A few weeks ago, I started to read the book The Power of Attachment. The book by Diane Poole Heller talks about the different ways we connect to one another in relationships, and the importance that our early childhood plays in developing these attachments.
When someone loses a limb, everyone knows they won’t grow another to replace it. Learning to live with this reality is challenging, of course, but there’s no emotional energy wasted on waiting, hoping, trying to grow a new one. Odelya Gertel Kraybill Ph.D., The Pain of Trauma, Psychology Today
If only we could see clearly what we have lost due to trauma in our lives, maybe we would be easier on ourselves. However, when we look in the mirror we look just like anyone else, and we wonder why we can’t just function like everyone else.In faith communities especially, we hear about overcoming our fears with faith, doing all things through Christ who gives us strength, pressing on towards the goal of our upward calling, and sometimes we walk away feeling like failures when we struggle.I want to be stronger than what I am. I want to go back to being the person that I was before I was spiritually abused, but the reality is I can’t.Making this statement is not about feeling sorry for myself. It’s not about wallowing in self pity. It’s not about being a victim. It’s about being able to recognize my losses and move forward, accepting the fact that I am not the same person that I was. I have new limitations. There are painful reminders that will continue to remind me of the things that I have lost. I cannot just suck it up, fake it til I make it, and move on. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work. Everytime I wind up biting off more than I can chew and regretting it later on.The only way to move forward is to honor my pain and accept where I am in my healing journey.I realized recently that I push myself too much in church. I sit through conversations that bring confusion and pain about God. These conversations cause me to slide back into fear, apathy, and the feeling that I’m struggling alone. An important part of my healing journey has been learning my limitations and giving myself a lot of grace when I am not where I wish I was in my healing journey. It really is ok to struggle and feel weak. These are the times God says we experience His strength the most.Today I deleted half of my friends on Facebook. People who were a part of a very difficult season of life. For my own healing and peace of mind, I needed to let them go. Saying goodbye to some of them was especially hard. I didn’t want to let go of the hope that one day we would have the friendship we had before. But I knew it was time to trust God with what is ahead.Wherever you are in your healing journey, know that God is right by your side and that He is kind, compassionate and loving towards you. Embrace His comfort. Be kind to yourself. We will see the goodness of God in the land of the living again. He promises.
I want my children to know who they really are.
I want them to recognize those things within themselves that make them unique in a way no one else can be.
I want them to feel connected to themselves and their Creator.
I want them to not struggle with knowing who they are.
I want them to know they belong always with us and to God.
I don’t want them to be lonely or afraid.
I want them to rest in knowing we are always here for them and we will never reject them no matter what.
This is love.
It isn’t dependent on anything.
It doesn’t require anything.
It simply just is.
Why do I struggle so much with knowing God wants all the same things for His Children?
Why do I feel so much fear about the uncertainty of things?
Why do I get lost and confused when the outlook is bleak?
The nature of our humanity wants to be in control.
It does not like to wait.
It wants to see the solution.
It experiences great pain when it can’t.
God knows that our humanity is dust.
We get blown away by every wind of change.
For those of us who have not experienced a good example of earthly parents, God knows especially how strong our need for control is? He sees our despair when we just can’t hold it all together anymore.
He is a Father to the fatherless.
He keeps our tears in a bottle, because we are the apple of His eye.
Deep in my heart I know this, but my brain shouts so loud at times I can’t hear it.
I need to be kind to myself and wait for the voices in my head to die down.
How can I trust Him when all I’ve ever been able to trust is myself? When so much in my life has ended badly? My own control hasn’t worked out so well either.
How can I know who He is really when I am regularly reminded of a man who taught me how to twist His words in the one place I learn about Him the most in church? It’s very hard to get past ten years of verses, experiences and songs that ended in such a bad way. Our memory is such a part of our everyday lives. So many of our decisions are based on good or bad experiences that we have had. The profound life changing experiences I’ve had with God are what keep me going back despite all of the memories. The relationships with others in the past who have brought me joy keep me encouraging me to not give up on the church.
Gradually I’m beginning to see that God is a good Father who wants to give us good gifts.
He wants us to know who we are.
He wants us to see our uniqueness and know that we matter.
