In Him… you are free. You have been freed from the dominion and control of sin. If someone in your life is telling you that they have the right to rule over you, that they have to control you “for your own good,” then you must understand that they are not in Him. They are not in Christ.
When the Israelites were brought out of Egypt by God the Deliverer and His servant Moses, they rejoiced and went forth from their bondage with exultation! However, they were not freed from their own sinful hearts. Within a short amount of time, they were throwing the wealth that God had blessed them with into a melting pot to fashion a different god. They wanted to fashion a god that they could control, who would function according to the rules they set up in their minds. They wanted a god who would bless them when they wanted and who could be cheaply appeased when they did bad.
The God they pushed aside, the Lord of Hosts, had marshaled the forces and weapons He had at His fingertips to free His chosen people. He had fought for His own using His chemical engineering skills to convert the only water source of the enemy to impotable blood. He had roused the armies of bugs and frogs. He had used His powers of biological warfare against His people’s enslavers and their wealth of livestock. He had used His complete mastery of the four winds and the world’s meteorological system to bomb the enemies with boulders of ice. He had thrown in fire for good measure. He had sent another army – small in individuals, but mighty in swarm – to strip and denude all of the plant-based food that His enemy had, which also eliminated their seeds for their next year’s sowing. He had bent light itself so that it no longer shined on His enemies. Their loss of all light was complete and tangible – darkness so enveloping that straining eyes found no form or movement to relieve the smothering, inked dread. Then in a final coup de force, the Lord of Hosts had unleashed His greatest weapon – Himself. He had slain the first born of every one of His enemies, from those in the highest palace to lowest shelter, including the animals who had survived all of His other avenging assaults. With His enemy finally cowed, He led His people out of their bondage in triumph to their newly-gifted freedom.
Now, the people who God had done all this for were now dancing around a calf statue, made from the gold He had forced out of their enemies. They made a new god they could manage.
And it happens today in each of our lives. God stormed the camp of His (and our) enemy. He gave His own life to open our prison doors. He then brushed death’s claim aside, breathed His own air once more, and led His beloved ones out.
Now, if you have people near you who are still worshipping their own god – the two-headed golden calf of “Entitlement” and “Control” – please Beloved One understand that even though this person might claim to be part of nation who Christ set free, they are dancing gleefully before the god of their own making. They are worshipping their own control, their own entitlement.
In Him… you are set free. You yourself have direct, free access to the Lord of Hosts. You yourself have the Being of the Holy Spirit in your soul. You are given wisdom as you ask. You yourself are guided personally by your Heavenly Father’s hand and the hand of The Spirit. You are loved. As yourself. You are free.
So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us reveals the fragrance of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing: 16 to the one an [a]aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?
II Cor 2:14-16,
19 For He looked down from His holy height; From heaven the Lord looked [a]upon the earth, 20 To hear the groaning of the prisoner, To set free [b]those who were doomed to death, 21 So that people may tell of the name of the Lord in Zion, And His praise in Jerusalem,
The other day, the very wise Rebecca Davis, author of the Untwisting Scriptures book series, discussed the following topic on her Facebook page.
Children’s Sunday school curricula have typically emphasized learning character qualities from the Bible stories.
“Miriam (with baby Moses) was brave.”
“Samuel (as a child) was attentive.”
“David (in all his many conflicts) showed quick thinking.”
Years ago when I was editing a Sunday-school-type curriculum, I came to a story that taught when Jesus did His miracles, the character lesson for the children was “kindness.”
I wish I had my edit notes, but I lit into that lesson. I railed in my comments that though Jesus was kind, the primary reason for His miracles was to show that HE was GOD and to bring GLORY to GOD.
It was the last lesson I edited for that company.
She went on to say that character quality lessons still come up from time to time in her Bible study and in her work.
Here is my response to her post, surmising that all Bible stories taught in these Sunday School lessons point to God Himself and not to our need to work on improving our own character:
I think the lesson I pick up [from the Bible story] is that, from Miriam’s point of view, she just did the best she could as circumstances unfolded.
