kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts, fundamentalism, healing, identity, incarnational 13 Comments

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.”


Say it fast.

Dammit it, I am so sick of Goddamage!


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.


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