Growing Up Jeub · Personal reflections · Psychology and mental illness · Recovery · Religion and Spirituality

Letter of Self-Compassion: Hell

One of my earliest memories is of crying with my mom. When I was about five, it occurred to me that not everyone I loved was a Christian. My mom told me that they would be going to hell, and I was gutted. I started naming family members, asking “even them?” and as I cried, she cried, too.

Image: A white woman with long brown hair stands in a courtyard behind a black barred gate. Her hands are clutching the bars and her head is bowed down, hiding her face in her hair. She wears a black dress and her fingernails are painted black. The background is a gray castle or church.

The first person I want to address is my frightened and anxious child-self:

You deserved compassion and truth, little Artemis. Even if your mom thought it was the truth, she was hurting you with lies. Even as she saw it causing you tremendous pain, she couldn’t consider questioning her own beliefs.

Your kind and compassionate heart never wants anyone to suffer. This has always been true of you. It was devastating that day when you thought about your friends and family members standing before god and being turned away, sent to the dark eternal tortures of hell. Your feelings then demonstrated how big your heart is, and I want you to know that it’s not true. Hell is not real, but your empathy is. When we get older, we still carry that amazing passion, but we aren’t terrified of hell anymore.

I remember when you prayed and endured nightmares about demons. You prayed that somehow god would let you go to hell so you could save others. Over time, you would interpret this kind of care in the myth of Jesus – that he wanted the same, so he offered to die for you. The problem was it still made god an aloof entity that demanded blood sacrifice, a deity that would punish his own creations with unending torture.

In fact, you had more compassion and empathy than any character in that story. I’m glad that I can tell you it’s not true. That bloodthirsty god is not real. What’s written in the bible about Jesus is made up. But you – you are real, more than you can even connect with right now, and that’s okay.

Your feelings are gigantic, and I know you feel so small. You are so afraid, but you’ve been told it’s wrong to be afraid, so you hurt yourself to try and test your strength. But nothing hurts like your parents hitting you until you cry, then hugging you and saying they love you. Your mind imagines pain worse than this, and you feel inadequate for not being able to.

You are right. It hurts. These things feel wrong to you because they are wrong. You don’t know it yet, but you’ll keep questioning. Someday you’ll even realize that your insistence that your name doesn’t fit you comes from deep commitment to your truth. Yes, your truth! You have a right to know that what you experience and feel and witness is your truth, and that matters. The person they’re trying to shape you into isn’t real.

I hold you in compassion, little Artemis.