While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Last night after watching a recent episode of This is Us, I found myself wondering why we work so hard to avoid pain? One of the main characters, Jack, in the show is an alcoholic. He shares with his wife in a scene what he is learning in AA. He tells her the only way to get to the other side of his struggle with alcoholism is to learn how to sit in the pain of his childhood, and it is clear how difficult it is for Jack to do this. Opening up our hearts to feel pains we have worked so hard to avoid in our lives, can feel like an overwhelming flood in which we will drown. The reality is pain, especially the pain of our past is excruciatingly painful and causes us to feel weak and out of control. It is understandable that we’d want to avoid this feeling as much as possible, but Jack has gotten to the place in life where he knows he could lose everything if he does not.
I will never forget the tsunami of crushing emotions that hit me with such force when I began to open up to my former pastor about the childhood sexual abuse my mind had suppressed for over thirty years. When the memories began to resurface, I wanted to do anything I could to get relief from the pain.
I believed I had found my relief clinging to the pastor who said he was trying to help me, but who I later discovered was actually helping himself. But being with him gave me moments that made me feel safe and in control of my emotions, which is the reason I stayed in the abusive situation for so long.
I realize as I write this that probably the worst part of feeling pain is how out of control it causes me to feel. In these moments, I become a little girl who was being forced to do things she never wanted to do. And she would give anything to escape. It was not the life she was intended to live. It was a nightmare she could not wake up from. And who does not want to escape that? But as a child, the incidious evil done to me was inescapable, and I had to cling to whatever control I had, which meant I blamed myself somehow. As an adult, I do not live in the nightmare of my childhood anymore, but when I haven’t reconciled the truth that the pain of the horrible things that were done to me were not my fault, I continue to be stuck in believing this lie. The only way to see the truth is to allow myself to experience the pain of what someone else did to me.
The reality is the things we cling to to escape our pain only bring about more abuse. I know because I stayed stuck in this cycle for almost ten years. I am grateful to be on the other side of the abusive relationship with my former pastor pastor. Grateful to have escaped the lies that were suffocating me. However, I still find myself wanting to escape the pain of it all. But just like Jack, I have come to the place in my life where I know that I cannot do it anymore.
The biggest question of all is what can I do with my pain? Where can I process it and be safe? How can I grieve without drowning in the tsunami of it all? Especially when the person who I believe was safe to process it with was not safe?
A friend in ministry messaged me a couple of days ago offering to process some of the things I’m struggling with about the church with me. I don’t know if anyone, especially those in ministry, can understand how painful church can be for those who were abused in the church. As Christa Brown describes in her book This Little Light, trusting the church again feels like you are going to fall on the same sword that you were cut with. Even working with people in a therapeutic environment every day who have given their lives to helping others does not feel safe at times, because a man who I thought was going to help me actually harmed me even more.
Suffering from spiritual abuse can feel very lonely at times.
Reading the last paragraph I just wrote feels a little like a pity party to me. But I remind myself it’s not. It’s me recognizing the pain that I feel inside and allowing myself to feel it. It is part of the process that I am learning to embrace with self-compassion, which plays a huge part in delivering me from the lie that the abuse I suffered was all my fault.
If you were abused, it is not your fault either.
I continue to be exceedingly grateful for others in my life who share stories so similar to mine. You have suffered in the same ways that I have, and some days you are the only ones who feel safe to me. We have shared in the fellowship of suffering together. We have felt stronger when we are together.
Today, I am reminded of Someone Else who suffered from spiritual abuse. Religious leaders got Him nailed to the cross, and that puts those of us who suffer as a result of spiritual abuse in good company. Jesus understands our sorrow more than anyone else can.
He offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death.
Jesus did not want to experience pain either. He prayed for relief. And His Father heard him. And Jesus became the source of our eternal salvation. He became our High Priest.
Because of Christ’s sufferings, we are promised ultimate relief one day from our pain. However, Jesus did not escape pain, rather He faced it for us. And whenever we face our pain, we accomplish the same thing for each other.
In the fellowship of our sufferings with Jesus and each other, we bring true relief to our pain through hope.
Thank you to all who share their painful stories, who reenter your nightmares and share them with us. Your pain has not been wasted.
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.