Trigger Warning: the following post contains frank discussion of childhood trauma induced by another and the aftermath. This is a trigger warning as well as general warning to those who may feel uncomfortable with the subject matter.
I was raped and sexually abused by a next door neighbor as a very young child. He threatened to kill me and my family if I told. I say this only to put this post into the context of my lived experience.
The problem with chewed gum, worn shoes, licked cupcakes, crushed roses and sticky candy (none of these lessons I’ve ever actually been taught) have been discussed enough here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, lots of times here, here and a million other places. These lessons are terrible in their own right and hurt women and girls in real ways. However I reject the notion that without these lessons rape victims would feel a sense of self and worth and cry out, fight back, and be whole.
Little girls in Bangladesh feel worthless and unwanted after rape without lessons of chewed gum, licked cupcakes and Jesus. In a matter of moments rape sucks every drop of self-will out of you. In that moment of compulsion, God granted self-determination no longer exists. Your body is beholden to the violence and lust of another. There is nothing you can do and it changes you forever. You wonder if you have any choices at all. You wonder if you will ever be able to act—or will only be acted upon, dependant on the mercy of merciless.
You replay it over and over and try to stop it, to fix it. You can’t, but you keep trying. You wonder why God let it happen, and you are told it’s because of agency-and you pretend you still have yours. The truth is religion can be very harmful. My own religion can be very harmful.
Terrible object lessons in these situations are terrible not because they make girls feel worthless, that damage has already been done, but in part because the place we go to receive succor fails us. And it fails us in the most critical of moments. And it fails to show us God’s mercy.
My religion failed me as a teen when I began serious scripture study. Moroni 9:9 cut like a knife. So did the words of my seminary teacher my freshman year of high school. He prompted the girls in the class that we must have serious discussions with our husbands when we were married about whether he would want us to die or be raped. I wondered if it was better if I was dead. The guilt of having ‘selfish’ desires outside of wifehood and motherhood was unbearable. Each interview I endured with men who presided over me, first to get baptized as a child and then regularly as a teen, was saturated with fear. Despite being warned in these interviews that it was my job to protect my blossoming body from the sexual desires of men, I was terrified I might be sexually assaulted before I left the room.
My religion failed me in a million little ways. My religion impacted my eating disorders as I tried to regain power over my body. The words and implications of Church sermons, folklore imbued lessons and even pivotal teachings have stung like millions of tiny darts hitting me over and over again. No man would want me because I was damaged goods. This was a trial God chose to inflict upon me to make me stronger. God won’t give you more than you can handle, so I should be able to handle it. I just didn’t have enough faith. God protects the righteous, I must not be righteous. God protects and guides chosen people to do his work on the earth. God didn’t seem to have a plan for me, I wasn’t foreordained enough because I wasn’t enough—not in a pre-earth life and certainly not here. I wasn’t protected so in the eternal scheme of things I must not matter. I was just an afterthought, a side note. And most of all, I didn’t have enough faith, because if I did all the pain would go away. If I could just pray more, fast more, read scriptures more, serve more, forget myself more… It would be like it never happened. I just didn’t believe enough in Jesus. All the pain was my fault.
My religion redeemed me in a million little ways. The Word of Wisdom kept me from numbing my pain in ways that would keep from growing emotionally. The Law of Chastity kept me from looking for value in all the wrong places. The words and implications of Church sermons, spirit-filled lessons and pivotal teachings sunk deep into my soul and filled me with peace like soothing drops of rain washing me over and over again. This isn’t a trial I chose, or God chose. It wasn’t part of any plan. He didn’t let it happen because I could handle it better than someone else. The pain won’t go away, and that is ok. God lives. We are his. I am his. I am his daughter. He knows me. He loves me. He speaks to me and to each of us in a language our souls understand. He lets others bless my life, and allows me to bless the lives of others.
My religion redeemed me when as a missionary I was surrounded by good, young Elders who helped me to learn I could trust men. It is because of our relationships with others that we yearn for the living God. At these critical moments we both find and offer succor—and it is here we must not fail. It is in these relationships we find God’s mercy.
My religion will never take away all the pain. Faith in Jesus won’t take away the sorrow, the memories, or the crushing fear for the lives of my children. Religion doesn’t solve the problem of evil. But it brings us to the mercy seat of God time and time again. There, but for the grace of God, I go.
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