I realized during a worship service this past Sunday that most of the time I am afraid of church because of codependency, not fellowship. During this particular service, the focus was on the new year and reflecting on what had happened to us in 2017 that brought us joy and pain and what we longed to receive from God in 2018. The pastor asked us to think of our desires for the next year in one word and give it to God trusting Him to provide as the music played. There was very little teaching and most of the time was spent reflecting, worshipping and receiving communion. My word was home, since we are looking to move some time in the next year. My husband’s word was peace. I felt hopeful when we left that God had indeed heard our request and we could trust Him to provide. I felt encouraged that we’d been with others who had been seeking the same God we were.
After having experienced so much hurt and disillusionment in the church in previous years, a large part of attending church for me today is spent overcoming fear of others and questioning the motives of the pastor. Since experiencing spiritual abuse, it is almost impossible for me not to do this.
I am still very much hypervigilant when it comes to church. Healing from trauma takes time, and I have come to realize through therapy that acceptance of where I am in this process is the best way to heal.
However, during this service my fears died down as I listened to the music and reflected on my life, my desires, and God. For the first time in a while, I felt at peace.
I read so many stories of abuse in the church these days. I very much believe the church needs to address these issues and make providing a safe church for it’s members a priority, however I also believe that God too often not being the center of our churches is our biggest problem
The realization hit me Sunday that church and worshipping together is not the problem. God encourages us to come together regularly to worship and encourage one another. Problems happen in the church when it becomes less about God and more about people trying to promote personal agendas or fix one another. This was what caused my abuse, not attending a church.
My own pain and suffering came when I went to the pastor for help. He did not do what pastors are supposed to do which was pray for me, encourage me with scripture, or watch out for my soul. He had an agenda. He wanted to fix me, be my hero, and I wanted to be fixed and find Superman.
Codependency was the problem, not Christian fellowship.
I think it is important to say again, that I realize the abuse was not my fault. It was the pastor’s responsibility to keep the relationship safe. However, it is important for my healing that I recognize my own abuse was part of a two fold problem. One part was the former pastor abused me. The other part was that I placed my hope in a man rather than God.
I was never in control of my pastor’s choices. I had no way of knowing that he had an agenda. I was not seeking to be abused when I shared my story with him in his office. In many ways, I was absolutely searching for God. And that’s what makes what he did so evil. On a side note, churches need to take a long hard look at the damage that this behavior causes and the tremendous risk it puts our churches in. We too quickly want to forgive and embrace grace and put these men back in leadership positions where they can continue to abuse. I read in article recently that we would not be so quick to place a nursery worker back in the nursery who had shaken a child. Are our souls not important, too? No doubt, our souls are the most precious and vulnerable parts of who we are. A pastor who has the role of watching out for our souls has the biggest responsibility a person can have. However, I also have to acknowledge that my own desires played a big part in the pain and suffering. And this is something I now have control of. And I have come to realize that placing my hope in anything other than God will end in disappointment.
My own desires led me away and enticed me. I longed for a father more than anything else in this world. Someone who would love me and tell me that I was special. Someone who would tell me that I wasn’t a piece of trash. Someone who would treasure me and not abuse me.
There was never anything wrong with my desire. It was God-given. We were created for love and nurturing. We were meant to have parents who would give us this. When we do not receive this and experience abuse instead, we are left with a big black void.
The words my therapist gave me are some of the most important ones I have heard. There are no more mothers and fathers. Once we become adults the set we have are our only ones. And many of us need to grieve that they were not at all what we needed.
Where can we go with this huge grief? Who is the Only One who can fill those big black voids in any of our lives?
But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy. Sing praises to God and to his name! Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds. His name is the Lord — rejoice in his presence! Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
Psalms 68:3-6 NLT
God is the only Father to the fatherless, and if a pastor does not lead us to Him, then we need to flee.
Also, if our relationships in the church are becoming more about parenting one another, then we need to flee those as well.
God is our only hope, not each other.
It’s been difficult for me to come to this realization, but knowing it is the truth and recognizing my responsibility in keeping my relationships in the church healthy is the only control I have over not being abused again.
I have also realized that a lot of people do not understand that this is a problem in the church and that many of us who see it as a problem often feel very alone in the church. However, I have to remind myself that even in this God is with me, and the only way I can be a part of a church again is if I cling to Him. Only out of my relationship with Him can true fellowship and love for others happen.
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:37-40 NLT