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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

When the Altar is Not Enough

I can remember going to down to the altar since I was eight.Year after year, I heard the evangelists and preachers say, “Come lay your burden on the altar, be washed whiter than snow!” I had listened to ‘Pilgrims Progress’ as told with flannelgraph and recognized Christian’s burden as being the dark cloud I had carried with me always. I was told it was sin. I went to the altar and begged to lay it at the burden there. I did this again and again until my late teens when I was accosted at the altar by a woman who saw what she believed was sin in my life—it wasn’t. It was betrayal of the worst kind. The altar was neither effective nor safe after that day—but it didn’t mean I stopped believing God would help me.

The black could wasn’t sin, it was shame. It was everything I had come to believe about myself because of the sins committed against my small child self. It was not my sin. Going to the altar was never going to remove this burden—so God prompted me to therapy. Incredibly, the therapist looked like the kind woman who had tried to help me at the altar when I was eight. I trusted her immediately. God has always been preparing for my healing journey.The woman at the altar was kind (I thought she was an angel), and she did all she knew to help me, but it would be necessary for great advances to be made in the treatment of trauma before I could heal.

This song, The River by Jordan Feliz, describes what it feels like to be fully healed. Salvation was never the question—accessing the abundant life was.Then I went down to the river of amazing grace; I went to therapy! Salvation is important but if you have trauma in your life, the altar of salvation is never going to be enough. Maybe enough to survive, but thriving (the abundant life) will always be right outside of your reach. Generations have lived that way, but it is no longer necessary. We now understand the effects of trauma are embedded deep within our bodies and brain. There is hope and there is help.

No one ever tried any harder than I did to make going to the altar enough. Few have sat under the teachings of Christianity any more than I have (40 years in the church and Christian education). No one tried any harder to express what I believed the abundant life looked like. No one tried any harder to trust and love God. The dark cloud was never a spiritual problem.

I had to go down to river of healing. God sent me to therapy to wash away the sins of others embedded deep within me. There is hope. There is healing. This song is exactly how I feel today as I sing through tears of joy. I went down to the river. I was changed. I will never be the same. The prayer of a small eight-year-old child has been answered!

“I know a place where we can go To lay the troubles down eating your soul.”

“Let's go down, down, down to the river (You will leave changed) Let's go down, down, down to the river (Never the same)”

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