But from God’s point of view, He pre-ordained all the circumstances. He steered the Nile tide that day to carry the Moses basket to that Egyptian princess’s exact “swimmin’ hole.” Long before that though, He had placed Miriam in that family as the big sister. He arranged that birth order. He gave her a heart for her baby brother, and a desire to protect him. (That is not always a given in families. Believe me!) He gave her a quick mind so that she could think on her feet and tell that she knew a woman who could nurse the baby. He stirred the big-sister protectiveness in her heart so that it over-rode her fear and instinct for her own self-preservation. So again, God deserves the credit and glory in this situation. Not Miriam or her character trait.
The only reason I’m saying this is because the weight of Sunday School lessons like this added to the burdens that my evangelical church laid on. “Here’s a Bible character. He/she was ___ (insert character trait)___. You need to be more like *character*. Work on that this week. Work harder. Do better!” A little quote my family has used to describe these lessons is, “You should…, you ought…, shame on you for not…”
But as I’ve moved out from under the evangelical burden, I see these old lessons differently. The new lessons that I’m learning are:
1) God’s got it figured out. He’s using good and bad to steer circumstances. As the Nile of our lives flows, floods its banks, or drops in drought; we as redeemed children of God and new creatures can do the best we can. God is steering the Nile. God is steering the circumstances. God is steering our hearts. Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He pleases.
2) God gave us our minds. He always planned on us using them. Using them even in the context of our character that He also knows we have. However, we are taught that we are sinful and that we mess things up and that there’s no good in us. We should wait for some sign or skywriting from Heaven or (more likely) for the pastor to tell us what to do. And this lesson hamstrings us. But as we use our redeemed minds to negotiate the changing flow of our Niles, or the fallout from what the Nile or Pharaoh or whatever brings, we can rest in the fact that we are still loved, and that we are still God’s child. He already knew us, knew our minds and temperaments, knew what we would do, and He has already planned accordingly.
3) if I think I’m screwing up God’s plan because… I’m not better, not good enough, not (character trait) enough; I am learning that I am not that powerful.
4) Constant introspection is crippling! It is the death of a thousand cuts! Only, I was told to inflict the thousand cuts on myself — to dig for some errant cell, some sinful atom. I was required to constantly self-vivisect. I was required to search for any sin cell. I was required to fix myself… by myself. I was required to do better. These character trait lessons said:
I should… be a better person.
I ought… to apply this character trait to make myself more acceptable to God.
Shame on me for not… being more like this paragon of virtue who is clearly loved by God. If I want God to like me, i have to work on ____ this week.
5) When there is sin in me, and there is, I have learned that God the Holy Spirit knows me well enough that He will get my attention. He will point the thing out. A lot. He can steer my heart into new channels, using His Word, circumstances, other people, or any other resources at His fingertips (which would be all the resources!) As I live this Nile with its storms, disasters, and its pleasant days, God will change my heart’s direction, and He will move me to whatever event or “swimmin’ hole” I need to be to move my story along.
In this lesson, as Miriam waded along the riverbank, she did not think of her Torah lessons and self-analyze. She did not stand on the banks of the river while she watched the basket and think, “I really need to work on my bravery skills. I need to improve in this area. I fail in this. This is something I need to work on. Maybe I should buy the latest Torah scroll on bravery in my local Torah scrollshop. Maybe I need to join a girl’s Torah study group on this trait.” (Yes, I’m aware that the Torah wasn’t written down until Moses did it years later, but I’m making an analogy to today’s Christian thought.) Miriam was presented with the situation that God steered her to. And with the heart of the loving big sister that God had planted in her, she thought more of her baby brother than herself and did her best.
6) Only God changes hearts. If I’m working to change my own heart (even if I’m sprinkling verses over my effort) I am either trying to take God’s place, or I am trying to shoulder a God-sized burden. Neither one is good.
A changed heart and life brings God glory. If we are self-helping our way through, trying to change our own hearts, we will then take credit for any small changes we manage to make. But if we confess our sins and failings to Him (sins and failings that He points out), if we move forward in the light of the forgiveness and grace He’s provided through Christ, then… everything will point back to Him. He points out the failing or sin. He convicts. He moves in our spirits. He provides the atoning, substitute sacrifice for our sin. He does the dying for us. He provides the plan and the way of our forgiveness. He provides the grace. He provides the cleansing. He will steer us slowly into new channels, into new hearts. And He will get the credit and the glory for changing hearts.
