Sunday, March 31, 2013

What to do when you find out

Someone in my small group was talking about how he's not sure what to do when he finds out about the brokenness in other people that he's never encountered before.  He's a sunny soul, and he's a bit slammed upside the head when he discovers others have had so many clouds and so much bad weather, and the things he says can hurt them without him even knowing it.  And that this is considered insensitive and makes other people angry, as if they can realistically expect everyone else to know all about all their triggers and never accidentally press them.  What is he supposed to do, never open his mouth because anything he says can and will be used against him by the other people he is trying to interact with?  This could paralyze him, but he is a sunny soul, so he just kind of keeps going.  Not a bad plan, actually.  Sometimes that sun is what attracts the souls covered in freezing rain.  And sometimes it's not.

A friend of an old classmate recently posted this piece about what Christians should know about interacting with those who have suffered from "religious abuse".  At its heart, it is really a kind (but angry) explanation of how what Christians often say (usually knee-jerk statements usually unfiltered by a fully thinking brain) can be disrespectful and hurtful to those who've been injured by religion in the past.  Know these things, don't be that person, respect me and my negative experiences by engaging me with your whole being, not just your Christianese platitudes meant to dismiss me or make it all better: that's what this piece is about.

I'm glad I had the chance to read this article.  It brings up a lot of questions.  I'm curious about the working definition of psychological religious abuse, in particular, because the line between abuse and growing up in a family that had religious beliefs you didn't agree with and now repudiate is really blurry to me.  What is abusive and what is merely insensitivity or well-meaning religious dedication?  (These questions interest me because I've been reading so many other articles in the past few years about how parents should stop stressing about ruining their kids and just do their best to love them.)

I guess this article doesn't change the answer I would give this person in my small group or the way I live: know that this is true and others are broken and jagged in ways you don't know, and go on, trying always to understand, to think before speaking, and to speak thoughtfully in love.  I prefer avoiding people anyway, so I don't talk to them much, and I tend to just keep my mouth shut around people I don't know (leaving the awkward foot-in-mouth times to happen around those I'm more familiar with), but for those who like to interact with people, your chances of offending them by being ignorant are higher.  Be conscious of body language, ask for clarification, ask for forgiveness, learn from each mistake. Just keep going and loving people, even when you inevitably hurt them.  And pray for them.  (Just don't tell them about it because that's a communication stopper. :)  And pray for you, too, that God will help you be sensitive and fully engaged with each person you encounter, that He will give you wisdom.

How do you cope with the fact of other people's hidden triggers?  How do you live knowing that your edges can cut other people without you knowing it?

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