Spiritual Abuse sucks, but healing is possible… and yes, without losing your faith.
Renewal of your mind is possible.
For most of 2019, my mind was stuck in a spin cycle of shame, fear, and guilt.
I was constantly replaying traumatic scenarios and triggering conversations in my head. Lies and accusations I had heard from a spiritual abuser played on a loop in my mind. I have a terrible talent for remembering every single detail of things. Every word. Every tone. Every disapproving gaze.
For a season, I lost friends and close relationships almost daily. As someone who struggled with people pleasing for most of my life, I didn’t handle it well.
I was so stuck, I didn’t know if I’d ever break free.
It consumed me for the better part of a year.
Then about a year ago, my husband and I decided it was time. Enough was enough. We weren’t going to live like this forever.
We declared it a new season. We declared our healing before it happened, we decided that this situation would not hold us back from what God has called us to, and that we would no longer give it any power over us.
I remember one day waking up and having the thoughts and replayed scenarios rush in first thing in the morning. I remember just looking at my bathroom mirror and praying that God would deliver me from this and hearing Him so clearly say “Get up and walk”.
He revealed to me that we were choosing to stay stuck in something He had already physically delivered us from. It was time to get up and walk. It was time to take action.
How to get up:
I remember doing five tangible things that kicked off this change:
- I said my piece. I sent an email – which I can’t quite recommend depending on your circumstances and my enneagram 9 husband still cringes at the thought of it – but there were a few things I needed to say in order to get my inner critic off my back and prove to myself that I at least tried my best to make some semblance of peace. It didn’t go well AT ALL. But I did it for me, not the response I would receive. It gave me closure. The response was AWFUL, but it was another reminder that I wasn’t going to let someone with such lacking character, corrupt mine, or effect us any more than He already had. Enough was enough.
- We stopped re-hashing the same details. We made a rule that the spiritual abuser’s name was no longer welcome in our home. It was a safe place. A place of peace. And we needed to protect that. There’s a balance between talking about something as a way of healing/processing, and just letting yourself be consumed and obsessed with something. If their name is always on your lips it’s a sure sign they still have some power over you. Relinquish it.
- I signed up for counseling. I needed someone to help me rebuild my thought life in a healthy way. Over the past year of bi-weekly counseling I’ve had someone to help me correct where I have been believing things that are not true. I have seen my anxiety and depression levels go down DRASTICALLY, and I’m writing this entire post today because I looked in the very same bathroom mirror this morning and realized how often I don’t think about that season anymore. I no longer have a mind that is held captive by abuse, shame, and trauma.
- I began to consistently read the Bible for myself. Not other people’s words about the Bible, though I think that certainly has it’s place. But I let the word of God speak to ME. I realized that a lot of what I was believing was terrible theology that had been twisted by spiritual abuse and as I read about God and relearned His character and heart, chains of shame and condemnation began to break.
- I began a journey of forgiveness. It didn’t happen immediately. It took intentional decisions to pray for the people I needed to forgive. It took being grieved over my own sinful heart to find compassion for the sinners that have wronged me. One of my favorite Tim Keller quotes is this: “It is impossible to forgive someone if you feel superior to him or her.”
Surrender brings healing. You can’t surrender when you’re holding on tight knuckled to unforgiveness.
I need you to know that forgiveness does not require access.
Forgiveness does not require intimacy.
Forgiveness isn’t ‘letting someone off the hook’ for their wrongs, it’s releasing yourself from the chains of bitterness.
Forgiveness sets YOU free.
Forgiveness requires surrender – not to the one you need to forgive, but surrender to Jesus. Surrendering the desires for vengeance and justice and trusting Him with the outcome. Trust Him to fight your battles.
If you pursue forgiveness, one day hearing that person’s name won’t make your blood boil, but it will prick your heart with compassion for them. And maybe yet, still some grieving at how things turned out. But you will be free.
Healing wounds caused by the church does not have to mean losing your faith. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to truly heal without increasing your faith.
If I could pivot this conversation a little bit to what we are seeing in the world right now… a potential Spiritual Abuse Part 5.5...
I think a lot of the division we’re seeing among the body of Christ today is largely the heartbreaking result from years of hurt, misunderstanding, and keeping quiet about things that matter. Some of us were quieted due to shame and the desire to not be a burden. Others were hushed because there wasn’t anyone who could understand what they were going through. Still others were completely mishandled due to poor leadership and badly interpreted scripture.
We wonder how we got here.
How could we be SO divided.
Racism, spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, really any abuse, sexuality, purity culture, marriage struggles, mental health issues… shaming young unmarried women for getting pregnant rather than providing a safe, loving, and helpful place for them… these are all things that I think many of us were taught to whisper about or ignore… things many of us got wrong, or were wronged by.
Now let me be clear: I am not glazing over the fact that the church has been wrong in all of this. I have many other posts about church hurt and spiritual abuse, because that is my own story.
They were wrong in SO many ways – however, the degree of their wrong actually has nothing to do with YOUR healing.
YOU can heal regardless.
But let’s be clear. They have messed up.