He wants us to know we belong to Him.
He expects nothing in return.
His love isn’t dependent on anything.
It just is.
Perfect love without fear of punishment.
Dust brought together.
The wind blows away only what isn’t necessary anymore.
What’s left is who I really am in Him.
If I chase the wind to catch what is blowing away, I am bringing more pain to myself.
New life calls me to move forward despite the past.
It is hard.
But it is the only way.
To find myself.
To find others who care.
To find Him.
Father, light the path and lead the way with your goodness and mercy.
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
Matthew 7:9-11 NLT
Leaving Neverland is a new documentary on HBO about two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who share their stories of being abused by Michael Jackson as children. It is an incredibly difficult show to watch due to the graphic details given about the abuse. However, the show brings to light how easily families and victims can be deceived by the process of grooming by sexual abusers.
After Neverland especially revealed many important truths that we all need to be aware of concerning sexual abuse. Here are a few of them that I took away from the show (spoiler alert) :
Abuse rarely looks like abuse.
Oprah pointed out how the word abuse sometimes brings a different definition to our minds. Many times when people hear the word abuse they look for outward signs of injury. However, sexual abuse is often hidden and abuse victims can appear outwardly ok while on the inside they are carrying a heavy, dark secret that is eating away at their soul.
Abusers are capable of doing good things.
Abusive people are often kind and generous people. They do good things. They help others. This is hard for our minds to comprehend especially in a polorized society where we want to make something either good or bad. If we want to recognize abuse we have to be willing to look past our cognitive biases towards people we assume are good. We need to pay attention, give ourselves time to observe the behavior of others before we make assumptions about what kind of person they are. We also need to learn to be in tune to our own internal signals that alert us when something isn’t right.
Abuse to victims can look and feel like love.
This is a tough one for people who haven’t suffered sexual abuse to understand. It is not abnormal for it to take decades for victims of abuse to come forward, because they do not believe they have been abused. Children especially can become easily convinced that the abuse that they are receiving is care from another. A psychologist once pointed out to me that a young child being sexually abused might view it no differently than eating an ice cream cone. Children simply do not have the capacity to understand nor the language to express sexual abuse.
Abuse brings tremendous shame on victims.
Sexual abuse warps one’s identity. Abusers train victims well to believe that they are active and willing participants in the abuse. Michael Jackson gave his victims wedding rings as a symbol of his “love” for them. But he also told them if they told anyone else about what was happening that they would all go to jail. How confusing this must have been. He had convinced these children that what they had was good and special. The long grooming process had caused these children to believe that they wanted what he was giving them. Their stories were a modern day Hansel and Gretel where they were fed candy until they were ready to be feasted upon by the evil witch. Ironically, Michael’s Neverland had a movie theater stocked with popcorn and candy.
Abuse victims normally believe the abuse is their fault.
The grooming process can be very similar to someone pursuing a romantic relationship. A victim is wooed through a gradual, intentional process into a trusting relationship. Victims are often given gifts, favors and made to feel special. Who doesn’t enjoy being treated this way. Sexual abuse usually happens only when the abuser thinks he has gained the trust of his victim and has them in a position where they are so dependent on them that they don’t want to tell. Because abusers use a victim’s desires to lead them astray, they often carry the guilt that they are responsible for the abuse. They feel as if their own desires have deceived them. Oprah shared how understanding the grooming process was the only thing that finally convinced her that she was not to blame for abuse she suffered in childhood.
We can help each other heal by listening.
There are already disagreements about whether or not these men are telling the truth. The Jackson family have denied these accusations and say they are furious about the show. This is all too common as well when it comes to stories of sexual abuse. We get so lost in our opinions that we forget real people are involved. Not only Michael Jackson’s victims, but others around the world who have suffered in similar ways. But if we choose to listen to one another without judgment we can learn how to protect ourselves and others and healing can take place.
The question is will we as the church cooperate?
Once again spiritual, sexual abuse has made the headlines. The Houston Chronicle published an article on Sunday 20 years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist sexual abuse spreads as leaders resist reforms.
I have no doubt that this article just scratches the surface of the sexual abuse that continues to be exposed in churches across America. Every time I read something like this I am reminded of my own story of spiritual abuse and the refusal of the church to address the problem fully. They wanted to call what happened to me sin and just move on protecting the reputation of the church.
