Six of the most scarring words in history: “Hate the sin, not the sinner”

“You obviously aren’t praying hard enough”

Words from a counselor when I was 19. It was the first time I went to a counselor since the mandatory sessions after my parent’s divorce. No offense, state legal system, but as a really young kid, your mandatory counseling was one of the most scarring parts of the entire divorce. And to be honest… this experience was just as bad.

I had been going for a while, but this was the first week after telling the counselor I was attracted to women. She told me if I was still struggling, I obviously wasn’t praying hard enough. She told me all I needed was her to teach me and for me to get my “sin” under control.

She told me not to worry; she didn’t hate me, she just hated my sin.

Scarring words those are. “Hate the sin, not the sinner”

I know most people mean well by them. They mean it for those who hurt others and for those who do wrong. They mean it to be kind; to tell you, as a soul, you are wonderful, but your actions are not. I can, in some ways, understand the saying.

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But as a 19 year old battling with her faith, fear, and sexuality, telling me you didn’t hate me, you just hated how I felt was a wound I would carry for a very long time. It would also be a tool used inside my own depression to convince myself I was broken, disgusting, and a sinner for how I felt and who I was attracted to.

So when I began realizing this wasn’t something I could run from, that it was part of me just like the blood in my veins and the hope in my heart, I tried to hide it. I couldn’t change it, I couldn’t pray it away, but I could damn well hide it. And that was my theory. I could mask it with serial dating and careless commentary that held no volume. And I could have relationships in private.

I’m not insulting privacy. I’m a private person. You’ll never see me post on twitter about my relationship problems if I had any. You won’t see me having public sex or anything of the sort. And I understand the process of coming out – I understand it because I just went through it. So please know my commentary on private relationships isn’t a stab at others, it’s how I went about these private relationships that is the problem.

You see, I had private relationships and still tried to date men. I tried to pretend that my want or attraction to women was only temporary. I only felt that way because I hadn’t found the right guy yet. This wasn’t true. I didn’t hurt people on purpose, but by bringing them into my broken reality, I chipped at pieces of them too. I thought I was going around the system, instead I was truly just hurting everyone…including myself.

And honestly, this small piece of my story is an amplification of something I keep saying. Words are powerful and words matter. I did all the hiding and broken navigating because of the seeds planted by someone who told me my sin was hated, my insides were hated. That I wasn’t praying hard enough. Does that justify the pain I personally caused? No. I own that. But it does give insight into the reality that words really do have influence.

Today’s confession is: I still carry those words around. They no longer sit like an open wound. Over time life has callused them, reopened them, and healed them again. But the scar tissue will always be there – a scarlet letter I wear without choice. All because of thoughtless words… proof that the pen will always be mightier than the sword.

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(Graphic Borrowed from John Manzo’s blog on Jesus never saying anything about homosexuality)

Words from an ex-cynic: A letter to a friend

Dear Friend,

I’ve been meaning to write you. I’ve come to realize you’ve been self-medicating with mediocrity and lies that say you are anything other than extraordinary. I must tell you that you are far more than you have snuggled down inside of and called comfort. You attach yourself to someone momentarily to kill the urge of closeness and then you stumble on without connection. You give yourself away little by little but never refill. The very thing you are afraid of is what I know to be one of your biggest strengths. And like many unsung heroes it is you standing on your own cape.

You believe you are incapable of love. Yet your life’s poetry bleeds with the words of affection that only someone truly capable of love could ever write. You wrap criticism around your heart like wet mud and then set it out to dry against the neon lights you keep chasing. Instead of letting the wound heal you pick at it with demeaning words. You tell yourself it was your fault. You’ve become so convinced of it you’ve glued their nametag onto your chest and claim yourself broken.

But you aren’t broken.

You’re scared and I won’t fault you for that. Why I am writing you today is not to break you down but to build you up – to remind you who you really are. The mirror you’ve been using and metrics you’ve been calculating to determine your worth are inaccurate. You keep getting the wrong answer because you’ve set yourself up with the wrong tools.

Love isn’t a quick fix or a fast break on the court. It’s the long game. Love is being willing to understand the defense in order to play the offense. It’s about learning to be a team and growing a devotion to try your hardest until the season is over. And that’s the key word – season not game. Too many people believe it’s only about one game but it takes quite a series of them to get to the championship. And you, my friend, are a champion.

Don’t let a loss break you, but motivate you. Don’t get caught up in the ups and the downs, but keep your eyes on the trophy. Keep your focus on that love that matters. Every single loss becomes worth it when you finally see your reflection in the eyes of that person. Every almost, every loss at the buzzer, every ankle twist and elbow to the face becomes your greatest victories when you finally understand that you had to overcome them to get to the championship game.

Many people will sing the praises of your criticism. They will endorse it and encourage you to keep breaking yourself down. Don’t listen to them. Every one night stand and digital crush allows you to numb yourself for a little while longer. Numbness is not a cure but a virus. It rushes through you, confusing your body, but only temporarily. And then the backlash begins, where everything you’ve tried to hold down comes back to life.

Let it.

You deserve to feel. Until you feel you cannot heal and until you heal what you are looking for will continue to be aloof to you. You cannot see something you do not believe in. Pull off the disguise and remove the mask from your eyes. You deserve to see and be seen. Because you really are beautiful. You deserve to know what it’s like to wake up to someone who wants to go to breakfast with you. You don’t have to clip your wings in order to be held in the arms of another. The right person will allow you to be more than you ever thought possible.

See the thing is if we are capable of overcoming great pain we then must be capable of great love. When we understand the valleys the view from the mountain top is so much more breath taking. Would I have wished this or any other valley on you? Never. But we are here, in the trenches of life, and it’s time for you to stop settling.  I can’t pull you up. I can’t give you all the answers. I can’t even tell you tomorrow will be ok. But I can sit here, with you, and tell you it will be worth it. I’m not painting over reality with sweet whispers. I am handing you reality and asking you to claim it. These words come from an ex-cynic– I was once you.

The weakness you view so harshly, the one where you ache because of a love come and gone, is not a weakness at all.  It is the very thing that can strengthen you if you let it. Once healed it can be the compass that leads you to stand up.  It can be the compass that leads you to true north where you only settle when you are settling down with a person who loves you completely.

Stop telling yourself you are incapable of love.
Stop hurting yourself because someone convinced you that the pain they felt was your fault.
Throw down the label maker that claims you are not enough.
Lace up those shoes, stretch out those muscles, and get back to training for a season of love.

You are more lovely than you give yourself credit for.

Sincerely,
Rae (MSH)

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