Romans 8:1 tells us clearly that there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.
I don’t know why I struggle so much with this truth after hearing it for so long, but I do. I am constantly reminding myself of it to keep myself sane.
Perhaps, it’s because as a little girl it was communicated to me that I’d better do the right things or else I’d suffer. No one actually spoke these words, but it was communicated in daily events.
A memory that stands out comes from my teenage years. I’d been dating this guy that my parents never liked. To their defense they had good reason, but a month or so after the break up with him I decided I’d like to kind of have a peaceful relationship with him. I believed I’d see him at college in the fall, so I called him on the phone, and in the process of the conversation my Mom overhead me and got so upset she left without letting me explain why I was talking to him. My Dad had an absolute cow. I’d screwed things up badly. My behavior had really upset my Mom, and my Dad proceeded to tear into me about how I’d upset her, how I caused so much trouble. He wouldn’t stop hollering about it. I was devastated, overwhelmed by shame. I called my cousin finally to pick me up because he just wouldn’t stop screaming. It got so bad that I screamed back and told him I wanted to die. He had placed the gun on the coffee table earlier threatening to kill the ex-boyfriend if he came to our house. He told me I could use that gun to kill myself if I wanted to. I remember just screaming for what seemed like forever. My cousin picked me up. After staying with her a night things at home calmed back down. My mom returned and I went back home. My parents were cordial, and we resumed as if it hadn’t happened. But the message was clear to me, I better act right or there would be hell to pay. It was a message I’d been hearing since I was a little girl on nights when my Dad ran up and down the stairs in a drunken rage. It was something he’d whispered to me in the dark after he’d abused me. Bad things happen when you tell the truth. I knew it wasn’t right, but I also didn’t believe anyone was safe enough to ask for help, especially my mom. We lived in this bubble of pretend. Don’t do what upsets anyone else. Maintain the status quo or pay. I thought this was normalcy, but I can see now it was a prison.
My counselor pointed this out to me in a conversation we had about the abuse that happened to me as a little girl when she asked me why I hadn’t told my Mom. I told her I didn’t think she could handle it. She asked me with shock, “You were nine and you were supposed to be able to handle it!?”
The truth set in. I could see how all of my life I’d been taking a responsibility for everyone else, and as a result I was being severely neglected and abused and didn’t even know it.
My counselor says once you see the truth you don’t unsee it. Thank God, because I don’t want to learn it again!
So as I’ve talked about in this blog I got into an abusive relationship with my pastor. Ten years ago my soul was in chaos and confusion. I was desperate for answers and healing, and when I went to him for counseling the first time he promised it.
He was so kind. I couldn’t believe the attention he gave to me. He praised me for who I was and told me he’d fallen in love with me just a few months into counseling. This was incrediably confusing for me, but I couldn’t give up what I had with him, because for the first time in my life I felt special. My husband tried to make me feel this way, but for some reason his words and actions weren’t believable enough for me. This older man, this pastor was strong and everything I’d ever desired in a father. He became my drug. He eventually hired me as his assistant.
From what I’ve read about abusers, some use threats and some use privileges. My Dad had used threats. My pastor used rewards. He gave gifts to me and my family. I became friends with his wife and daughter. He became my husband’s best friend. Our lives were so entangled I knew if I ever told the truth there would be hell to pay… The process was different, but the end result was the same, I was trapped once again in being what I believed everyone else needed me to be.
In the years that followed some sexual sin was involved. I mostly pursued it, while he tried to resist, yet he planted suggestions all along the way. It was an obvious destructive pattern we were in and 7 years into this we both made every effort to repent and stop, and we did, but the most destructive and less obvious part was the dependency we had on one another. I couldn’t stop feeling guilty over the sins and secrets, and he couldn’t stop trying to fix me.
He retired over a year ago, and when I had a new boss I began to see how destructive my relationship with my former pastor and boss was. This new pastor believed in open communication and truth with me, the elders and his spouse. The secrets were gone, and I began to experience real freedom.
My former pastor didn’t agree with the way the new pastor did things. He’d be critical of things he was doing. It confused me. When I started to spend time with others in the church and develop more healthy relationships, some of my ex-pastors controlling ways became obvious. He’d drop hints that his wife wasn’t happy about me eating lunch with the new pastor’s wife. He’d pout if I didn’t have supper with them.
Finally, I told my new pastor, and I was right, there was hell to pay. There was much devastation and confusion. Seeing my husband’s pain caused me to want to die. My entire church was told the truth, and it’s been impossible to face them, so I even stopped going to church.
The most confusing thing has been the question raised by some in church leadership which was, was this abuse or an affair? My new pastor and leading experts in clergy abuse have said this was a severe case of patoral abuse. My counselor, being one of them, calls my ex-pastor a predator.
Growing up in an environment like I did causes me to want to take the blame for everything. I did wrong and everything went to hell in a hand basket, just like my Dad had always assured me it would.
I know that this is a lie in my head. But this lie is almost ingrained in my being. I know that no one person has so much control over everything that they can be blamed for everything. I am not God. God holds each person responsible for their own actions. God calls those in authority over us to a higher accountability and responsibility. 13 states have laws against what my pastor did. I suspect with organizations like GRACE ( http://netgrace.org/) that other states will begin to as well. Almost daily I’m reading about abuse in the church. When I read about it happening to someone else I’m outraged. I would never blame the victim, but yet I still struggle with blaming myself.
Before I allowed my new pastor to tell anyone what I’d told him about the abuse involving my former pastor, I was so confused about whether what I had with my former pastor was abuse or love. My new pastor and my counselor were telling me it was a clear case of abuse encouraging me to tell higher church leadership. I couldn’t stop thinking about how kind my former pastor had been to me and all the overwhelming emotions of what I believed were love I felt for him. I walked into the sanctuary one day and cried out in frustration to God, “Please show me the truth!”
God was faithful. My former pastor was still texting me when I’d asked him to give me some time away from him. It was obvious that our relationship was more about control and codependency than love. I finally found the courage to report the abuse to leadership.
I saw my former pastor on the road yesterday. It threw my mind into self condemnation again. His expression was far from happy. I felt such sorrow over what he and his family were going through. Leadership defrocked him and revealed his sin to other pastors and then his former church. God says to abhor what is evil. In that moment seeing him, I hated the sins we’d been involved in and all the terrible consequences. I couldn’t stop apologizing to God for the rest of the day and praying for my former pastor. God of course had already forgiven me, but even after all God has shown me, I still struggled with doubt and self condemnation. Eventually, my mind became a place of confusion again and as the flashbacks came, once again I wanted to take the blame for everything.
But this morning God reminded me once again that He does not condemn me, and He’s God and He does have control and authority and I can trust Him. This life is about Him not me. As the memories of sins I committed resurface, He says His grace covers them all. As I start to think I’ve screwed up things so bad they can’t ever be fixed, He reminds me I don’t have that kind of control. My only responsibility is to be honest with Him, honest with myself, and honest with others. This goes against the grain of everything I’ve ever known, but I know it’s the only way. As Peter told Jesus, I can say the same thing… There’s no where else to go, Jesus has the words of life.
Supergirl was my favorite super hero when I was a little girl. I used to sit in my swing and pump as high as I possibly could, dreaming about what it’d be like to fly above everything else. I know now that I yearned for freedom. Since I told the truth that day, I have found I truly have wings. Jesus says that when we know the truth we will be set free.
I know I have a ways to go in my healing, but I’m learning to fly on the wings of truth. Thank God. It’s about time!