If we are trying to shoulder a God-sized burden of trying to change ourselves because of guilt or bad teaching, then we will be crushed under the weight of “you should… you ought… shame on you for not…” We are not meant to carry all that shame for failing to remake ourselves into perfect beings. We are meant to confess our sins. We, as new creatures, are meant to live freely in the new, clean life He has given us, all to His credit and glory.
These are some of the lessons I’ve learned. After leaving my old churches, I finally really understand the verse, Mark 2:22
22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” The old “you should… you ought… shame on you for not…” lessons just don’t fit anymore in a new life of freedom in Christ.
Recently in a group I follow about Christian women (and some men) who have experienced domestic abuse, someone asked if there’s any way to know if a new person you may be interested in dating is truly being kind and loving to you, or can you know if that person is love-bombing and grooming you in order to sink their hooks and reel you into their abusive net? Now to an outsider, this may sound like a person looking to justify cynicism. This person may even be accused of being bitter (a favorite go-to accusation of the church towards the hurting victim), and out of that bitterness, they are accused of painting all relationships with a tainted, broad brush.
However, for those of us, not just in this group, but all of us who have been affected by domestic abuse, we understand the heart behind this question. Like the proverb, we’ve been fooled once. Shame on them. We do not want to be fooled again. Please… no more shame on me…
As English speakers, we often use the adage, “Once bitten, twice shy.” However, the French way of saying it seems so much more à propos. “Un chat échaudé craint l’eau froide.” A scalded cat fears cold water. We’ve been badly “scalded” before, and we now fear to even think about taking any new plunge. So we ask so many questions to see what lessons others have learned before we would ever dip a toe in to a new relationship.
I wrote up a list of hard-won lessons that I learned — lessons I use to spot the difference between a genuinely kind person and a snake which is charming its spectators.
Things I should have noticed:
1) Even though he’s sweet, gifts given to you create some sort of obligation to return “gushing, glowing” happiness and praise, “favors”, or other reciprocal gifts. Like a very wise person I know recently said to me, “Abusers don’t give. They loan.” Repayment expected. With interest. And the indebtedness created by the gift is expected to last a long while. “Why are you upset now? Didn’t I just get you ________ a week ago?”
2) Even though he’s thoughtful, gifts are somehow “off”… he gets things he wants you to have, not things you told him that you actually liked. He won’t listen when you say you like this one thing. He knows better and gets what he thinks you should like — what he chooses for you. And… he’s not happy when you don’t gush (see point 1). He then blames you for being ungrateful. For the gift you never wanted.
3) Even though he’s fascinating, he’s being too intense in the amount of time spent together. He suddenly “wants to be with you so much” that you can’t see or don’t have time to see your friends or family anymore.
4) Even though he’s lovely, he uses “only you…” phrases. “Only you understand me.” “Only you get me.” “Only you complete me.” You are going to end up trying to explain and apologize for his sudden outburst, pout, or rant to a waiter, your family, your friends because “only you” understand how to cover for his awful behavior.
5) Even though he’s wonderful, there’s these odd “somehow, he knows” moments. Somehow, he knows the moment you get off work. Somehow he knows the minute you walk in your door. Somehow he knows from across town that you need to talk to somebody.
6) Even though he gets you most of the time, you need to explain to him other people’s behavior (normal friends/family quirks and social shortcuts). You also need to explain to him how he’s coming across to others. Even though he’s an adult.
7) Even though he’s so great, something feels off or slightly creepy. Your stomach hurts. Even though a big part of your head tells you that you’re happy, weird tension headaches occur more often.
8) Even though he’s super, there’s any part of you is saying, “Wait… what? Why is he….” Examples: Wait… what? Why is he here, at this place, right now, out of the blue? Wait… what? Why doesn’t he think this is inappropriate? Wait.. What? Why is he rushing to more intense closeness when you don’t feel like you know each other that well? Wait… What? Why is he splashing out on a big gift after you just had a disagreement, rather than working to fix the problem? Wait… What? Why doesn’t he seem to actually, really hear you, but only seems to hear what he thinks you should be saying? Wait.. what? Why did he remember this small detail about you, but seems to miss your big picture?
9) Even though he’s sensitive, there’s forced/obligated reciprocity (not just for gifts, but for activities, compliments, smiles, touches, etc.) enforced through “kidding” or “joking” around at your expense, or lots of hints and reminders.
