What happens to a person when they are exposed to continual invalidation, isolation, and abandonment while they are experiencing one of the greatest personal and emotional crises of their life? There are many answers to the question that could result in a book instead of a blog post describing dimensions of biochemical, neurological, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological components that trigger damaging, and destructive emotions. On a personal level, the travesty for the individual in crisis during the process of feeling pain and loss of all that important in life, they also are faced with the task of coping with others inability to face crisis, suffering, and death of someone they love.
Alone, Isolated, Feeling Rejected
As it begins, you are left alone emotionally and face the feelings of rejection, isolation and then as if that was not enough, the invalidation experienced leaves you with the sense that what you causes you to question if what you are feeling is not real, and not or important enough for anyone to recognize the deep loss and the pain of losing your primary connection to life. This feeling of emptiness felt is more than you can bear because it seems that what you are feeling is a solitary pain and not important enough to be heard or acknowledged by anyone around you. So, it seems in these moments, you are left alone in your sackcloth and ashes to suffer the loss of someone has been your whole life and it seems that the whole world has gone away and is darkened by loneliness, pain, and despair.
Sometimes people say “I understand” and mean well, but If the speaker has not had a similar experience, there is not a remote capacity they have to understand what this experience is like. So the well meaning words kind people say are wasted words used by people trying to say the right thing at a emotionally difficult time to say anything, it is inaccurate empathy. Sitting in the Hospice care room and thinking back about the years I had spent efforts taking care of others and their families through moments of crisis life for most of my life, compounded by my own experience of Thyroid cancer, a misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease; managing diabetes, an encounter with a steel pipe to the head and; then, the final blow of losing a wife to cancer; I needed to know that someone cared. In those moments I recalled something that I had read by Albert Ellis that reminded me that it wasn’t the circumstances of death, personal suffering of others responses, but how I felt about the experiences that I was having and I had some faulty expectations that left me feeling empty.
Abandoned and Alone
Even though it may not have been true in other peoples eyes, at that moment in time, my experience of life magnified abandonment and isolation in every moment. It seemed that some people should have cared enough to sit with me, talk to me, like I sat with their dying family members through the years. In those moments while Linda was dying, I was was plagued by the moments and the memory about the time when I chose to be transparent enough to share with the church, the deacons, and leaders that I was very sick and could not perform at the level that I had before because I had cancer. The response that I received was not compassion, but pressure and opportunistic anger leading to further responses organizing efforts to place greater pressure on me to perform. Four years had passed since I left that church and while I was waiting in the Hospice center not one person came from congregation that I had served, not one card, not one flower, not one call. In these dark moments, I was reminded of these painful emotions and remembered the way I felt Christian people showed no empathy to a dying woman who had been a part of their church for six years. I pondered the thoughts about the way that my wife spent her last weeks and last last memory knowing that the response of people we had once believed in and thought were friends were not giving a hand up. There is no greater pain in life than the feeling of being abandoned and left alone to die. In the valley of the shadow of death, the feeling of abandonment and loneliness reminded me of the lies that we come to believe in life about other people.
The Sounds of Anger
If it sounds like I was angry and that I had anger that needed expressed, let me assure you that I was angry and it was churning a tune that would have expressed an unpleasant song given the opportunity to be heard. In that experience, I felt that I had good reason to be angry with people whom I believed were not acting like I wanted them to act in this situation, so I was angry because they expressed no empathy. It appeared to me that I had not been very effective at teaching them to show mercy and I just could not believe that people we had served could be so calloused while my wife lay dying and not a one of them had the common courtesy to call, visit, or express any concern. After living through an experience of wishing the worst things on people whom I believed were the source of so much, I realize that emotional pain and bitterness leads to a counterproductive way of living. Bitterness only hurts the person who is bitter, so in those moments I surrendered my bitterness to a loving God who did care and I resigned myself not live in bitterness and unforgiveness. However, I will always be impacted by the actions that were unjust behaviors of those who claimed to know the Lord and acted as reprobates.
