Healing Connections

His statement shook me to the core.  I realized it hasn’t been the memories of abuse that have been the most difficult thing to overcome; it’s been dealing with them alone.

I’ve been on a writing streak lately. I keep thinking when I write one of these posts, it’s gonna be the last one for a while. But stuff just keeps coming to my mind and I need to get it out somehow, so here it is. Thanks for bearing with me, readers. This one is going to be a little rough.

Today, a familiar song was played at church. It was a song that my former abusive pastor used to sing sometimes in the sanctuary alone on a weekday about God’s love. A vivid memory flashed into my mind’s eye of him singing with tears in his eyes. I tried not to think about it. Tried to think of the words of the song and separate it from the memory of him, but I couldn’t. So I did the only thing I knew to do, I prayed that wherever he was that God would heal his heart even though the thoughts of him intruding my mind made me angry. How dare he invade my space again! Why can’t I just heal and move forward leaving the past in the past?

Memories of him also invaded my mind last night. At an after wedding party, a pastor in the family gently rubbed his hand up and down my back as he was leaving. It wasn’t inappropriate, but I was very aware it was happening. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. Maybe it’s because he speaks the same language my former pastor did about grace and forgiveness and excusing pastors when they fall because they are imperfect. I tossed and tumbled when I got home in bed. My head ached from the glass of champagne I’d had. I got up to take ibuprofen. I drank a glass of milk and took a Melatonin and got back in bed. I tried to take deep breathes and focus on God, but the memory of this pastor’s hand on my back and our conversation shook me to the core. Why didn’t I speak up more for abused women while I was talking to him?! Why did I agree and say that if God could use a jackass he could use imperfect men? Why can’t I just speak instead of smile and nod and politely keep the peace? Why did I feel like others might be watching me talking alone to him and think the worst about me? My heart cried out to God, Will I carry this shame for the rest of my life?!

I felt a deep desire for my Heavenly Father to just come and let me crawl up in His arms and cry. I was so exhausted from the memories and the questions swirling in my head. Amazingly after a few moments, I sensed His presence there. I was finally able to go to sleep.

I’m overwhelmed with emotions in this season of my life. I question and I doubt and I struggle with shame. But then I feel more alive than I have felt in a long time. Yesterday morning, I woke up hopeful and ecstatic that God was healing my heart. I actually felt it. Driving down the interstate home from work the day before I shouted out loud because I felt so alive. Woo! What in the world is happening to me? Am I losing my mind?

My therapist explained to me last week that what I am experiencing is part of the healing process. She said that joy will come in spurts. I was relieved to know that at least it was normal, because it feels a little like I’m going off the deep end!

I usually spend a lot more time fine tuning my blog posts to make them flow better, but not this one it’s raw like my feelings are and kinda of crazy and all over the place. Somehow by writing it all down, I am trying to make sense of it all.

What is bringing about this change?

Why is God more real than He has been before?

Yesterday, I read the blog post Today’s Problem with Masculinity isn’t What You Think. It’s one of the best articles I’ve ever read, because it’s so insightful of not only the problem with masculinity, but the problem with so many of us; loneliness.

The author describes his experience serving in Iraq. He talks about the men serving alongside him giving him the strength to make it. He explained that often people think of those in the military as being a lot tougher than we think, but he went on to explain how serving together was really how they survived. He says:

Of the men I served with I can tell you about their life stories, fears, victories, relationships, and struggles. We’ve cried, hugged, laughed, and shared some of our deepest secrets with one another.

While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gets lobbed around like a grenade in a china store as an explanation for why soldiers are killing themselves at an endemic rate, I believe the answer is much simpler. We’re lonely and lack the emotional intimacy we once had with our brothers in arms.

His statement shook me to the core. I realized it hasn’t been the memories of abuse that have been the most difficult thing to overcome; it’s been dealing with them alone.

