What If Toxic Teachings Hadn’t Shaped Your Faith?

by | Jun 24, 2024 | Parenting Teens, Theology of Marriage and Sex | 44 comments

Woman wondering about faith without toxic teachings
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I grew up believing God was chronically disappointed in me.

I knew He loved me, absolutely.

But I also pictured God kind of like a self-help magazine cover: 7 Ways You Could be More Disciplined; 4 Ways You Could Be Getting More Things Done; 3 Ways You Could Stop Obsessing Over Silly Things.

He loved me, but gosh darnit, why can’t  you just be a little bit better, Sheila?

It wasn’t my mother who made me feel this way about God.

I think it started when I started to get involved in parachurch and missions organizations (especially Teen Missions International), and then started reading more Christian books. Thankfully the loving side of God mostly won out, but I have also struggled my whole adult life with giving myself permission to feel sad or angry or like I’m not the one responsible for repairing a rift.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since we recorded our podcast on Lies Young Women Believe, that we talked about last week. How girls were chastised for being lonely, or for being upset that parents are getting a divorce, because that means they don’t believe God is enough.

As I said last week, there’s a huge difference between saying:

  • “God cares about what you’re going through and He will comfort you”

and saying,

  • “Why don’t you believe that God will comfort you? Why don’t you believe that God cares? Don’t you realize you’re giving the devil a foothold?”
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So let’s take a step back and think about this from a parenting perspective.

I have had so many sleepless nights as a mom, especially once my girls were teens, whenever they were sad, or had relationship issues, or group dynamic issues, or faced big decisions and they were in turmoil.

I just wanted the turmoil to stop for them. I wanted to make it right. I hated seeing them upset. It hurt me.

Sometimes I would try to help them see perspective–“It won’t always be like this. I know it feels like the end of the world now, but in 10 years this person/thing/decision won’t matter to you in the same way and you’ll be with a healthier group of people.”

But I told them that perspective to help them stay calm and feel comforted, not because I was angry at them for their feelings. I wasn’t trying to talk them out of their feelings as much as I was trying to help them not be in as much despair.

What if God is actually like that too?

After all, Jesus said:

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:9-11

God cares even more than we do!

That means that when His children are in agony, He cares. He mourns with them. He is sad with them, just like I was sad with Rebecca or Katie.

I remember times when they were ill, with migraines or something, and you wish so desperately you can make it better.

You don’t sit there saying, “Well, sure, she’s in pain, but she should be grateful she has me for a mother,” or “well, sure she’s in emotional turmoil, but she should be thanking me for giving the life she does have and stop making me feel bad by being sad.”

You don’t get angry at them in the moment for feeling badly. You just want to take it on yourself, make it better.

Yet I was taught that my sadness and anger made God disappointed and separated me from Him.

I was told that when I was sad, it meant that I wasn’t grateful to God, and that God was upset. That when I was angry, it meant I was committing unforgiveness, and how can God forgive me if I don’t forgive others?

And as a teen, you are more likely to be in situations where you are being treated badly, because as a teen you can’t leave. You have very little control. And so many kids suffer from abuse at home, or bullying at school, or unfair treatment in some way and they have no recourse.

I was taught that I had to forgive those who hurt me, even if they were still actively hurting me–and not just that, but I may be the only Jesus they will ever see. So I had to be cheerful and loving and witness to them so that they would accept Jesus.

The one thing I couldn’t be was truthful about trauma or how I felt.

What amazes me now is how much the Bible talks about justice.

I somehow missed that growing up. I saw faith as “here’s what I need to do to get right with God” instead of “here’s God’s plan for the world and here’s what the kingdom of God looks like and here’s how His children should act.”

I missed that so much of faith is communal (so much so that communion was implemented as something we all do together.)

I wonder now, if I had been taught as a teen and young adult that when someone mistreats me, God cares. That can cause trauma that God wants to help me deal with. He wants to sit with me in my turmoil. But He also wants other Christians to come alongside me and make it right, as much as they can.