The familiar hymn Jesus Paid it All is sung in churches everywhere. Those of us who are Christians go to church feeling the relief of Christ’s promised forgiveness. We will no longer die in our sins. We only need to accept His forgiveness and forgive one another and the tremendous debts on all of our behalves are paid. Sweet relief floods my own heart as I take communion and am reminded that the body and blood of Christ were given for me. I do not take this lightly. I am ever so thankful for what God has saved me from. I am moved to offer this same mercy to others, to not judge harshly and to do unto to others as I would have done unto me. But sadly it is often these beautiful truths that are distorted in spiritual abuse to justify sweeping abuse under the rug.
I was involved in an abusive relationship with a pastor for almost a decade. Sadly, I convinced myself while in this relationship that Christ’s forgiveness meant with repentance the slate would be wiped clean for both of us. However, the reality was I was stuck in abusive relationship that was eating away at my soul.
Thankfully, God was not absent in my story. He continued to speak to my heart about the deception that I was involved in. Finally, it got to the place where I could not sleep at night until I exposed what had been happening.
The church was ill prepared to deal with what I told them. Initially, there was an acknowledgment that an abuse of power had taken place, but then the pastor said he was sorry when he was deposed and things changed. There was a church meeting, I’m sorry letters were read and people in the church just forgave the sin. However, there was also deception that took place in the meeting. My letter was edited to take out the parts that described spiritual abuse and only reflected my sorrow over my sin. The spiritual abuse was swept under the rug. The matter was put to rest, so that the church could move forward.
I really do understand why the church wanted to move forward. I had been wanting to move forward past the reality of spiritual abuse for years. However, the church didn’t see what I was finally able to see after so many years of being trapped, and that was that the roots of spiritual abuse run deep. Much like a cancer, every bit must be dealt with and removed or it will continue to spread. I know because I have spent almost five years in therapy for it.
Please hear me now, I am not limiting God’s forgiveness, nor am I taking away the necessity to forgive, but what I am saying is forgiveness isn’t nearly as easy as we think it is. After all, forgiveness is what put Jesus on the cross.
There’s something about modern American Christianity that can deceptively lead us to thinking that following Christ is like taking a walk through the park on easy street. We forget that Jesus said there would be tribulation and that Paul said when we followed Him we would suffer as He did. Our suffering isn’t just choosing to forgive someone and not dealing with the painful realities that their sin has caused. Sometimes forgiveness can feel like nails being hammered into our hands and feet.
When sexual abuse is exposed in a church often the reputation of the church is at risk. Easy forgiveness of the perpetrators can seem like the best way to move forward. However, recent stories reveal that forgiveness isn’t stopping the abuse. Abusers move onto other churches and continue to abuse. The reputation of the church is protected as victim after victim are sacrificed.
Jesus gave His own life for the church. We can rest assure that He isn’t calling us to cover the sins of abusers in the church. Rather, God is calling us as Christians to be His hands and feet and be proactive in stopping it.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Colossians 3:5, 7-10 ESV
Reading these verses this morning, I noticed that God calls us to take an active part in putting to death sexual immorality. Strongs defines to put to death (nekros) as: to view as a corpse, i.e. without life; to regard (but not “make”) as dead, inoperative; to mortify, deprive of life or energizing power; (figuratively) to cut off (sever) everything that energizes (especially sin in Col 3:5).
The words to sever everything that energizes speak volumes about root causes of evil desires. Working at a residential treatment center has taught me that most negative behaviors have a root causes that empower them. Often the work of discovering these root causes is a very painful one. As humans we do everything we can to avoid pain. These verses reveal clearly that putting to death our sins is done through an active painful process on our part. When is death not painful? Only when we have gone to the root causes of what is motivating our behaviors can we actually put it to death.
When the church offers easy forgiveness and chooses to ignore sexual crimes just because someone repented they are continuing to enable a perpetrator to abuse, because he is never forced to look at the damage he has done or do the work that is required to find healing.
Only when we put to death sin, can we actually put on Christ and reveal His love and forgiveness to the world.