Today, I wondered as the memory flashed in my mind of a man who caused me so much pain singing about God’s love how lonely he must have been been. I’m not excusing his behavior. I’m not saying it should have been covered up. I’m certainly not saying he should ever be given the opportunity to abuse again. But what I am saying, is I believe loneliness and lack of connection can drive us to do terrible things. I know because I did terrible things. Standing in church, feeling like people actually care has given me a taste of something that has helped my own heart to realize that Jesus is indeed alive. This taste of life has also helped me to see how lonely I have really been. It’s overwhelming, but it’s also very, very good.

I think in our efforts to miminize abuse in the church, not only are we harming victims but victimizers as well. Grace is a free gift, but it’s not a cheap gift that merely covers our sins in denial or makes statements that excuse sin easily. Sin is costly, destroys, and leads to death. How can we ever take something so deadly lightly? I never ever want to live that life again. How can we think that the very grace that sets us free would allow us to stay in sin that holds us captive by minimizing it? It was this lie that kept me imprisoned. Grace indeed sets us free. It indeed covers all sin. But it never enables us to sin. That’s a huge lie. If we want to deal with abuse we must bring it into the light, and look at it and all the damage it’s done. As we see the damage, as we grieve the losses, then can we go to the root causes of why it happened and allow God to heal it. As God has done this work in my life, I’m realizing loneliness and lack of connection were the driving forces behind so many of my choices. And it’s possible it was the driving force behind my former pastor’s abuse. It’s not for me to judge his heart. It’s not for me to wonder about or try to fix, but I can pray that God would give him what he needs.

I don’t know what the future holds for our family. I’m hopeful that we have finally found somewhere we belong. But even if it’s not where we think it is, this journey is causing me to realize the importance of doing my part in caring about others around me and being kind because we all are all fighting difficult battles. And we fight them much better together than alone.

Jesus, help us to love one another.

What Love Really Means

Jesus, Make us One

Only when our hearts are able to connect again, do we begin to feel it heal.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
John 17:20‭-‬21 NLT

In a world that is divided over just about everything, true connection stands out. But scrolling through my social media most days, I am disappointed and disheartened. It seems that we are more likely to unite over the things that we are against than the things that we are for. Even in the church, there is division over just about everything.

Where is the oneness Jesus prayed that we would have?

Where are the people who belong to God and each other?

From my earliest memory, I have always felt a sense of disconnection and a desire to belong. I have not felt comfortable in my own skin. I have especially not felt comfortable around other people. In the residential treatment center where I work, I have learned that these feelings are an outward symptom that are signaling me to pay attention to a deeper issue, a core issue of loss that resulted from being given up for adoption by my biological mother. The mother who carried me around in her womb for nine months, the person whose heart beat soothed me, delivered me out of the comfort of her womb and into a strange place where I’d never hear her heartbeat again. And then after spending a few moments in her arms, a nurse took me away from her to be raised by a stranger. What goes through a child’s mind when a loss like this occurs? Somewhere deep inside I developed a belief that there must have been something wrong with me for my own mother not to want me. To soothe this deep wound of rejection, I have searched desperately for somewhere to belong; someone or something to fill loss inside.

At this same treatment center where I work, I see the same desire in the eyes of kids who have been abandoned by their parents. They have no place to call home. Some of them are so kind it will cause your heart to melt. They are eager to please, because they think if they just do everything right somehow they will be loved. Some of them fight tooth and nail to keep people from getting close. They’ve experienced loss and they have decided it’s best to keep others out.

God created humanity with a deep need for connection and belonging. Our hearts cannot feel whole until they have experienced the love of another. Left alone our hearts become cold, hard and lifeless. When we suffer betrayal and losses of those in our lives we believe that we belonged to, there is a bloody and painful separation that we must grieve. Only when our hearts are able to connect again, do we begin to feel it heal. I believe Jesus prayed for His disciples to belong to one another, because not only do we need these connections for survival, but also when we belong to one another we send out a strong message to the world that Jesus is alive and there is real hope, belonging and connection in Him. We also invite others in to be a part.

If you have read any of my blogs, you know that I am a survivor of sexual abuse from my former pastor. My need for belonging caused me to give away my heart to someone who was not capable of loving me and give me what I really needed. All he could do was take what he thought he needed for himself. All I could do was the same. What I believed was love caused me to do things I promised I never would. I lost myself completely and forgot who God told me I was. For the past four years, I’ve been healing from this abuse. I’ve spent much time writing about what happened in an effort to understand how everything went so wrong.