He doesn’t want me lectured to about putting it all in the past. He wants things actually fixed!

Imagine a God like that.

But I was told that if I was still having issues or still hurting about abandonment, it was because I hadn’t forgiven enough. My hurt was my fault. My bitterness was causing my troubles, not trauma; not legitimate loneliness; not heartbreak. No, just unforgiveness.

Yet what if I had forgiven, but was still hurting? That wasn’t an option, because they only reason you hurt is if you still harbor unforgiveness. So every time I hurt, I had to go through a whole forgiveness process again. It was truly ridiculous and ever so wrong.

I think this toxic teaching is one big reason so many leave the church.

The God that I was taught was constantly disappointed in me is a God that many of us want to run away from. It’s too heavy. It’s too much.

And if you’ve spent your whole life trying so hard to be accepted by a God like that–well, it’s no wonder people leave. We’ve actually caused trauma with our teaching. We’ve hurt people. We’ve taken away the comfort they shoud have had in God and replaced it with a torture chamber.

You may also enjoy these, to help combat toxic teaching:

Over the next few weeks on the podcast I’ll be sharing three different stories of people who have deconstructed their beliefs.

All started out 100% all in for Jesus, but all were taught a toxic form of Him. Two are still in the process of renegotiating faith, and I love watching their journeys to see where they are. Another has found the Jesus that we talk about here on Bare Marriage.

I think it’s important to listen to their stories, because this is the fruit of the teachings and the power dynamics that we have set up in churches. And they matter. The fact that people have been so hurt matters. Jesus left the 99 to go after the 1–and it is so, so much more than 1.

I wonder: what if? What if I had never been taught that? Would I have an easier time praying without feeling judgment on me whenever I’m angry about something? Would so many people not have felt so alienated from God?

We can’t answer the what ifs from the past. But we can make the future better. We can change the story for the next generation by focusing on healthy teachings, not toxic ones.

Let’s stop piling heavy burdens on young people who desperately want to know and love Jesus, and let’s work at what it means to be a Christian community instead.

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. JG

    Thank you for sharing this. You have voiced so many things that I have been processing now at 54. I was told many of the same things by my parents and other well meaning Christians. There are times that I express my anger to God over the mistreatment and then a few minutes later apologize for feeling like that. Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending that everything is ok with the other individual when I know that it isn’t.

  2. Amy G.

    Sounds like there are still people like the Pharisees and Judiazers that want to make sanctification based on our works instead of the Holy Spirit working in us. I accepted Jesus’ offer of salvation as a child because I wanted God’s protection against the evil of the world. Sure, people can still be jerks to me, but they’ll have to answer to God for it. Hopefully they trusted in Jesus. I wonder if I got vaccinated against the toxic teachings? I try to be discerning and if something doesn’t line up with Jesus, I don’t believe it and keep searching for the truth. Dounds like some people may be in danger of a worse fate than drowning if they drove people away from God by spiritually abusing them.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think I was partially vaccinated too, but it didn’t stop me feeling God was disappointed. It did stop me feeling like God thought less of me because I was a girl! At least I didn’t have that.

  3. Brittany

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I really needed this. God is my safe place, but I always had nagging thoughts that I am a constant disappointment and those thoughts get so overwhelming sometimes.
    I’ll be reading this post several times to try and absorb everything you said. I’d love for me and anyone that deals with this to be able to view God the way that you describe God as.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hope that too, Brittany! I’m glad it helped you today.

  4. Connie

    It’s really hard to know how my life would have been different if I would have known the real Jesus all along. Would I have taken Him for granted and overlooked the pain in those who didn’t? When I was 7, I was bedridden for 3 months and told I’d never walk again. I’m 71 now, and still don’t like to sleep in or have breakfast in bed. I want to get up and walk, and am so thankful for that. I ‘see’ those who can’t.

    On the other hand, maybe I would have had a mentor who taught me to see. I do know how grateful I am for writers like this who take the time to share truth with others.

