I have to interrupt the story of Dave and me to go back and paint a clearer picture of the influence of church on me. It will make some of the choices I am soon to make in these entries, make more sense to you.
I sort of measure time in my life by the relationship I was in. When I was with Michael, church was where I felt loved. I’m sure that Michael loved me, in his teenage boy kind of way; but his life at home wasn’t much better than mine, and where I sought out positive attention wherever I could get it, he just clung to me. He did not respect me, though, nor did he respect my boundaries.
This was the first church I’d ever attended that preached about The Rapture. If you are not familiar with Rapture doctrine, it is the belief that Jesus will be returning any day to take all those who are saved up to heaven, leaving behind those who hadn’t made the cut. If one was left behind, one could expect a thousand years of tribulation, a time when Satan would rule, etc. There was some debate as to whether the Tribulation would come before or after the Rapture.
It was a terrifying notion, especially to a vulnerable teenager who desperately wanted to believe what she was told she was supposed to believe, but who didn’t actually believe it. While I was familiar with anxiety due to the erratic behavior of my drug and alcohol-abusing parents, this was when I first began experiencing panic attacks. There were two usual causes of my panic attacks. One was that since I didn’t believe what I thought I was supposed to believe, God would reject me and I would be Left Behind – I capitalized those words because they are a common scare tactic theme among fundamentalist groups. The other was that if I was taken by the rapture, my family, troubled as they were, would be Left Behind.
One night, during youth group, I had a meltdown and finally shared the feelings that I was having. I sobbed my heart out that I was terrified, and that I felt like even confessing my fears out loud might make them happen. Our usually very chatty group grew deafeningly silent. Mike and Jill did their best to comfort me. Mike asked me why I hadn’t told him, and shared that he had had the same fears when he was younger. I suspect that many of the members of our group had experienced similar fears, but none of them admitted it. Before the night was over, I was told that I was demon-oppressed, which I was told meant that Satan was working overtime to chase me away from God.
All of this just made my angst worse. What if all these thoughts I was having that were making me doubt the “literality” of the Bible were just Satan steering me in the wrong direction? And I was letting him!
Aside from the fear-mongering of the Rapture Doctrine, I still felt specifically targeted when discussion would turn toward remaining a virgin until marriage. My physical relationship with Michael, though it stopped just short of actual intercourse, just exacerbated my feeling of being a giant fraud.
These feelings of being a fraud and not measuring up and the fear of rapture, haunted me well into my college years…