I became a Christian in my 20’s. I experienced God in a powerful way right after my adopted father died. Suppressed memories of sexual abuse from this same man caused me to have so much anxiety I could barely sit still. My insides felt like they would shake apart until I talked to the doctor I worked for about it. He was a man who loved God and who cared about me in the right way. He prescribed medication for the anxiety and also shared with me about his own struggles. He encouraged me to read a few chapters in the book of Romans. That day after I went home and started to read, I met my Father who loved me, assured me that He always had. I felt like I belonged for the first time in my life. I could not get enough of God in the months that followed. I felt alive for the first time ever.

But then life began to happen. My husband’s family that I believed was stable began to fall apart. Secrets came to light and masks began to fall off. I began to question everything, even my faith in God. The church we were apart of was in the middle of the mess. The young adult Sunday school class we had started even began to fall apart. I discovered much of my life had been built on the sinking sand of false hope in people who were not who I thought they were. We left the church seeking refuge, but what we found in another church was even worse.

One might wonder why in the world I have not given up on the church after all I have seen happen? Many who have experienced abuse in the church have turned tail and run away in an effort to to keep themselves safe. No one can blame them either. Safety is another core human need. God calls us to protect ourselves and one another.

I suppose my need for belonging outweighs my need for safety. Maybe it’s irrational, but it’s true nonetheless. God placed in my heart a desire to pray for the church to experience oneness early on in my Christian walk. I don’t understand it, but I love the church deeply. I want to see her thrive and grow and reveal the love of Jesus. But I have seen it fail at this more than succeed. I don’t know why I haven’t given up.

Maybe it’s because in the most desperate moments of my life I’ve experienced this belonging through the love of others who have held onto the same hope. On the darkest of days, we’ve held hands and prayed and wept together. We’ve reminded one another that we are not alone. In a world that is divided over just about everything, true connection stands out.

I have not given up on the church. Jesus hasn’t either. Now more than ever the world needs to see our love for one another. In a divided world where the love of so many has grown cold, even in the church, true connection and love stands out.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
Isaiah 9:2 NLT

Recently, I watched this talk given by Lisa Bevere on men and women serving together in the church. I was greatly encouraged by what she had to say. I believe the church desperately needs to listen, especially with so much sexual abuse being exposed in the church. I believe if we as a church want to truly reveal the love of Jesus to the world, we will stop running from abuse and trying to deny it is happening. We will work together as men and women to find solutions of how to protect one another. We will stop adding more rules that keep men and women more disconnected and stop assuming that all men are after sex and all women are after men to seduce them and steal their positions. I’m so very tired of the blaming. I’m so longing for restoration, unity, and peace.

Jesus, make us one.

I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
John 17:22‭-‬26 NLT

Why We Need the Church 

Far too often the church is silent on the issue of sexual abuse in the church. 

Yesterday, I went to church again.  Both my husband and I were encouraged by the message, and strengthened by the reminder that Jesus loves and forgives us.

We chatted in the large gathering area of the mega church with a few people on the hospitality team.  We were served coffee by a friendly guy at the coffee bar.  The people seemed genuinely happy that we were there, and expressed an interest in our lives.

The musical talent on the stage was tremendous. The songs were meaningful and comforting.  They reminded me that I am God’s child and I don’t have to be afraid. They reminded me that I can trust God.

The message communicated truths to me that were applicable and timely in my life.  This past week I had been reading Gerald May’s book Addiction and Grace,  and I was blown away by the fact that some of the things the speaker said hammered in some of the same truths.  I heard God say to my heart once again to loosen my grip on the things of this world and make room for the good that only He can give me. I needed to hear this message.

I wonder sometimes how church can be so comforting and terrifying at the same time.  Our family suffered the worst abuse and betrayal by the pastor of our previous church, and when it was exposed by me, the elders manipulated the truth to make it more palatable to the church.  What happened to me wasn’t labeled as abuse or an affair, and because of this most concluded I had just had an affair.  The shame, confusion and betrayal of the people we had known as our family caused us to feel we had no choice except to move and start over.