10) Even though he’s forgetful sometimes, he remembers every gift you gave and every gift he gave you. He also remembers if the gifts he gave were reciprocated or gushed over enough. Again, “abusers don’t give. They loan.”
11) Even though he’s busy, he insists on keeping tabs on you “to make sure you’re safe.” Or “because he cares.” Even when you are with a group of friends or family and are perfectly safe. However, he may bristle a little when you check up on him. “Don’t you trust me? I would never betray you! You know me! So let me reassure you that there is no need to check up on me. At all. Ever.”
12) Calls. A lot. A lot of calls.
13) You feel studied. Like a subject in school. Or a lab sample. Not treasured and appreciated as a whole person — warts, wrinkles, lumps, and all as well as laughter, joy, and happy quirks.
14) He seems frustrated, even after much study, that he can’t find a secret “button” that always, always makes you “work” right. He can’t find the “one thing” that will make you suddenly become happy no matter what he’s done, makes you turned on when he wants something no matter what else is going on, makes you ok with whatever scheme or spending he wants to do, makes you accepting of him and not suspicious no matter what he’s looking at on the computer or who else he’s secretly seeing. You know… the one “easy button” that will make you “operate” the way he wants you operate.
15) How does he handle your compliments? Does he blow them off with (false) modesty? Does he give off nonsense like, “he doesn’t deserve this”? Does he act like “of course you should be complimenting him because he was right and he is just that good?” Or does he just seem glad from the heart and grateful for kind words and for you? Proverbs says that character shows in how one handles compliments.
Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised.
Proverbs 27:21 (NLT)
16) Somehow, you’re embarrassed in public when you’re around him. Often. Embarrassed by something he says about you, or by his own odd or intense or outrageous behavior.
17) Somehow, you’re defending him and his behavior. Often.
18) Do problems get fixed? Or does he patch with promises? Or does he “talk you around” to his way of seeing it? “If you would just listen… then you would see…” that he’s right. Again.
19) Explanations are circular. Or relentless. Circular explanations use lots of words, but always end up back in the same place. Relentless explanations are just repeated ad nauseum until you’re worn down, and you just give up your point because you know you’re running into the “immovable object” and you just don’t have the energy or wherewithal to be an “irresistible force.”
20) He tells you often that “they” just don’t get his sense of humor. Or, you don’t get his sense of humor. Somehow, your not getting his sense of humor usually ends up meaning that his jokes are at your expense.
21) He likes to take advantage of young children’s or animals’ naiveté, in order to trick them, and then laugh at their gullibility. Yet somehow, he also wants children and animals to prefer him or be drawn to him above all others.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. But, these issues seem to crop up often when I interact with people who set off the old “nape-follicle” response (a not-so-technical term for hair standing up on the back of the neck). Because their spiritual “father” is not the Creator, their “father’s” playbook is not very creative. They might try different variations or levels of intensity, but these players still run the same plays. Lord, please continue to make us “wise as serpents” to their actions, and “innocent as doves” in our own.
In one short sentence, I escaped my abusive marriage a few years ago.
Metaphorically, I had been dangling, sweat-soaked, from the rim of a deep, still, black, putrid, abandoned well by my fingertips. In my escape, I had clawed my way up and over the rim — bruised, terrified, alone in a strange wood. The Wood of All-By-Yourself-Now. I cast about for any signs of comfort, any landmarks that might help me make sense of where I was, where to go, and what to do next.
The church, my church, was within sight, within reach. They had been there all my life. It was, after all, my church. My church home. However, my church linked arms to try to push me back into that pit. They pressured, they threatened, they cajoled, they shunned, they ordered, they shamed, they punished. However they tried though, I just sat, still as a stone, in their pews. I resisted. I became the stone in their shoe. Always there. Troublesome. A problem. That was, until they attacked my children, publicly shaming them, trying to pit them against me. I finally took my bigger-than-me “babies” and ran. Again. Into the unknown.
All they while, I continued to cast about for other signposts, other markers. Searching for a light in dark times. What I eventually found was a community. Outside the camp — the “church” camp — I found others like me. Those who had been kicked out and then kicked away from the door. I found a woman who shared her personal, scribbled-in, tear-stained copy of “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. A signpost!