I believe God has put a spotlight on spiritual abuse and is providing us an opportunity to truly reveal His righteousness to the world.
The question is will we as the church cooperate?
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Colossians 3:5, 12-14 ESV
There is a season (a time appointed) for everything and a time for every delight and event or purpose under heaven– A time to be born and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to keep silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.
ECCLESIASTES 3:1-8 AMP
Just let go.
It sounds so easy.
But it’s been incredibly hard for me.
So many unanswered questions.
So much doubt, fear and second guessing myself.
All the shoulda, coulda, and wouldas are hard to let go of and move past.
Rather they feel like a hundred knots in my stomach that just twist tighter the more out of control I feel.
A family member warned my husband a few years ago, you can live with a lot of things, but you don’t want to live with regret.
Regret feels like a prison cell.
One cannot change the choices that they have made.
One can only say to themselves, If only I’d done it differently.
Therefore do everything you can to avoid regret.
Sometimes there is just too much water under the bridge.
Sometimes our choices result in things happening that profoundly impact the direction that our lives will go.
Sometimes we lose things and people we care about, and no matter how much we would like to have them back we cannot.
I heard someone say recently that God always desires reconciliation.
Does that mean we keep trying to somehow change the outcome even with those in our lives who continue to hurt us?
Does that mean that we open up old wounds of others that we have harmed?
All because we don’t want to live with the regret of irreconcilable differences?
Or does it mean we just accept things as they are and move on?
These are questions that I have been wrestling with lately.
My mother passed away last October.
My father-in-law is nearing the end of his life.
The finality of death brings up many unanswered questions.
What can we do to keep ourselves from becoming overwhelmed with the shame of regret?
I have to believe that if God is the loving Father that the Bible portrays Him to be, then His desire is for us not to live in regret.
If God had wanted us to be stuck in the consequences of our sin, He would not have sent Jesus.
His forgiveness has set us free from the prison of regret.
Because of Jesus, there is always a way out.
Sin no longer leads to death.
We are promised resurrection and life.
But new life can look different than what we think.
And it can look different for all of us depending on the appointed time or season of life God has us in.
Sometimes it means we still lose what we wish we’d had.
Sometimes it means we find what we always wanted.
Sometimes it means a lifetime of unmet needs.
Sometimes it means God meeting needs in ways we never imagined.
People believed that Jesus would be the promised Messiah who would fix a broken political system and make things right.
But Jesus wasn’t at all what most people expected.
His ways were past finding out.
They still are.
But I confess I still try to figure them out.
My mother is gone.
My relationship with Jesus never brought about reconciliation between me and her.
Was it because I didn’t pursue reconciliation hard enough?
Was it because she couldn’t handle the truth of how much harm my adopted father’s sexual abuse caused me?
Was I simply too afraid to trust Jesus in my relationship with her?
Or did He show my mother mercy by sparing her pain in her final days?
Honestly, I don’t know.
But what I do know is that God does not want me stuck in regret.
Nor does my Mom.
There is a time to give up what has been lost.
My mom didn’t meet my needs.
I think she tried.
Even if it wasn’t hard enough.
I didn’t try hard enough either.
Sometimes there’s just too much water under the bridge.
Sometimes all we can do in the end is offer one another peace and forgiveness.
This is acceptance.
This is the only way I can live with myself.
We are all in different seasons of our lives.
Some of us are called to reconcile.
Some of us are called to accept what we have lost.
Life is difficult, complicated, confusing, and painful.
The universe is broken.
Let us stir one another up to make better choices.
But let us also accept that we do not have all the answers.
Let us point one another to the One who does and be kind.
He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]–yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.
ECCLESIASTES 3:11 AMP
And yet He still whispers it is finished.
Four years ago, I wrote this post right after I’d confessed my most shameful secret to my previous church. I had been involved in a spiritually abusive relationship with my former pastor. What I wrote revealed a deep shame that I had been carrying my entire life. A shame that had sucked the life out of me, causing me to be desperate to receive acceptance and love, and perfectly ripe for abuse.