    • Mina

      So, this is a bit off-topic, but about when your daughters had relationship issues, or group dynamic issues: once they’re pre-teens or teens, how would you *now* recommend dealing w that? (Perhaps in a different post)

      When I was young my mother never intervened, letting me go back into unhealthy girl-relationships over and over. I was lonely and had to choose between that and unhealthy relationships – which isn’t a great starting point for good decision-making practice.
      I don’t want to repeat that w my daughter, but I don’t want to do the opposite either. I want to be proactive, not reactive.

      Do you have any thoughts on this? Maybe different thoughts based on age? (My daughter is young: middle school)

      • Taylor

        One thing I try to do with my kids, especially my teenager, is talk about differentiating healthy vs unhealthy.

        We talk about it with TV shows, movies, books (of which I’ve ruined many by pointing out that the characters are treating each other badly). Bible characters. Real life situations, too. How are these people treating each other? Themselves? Is this respectful? Is this honoring? Is there a better way that situation could have been handled? Is this honest? Does this person really want good for the other person, or are they posing and manipulating? How did this person just affect that person? (Jane Austin material is great for these kinds of conversations.)

        Asking questions, and sharing personal insights, asking what they see and what they think. Comparing and contrasting. Looking at the short-term and long-term fruit. These are just some things that are working for us.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        We have some exercises in our book She Deserves Better to help girls navigate difficult friendships. That may be a place to start!

      • Angharad

        Whatever help you offer needs to be aimed at helping your kids learn how to make good decisions, so I think providing information and asking questions are important. So for younger kids who are wanting to know what to do about something, suggesting options and asking them which they think is best and why. And having an open discussion, rather than ‘we do this’ – I had a friend who was raised with ‘we do this’ and by her mid 20s, she was still incapable of making any decision that didn’t fit her ‘rules’ because she’d never been taught HOW to make good decisions. The older kids get, the less input you should need to give them – more being a sounding board to consider their options. And letting them know that they still have your support and love even if they end up making a decision that is different from the one you would have chosen in their place.

        • Nessie

          Just confirming what Angharad said- my husband was never taught to think for himself or analyze any situations. He was always given the answer (or the rules to make the answer tht looked best outwardly). Only into his 4th decade did he begin learning how to do that for himself. It has caused a LOT of problems.
          Give people a fish, they eat for a day. Teach people to fish, they can feed themselves.

  5. Angharad

    It’s weird, but while I felt a lot of guilt and condemnation from people growing up (and a lot of hatred of my own body, because it was that terrible thing that ‘made’ men stumble), it didn’t affect how I saw Jesus or the Bible. Maybe it was because I gave my life to Jesus when I was very young and it’s hard to convince someone to believe lies about a person they’ve known and trusted for years. So while a lot of stuff I accepted about ‘church’ was toxic, it somehow didn’t affect that. At one point in my teens, the sense of condemnation got so bad that I decided to take my own life, but ended up not being able to go through with it because I didn’t want to disappoint Jesus. Not in the sense of ‘oh you terrible person, don’t you realise it’s the ultimate sin to kill yourself?’, but because Jesus had done so much for me and loved me so much, how could I kill myself when I knew it would hurt Him. I think if I’d grown up with a view of Jesus as someone who was constantly criticising me, I probably wouldn’t still be here, because I’d have just thought “hey, if I’m such a disappointment already, there’s no point holding back”.

    And I know I’ve quoted it here before, but one of the most helpful things I’ve heard in this area is that if a Christian is feeling condemned or pushed away from God, that’s from the devil, if they’re feeling convicted, that’s from the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit is always going to point us towards Christ.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m actually a lot like that. When I started speaking at women’s events, the central point of my talk was that God was with you and God understood. I felt that intrinsically, always. But I still struggled with the “you should try just a little bit harder.”

  6. Nessie

    “Yet what if I had forgiven, but was still hurting? That wasn’t an option, because they only reason you hurt is if you still harbor unforgiveness. ”

    I struggle with much of this internally, but also the constant external judgment from family and others who say I harbor unforgiveness because there is still hurt, because there are now boundaries in place which they feel prove unforgiveness… it is such a heavy burden! No light yokes there.

