Dredging up pain of the past

March 19, 2007 by
Filed under: Life, Religion, Youth 

This weekend, I’ve experienced two instances of people inadvertently ripping the scab off of my personal pains of the past.

Pain #1 – Me of the Past

When I was in early elementary school, I had some emotional issues.  I was the kid afraid of change (to the degree that I’d hide under a table in the hallway if given a new workbook).  I was “most likely to get upset and disrupt a class”.  I was also very intelligent and was ahead of the curve in school.  I entered kindergarten (and even pre-school, if my parents are to be believed) already reading.  One teacher that I had constant trouble with during my early grade school years was the gym teacher.  According to my father (I’ve either forgotten or blocked memories of most of this), the gym teacher and principal were talking about the problem that I posed in gym class (and believe me, I was a bit of a problem).  The principal suggested to the gym teacher that I was very bright and already reading.  The gym teacher refused to believe that, and the principal suggested that he take a free period and come to kindergarten to get to know me better.  (Dad heard about this because he was also a principal in another school in the same district – a “normal” parent probably wouldn’t have heard about it.)

Apparently, the gym teacher came down to the classroom and picked a book off the shelf.  He gave it to me and I read it to him.  He went back to the principal and told him that I’d memorized that book.  The principal told him to go get a book from the library – maybe a 3rd grade level book – and ask me to read it.  Same results – I must have memorized it.  The principal told the gym teacher to go to a bookstore and BUY a book that isn’t in the library, and have me read it.  Same result.  According to Dad, the gym teacher concluded that I’d memorized every book.  He reportedly said to the principal:  “I took the book to him and he read it.  I didn’t know what else to do with it so I gave it to him.”

Funny story, eh?

Dad reportedly got to use this story as an illustration for an elementary school colleague (Dad’s a school superintendent now).  Apparently it made its point.

The problem for me is that Dad decided to retell the whole story to me this past Saturday night at dinner.  I had completely forgotten it or blocked it as a painful memory (most of my memories of school from that period are painful).  So Dad inadvertently dredged it up again.  It was rather deflating for me.  It’s not Dad’s fault – he figured that he’d done some good with a story from my life (and he probably has) and he’d tell me about it.  It did hurt.

Pain #2 – Church of the Past

Way back in September, I wrote about my past in the church and why I had left and why I was returning.  I mentioned in passing a “cult-like retreat” held by an “extremely conservative chapter of a conservative Christian campus
organization”.  I think it’s time to flesh out that story some more, to explain my current dilemma.

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I have since learned that different chapters of IVCF fall into different places on the liberal/conservative spectrum.  This chapter was VERY conservative.  One of the first Bible studies on campus taught me that I should not be a friend to any Jews unless I was actively trying to convert them to Christ (“be not unequally yoked”).  Other lessons were similarly extreme.

In October I took a retreat with them for a weekend in the woods.  It turned out to be a very cult-like situation for me.  The 48-hour retreat turned out to be (as experienced by me) 24 hours of telling me how terrible my beliefs are, and then once I stopped fighting them, 24 hours of pouring in their own beliefs.  As expected, those beliefs were strongly conservative.

Fortunately, my personality turned out to be strong enough to resist such tactics.  I made the right noises and they stopped treating me as the “resisting” attendee and moved on to other people.  Once I returned to campus, I never went back to their group again.  And as I wrote before, this was the first step in my turn away from the church.

So why do I mention all of this?

I’ve been working with my church’s youth group for a couple months now.  There’s a presbytery-wide retreat coming up, and the youth director asked if I’d be willing to serve as a chaperone – they need one adult of each gender to go along.  I said that I’d think about it.

I looked up the camp where the retreat is being held.  Yup – it’s the same place that the extremely painful memory from 20 years ago was made.  Just looking at the pictures of the camp I feel nervous about returning to the “scene of the crime”.  I read the “Ministry Philosophy” of the camp on their website, and it’s fairly in line with the folks who held that InterVarsity retreat years ago.  I’m about ready to tell the youth director that I won’t be able to participate, just on the basis of where the retreat is being held.  I have to think about it some more.

My wife is more emphatic:  “DO NOT GO!”

Again – unintentional pain inflicted by someone who doesn’t know my background well enough to see the landmine before stepping on it.

We all have scabs.  Some people gleefully pull them off when opportunity presents itself.  Others (like my father and the youth director at church) don’t even know that they exist when they accidentally scrape them off.  It hurts either way.


4 Comments on Dredging up pain of the past

  1. Amy Watkins on Mon, 19th Mar 2007 3:43 pm
  2. Ok…so I read this post and I had two thoughts. One was knowing just how painful dredging up the past can be. The second thought was, can you mentally turn this around in your mind and see the flip side. See this as an opportunity to revisit this spot that caused such pain as a young adult, and turn it into a spot that holds some very powerful positive memories for you. Because in being a mentor/chaperone, you may very well have an opportunity to show some youth the openness that SHOULD be a part of every spiritual path…not the condemnation. I say this not as a challenge, but just as a potential opportunity if you can do the flip in your mind and focus on how this can be a positive growth and healing experience for you. Just an alternative point of view…and I don’t know you well enough to even suggest I know which decision is right for you. What empowerment you would bestow upon yourself not to let the UVCF hurt/damage you in this way anymore…don’t give them the power to sustain the damage. 🙂

  3. jodie on Tue, 20th Mar 2007 12:46 am
  4. Sometimes we have to face our demons and stare them down. Its important to expose them for what they are and gain power over them.

    Or sometimes we just have to overwrite bad memories with good ones.

    I would go for it.


  5. Mark on Tue, 20th Mar 2007 8:59 am
  6. Thank you both for your thoughts.

    The whole “go on the retreat” situation is a bit more complicated. The other man who might attend is our seminary intern. It would be his last overnight event with the students before graduation, but on the flipside he might need the time for exam studying. Also, I’m really new to the group (having just started working with them about 6 weeks ago) so I feel a little funny being the single adult with them.

    We’ll see. If the intern goes it all works out anyway.

  7. OH. Hmmm. : Mark Time on Tue, 20th Jan 2009 3:06 pm
  8. […] sponsored by some of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s NJ chapters.  Here’s what I wrote about that previously: Back in 1986, I was a freshman at Rutgers University.  On the first day, I was wandering around […]

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