I have written about my experience over and over again on this blog.  I have struggled hard with my own confusion and fear, sometimes feeling like I would drown in it. I have found relief only through others who are willing to listen and understand, most of whom have been victims themselves.  My therapist has walked beside me for three years faithfully and has kept me sane.

I read a tweet from Diane Langberg recently. Dr. Langberg does tremendous work in educating the church especially in the areas of abuse of power.  She attempted to educate my former church leaders, but they did not apply what she had to say.

I have discovered the difficult way what Dr. Langberg says is true.  We need community and connection to survive. We need to be able to share our sorrows and pain.  Loneliness is suffocating and has made me feel as if I was dying on the inside.

Scripture is clear that God’s plan for the church is to provide this kind of community.  Church is not a mandate that proves we are high and holy Christians.  Church is a place where we encourage one another, weep and rejoice with one another, and bear one another’s burdens.

Church also is not a place where we micromanage one another’s lives or where pastors abuse their position and take advantage of their God given power, intended to be used to serve the body of Christ.

I do not believe that all churches abuse, however more and more stories continue to hit social media with taglines like #churchtoo #MeToo and #EmptyThePews, and when I  read these stories I can feel totally disillusioned by the church. I have met so many who have been through similar experiences who have totally given up on ever attending church again.  When I have heard their stories, I totally understand.

I think what is most bothersome to me is the fact that I read minimal responses from the religious leaders who want to help victims and prevent this kind of thing from happening again. Far too often the church is silent on the issue of sexual abuse in the church.  The voices I hear the most are the victims crying out in pain and the church leaders either calling them liars, asking them why they waited so long to report the abuse, or defending themselves.  Similar stories are coming out of Hollywood and politics.  Sometimes I am so confused and angry that I am tempted to shut down every social media account I have.

But I will not shut down my accounts, because I believe that these stories are important to listen to and respond to.  God has called us to be salt and light in this world. If we remain quiet, God says that the rocks will cry out.

I have not given up on the church. I still believe that God is doing so much good through the church.

However, I am confused as to why the church is not being more vocal about the abuse that is taking place in her midst?

It is my prayer again today that God would speak to any church leaders who are willing to hear about the abuse problem in the church and that they would repent, pray and seek His face and act in wisdom to prevent these kinds of things from happening in their midst.  I also pray that churches would give victims a voice to share their story and walk with them through the confusion of their pain.  We need each other.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9‭-‬21 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/rom.12.9-21.ESV

The Fellowship of Suffering 

In the fellowship of our sufferings with Jesus and each other, we bring true relief to our pain through hope. 

​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.

Hebrews 5:7‭-‬10 NLT

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.

Philippians 3:10‭-‬11 ESV

What I Wish Others in Ministry Knew about Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse is an issue that’s making the headlines across a lot of magazines and newspaper articles today, but far too often it’s easy to conclude an “us and them” mentality, and assume after the shock of what we have read wears off that it won’t or isn’t happening in our church.

The church is full of broken people, so we shouldn’t be surprised it’s happening all around us. Rather, we should expect it and be prepared.

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
Proverbs 22:3 ESV

My former pastor wasn’t prepared that one day he’d be brought up on spiritual abuse charges when he began counseling me.  I certainly never planned to be the one to bring him up on charges.  I just wanted his help in what was a very confusing time in my life.  

My family had recently become members of the church he pastored.   He was an excellent teacher who appeared very wise.  My husband and I had come out of a recent bad church experience where leadership had fallen weak in dealing with serious issues.  We were drawn immediately to this pastor’s outward strength, grit and ability to lead the church well. 

In early 2004, I did what many church members do and sent an email to my pastor asking for help.   I’d been struggling for a long time with confusing  memories of childhood sexual abuse.  I was desperate for answers, and someone who would understand and care enough to listen. 

From my perspective, this pastor really seemed to care.  He answered my emails in a timely manner, and eventually after communicating that way for a short time, he began to call me.  

