Saturday, March 5, 2011

What is WIlderness?

Hmm... this is an interesting topic for me. I'm not sure where to begin. I know that most people in Christian circles think of this as those times when God seems distant and we have to press on without 'feeling' His presence. I had initially thought I would just talk along those lines in connection with the last four years away from church, but as I begin to write, I realize that this is a much broader topic for me. And I find I want to go back even further.

I guess for me right now, wilderness feels like exile - separation - aloneness. And that began when I was very young. As anyone who has read my blog knows, I have spent the last few years digging into my past so I can unearth the roots of the things that have so plagued and bound me. And for the last while, I have been camped on unraveling the mystery of what happened when I was 2 years old. Hmm...I recognize that this is where that feeling of being outside started. The basics that I have come to at this point are that a 17 year-old shirt-tail cousin by marriage that we lived next to molested me and his mother caught him in the act and my mother punished me and swore me to secrecy - haven't been able to remember the words she used - but I am beginning to see the effect they had. I have heard the phrase "Don't you EVER do that again. That is BAD!" And I believe she whipped me with a belt, which was a fairly standard form of punishment.

To understand what this has to do with being in a wilderness place, I need to explain that prior to this incident (at approximately 29 months old), I already knew Jesus. He was a part of my life and I loved Him very much. What happened and my mother's response to it, and consequent teaching in the church concerning sex, placed me in an exile that no one but me ever knew about. Subsequent sexual abuse from others between the ages of 7 and 12 (and again when I was 27), placed me in a state of perpetual exile - wilderness - from which I could not seem to escape.

Throughout my life, there have been attempts to 'fit in' and conform to what I was taught. And I would feel okay for a time, but the aloneness never went away. I never fit. I didn't know how. I understand from this vantage point that God was always with me. But through those years.... I remember at 7 years old going to the altar after service on Sunday nights and just breaking down and sobbing, begging God to please, please, please make me okay. But the exile continued. Through years of walking away from religion and thinking that meant I was not right with God, through years submersed in the cult called a church I became a leader in, the exile remained no matter how devoted I tried to be. I would sometimes, after church, just sit in my car and cry because I felt so alone and 'outside' and unaccepted. During this time, I was a church leader, lead a Bible study...tried SO fucking hard to get it right.

And throughout my life, I have heard His voice. I have prayed - we have talked. I don't want it to sound like He never talked to me or I never knew His presence at all. If that was the case, I suspect by now I would be crazy or dead. But even with His talking to me and being there for me, there was still a barrier - I was still outside looking in....

And then the last four years, having walked away from that church/cult and beginning to recognize that religion is mostly just man-made bs. And walking away from what I had poured myself into because I discovered the 'pastor' was a sexual predator that used and discarded certain women in the church and then the church covered his ass and shoved the women aside with no care as to what happened to them. With this walking away has come a new form of exile and shunning.... but it is familiar.

However, something new has happened these past few years that is different. God gently led me into therapy. And I have begun to tell my story. And I have learned that the exile was not from God. My wilderness was created as a defense against the pain of my life. This a huge discovery. Hmm... a few years ago, when I was in morning prayer with other leaders at the church I was at, we were praying for a little girl in the hospital and I saw Jesus. I won't go into details here, but the relevant thing to this discussion is that I felt immense power flowing out of Him - an energy that was more powerful than anything I had ever sensed - and then realizing that that energy was His love. I was thinking about this a few days ago and Jesus told me that he was not then nor has He ever been withholding His love from me. There is a barrier preventing it from reaching me. And I finally think I understand. That barrier was placed there at 2 1/2 years old (and subsequently built up) to protect myself from the terrible pain of the events of my life. The thing about emotional barriers is that they do not discriminate. They block the receipt of all emotions, not just the 'bad' ones.

And I am excited and scared, because I know I am getting very close to the place of deconstructing that wall. Excited because I will finally be able to receive love....scared because I don't know what to expect - I am not sure I can handle it, because I know that it will also mean feeling the pain that has been blocked, as well.