    I am so looking forward to this series as you explore these toxic ideas of God. I think so many people meant well but in some sense blasphemed the name of God by so greatly misjudging His character and teaching that misjudgment- the result of which is so many damaged relationships of Him and His children.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Boundaries are the one thing that should be taught so much more in the church, and they’re hardly ever taught at all. They’re so central to healthy relationships, yet women are rarely told we can have them.

  7. Jo R

    If being a Christian were about following rules instead of, I dunno, a relationship with the risen christ, then I ought to have felt absolutely fantastic!

    I followed all the rules to the nth degree, and I got sadder and sadder, and I felt more and more condemned. I knew I could never be perfect, because I had been failing at that my whole life (my dad having been an alcoholic perfectionist and absolutely impossible to satisfy). I was well aware of alllll my shortcomings, and not even the Holy Spirit could get me over the hump. 🙄

    So now here I am, as distant from God as I’ve ever been, not to mention being totally confused about what my life should look like, as I failed completely at even beginning to achieve any of the things everyone told me meant I was a “real” Christian.

    But I’m here, at least, among all y’all, so I’m hanging on to God by the absolute thinnest thread in the universe. It will have to do for the foreseeable future. So thanks to all of you for that.

    • Marina

      A thread is still something, at least. You might weave something yet with it.

    • Taylor

      You are brave.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad we can hold some of that thread for you, Jo!

    • Angharad

      God is hanging on to the other end of that thread, and He loves you far too much to let it break x

  8. Marina

    I emphasize with a lot of your story. Like you, I’ve felt like (and still feel like) I frequently disappoint God. It wasn’t my parents either, but what I read and heard from other Christians. I’ve never really been on a mission trip, but I guess I’ve always been someone to ponder my faith, and really think about the implications of things. Add in being rather “off brand” as an introverted fantasy and mythology lover in comparison to most of the other Christians that I am around. I have felt like I would drastically have to alter a lot of myself in order to really be pleasing to God. People talk about rewards in heaven and hearing “well done”? I try to minimize the talking to I feel is coming my way, and have given up on anything as honoring as “well done”. Like you, there is the sense of “Yes, God loves me. But that doesn’t exclude being frustrated with me.”
    I’m definitely staying with my beloved King, but I don’t know where I really fit in with his kingdom on earth. Yes, I know people say to pray for guidance. But I have never been able to “sense” guidance like other Christians speak of. Something else that goes in the “Alright, but how?” category in my brain, I guess.

    • Kristy

      I’m another fantasy and mythology lover (and science fiction — do you like that, too?) You would have fit right in with C..S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. God doesn’t want you to alter yourself. He made you as you are, and how much poorer this world would be if you were anything other than what you are. I don’t think God wastes much time being frustrated with us. He knows our frailties, and though he sometimes needs to discipline us, surely his overwhelming emotions when he looks at us are love and delight. I think that when the time comes, instead of getting a talking to, we will hear, “Welcome home, beloved child.” We are none of us perfect, but we are each of us perfectly loved.

      I don’t have much in the way of words of wisdom about sensing God’s guidance except to say that I don’t think it’s so much about sensing his guidance as it is about hearing his voice, and in my experience, the “still, small voice” really is very small and quiet, and if one ignores it, God usually doesn’t keep nagging, which means it’s very easy to assume that what you “heard” was just your own thoughts. For me, the turning point came when one day, not too long ago, a thought that I should do something rather weird and seemingly completely unnecessary suddenly popped into my head, and I thought, “Huh, that’s a weird thought. Well, maybe I’ll do that one day, but right now I’m busy with other things.” And then when disaster fell, I realized very clearly that God had been trying to get my attention because if I had done what the thought told me to do, I would have avoided some very painful consequences. That was painful, but it did teach me, “Oh, so that’s what God’s voice sounds like, at least sometimes.” Is that the kind of guidance you’re thinking of? Because I know that God also speaks through Bible verses that can jump out at you as you’re reading, and also by insistent thoughts, like answers, that pop into your head in response to your prayers, as well as in other ways (dreams, for example, though I have no experience with that). I’m still learning, so I hesitate to give advice of any kind, but perhaps instead of praying for guidance, a first step might be to pray that he would teach you to recognize his voice (and, I hope, without having to learn the hard way as I did). Jesus said that his sheep will know his voice, but I don’t think that happens instantly. I think it’s the result of experience, of many repeated instances of listening, trusting, and getting confirmation that what you thought you sensed was indeed from God. He says he will give wisdom to those who ask, so . . . maybe that’s a good place to start.