Recently, the words from this post came back to my mind when a family member began to shame me for things I had not done what he believed I should have done in support of my family. The old familiar weight of crushing, painful shame felt heavy on me again. It felt like I had walked back into a war zone where the bodies of all those I had harmed were strewn all about. My mother passed away last week suddenly. The shock of losing her triggered a lot of painful emotions and words that may have been more about my brother’s grief than wanting to hurt me. Still those words hurt so much that I made the decision not to go to my mother’s funeral that would take place in the middle of the town where the I’d be bombarded with painful memories of the past.
My choice not to attend her funeral was one I deliberated about with my husband, my friends, my therapist and even my coworkers for hours. I wanted to be strong enough to go. I wanted to not be in that old familiar crippling pain again. I wanted to walk in the strength of the Lord and not believe the lies that were screaming in my head about what a bad person I had been. I wanted to be there for my brother and put the past behind. I wanted to say goodbye to my mother. But after much ambivalence and many prayers, I decided it was just too much.
When I read this post again this morning, I was reminded that none of us are able to carry the weight of our sin and shame. Nor can we carry the weight of the shame that others place on us. Only One is strong enough to carry it.
I wish I was a better representative of Jesus. I wish I was more of a reflection of His righteousness. I wish I didn’t take back the shame. I wish I wasn’t so afraid of what people think. I wish I didn’t still avoid my pain. I wish I didn’t listen to the lies. But I still do. And yet He still whispers it is finished.
Thank you, Jesus for understanding when others do not. Thank you for praying for me when I do not know how to pray for myself. Thank you for not stopping the work that you are doing in me even when I want to give up. Thank you for always being faithful no matter what. Give me the grace to move forward in the truth of who you are. To trust that you are a good and perfect Heavenly Father. Heal my heart so that I continue to receive the love that casts out all fear. In my weakness give me your strength. In my discouragement, give me your hope. I can do nothing without you, yet with you I can do all the things that You have given me to do. Bless those who read this post with the knowledge of who you are and the greatness of your love that knows no boundaries. That we could look past our sin and sorrow, our grief and pain and see only you.
What am I really afraid of? Things not working out at all like I planned. That this new home, new community, and hope that I feel will get dashed away just like so many other good things I’ve had have been. That I’ll still wind up eventually alone and afraid again.
Last night I tossed and turned in fear. Life is changing. Things feel out of control. Like I’m in room with everything strewn out across the floor and not knowing where to put anything. All I can do is sit in the chaos. And I hate it. Once again we are moving. This time a little less than an hour away. Nothing like the move we made four years ago, but with plenty of things to remind us of it. We are moving at the same time of year. Boxes are piled up against the walls. The emails from the mortgage company wanting to know about everything we owe. It’s scary because I worry about if we are spending too much. If our neighbors will be good ones. If our jobs will continue to provide so that we can pay a new mortgage. So many unknowns. So many things that could go wrong.
Fear rises in my chest from a place deep inside. Its strange how I can think I’m doing so well one day, and then fear comes and knocks the breath right out of me when I start to feel like I don’t have control.
Lately, I’ve been reading about attachment disorders and developmental trauma. Being an adopted child, I have been reading to understand more about myself. One thing that has stood out to me in what I’ve read is how much fear children who do not have healthy attachments with their parents live in. Being adopted I can relate to this fear only too well. As I look back over my life, I realize fear has never really left me.
I remember hearing a preacher point out one time how many times God says in the Bible do not be afraid. I don’t know the exact number, but I know its a lot. God knows how desperately we all need to hear it. At the core of our being is the need to be safe.
When I think about what it might have been like as a baby to be born and taken away from my mother at birth I know it must have been terribly frightening. After three months in a foster home things would change again and I’d go to live with my adopted family. A family that was far from stable. Is it any wonder I am still afraid? Is it any wonder I want to feel in control?
Sometimes I’m able to remind myself that God is in control and not let fear take hold, but with so many things out of control right now and the stakes being higher for something to go wrong, I’m finding its a lot more difficult to trust. I want to trust God, I really do, but the fear won’t let go sometimes.
What am I really afraid of? Things not working out at all like I planned. That this new home, new community, and hope that I feel will get dashed away just like so many other good things I’ve had have been. That I’ll still wind up eventually alone and afraid again.
