At times, I sit back and recall my days as a devout, nearly fundamentalist, Christian and lay minister. I consciously de-converted from organized religion 8 years ago, and I consider the effect that inherited thinking patterns had on my experience. One glaring element of my worldview was a strong sense of victimhood, though I wouldn’t have called it that back then. I’ve since unpacked it and made a significant effort to rid myself of it.
This did not come only from my upbringing as a Christian, but also from being raised the black female child of an addict father and a mother who grew up impoverished. I realize now that there was a bit of poverty- and inferiority-consciousness coming from several angles.
When you grow up in the kind of Holiness storefronts, Baptist chapels, and non-denominational Megachurches where parishioners now stand by with cell phones ready to capture the next shouting phenom for YouTube, ironically, you hear a lot of victim talk. You may be familiar with that cloud of struggle, negativity and complaints patched with a shallow “but-I-shall-overcome” refrain:
-Life is chaos-
“Girl, these people at this job can’t stand to see me coming ‘cause they know I love Jesus. They tried to get me demoted. It’s always a press goin in there for this ‘lil bit ‘o money. My lights bout to get cut off…yeah, and my daughter no-good boyfriend got arrested again… But I’m yet holdin on.”
-The devil is always trying to get me-
“I can’t leave the house yet. The devil is busy—he done hid my car keys!”
-I’m unhappy and I must grin and bear it-
“This marriage must be my cross to bear. God only approves divorce in cases of adultery and abuse. As long as ‘he be pleased to dwell’, and our life isn’t in danger I can’t leave him. I’m still believing God will save him one day.”
-It’s us against the world-
“We are God’s chosen few, and the world hates us for it!”
In this spiritual twilight zone, religion thrives on getting you to believe that there’s something wrong with you, that you need something outside yourself to make you “right”, that you are worthless without devotion to ground you and keep you connected to God. You are sinful and insignificant in and of yourself. And everyone, including Satan, is ALWAYS after you.
You are one of very few spiritually awakened people in a dying world, a world which is always looking for a reason to persecute you. (How ironic that this thought pattern can be so humble and so arrogant at the same time.) You “die daily” with Christ, or whichever venerated prophet of your religion suffered greatly for the cause. You are a constant victim, a target, a living martyr, and martyrdom is noble.
If you aren’t struggling, then you aren’t doing something right. If your life isn’t a struggle, a climb up the rough side of the mountain, that’s a sign that you’re in cahoots with Satan. After all if Satan saw you as any kind of threat, he’d be on your heels at every turn, making you late for church, causing your boss to hassle you, or hiding your car keys.
Struggle becomes a way of life and something to be proud of.
So it’s no wonder that this same mentality of acceptance of victimhood and passivity weaves its way into the romantic lives of those who possess it. Men and women hide behind their holy books to avoid taking initiative to improve their lives, to avoid making demands in their relationships.
Some put up with downright abuse, because “God hates divorce”.
Others refuse to speak up when they have unmet needs because they believe “love your neighbor as yourself” actually means “love your neighbor (wife, husband, child, etc.) instead of yourself. They live on the back burner…then secretly resent being overlooked.
Then there are those oddballs who have somehow come to the conclusion that God only approves of vanilla, missionary-style sex. (LOL! I’ve actually found myself in this conversation.) Their passion wanes, their beds grow cold, they go months at a time without even a little spice. And they still don’t take action! Now, in eleven years of intense scriptural study, I never came across a biblical Kama Sutra. And I can tell you, if had to keep my legs shut, chomp at the bit and wait years for God to send me a mate, and I finally got the chance to walk across the threshold into natural bliss, I’d enjoy it in WHATEVER position I wanted! But I digress.
After unpacking this element of victimhood and passivity, I realized that I had to learn how to be happy. I’m still learning. I had to take more initiative in my life, and that included taking steps toward a more balanced mental state. I asked myself:
“Do you even know how to be happy?”
“Can you accept your current position, flaws included, as meaningful and good—no doom and gloom? Do you know how to acknowledge the difficulties of life without wallowing in them? Can you take the initiative to use the resources that you already have rather than constantly begging God for a fix, rather than struggling through everything and waiting for happiness in the sweet by-and-by?”
“Do you realize that positivity, peace of mind, beauty, fun and enjoyment, flirtation and the dancing of masculine and feminine energies, laughter—all those things are supposed to be the rule, not the exception? Goddammit, your name is Joy (not Job). Pick up your mat and walk! Get down off your cross and live.”
At some point, the prospect of leading a life full of optimism and growth became much more appealing than existence as a self-absorbed victim. I started to understand why the Joy of the Lord is said to be our strength.
I’m still learning, but I’m enjoying the process.