Listening to Grace

…sometimes hope comes in strange ways. Sometimes we have to look past the messenger only to the message.

The last few days of reading stories of abuse exposures about Tullian have been really hard for me.  The swell of emotions I have felt have swept over me like a tidal wave. Just like in the recent election there are many different opinions about all of this and how it should be handled in the Christian realm.   Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how to sort it all out.  I feel really sad and overwhelmed, and am asking God to open my ears to His grace. I pray He’d do the same for all of us reading these posts.

I am a survivor of clergy abuse from the same denomination that Tullian was a part of. Reading Rachel’s story this morning brought up a lot of pain for me and also a lot of compassion for her. I’m glad, Rachel, that you are able to use your voice and speak the truth of your story. That’s so important to our healing, because abuse silenced us for too long. I pray right now that our loving Heavenly Father would comfort your heart and cease the cacophony of voices that may bombard your mind with confusion and ambivalence after you’ve told this story, so that you can only hear His loving voice. I know how hard it is to relive all the pain, and I grieve with you.

I have spent a lot of time for the past two years processing all of my own messy story of abuse that I’ve shared in a lot of details on this anonymous blog. My emotions have been a rollercoaster ride. Understanding the predator’s pattern, the process of grooming, the gaslighting, as well as the unhealthy system that facilitates abuse have all been important parts of healing and freeing me from overwhelming and crippling shame. 

However, on the other side of all of that has been my role as a victim and the vulnerabilities and sin that made it possible for me to be abused as an adult. Understanding these things have played a large part of my healing, too, even though at times the pain of this truth has been almost too much to bear. 

Looking back on what it was like to be a victim makes me want to run and hide. When I think about how I bought into all of the lies, I ask myself how in the world could I have been so stupid? Then I remember how desperate, how needy, and how hungry I was for some attention, and it just makes me think of myself worse.  I get a visual picture of Eve in the garden taking a bite of Satan’s fruit, because she believed it’d make her more like God. I imagine a snapping turtle with something that looks like a little worm on the end of his tongue  tempting the hungry fish that’s swimming by. The predator and the prey in this case have something in common, both are hungry. I cannot speak for the pastor who abused me. It was indeed his calling to receive the nourishment that he needed from God, but he didn’t do that. He fed off of me. He was hungry for more than what God had given him. But so was I. And understanding my own hunger is a large part of the process in putting together all of the pieces of my story.

I can still remember all the times I walked into the bathroom after sinning in ways I could not believe that I had! I looked at the woman in the mirror and at times wanted to bash her reflection in a million pieces. Sometimes I did hit myself in the face, because I so despised what I had done.  Steve Brown likes to say before we judge a situation we need to consider how many times a person tried not to sin. And I really did try not to. But this hunger ate away at my soul from the moment I took a bite of the evil one’s deceptive fruit. My head was stuck in the predator’s mouth from the moment I ran after at what looked like nourishment. I fell into a terrible trap. 

But all of the circumstances leading up to walking into the abusive pastor’s office are important to look at, too. I was a codependent struggling to keep everyone happy. I wasn’t honest about the things I wanted and needed from my husband, because I was afraid if I didn’t keep him happy he’d reject me. I was also terrified of my history of sexual abuse and believed deep down it was my fault. The sexual fantasies and sin I escaped to in my own imagination only fed this shame. I needed a lot more help than I thought I did, but I kept trying to hold onto control of my life the best way I knew how. And at the heart of it all I was impatient with God and began trusting in things I could see for my hope.  

When I went to the pastor I was desperate for relief. I knew my way wasn’t working, and because he came across as such an intelligent and caring man, I really did think he could bring this. You know, this is the place I struggle with the most. Why didn’t God show me the truth before I walked in? Why didn’t he stop me from taking a bite of this deception?  I’m still wrestling with that, and I don’t know if I’ll ever understand, but what I do know was once I took a bite of what was offered, sweet relief flooded my soul, and I felt more loved than I ever dreamed was possible.  I was exhilarated. I was also addicted and quickly this pastor became an idol. And for the next several years he became the center of my world, the first person I texted when I got up in the morning and the last person I texted before I went to sleep. I couldn’t get enough of his attention and reassurance, and he seemed to have a bountiful supply.  

But in the darkness of all the secrets, sin grew and so did the shame, entangling me in a web so thick it almost sucked the life out of me.  But the web began to unwind when in my desperation I began to really listen to grace in podcasts from KeyLife ministries…God’s unmeritted and unearned gift to sinners desperately in need of Him. After discovering that I’d been looking for hope in the wrong place, from a man I could see, and it only adding to the very shame I’d been trying to escape, I needed to find relief somewhere else. Ironically, Tullian’s “hyper-grace” I’d started to listen to pointed me to the only true source of relief. I’m not saying he needs to be back in the pulpit, certainly not! I’m not saying what he did is to be excused, not at all! But what I am saying is that sometimes hope comes in strange ways. Sometimes we have to look past the messenger only to the message. 

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice…

Philippians 1:15‭-‬18 ESV

And what I heard in these messages wasn’t go out and sin, God loves you no matter what you do. What I heard was a plea for me to come out of the darkness into the light, out of the lies into the truth. What I heard was come home, Child, I don’t care how far you’ve roamed, or what you’ve done- you are always, always welcome home. 

Listening to His grace let me know there was an alternative to the sin and shame I was trapped in, and because of it I ran home to Jesus.

Just as the Bible encourages us to expose the unfruitful works of darkness, it also calls us to overcome evil with good.  And in all of the recent exposures of sin, I’m desperately trying to look for the good. These stories are all so painful and disheartening.  In a world that can be so cold we desperately need hope, and when the ones who preach hope fall it’s so hard not to just see the failure, and lose hope. I’m praying that God will keep me listening to grace and giving that grace to others.  

I hate the damage that this has caused not only the victims of Tullian’s abuse,  but Tullian’s family, friends, the church, forner listeners like me, and even Tullian himself. Every time another article is written salt is poured on those wounds. Though it is important for the victim to have her voice, it’s also crucial we keep in mind the others involved who are totally innocent, and honestly I don’t know when all of the discussion about the sin needs to end and when we just need to roll up our sleeves, and try to make a difference wherever we can.  Sin isn’t rational and it always destroys. Left to itself sin leads to death.  But thank God He so loved the world that He sent Jesus to pay for it all. And He’s called us to go out and love one another. I pray He’d help us to do this. 

Print by Kelly Rae Roberts

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