting go of my belief in a God who supposedly wants to heal my life, but chooses not to, is the source of my new found sense of freedom and independence. The consequences and pain of my ‘Goddamage’ remain and yet the pressure to ‘receive my healing’ has gone and I am no longer the failure of faith that I have been for so long; the relief is enormous. If that’s inexplicable then maybe Jesus has finally healed me – of depending on him for my healing!

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  • It seems to me that there is so much Goddamage because the church does not understand nonviolent communication, the Enneagram, contemplative spirituality and AA recovery systems of shared weaknesses and vulnerability, hospitality with the poor and community. Without these tools and practices the church cannot do anything but Goddamage. The truth is that we need to honestly admit that we do not know how to love, but long for a willingness to learn and live in this question. This would break down our arrogance and help us to embody some humility. And who does like humility and love? People want to be treated with humility and love, we do not like to be disrespected, abused and oppressed. I think Goddamage happens because we do not love and would rather live in our individualism. Which breeds arrogance, pretending, addiction to power, consumerism and apathy all while we talk about “correct” theology. Thanks again Kathy for your powerful words to those who have been damaged by church systems. Much needed!

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  • I think I am the poster child for Godamage. Even though it’s been over 5 years since I left the church, I am still upset. I want nothing to do with church and I am very unclear as to how I feel about Jesus and the bible. I wish so badly that I could believe again. I miss the community of the church and fear I will never get that again. I fear that my children will never experience community, but at least they will never experience the guilt tripping, fear mongering, control, mysogyny, and abuse I experienced. Whoa, did I actually say I missed church?!

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    • your last line made me smile. it can sometimes feel so lonely! i think you hit on the reality of the Goddamage–it really hits something in our soul and doesn’t heal quickly or easily…years and years, not months and months. i bet if we made a poster, there would be all shapes and sizes and ages and everything-in-between represented on it. thanks so much for sharing!

      Reply

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