As I look back over my life there have been so many losses. So many times when I’ve believed that things would be ok, but they were not. So many people I thought would be in my life for a lot longer than what they were and now they are gone. Was it my fault? Am I destined to ruin everything good? Fear haunts me with these heavy questions.
I hear regularly at the residential treatment center where I work the importance of being honest with ourselves about our losses and allowing ourselves to acknowledge and feel their pain. Recently, I heard one of the residents weeping over the realization that she’d never have a mom and dad who would love her like God meant for her to be loved. It broke my heart for her. But it also broke my heart for me. Because I want the same thing she does. A place to be safe and belong.
Why is it so hard to love one another the way we should? Why has the love of so many grown cold? Why do we in our worst pain wind up hurting those closest to us? I wish I knew, but I don’t. But like this young girl who was forced to accept the reality that things had not worked out at all like she hoped, I too must accept that reality and keep moving forward to a future that is unknown, grieving the losses along the way. But also believing that there is hope up ahead.
This morning a Bible verse came into my mind after a night of tossing and turning in fear.
Lord , my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord — now and always.
Psalms 131:1-3 NLT
God meets us where we are. He never rejects us because of our fear. He reminds us that He is holding us close and that He will never leave. Even when fear is overwhelming us, our souls can rest in this truth.
for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4:18 ESV
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalms 56:3 ESV
I sought the Lord , and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalms 34:4 ESV
fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 ESV
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV
And true restoration and healing is the business that God is all about
The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts. It was I who sent this great destroying army against you. Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you. Never again will my people be disgraced. Then you will know that I am among my people Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. Never again will my people be disgraced.
Joel 2:25-27 NLT
Yesterday, a friend sent me another article about a well known mega church pastor being exposed for sexually abusing women. I could not bring myself to read it, because I knew if I did I might become overwhelmed again by memories. Others might be able to disregard this information as something that happened somewhere else in another church without taking it personally, but for me it hits too close to home.
There is hardly an aspect of my life that has not been touched by the spiritual abuse our family suffered. There are so many reminders of a part of our lives that we wish had never occurred. But it did occur and things as simple as seeing a certain vehicle on the road or hearing a song played in church can remind me of the man who abused and manipulated us.
For four years we’ve have been in and out of churches struggling to find a place to belong. No where has felt safe. Every single church has reminded us of all that we have lost and caused us to be afraid of losing what little of our faith we have left.
But the most recent church we have attended has been different. People genuinely seem to care. They’ve opened their homes and lives to our family, and have made us feel a part. They’ve listened to our stories with love and not judgment. The suffocating loneliness we have felt has begun to lift. We have even made a decision to move closer to this church.
However, the fears we have of being spiritually abused again are still very much there. As a matter of fact, the closer we get to the people in this church, the bigger the fear of being harmed again. We opened our hearts before and look what happened. They were trampled and left in a bloody mess on the floor. How can we trust that the people won’t do the same?
The past four years of disillusionment with the church has left us with only God to rely on. He hasn’t wasted this time. We have learned the importance of trusting Him more than anyone else. After the wheels came off in my own faith journey, I have recognized how broken we as human beings really are. If I place my trust in man more than God, I am sure to be devastated again and again. Therefore, I continue to remind myself of the importance of looking to Jesus, the only author and perfector of our faith.
It is a huge relief to be on the other side of abuse. Sometimes I find myself longing to forget the whole thing ever happened. To put the past in the past and never look back again. But then another abuse story makes the headlines of the news. And to make matters worse after I read it then someone on a Christian podcast that I listen to regularly or someone in church reads a quote from the same pastor accused of abusing women. Sometimes it causes me to want to run as far away from the church that I can and never look back. But my heart won’t let me leave. So I continue to stay and face the problems the best way that I know how; by being honest with myself and others about them.
After what I’ve been through in the church, you’d think I wouldn’t be so surprised when abuse is exposed. But I still feel crushed when another prominent Christian leader is accused of abuse. A few names come to my mind of men who had a positive spiritual influence on my life who in recent years have had abuse exposures. Their books and sermons have taught me a lot about God. Now they are just another statistic. What can one do with this information? From what I have observed, some in the church will avoid looking at these truths all together. Some will label these stories as fake news. Some will say don’t mess with God’s annointed. Some will say never let them teach again. And some just don’t know about these stories at all. There are also many who will do as I do and avoid reading them when they do hear, because it brings up too much pain. However, I believe that the church’s tendency to avoid the painful truth about spiritual abuse is only going to contribute to it more. Problems do not go away by avoiding them or pretending that they are not there. Problems don’t go away with judgement. Darkness is transformed when it is brought into the light. Jesus did not avoid addressing corrupt spiritual leaders, nor should we.