So to me right now, wilderness = exile and I realize I have spent nearly 46 years in a wilderness, an exile, from receiving love - even understanding it. A dear friend has helped me walk through this (you know who you are - THANK YOU!), continuing to give love, even when it is not received, understanding why. And I know she will continue to.

This is part of a syncroblog: During the season of Lent we are reminded that all of us experience wilderness times in our lives – times of searching, of mourning, of anticipating, of waiting, of watching, of unknowing, of struggling, of preparation. Join us during the season of Lent for this month’s synchroblog as we reflect and share insights and thoughts about “Experiences In The Wilderness”.

Others participating in synchroblog:
Patrick Oden - Musings Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four
Wendy McCaig - A Voice Calling In The Wilderness
Emma Nadine - Life In The Wilderness
Tammy Carter - Put Down The Axe
Jeremy Myers - The Gaping Chasm Of Suicide
Kathy Escobar - Belonging
Steve Hayes - Anatomy Of Exile
Marta Layton - On Sabbaths, Mountain Tops...And Brothers' Keepers
Liz Dyer - Beauty In The Wilderness
Christen Hansel - Snapshots Of The Desert

12 comments:

Sue said...

Is there any harder work than this? There is nothing else in your life that you will do that is harder than the work you are doing now.

There's some sort of comfort in that, eh :)

"I know that it will also mean feeling the pain that has been blocked, as well." This is where I'm at at the moment, and I suppose it's probably no coincidence that God does feel far away, and has done for the last couple of years. It's funny how things ebb and swell, like tides. At the same time, I do not feel that God is far but is where s/he has always been for me. I just can't really feel it right now. But that's as things go.

Those walls we construct are amazing things, are they not? It served you well, for that is what it was meant to do. I'm cheering with ya, KG, as you dismantle it :)

Katherine Gunn said...

Hey, Sue. Yes, it is hard work. Scary work, even. Feels particularly heavy today. But that is part of the ebb & flow, too. :-)

I know God is where he has always been. But that wall that served so well - that preserved me from being totally annihilated - does not come down all at once and not easily. They are amazing. But when their purpose is over, a demolition crew won't do. They must be dismantled brick by brick.

Thank you for the cheers. Right back at ya! Moving from surviving into living. :-D

Liz said...

Katherine - Thank you so much for sharing your story it is very powerful and I have a feeling it is really going to help others who read it. BTW I finally got my post up if you don't mind adding the link to your list. http://gracerules.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/beauty-in-the-wilderness/

gracerules said...

PS - I have my post up now if you don't mind adding it to your list http://gracerules.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/beauty-in-the-wilderness/

Katherine Gunn said...

Liz, thanks for stopping by and thanks for your words. I hope it helps others. That is part of the point of my blog. :-)

I will add your link, too.

Jeremy Myers said...

Wow, thank you for your openness and honesty in sharing what happened to you. I have three girls, and cannot imagine the horror, shame, and loneliness they might feel if something like this happened to them.

Thank you for sharing your story. I'm sure there are lots of women out there who will be encouraged to see how you handled this.

Katherine Gunn said...

Jeremy, thanks for stopping by and reading my story. I truly hope sharing my story helps other know they are not alone in their feelings and struggles.

Blessing the Beloved said...

Wow...thanks for your vulnerability, Katharine. You are amazing and couragous! Your journey and heart will be in my prayers!

christenhansel said...

Thank you so much for sharing, Katherine. It was very powerful to read your story. I'm looking forward to poking around your site and reading more of your blog. I think we have a lot in common. I always love your comments on Kathy's blog, but it is really great to hear some of the story behind them.

Katherine Gunn said...

Tammy ~ Thank you. I appreciate heartfelt prayers. :-)

Christen ~ Thank you and you're welcome. I look forward to any comments you leave. :-)

Jeremy Myers said...

Great post. I think that if Christians have not felt a wilderness experience like the one you describe, then they have not fully experienced life in Christ yet.

That wilderness experience is critical for strengthening and maturing in the faith.

Katherine Gunn said...

Hey, Jeremy. I think you're right. I don't think we really know what faith is until it's challenged.