I found a domestic violence shelter (a landmark!), with a legal counselor (a guide!) who was patient and kind and who gently nodded and advised as I filled out a restraining order with shaking hands, scarcely comprehending that it was me who was doing such a boldly terrifying thing. I knew… He would see the paperwork. He would know what I had done. There was no going back once I signed. I was signing the end of my decades-long marriage. But, I found that kindness walked beside me into the court house, sat next to me in the judge’s chambers, and rubbed my clenched shoulder as the judge read through my papers.
I also found kindness in the judge (another guide!) who, as God would have it, used to work for the domestic violence shelter as their legal counsel. A judge who had seen desperately-wicked evil and had memorized its face. He not only approved the order, but strengthened its protections beyond what I had even asked for. Because, after reading my description of what was happening in my home, he also understood that we survivors never tell even one-tenth of what we were living.
I found books about abuse. I found blogs about abuse. I found articles about abuse. I read and read and read. I absorbed information like a sponge. I sobbed uncontrollably as I read story after story after story of people who somehow had the same story as mine. Signposts! I began to see I was not alone in this scary wood. As women and some men came out from the trees, it was as if they each carried the candle, the light of their own story. I didn’t know these people, and yet I understood them. Thumbnail pictures next to a name on a media platform somehow became kin. Each story-light enhanced the others, pushing the dark of the unknown that I found myself in further to the edges. I found… that the church-refugees, the divorce-pariahs, the kicked, abandoned curs, the mongrels had joined together to make their own pack. Strong against ridiculing outsiders, yet kind. Defensive against shaming aggressors, yet gentle. Angry at critical attackers, yet overwhelmingly generous.
One of the blogs I found during this time was A Cry for Justice. Women world-wide, as well as men, shared their stories of being abused by the person they loved. And all of these people had done as I had done… they had cried out to their churches from their pits — their black, abandoned wells in the dark woods — for help. And… all of these people had heard the church doors slam to block out the “wretched noise” of their pleadings. Once these people had clawed their way out of their pits, they had watched the light behind the stained-glass being switched off. No welcome here.
One woman, given the pseudonym “Linda,” wrote into the blog, saying that her church too, like countless other churches, was turning her away as she begged for help with her abuser. Her church was ordering and pushing her back to her black pit of an abusive marriage. The writers of the blog (who have since had serious disagreements and have gone their separate ways) explained her case to the community. They then asked the community, what if you could write a letter to the pastor who is heaping shame on the wounded one to pressure her back into her pit? What would you say to this pastor who wants to preserve a marriage within his church so much that he is willing to sacrifice the injured and vulnerable person trapped within that marriage? What would you say to this pastor and others like him they wanted to know?
I wrote one of many letters in response under the penname MoodyMom. I wrote as if I were in “Linda”‘s shoes; as the one who had been married to “John.” Of course, we contributors were aware that the letters would never reach this pastor, since the bloggers knew that he, like all the other religious authorities who acted and preached in the same vein, would never listen to the advice of victim’s advocates or especially never listen to scarlet-lettered women (S for separated, D for divorced). My letter, titled “You Weren’t There,” was well-received and shared, which surprised me! A domestic abuse victims’ advocate, Rebecca Davis, author of the Untwisting Scriptures series, (a series that I highly recommend!) and blogger at Here’s the Joy, whom I’ve since come to trust and respect and call a friend, asked me if she could use my letter as a dramatic reading for a “how a church should respond to domestic abuse” conference. It was well-received there, too.
I wanted to share this letter here on my personal blog. It has a lot of my personal experiences, combined with information that the bloggers shared about “Linda.” It’s a few years old now, but I pray that my story-light will add to others’ lights so that those still trapped might find their way out of their pits and find their way in the wood.
Here’s the letter.
Dear Pastor James (and any other pastor who will listen),
You said to me in your letter, “it is about you and John learning to understand one another.” LISTEN. Please, for once, stop talking. Stop spouting parts of Scripture passages and trite, dry “Christian” expressions. Stop trying to fix this. Stop trying to fight for “marriage” above people –above all else –and listen. Stop thinking and talking about how you are the expert on what I have seen, what I have heard, what I have experienced. Just LISTEN.
