Taking a break is okay
Quit, and see what happens
The purpose of this blog is to offer words of encouragement to brothers and sisters in Christ who have been hurt by the church. The local church is made up of people. Those people are not perfect. Unfortunately, those people can sometimes hurt each other. If you have a word of encouragement, scripture, or devotional that would help a hurting church member, please feel free to post it here.
Grieving our losses is also vital to recovery.
Grieving is a process, and processes take time. John and I spent months, even years, grieving. We’re probably still grieving to some degree. We grieved the loss of relationships with people we cared about. We grieved the loss of the joy of worshiping with those people. We grieved the loss of our satisfaction in participating in their lives and in watching many of the ways God revealed himself to each of them. And we grieved the loss of our dreams about enjoying a long, fulfilling history with our church community. Grieving wasn’t only a matter of identifying our losses. Having identified them, John and I needed to allow ourselves to feel the pain of those losses. For me, that meant not distracting myself with a project or with other thoughts when the pain resurfaced—that is, whenever I was in a safe, private place and I wasn’t working against a deadline. Because I knew I
needed to grieve and I rarely was in a safe, private place with time on my hands, I had to build that time and place into my schedule. So during my regular time of prayer, I often invited God to help me feel the pain and to help me grieve. He did.
Feeling pain rarely has short-term benefits. I recommend it only because the long-term benefits far outweigh the pain. When we grieve our losses related to spiritual abuse, when we feel the pain of those losses, we tell ourselves the truth. The truth that what happened was abuse. That it hurt us. That we’re not crazy. That the problem was not with us. That the losses we grieve were truly valuable parts of our lives. As we keep telling ourselves the truth, sooner or later we start to grasp it. And with God’s loving help, the truth sets us free.
Regaining trust probably takes longer than any other step toward recovery from spiritual abuse.
We’re still working on this one. Even now, whenever we hear a pastor say something disrespectful or misleading to a congregation, our internal alarm systems go off so loudly that we feel self-conscious. It appears ironic that regaining trust is an issue for us when we never really trusted Richard in the first place. But having spent so much time guarding ourselves from the pastor, we now find it difficult to do the opposite. While we’re grateful that God has used our experiences of spiritual abuse to increase our radar sensitivity toward other environments that might be spiritually abusive, we’re aware that, as much as we want to trust pastors, we are reluctant to do so. Afraid of getting hurt again, we tend to keep a low profile. Yet we know that not every pastor is abusive. So we’re looking to God to finish healing the wounds that have caused that reluctance. Meanwhile, we’re trying to be patient with ourselves, knowing that God is not displeased with our slow progress.
The most insidious effect of spiritual abuse, of course, is that it can damage the way we view God, so that we distrust him as much as we distrust pastors. If John and I had been less experienced Christians and had trusted Richard and Jill as agents of God, we might have begun to view God himself as deceptive, self-serving, dictatorial, capricious, power-hungry, punitive, shaming, uncaring, and unloving. In fact, we have anguished over the many people who may have begun viewing God in those ways after being hurt by Richard and Jill. Although, as far as we know, the abuse did not damage our perceptions of God—perhaps because we had never trusted the pastor to be any more spiritual than we were—it could have in one way: It could have influenced us to distrust God for allowing the abuse to happen. Both of us often asked God, “Why do you put up with pastors like that? Why don’t you hand their churches over to someone more competent?”
I still can’t answer those questions, any more than I can answer the question of why God lets people suffer any kind of abuse. But I do know this: God was with us throughout our abuse experience, and he was with us afterward, comforting us, helping us sort out our feelings, healing our wounds, and setting us on the path to recovery.
Let me explain that a bit. When someone gets physically abused, they don’t necessarily distrust the Department of Social Services. The abuser wasn’t acting as a representative of the Department of Social Services when they abused the person. Similarly, when a woman gets abused sexually, she doesn’t necessarily distrust the person from the women’s shelter who offers to be helpful. She may distrust men in general, but the agency that is designed specifically to help is not necessarily a problem. The abuser was not acting as a representative of the agency designed to help abused people. So the woman who has been abused is not likely to think, If I go to the people who are from the agency that is designed to help me, I’m going to get hurt even worse. In the case of spiritual abuse, however, there is always a major problem with the “agency” that is specifically “designed” to be helpful: God. The fear is that if you go to God, you will get hurt even worse than you have already been hurt. Spiritual abuse always does damage to our relationship with God. It’s the worst. It’s a wound of the spirit. It’s a wound right down at the core of who we are.
One of the messages of the abusive system is that you have to have complete, total trust. So in recovery from spiritual abuse it is really important to give ourselves room to have little bits of faith. And also to learn to pay attention to our spiritual radar and to reconnect with our sense of blessing—and with the God who gives us that sense of blessing.
"What Jamieson has found in his studies has surprised him. In researching his book, A Churchless Faith, he interviewed 108 leavers. Most were not marginal churchgoers who finally quit but organizational linchpins. Ninety-four percent had been church leaders -- deacons, home-group leaders, elders, Sunday school teachers -- and 32 percent had been in full-time ministry."
"Jamieson, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Wellington, New Zealand, told FaithWorks he was shocked to learn that many churches are unaware, even unconcerned, about those who have left. The overwhelming majority of leavers interviewed in his study said no one from their church ever talked with them about why they left. Jamieson's tone is sadly incredulous as he recounts one successful pastor's declaration that Jesus' parable of the lost sheep doesn't apply to those "who know where the paddock is and intentionally wander away" and that godly ministers don't waste time chasing them."
Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)
Devotion: The Plate Spinner
Whenever you see the word ‘therefore’ in the Bible, you can be sure it is ‘there for’ a very special reason. Rick Warren asked the question in his book The Purpose Driven Life, “What is your life metaphor?” I always pictured the plate spinner at the circus. Between my husband, kids, job, friends and service duties, it seemed one plate was always wobbling! And just when I would focus my attention on the current unstable area, out of the corner of my eye I would spot another careening toward the floor. No matter how hard I tried, someone or something reminded me that my attention was not evenly distributed. I remember one afternoon dropping to my knees in total exhaustion and wailing, “It’s never enough!” Isn’t it interesting that it took an empty me to finally collapse into the position God had been longing to see me in? In Jeremiah 1:8 God promises, “…I am with you to deliver you.” And in Matthew 6:33 the key is found to eliminate exhaustion: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.”
Does that mean that plates will never crash if we seek him first? No, it means we will never crash. The promise is to deliver you!
Oswald Chambers says, “We put our common sense on the throne and then attach God’s name to it.” Possessions and people let us down and often cause heartache and turmoil, however when our focus is on the Maker, our complaining turns to continuing steadily on.
In the key verse Jesus is telling us, if your priority is seeking Him and His righteousness first, then there is no reason to worry at all about wobbly situations in your life, for our Deliverer will keep us steady.
Luke 12:22, “Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.” (NIV)
Luke 21:14, “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.” (NIV)
2 Corinthians 1:10, “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” (NIV)
My Sweet Jesus, thank you for caring about details so we don’t have to. Help me today to stop worrying about the unstable things in my life and focus first on my relationship with You, in The Mighty Name of Jesus, Amen.