During the course of one of our phone conversations, the pastor communicated to me how much he’d started to to care about me,  and what an encouragement I was to him. He said we shared a soul connection. 

I didn’t expect the reaction I had to his words.  I didn’t understand at the time my own desperation and longing for connection and attention.  I believed he was God’s gift of an earthly father who was providing all the things that had been lacking in my relationship with my own father. 

What I didn’t understand was the powerful flood of emotions my relationship with this pastor awakened in me.  He became all I could think about day and night.   The only thing that comes close to describing what I felt was a story of addiction to cocaine I heard a former youth pastor tell me.  He said after the first snort of coke he was so exhilarated he couldn’t wait until his next hit. His journey took him to an actual prison.  I had no idea I was headed to a destiny not so different.

Then a few months later things spiraled even further out of control when, my pastor confessed to me that he would marry me if circumstances were such that he could.  Up until this time,  I’d looked up to him as a father figure. This news shocked and exhilarated all at the same time. I was ashamed but rejoicing; hating myself and feeling more special than I ever had.  I was the woman who brought out the worst in my pastor,  but also the woman he was willing risk everything for.  The little girl who’d told this pastor her most terrible secrets, and who’d hoped she would be free of all of her shame, curled up in the dark corners of my subconscious and began to cry. Self-contempt and ambivalence took over my heart and mind in a consuming flood. I became powerless to think clearly as the rush of conflicting emotions caused me dissociate.  I came to believe I couldn’t live without this man, and I swore I’d never tell a soul.

He (Jesus) also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?  A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
Luke 6:39-40 ESV

And ten years later, we were still in a ditch all  tangled up in a mess of lies and secrets we were keeping from our families and the church. 

The lies had so wrapped so tightly around my heart over the years until I came to the place that I  knew if they were not cut away that I would die.  After many years of struggling with the Lord(He so desperately wanted me to be free!), I finally confessed the truth to another pastor.

To make a long story short, my abusive pastor, who’d recently retired, was deposed from the ministry, and a public meeting was held at the church with my elders and the new pastor of the church giving a brief and edited explanation of what had occurred. Rather than calling what happened spiritual abuse and treating me as a victim, they gave my name and the pastor’s names to the congregation.  Many walked away from the meeting thinking only an unfortunate affair had occurred. 

Since that time, our family has moved away from that town and withdrawn our membership from that church.  We’ve  been in counseling now for over a year since.  It has a very confusing and difficult time for our family, and one that I believe could have been prevented with more education in the church on ways to prevent spiritual abuse. 

As I said initially,  we are all broken human beings and spiritual abuse isn’t something we can afford to stick our heads in the sand and pretend it won’t happen to us.  In a world where one in every four women are sexually abused, and one in every six men are, there are many victims in churches desperately seeking help, many times from the pastor.  The pastor needs to be prepared when victims come. It is my hope that my story can be one of the ways pastors and church leaders can learn.

I don’t know the reasons why my pastor did what he did, but I can guess some. Maybe he was overworked, burned out, feeling underappreciated, lonely and desperate much like I was. Maybe his own longing for connection caused him to make terrible choices just like me. 

God doesn’t intend for us to live the Christian life alone.  We need one another.  We need love, understanding,  and others who will listen and not judge. We need those who recognize their own brokenness and who will humbly come alongside of us as wounded healers when we fall and help pick us up again.  We need someone who will sit with us in our sorrow,  not be shocked by our sin, who’ll remind us where our righteousness comes from (not our goodness but Jesus!), and who will love us like Jesus does.  Victims of abuse need this.  Pastors need this. Because when we don’t have these kinds of connections in our lives, we look for them in places where we will only do more damage to our souls and others around us.

I think the best place to start is by just being honest about our needs and our brokenness, and to stop pretending we are a perfect church, rather than a desperate church who needs a perfect Jesus. Maybe if we do this we will stop being so shocked by one another’s sins.  Maybe others will find courage to be honest when they hear us being honest. Maybe in our vulnerability we will find connection and learn how to really love like Jesus. His love will never fail even when we do.

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19 MSG