      • Nethwen

        Kristy, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective. I can agree with you that God doesn’t nag in the obnoxious sense, but I don’t think that God speaks once and then is silent if we don’t get it. Think about the prophets of the Old Testament. How often did God sent the ancient Israelites the same message again and again and again? How often did Jesus tell his disciples the same thing again and again, maybe in different ways, but patiently repeating the concept?

        Also, if God loves us, why would God be silent if we don’t hear or understand the first time? If it’s important for us to hear, wouldn’t the loving action be for God to do whatever it takes to give us the opportunity to hear and understand? Plus, if God knows everything, then he knows that humans have a hard time knowing when he is speaking. If God loves us, then wouldn’t he work with that limitation instead of against it?

        I think that the Church puts a lot of pressure on Christians to hear from God, but that God doesn’t put that pressure on us. I think the Church turns hearing from God into a human-based action that we have to work at instead of something that God gives us. What if God doesn’t actually speak to us like the Church portrays?

        What if a direct message from God is more rare? What if there are the general messages seen in Scripture, then God expects us to use the intelligence we are given to do our best? What if the help of the Holy Spirit in using our intelligence is 95% of the time something seamless, not a direct event we can point to? I think that represents what most Christians experience and relieves a lot of pressure to hear God directly. All the testimonies we hear from people who heard God, like your story, are statistically tiny compared to the millions of decisions a person makes in a lifetime. I think the Church needs to stop trying to turn the extraordinary into the ordinary. It would relieve a lot of stress and where in the Bible does it say that stress is an expected part of following God?

        • Angharad

          Agreed – I should have made that clearer in my comment on the topic. 90% of my days, I’m just getting on with living life, but trying to do it inline with what the Bible says. Having that definite ‘nudge’ from God isn’t an everyday thing – and if it’s something I really need to do, then I will keep getting ‘nudged’ until I do it!

          Having said that, I do think that it might be possible to hear God directly more often if we are expecting it. I’ve certainly found that the more I try to keep my spiritual ‘ears’ open to what He might be saying, the more I have those moments of “wow, I think that was God doing something”. And I have friends who are much better at doing this and who hear even more! But I don’t look on it as stressful – more as being like a new skill that I am learning, and the more I practice, the better I get. I tend to start off the day by praying “Help me to see where You are working today. Help me to hear Your voice. Help me to know how You want me to use this day” but I don’t sit around waiting to hear something – I just get on with my day, but trying to keep a ‘listening ear’ at the same time!

    • Angharad

      Oooh, that guidance thing – I’ve wished so often for a pillar of cloud or fire – those Israelites don’t realise how easy they had it!

      For me, it’s mostly a kind of ‘nudging’ – I feel a prompt to do/not do something. Maybe I’ve got a person or situation on my mind and I can’t shift it. Sometimes, I set out to walk my usual route to the post office and just ‘feel’ like I should be taking a different route – and bump into someone who really needs to talk. Or I’ll be making a decision and feel a real sense of oppression and lack of peace over it – and a lightness when I ‘change my mind’ and say no.

