I guess I can say that I grew up in church. My mom made us go to church every Sunday but it seemed like we were always visitors. We moved from church to church hoping we’d find that perfect church but it never happened. Sadly, it’s been 30+ years and my parents have yet to find a perfect church but they’re still looking.
I was about 8 when my uncle found God and began attending an apostolic church. It didn’t take long before he invited us to attend a service. We walked into a whole new world. Before attending this church, going to church consisted of getting up early on Sunday, going to church and that was about it but now we had rules….lots of rules!
Most of these rules had to do with our outward appearance. As women, we weren’t allowed to cut our hair, wear makeup or nail polish. We were taught that women who wore makeup were whores. There was a special emphasis on blush. Apparently, rosy cheeks resemble a woman in heat. For a woman to be unnaturally rosy cheeked in public was shameful.
We weren’t allowed to wear pants because men wore pants. Our skirts and dresses had to be an appropriate length and this basically meant ankle length. Shorts weren’t allowed unless they were baggy culottes. Our sleeves were usually no shorter than elbow length. The wives of the elders looked like they walked right out of the Victorian era.
We weren’t allowed to watch ‘Hellivision’ or listen to secular radio…although; everyone was ok with listening to country music.
Along with ‘looking’ holy….we had to prove that we were holy by dancing in the spirit. If your hands weren’t reaching high enough it meant you weren’t praising God enough and someone would come and help you raise them up higher. If you weren’t speaking in tongues loud enough you would hear cues from the preachers to ‘stop holding back.’ In a nutshell…if you weren’t spinning you hadn’t completely surrendered to God.
During worship it was a mad house. People were running around church…jumping up and down, yelling, and falling over. At times worship would take over and there would be no preaching…just dancing and speaking in tongues for 2 hours. When our pastor did preach it was bible thumping at its core. We were told at every service about how holy we were and how everyone else was going to burn in hell. And if we had any association to the world we would join them in hell.
It was nonstop - women with short hair were going to hell, people with tattoos were going to hell, secular music was sending you to hell, etc.
As a child, a sponge, I began to believe it all. How could I not, I was surrounded by such confident Christians. I began to look at people differently. I began to look at myself differently. I began to look at the world differently.
I was no longer a little girl. I was part of the holy elite. I was better than everyone. And people only confirmed my ‘holiness’ because of how different I looked. Being so divine I felt that I had the right to tell people that they were going to hell and I did not hold back. I began to develop a deep hatred for everyone, especially for promiscuous girls. When I would hear a story about them or see them I felt different. I felt a heat radiate from my core. I could have killed them with my hatred. I didn’t feel any remorse for them. I can honestly say I wanted them to go to hell. I wanted them to be punished for their disgusting sins. What good were they? They were just dirty whores.
I shared this hatred for everyone who wasn’t part of my congregation. It was an awful feeling walking around with such animosity.
As I entered high school I began to feel confused. I wondered why the kids in school were nicer than the kids in my Sunday school class. They didn’t rate me on my holiness. With my friendships in church varying from week to week I began to wonder if there was a possibility that I wasn’t holy anymore. I wondered if maybe they saw something in me that I wasn’t able to see because I was evil.
It didn’t help that my mom was involved in many different groups within our church. When she noticed my confusion she would respond with “you need to pray through and get those evil spirits out of you.”
I began to carry a massive load of guilt and fear. Guilt for clearly being a bad Christian; fear that God would leave me behind. The rapture began to take over my thoughts. If I ever had a bad thought whether it was a sexual thought, a bad word or even a ‘worldly’ song I would look around and make sure that the rapture hadn’t taken place during my thought.
When I was about 14 we stopped going to church. I found out that my mom was basically dealing with the same neglect from the women in church and she was sick of it. Sick of trying to fit in. Sick of trying to remain holy. It was a scary change. We all experienced what happened when someone backslid. The girls immediately bought jeans, chopped their hair off and purchased loads of makeup.
Sure enough, I followed the traditions of the backslider. And even though I felt a sense of freedom I still carried around lots of guilt. I felt like I turned my back on God and now I was on his shit list. Growing up, I had created an image of God. My God was an angry God. A fickle God. A God who was entertained by causing me pain and confusion. A God who wanted me to go to hell.
Eventually, I said ‘screw it!’ I was done. If the rapture was going to take place so be it. I didn’t care anymore. I picked up my imaginary god and placed him on a dusty shelf and turned my back on him. Since my god didn’t care about me I didn’t care about anything. I became a hardcore party girl who was eventually labeled a whore. I became a barfly. I became the girl who was up for anything but I was still miserable. Even though I was, for the most part, accepted by the people that I used to judge I still found myself looking at everyone with grief because in my head…I knew we were all doomed. I still constantly imagined burning in hell. There was no shaking this thought.
I began to realize that I had hit an extreme….I had gone from closed off fundamentalist to Girl Gone Wild. I knew I was in the wrong…again. I needed to find balance and stop looking to others for acceptance. I began attending a non-denominational church on Sunday and was introduced to a forgiving and happy God. A God that loves us and wants the best for us. A God who actually wanted a relationship with me. He wasn’t a God that I had to chase down to convince that I was holy and worthy of being on his team. He was a God that I could talk to. It was such a strange concept but it made sense. He’s a Father…I’m his child.
But when it’s all said and done I can’t help but think that I had to experience these two extremes to understand God’s love and forgiveness. It all became much easier to understand when I had my own child. I was given a whole new perspective on love. My son was my doll….my angel. I would do anything for him. A light bulb went off. So this must be how God sees us and feels about us. He doesn’t hate us. He doesn’t want to punish us. He wants us to know and experience His love.
And thankfully with my new perspective I was able to see everyone differently. Regardless of one’s beliefs or place in life I see them as children of God. I still occasionally struggle on my walk with God but I know that He’s forgiving and understanding and willing to guide me in the right direction...if that’s what I want.
To hear more from Erika, visit her website at www.somethinglovely.us