How polarized our culture has become doesn’t help the problem either. Christians everywhere on my social media page seem to be about the business of pointing out the errors in others theology or politics and judging one another based on which side they choose to be in. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve hidden the feeds of a large majority of my friends I have on social media, because of the divisive things they post. These are confusing and discouraging times we live in especially as a Christian who Jesus called to love others. The tendency in a polarized society can also be to just point out the good. To post positive memes and pictures that communicate to me that if we talk about anything negative we have a lack of faith. This isn’t helpful either.
Those who are victims advocates are working diligently to expose abuse in the church. I have found a lot of peace and understanding by following ministries who are facing abuse in the church head on and working diligently to give a voice to those victims who do not have one. I’m so grateful for the work that they do. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know if we would have survived. But sometimes reading one story after another of abuse in the church that they post can make it difficult to believe there are actually good ministers. Just as there is a big need in me to be heard, there is an even bigger need for me to be able to be a part of a Christian community where I feel safe, and I have found the only way to do this is for me is to avoid reading too many abuse stories that make it extremely difficult for me to trust others.
The process of healing from spiritual abuse has been a long and difficult one. I have learned that one of the most important things I need to do is be patient with myself and remind myself that God is not going to waste any of our pain. He will redeem it all. I believe that we as survivors play a very important role in being a part of the solution. Each and every one of our stories matter. Because our stories reveal a desperate need in the church for change. And true restoration and healing is the business that God is all about. So don’t give up. Keep speaking. Keep believing. Keep looking for the people who genuinely care. God has not abandoned us. He is working behind the scenes in ways that we cannot understand, but I believe one day we will. He is a good Father. Though those who we believed were the heroes of our faith have let us down and crushed us time and time again, Jesus will never let us down and promises to restore all that we have lost. Keep looking to Him. He won’t let you go.
People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son
I read this quote from Henri Nouwen this morning. His words hit home with me and the journey I have been on for the past few years.
One of the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome in my own Christian walk is acknowledging the darkness, and not becoming overwhelmed by it.
Why does God allow bad things to happen?
Why do children get abused and abandoned by the parents who were supposed to give them love?
How can I listen the cries at work of a heartbroken child wanting her Daddy to come get her and not feel overwhelmed by the emptiness and desperation I hear in her voice?
How can a father abandon his child?
What do I do with the news that a neighbor just down the street took a gun and killed his mother, child and then turned it on himself.
So much darkness, death, and despair.
The darkness creeps into my mind.
It wants to take over.
I struggle to find the light of hope.
Social media is full of memes and statements from friends who encourage positive thinking and pious platitudes meant to inspire and keep us looking up.
They only cause me to feel more darkness.
I will not pretend the darkness is not there. As horrible as feeling it’s pain is, it also let’s me know that I am still alive and part of the human race. My own pain has caused me to want to lock myself away in denial. To never look back at all the darkness that has taken place in my own life. But everytime I try to it feels like the lid of a casket coming down. There has to be a way to live in this world of darkness without being overwhelmed or living in denial.
As Nouwen says, the joy of the Lord is what causes us to look for the light when the darkness of the world creeps in.
We are not alone.
We are loved by a God who is kind.
A God who redeems and restores.
A God who transforms the darkness into light.
Sometimes I can’t see Him.
Sometimes I have to walk in the darkness feeling my way through looking for the light.
Sometimes I get lost and Jesus finds me.
But He never leaves us alone even when we choose darkness over the light.
He is a good Father.
Today, I’m thankful for those people in my life who continue to point me to the flashes of light of His love that shines through the brokenness of our lives. Thankful for those who walk through the darkness with me and let me know that I am not alone. You are flashes of light along the way. You are proof that although this world gets really dark, that darkness will not overcome the light of His love.
There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.
Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son