      And most of the time, it’s not going to make a huge difference if I’ve got it wrong – supposing God wasn’t telling me to call that person, they’re still probably going to appreciate a phone call and if I know what’s going on in their life right now, I can pray for them more effectively. Obviously, with bigger decisions, I really do need to know if it’s God speaking to me, but I can compare what I think He is saying against the Bible (because He’s never going to contradict His own word), I can ask wise believers what they think, and I can keep praying for confirmation that I’m on the right track.

      Keep at it! I do envy some of my friends who seem to have a direct hotline to heaven, but I am finding it easier to hear God the longer I listen.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I get it, Marina! I hope one day you just experience the acceptance and joy of God.

    • JG

      Yes, to fantasy and fiction books. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Lynn Austin and a few others have been great mentors even though I have never met them. Stories touch us in a way that straight out prose never will. Jesus used stories many times to illustrate what the kingdom of God is like. C.S. Lewis gave a view of what heaven might be like in the Last Battle. There are a lot of us introvert, fantasy readers around, and God has used that to shape who we are. Blessings to all.

  9. Erica Tate

    100% yes! Thanks so much for this. I’ve shared it with some older Christian friends who seem to be labouring under a wrong concept of God’s love. I’d like to share it more widely. There’s just one teensy problem, to wit: is there any way of changing the orgasm course advert on here to something else (LOL)? I feel that it would be a wee bit too confronting for some of my friends to have that plunked in front of them while reading this.

    If you would be able to do that, that would be much appreciated. 🙂

    I do realise that I can print the article out to share with them and just cut the ad, so it’s no biggie if it’s not workable for you. Thanks. Or as we say in the Kiwi Antipodes: cheers.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know! It’s hard because the ads rotate and sometimes it will be an orgasm course and sometimes it will be something else. I can’t really take it out of the rotation because then it’s out everywhere, and that course is what funds the blog. But if you hit refresh enough times it will be a different ad!

  10. Rachel

    I’m crying reading this.

    I cannot even begin to imagine how different my life would have been if I hadn’t used the Bright Lights curriculum (Sarah Mally, IBLP-affiliated). If I hadn’t read Lies Young Women Believe. If I didn’t turn to Boundless every time I had relationship questions.

    I’m still unpacking so much shame and guilt—and these resources would shame me for feeling shame! It’s no wonder I became depressed and numb. What else was I supposed to do when every emotion, every thought, every action was a land mine of sin?

    I’m slowly getting to know God again. Getting to discover the Jesus I was always told loved me but never believed he did. This blog has been such a huge help on my journey. ❤️

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad I could help you! I know it’s a long journey.

  11. CMT

    How would it have been different if, when I felt fearful or ashamed as a kid, a wise adult had helped me through those emotions?

    How would it have been different if virtually every presentation of the Gospel I ever heard (and I heard a lot as a kid) didn’t stress how I needed to be saved because of how terrible I was for breaking God’s rules?

    How would it have been different if I had known in my bones I wasn’t just saved no matter what, I was connected and cared for and valued no matter what?

    Yeah, still figuring that out. I might never know, but I hope my kids are able to fill me in someday.

  12. Jane Eyre

    This is beautiful.

    It strikes me that so many of the toxic teachings are actually how toxic and dysfunctional parents treat their own children. Their children’s emotions are inconvenient; they dislike when their children rely on them; they want their children to fix the problem, even though the parents are more capable of it.

    Regarding mistreatment by other people: why is sin bad? Why doesn’t hurt God when we sin? Why is the Golden Rule to treat others as we ourselves want to be treated?

    It seems pretty obvious that God hurts because sin causes human suffering. Whether the pain is physical (abuse, starvation) or spiritual (adultery, cruelty), God doesn’t want us to hurt His children.

    If that’s the case, then, where on earth does this garbage about “your suffering is an affront to God” come from??? Help me out here.

    • Angharad

      Yes, some of these people must have to completely rewrite the Bible to fit in with their ‘don’t be sad or you’ll upset God’ teaching.