And the temptation for many is to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ so to speak. To be done with the church. To be done with Jesus.
To reject everything it stood for out of pain inflicted by those who were supposed to represent Him well.
It’s standards. It’s politics. It’s Biblical interpretations. It’s morals. It’s Savior.
I see so many doing this right now. And it breaks my heart.
Yes people have gotten it wrong.
All throughout history God has used people who have gotten it wrong.
That doesn’t make the Bible wrong.
That doesn’t make God wrong.
Be Careful Who You Run To…
In my research on spiritual abuse, it’s been almost impossible to find other people talking about it from a perspective of healing and freedom in Christ. What I have found is that often the only ones addressing these tough topics, are those doing so out of their pain, anger, or completely deconstructed secular world view… and people are flocking in droves to join them, because following our feelings and pain will first appear like freedom. It will first seem like healing.. but validation and solidarity will only get you so far. Soon you will realize that all you have found is a club bent on licking their wounds and being limited by their pain, rather than giving you any tangible steps toward growth. The message of “what you went through was awful” and “you’re not alone” should be a starting point… there is importance to that, but there has to be a next step, and your next step I believe relies critically on your choice to choose bitter, or refuse bitter.
If you CHOOSE bitter, you will become hardened. Prideful. Sure of your rightness and their wrongness. You will refuse to forgive, and therefore, dwell on who has wronged you, and the pain that they have caused. In choosing bitterness your vision will be impaired, as you will view everything and everyone through a lens of your unhealed pain. An unhealed, stubborn heart is one primed for defensiveness, vengeance, and self sabotage. Full of the very self-righteousness and lack of grace that you loathe in those who wronged you. And you will stay stuck. Your growth stunted. Your only hope for healing in the fact that Jesus can soften any hard heart and melt away bitterness at any point – no one is too far gone. But choosing bitter will delay your growth and healing, and only cause you even more pain.
But you could also REFUSE bitter. Choose forgiveness. Heal. Renew your mind And move forward with the lessons you have learned – not naive to the pain of others or the imperfection of the church or it’s leaders – but knowing to rely on Jesus to build your faith, not man. Resolving to be the kind of leader you wish you had, and holding others accountable with that perfectly balanced blend of grace AND truth. As a healed person, you will spend your life spreading hope, healing, and the joy found in Christ that is completely unshakable.
There are a lot of unhealed church cynics speaking about these hard topics, but their perspective immensely lacks the hope and grace they so desperately sought to find in the churches they now criticize.
And while I mourn your hurt and brokenness, and can empathize with you as I have been there too – we HAVE to stand firm and cling to what is true.
We must cling to God, not our pain.
Yes the church got some things wrong.
They still are getting some things wrong.
And they will again – get some things wrong.
Flawed humans have a pretty tough track record.
And while the church is not God, it is deeply loved BY God.
So I have to believe He wants to heal her. He cares more for her than we ever could.
I have to believe he feels your pain just as intensely as you do. He grieves with you. He sees you.
However I want to challenge you today :
Run to the Father for comfort, not the world.
If you must deconstruct your faith upbringing, completely gutting and challenging all you were taught to believe… do it with a Bible. Do it with prayer.
Do it with whatever shred of faith you have left… you only need a mustard seed. God can work with that.
Don’t allow the unhealed pain and bitterness of others to speak into your vulnerable brokenness. Don’t search for comfort in secular viewpoints. Don’t run to the arms of cynics. They can be very welcoming at first, but they have nothing else of depth to offer you.
The pain inflicted on you by flawed human beings, will not be healed by other flawed human beings. The answer isn’t within you, or within them.. it’s within Jesus. Only Jesus.
And yes, I’m talking about those internet deconstruction cynics, but I’m also talking about your new churches and pastors, and even the politicians you look to for hope… none of them can truly give you what you need. At their best they can point you to Jesus, anything else is a cheap and empty distraction.
JESUS is the healer. Our only true salvation. Our only firm foundation.
Let Jesus in to that brokenness. He is a great mender. A cleansing balm for your soul. The well that never runs dry.
He can handle it. ALL of it.
But church, we have to do our part to heal from within.
Starting with us.
And to those hurt by the church, I’m sorry. So deeply sorry. But you need to heal those hurts too, or they will run. your. life. And YOU are responsible for your own life and healing. Not those who wronged you.
So it’s our choice –
Do we want a life marked by pain, bitterness, and victim mentality… constantly blaming and pointing the finger at those who have wronged us?
Do we want a life of freedom and deliverance, marked by the confidence we have in Christ that no matter who or what on this earth steals from or harms us, they cannot take what is unstealable – our faith, hope, and joy that we have found permanently secure in Jesus.
If we do not heal we will just continue spreading hurt. Bleeding out onto everyone around us with our bitterness, cynicism, and shallow theology.
If we want the church to be better, than we who have been wounded by it have to heal.
We have the unique opportunity to overcome victim mentality and find true freedom and healing in Christ – and tell others that it’s possible.
We can be a huge part of the change. But it starts in US.
So go, and heal. And in turn, spread healing.
Get up, and walk.