Lost and Alone
After my Linda died, I felt like my life was over and I felt the sting of emotional and psychological abuse from angry people acting out who claimed to know Christ, but were less than compassionate in every way. I moved away and in my new place, I did not have the constant reminder the aggravation of seeing the people who had religious conversation characterized by concepts of expressing love, acceptance and mercy, but behaved with judgment, pain, isolation, and abandonment. I have to admit, I really did not understand why people were acting the way they were, while I was trying to find some way to refocus life amidst the blur of grief compounded by the absence of support from most people that I would have expected to be helpful. If that sounds ominous, it was and in those dark moments I knew that if I did not do something drastic to change the direction of my life, I soon would be destroyed and on the street with no one to help me build a bridge to whatever road was ahead, so I followed my instincts and made a clean break from everyone and everything and did the things that I knew to do as a place to start.
Refocusing my Spiritual Life
As a recovering church and ministry junkie, I had come to realize that living inside a religious life only offered redemption as a concept and not as a transformational principle. It took the accumulation of the worst tragedies in life into a single event and understanding that I had spent my life in a religious world of no substance, around shallow religious, and among many people who merely practiced cultural Christianity. The element that was missing was relationships with people who actually lived their life through the gospel lens. Broken people who lived the kind of relationship that Jesus modeled and proclaimed. Personally, I felt victimized by religious do gooders when, in fact, my problem was I had a distorted perception of reality because I was fooling myself with the appeal of the broad way that looked to people for answers, instead of looking to God and it ended in destruction. I expected people who were not conformed to the gospel to live in accordance with its demands for total sacrifice. I somehow thought Christians would be Christians when called upon. However, this belief could not have been further from the truth– people always act in their best interest and out of their own need justifying what they do. The problem is that this religious narcissism offered pretentious platitudes with no commitment to caring for anything that did not make the churchy people feel good about themselves for doing nothing, but criticize another’s pain. The whole experience made me think of how Jesus must have felt while hanging on the Cross and people passing by jeering, mocking, and ridiculing Him in His suffering –what monumental invalidation of the worst kind. How unfortunate, the lies that that are taught, modeled and reinforced among the morally religious.
Church People are as Fallible and Wicked as anyone Else
It is with great sadness that I have to report that I had to come to terms with the painful realization that the heart of a man is deceitfully wicked above any other thing without redemption, mercy, and love. I witnessed people acting destructively with surgical precision, while all I could do is keep my hat on in the storm. Unfortunately, my disappointment was compounded by my expectations of people and about the character of human behavior that justified evil acts while holding the bible in one hand and a dagger in the other. When a person has false expectations about people and life; then that individual ends up disillusioned and disappointed by the false ideas believed, the result can be tragic. Disillusionment leads to failure in life, bitterness about experiences and alienation from cultural Christians whose lives have not been transformed by the Gospel. Indeed, things experience has taught me educated me that the church is ill-equipped at helping people who have real problems. It is because many churches are led by religious cripples with their tin cup held out requiring alms from the wounded and broken. I am sorry to say that I have discovered that a religious crowd of cultural Christians are very good at is creating emotional invalids, while religious authorities demand conformity to the status quot to find acceptance. The best organization in the world is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is made up of people who are a part of an organizational system that has no fail-safe approach for people who experience brokenness outside of the finite norms created by the mainstream dilettantes.
What is a person to do when all that is right goes wrong leaving you in a pile ruins, then in one fell swoop everything is lost, hope is gone, and you’re left alone? You have a choice to grow bitter and spiteful or get better and move on with life. The myth that we need freedom from is that our hope is in the people of the church. The truth we need to give hope is found in the sufficient savior of the church
The Valley of the Shadow of Death is a Solitary Journey
I remember as I sat in the hospice with Linda dying and thinking– remembering how many times I had been there with other families who had a family member dying. I remember thinking to myself, “Where are those people who I served and where is the church, the pastor, the family now?” Death is one of those solitary experiences that you have to go through alone, but it is a time that no one should be alone. If you want to invalidate someone, leave them alone when they get older and when they are dying. I remember very clearly the isolation and loneliness of those moments. As I sat there I waited hoping that anyone would come that I knew would care. As I called and talked on the phone with one person who hoping for encouragement, what I heard was that she had that she had received a word from God and that Linda was going to be healed, but she wasn’t because she did not have enough faith. I found out that in the valley of the shadow of death religious people commit some of the worst atrocities at the expense of the dying patient in the name of a religious deception. The power of denial turns the religious mythology into invalidation by refusing to accept that death brings the healing and encounter with God. I remember the particular sting of guilt and feeling anger when the same person told me that I should take Linda out of Hospice because that was where people went to die and again reminded me that we did not have enough faith. As I understand the fear of loss of control in the moments of dying, the reality of death and others readiness to face death helps to explain the confusing behavior.