      The Bible is stuffed full of passages about justice and some pretty strong words for those who ignore the cries of those who are suffering. And there is absolutely nothing in any of those verses about God being disappointed or angry with those who are suffering – all His anger is reserved for those who are causing the suffering!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I completely agree. God hurts when we hurt, and He doesn’t want human suffering.

  13. Laura

    I honestly don’t know how my walk with God would be had I not heard and absorbed those toxic teachings. What I think has gotten worse in American culture is that politics and religion are forced to come together. It’s awful when people are trying to force religion into the government. I never liked having religion shoved down my throat.

    Thirty years ago, the somewhat gentle prodding of my friend got me to accept salvation which I have no regret doing. However, it was feeling like I had to fit a certain mold such as get married, have babies and be a homemaker all before I turned 25. In church-y circles in my hometown during the 1990s, it seemed like many were still stuck in the 1950s.

    It was my mother who kept reminding me that God and Jesus did not write the Bible and a lot of those beliefs that churches have pushed are really not of God or Jesus. If only I listened to my mom before listening to everyone else around me who were Christians. My mom was raised in the Catholic Church and turned away from organized religion during my childhood, but she still believes in God.

    Toxic church teachings made my already black and white thinking more polarized. In my 30’s I had a Christian male counselor who kept reminding me not to remain in that all-or-nothing thinking. Apparently he did not fall into the toxic teachings that many have absorbed.

    While I am grateful to have Jesus as my Savior and continue to grow closer to Him, I’m still trying to unravel those toxic teachings I’ve heard throughout my 30 years of being a Christian.

  14. Nathan

    >> where on earth does this garbage about “your suffering is an affront to God” come from???

    My guess is that it comes from a desire of some to control others and is linked with the “bright, shiny happy” philosophy. If I’m a person like this, then I get offended when anyone in my family or congregation isn’t insanely happy and cheerful at all times, because I think it makes me look bad. Therefore, I demand that my people are always positive so that I look good as the creator of that happiness. And if any of them are ever sad, etc., then I worry that it may reflect on me. At least, that’s my guess as to how it got started.

    Now, just in case, I have a few caveats. Yes, Satan is real. Yes, demons are real. Yes, they try to tempt us. But they aren’t always everywhere doing everything all the time. Satan isn’t hiding behind every rock and tree, and he isn’t responsible for every negative emotion on the planet. Life is messy and chaotic at times WITHOUT supernatural assistance.

    • Nessie

      Fwiw, I was told that not appearing joyful was a bad witness for Christ. If I didn’t look joyful- always- then I was besmirching the image of Jesus. I was pushing people away from Christ. And I was not living out “count it all joy when you encounter trials of every kind.”

      • Lisa Johns

        That’s how I tried to maintain my marriage for many, many years — everything had to be shiny and happy so that we would be a “good witness for Jesus.” It ate my lunch and in retrospect, I know that if I had been able to know that Jesus cared about my misery in a very toxic situation, my “witness” might have shown a lot mor love to the world than my marriage did.

    • Lisa Johns

      Them: “Your suffering is an affront to God.”
      Also them: “God wants you holy not happy.”
      Me: “Hmm. Inconsistent much?”
      The church: ” Move along, nothing to see here.”

      • Nessie


        The cognitive dissonance is unreal.

      • Jo R

        Nice one, Lisa!


  15. Nessie

    As I sift and resift over and over the toxic crap from what is true of Jesus, I often wonder what and why I am working so hard to do so. Is it a lingering fear of hell and not being saved? Or do I really believe there is some good that still exists and it’s worth fighting for?

    A memory just surfaced that I think is the key to my fight- a book I read as a child called The Shoemaker’s Dream. I love that book and I think it is part of the deepest foundation of my faith and that is why I stay in this fight. It exemplifies Matthew 25:34-40. If I hadn’t had that book’s message engrained in me, I might not still be holding on. I hope others can take a memory such as that and cling tightly to it while they continue to sift their beliefs, too.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m the same way! there were some beautiful stories and beautiful encounters with Jesus I had as a child. I know that Jesus is real and that love is real. that makes me hold on.


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