What I discovered through this process is that I had faulty notions about people that made expect things from people that they were not capable of giving in the way that I expected. My interpretation of that made me believe at that moment that if they were really Christians they would show love and if they were family, they would show respect, but it did not happen as I thought it should. I was disappointed and the moment came when she died with my hand on her chest, there along with my daughter and son I felt her last breath, her heart stop and a tear trickled out of the corner of her right eye. The lie that I believed was that my expectations would be met and that people would care as much as I had and they did not. I learned in death to see the light of day.
People are Heartless
What I discovered is that people can be seem to be heartless at times like this inside both and outside the church. The difference is that people inside the church have one set of answers about life and people who are outside the church have another set of answers. A mutually exclusive truth I learned about myself and other is that people do act according to their personal interests, needs, and beliefs and this was not one of them for many people, but it was for me. Mistakenly, I believed that somehow people would act as I thought that I used to –go sit, pray, or give support. The result, for me, was disappointment and disillusionment. The point is that I thought they should, would– show interest and it made me angry, and not for myself, but that people could show such a lack of feeling about someone who was innocently and undeserving dying such a horrible death. At the end of the day, the anger that I feel has not gone away and probably never will about the injustice, but I have learned to manage what I felt, experienced, and is a lifelong reality. The unfortunate thing is that when such emotionally charged memories become a part of existence that it changes life forever.
I will probably never get over what has happened, but living with bitterness is no more an option that living false religious beliefs and expectations about people. Consequently, Linda’s life is over and I regret that people who should have expressed compassion did not and left her with the empty morbid reality of death without time to say I love you and that you are important enough to me that I will set aside my personal interests and show love and care as the shadow hovers over your life and death awaits the time of its arrival.
- Easter: Spiritual Life and Invalidation at the Cross (organizationalchangesolutions.wordpress.com)
- A dying church (geneveith.com)
- Hospice Care for Pancreatic Cancer Patients (everydayhealth.com)
- A New Way of Thinking About Church: Part 3 (stjohnscathedral.ca)
- What Are Your Expectations As You Go To Church Today? (pastorpaulvbsblog.blogspot.com)
- Bill Hicks (palehorsenovel.wordpress.com)
- A nasty root: bitterness! (mrsknack.wordpress.com)
- Avoid Bitterness Like the Plague (revivalandreformation.wordpress.com)
- The Salon Writer Who Fell in Love with Joel Osteen’s Megachurch (owenstrachan.com)
- I Wouldn’t Want Her For My (Or My Loved Ones’) Chaplain, Either (thelightheartedcalvinist.com)
- What people say before they die (religion.blogs.cnn.com)
- Overheard on CNN.com: Last words (news.blogs.cnn.com)
- The 10th Commandment (steveprestegard.com)
- Why Should A Christian Go To Church? (inspire85.wordpress.com)
- Click a Blessing Today – Don’t be the dead cat (ptl2010.com)
- Don’t Go It Alone by Mark D. Roberts (trinityspeaks.wordpress.com)
- The Tricky Nature of Loving Beyond Measure (stephenlbaxter.wordpress.com)
- Bitterness: Weeding out the Poisonous Root. (pastormikesays.wordpress.com)
- Poison (definingmydash.wordpress.com)
- Playing the Victim? (pstcardenasblog.wordpress.com)
- Like Drinking Poison (thewritelife2.wordpress.com)
- Bitterness: A Silent Marriage Killer (covenantfamilyaffairs.wordpress.com)
- Church Personalities (kountrykinges.wordpress.com)
- Do We Really Understand Forgiveness? (joeycoons.wordpress.com)
- How Can I Love the Church? (apologus.wordpress.com)
- The Root of Bitterness- by Pastor Mike Castanares (mynewbeginningschurch.wordpress.com)
- No Revenge (devog.wordpress.com)
- No Revenge (achristianmeditation.wordpress.com)
- So, Why Do People Really Go To Church? (organizationalchangesolutions.wordpress.com)
- Threatened with Resurrection (therevandtheboys.wordpress.com)
- The Healing Power of Forgiveness (refusingtopanic.wordpress.com)
- Strangling Roots of Bitterness – Part 3 of 3 (pocketrippingmoments.wordpress.com)
- “Am I Dying…?” (livingthekingdom.wordpress.com)