I want you to understand that I have TRIED to help John understand what he was doing to me. I have done NOTHING BUT try to help him understand what he’s doing to us. I have explained. I have detailed. I have told. I have used analogies. I have used other people’s stories as examples to explain what he’s doing to us. I have cajoled. I have tried to bribe him to be in a good mood with food or sexual favors. I have begged. I have screamed. I have whispered. I have cried. I have sobbed until I couldn’t breathe. I have walked away rather than saying something I might regret later. I have engaged and stayed in the trenches. I have fought to try to save our marriage. I have remained silent while he berated me. Like you told me to in our counseling, I have ignored “his bad and hurtful behavior and made myself winsome so that I may ‘win him without words’”.
You weren’t there.
You seem to think that you are the first one to introduce the idea of “the need for communication” in marriage to me. I want to tell you in the strongest possible language, that learning to “communicate well” is all I have done for the past __ years. I have read so many books. I have done workbooks. I have done journals. I have done Bible studies. I have done classes. I have sought godly counsel. I have gone on retreats. I have gone to conferences.
You weren’t there.
I HAVE told John he’s hurting me (us). And he laughed. He blamed me. He snickered. He punished. He hurt or killed our pets. He went after our kids. He told me I’m crazy. He told the kids I’m crazy. He told me he didn’t say that (whatever it was he just said). He destroyed or got rid of my things that meant something to me. He lied and told me that I had lost those things. He told me that it was because I was so unorganized and messy that my things went missing (only my things). Over and over, he told me I was lying. He told me I was making things up. He told me “he would never do anything like that”, even as I had just watched him do something cruel. He made jokes about me to other people – friends and my own family – so that they would join him in laughing at me. He told very private, personal things about me to our men friends in order to either have them laugh at me, or to make me seem cheap.
You weren’t there.
I have approached John in calm moments, after a good meal that he enjoyed, when he seemed to be in a pleasant mood, like a lot of the Christian women’s books admonish us women to do. I approached him with fear and trembling (because of all the past fights, humiliation, snickering, silent treatment, making “secretly a payback” jokes about me days later in front of other people, so they too will laugh at me as a “gotcha”). I approached, hands shaking, hoping this time… this time… maybe it might work. Maybe he would finally understand he’s crushing me. I shook with dread as I did it, because I knew I was giving up/ losing what might have been the one pleasant, calm night with him I had seen in a while. I started to speak what was on my heart. He turned those eyes on me. His jaw tightened. His eyes narrowed.
You weren’t there.
I have tried talking to him in the calm of the night, only to listen to him roll over, face away, and humph at me. As I stared at the back of his head, I have tried being silent (like only this half of the human population is told to do – have a gentle, quiet spirit; winning him without words; submitting to suffering, hoping that somehow this was going to perfect me) as tears pooled on my pillow. I have tried to stifle the shaking sobs as he again falls asleep right away with a clear conscience.
You weren’t there.
I have endured months and months of cold silent treatment at a time, only broken by Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights at church, where he’s a leader in your flock. I seem happy at your church because this is the only time he will speak pleasantly, or at all, to me all week. Of course his pleasant, kind words are only performed in front of others, but at this point, I am licking up any crumbs of kindness I can get. You don’t see my heart sinking or watch me as I’m dragging my feet going out the door.
You weren’t there.
You see, I know that the ride home either begins more deafening, painful, shaming silence. Or the ride home is the beginning of his rage for something I might have said or done that he didn’t like – the way I moved my hand, where I sat, who I talked to, the way I carried a book, who I smiled at, my buttons done up too high, my buttons undone too low. Something I will have to pay for with tears. Or sex. Or both. The rest of the days, I’m isolated in a silent home while he has friends and admirers at work boosting and encouraging him about what a great guy he is.
You weren’t there.
I watched as he smiled at me and went to my money-hiding place… and took it all. I listened in stunned silence as he told me that he was doing this because he was behind on his giving money to the church. Because I was such a financial drain, he hadn’t been tithing. So now God was causing him to have financial problems. So he was taking the money I had been secretly saving and offering it to the Lord. I also couldn’t believe it as he took the money out of bank account after bank account. I would see “Final Notice” stamped in red on letters before he whisked them away, telling me he’d take care of that, getting angry at me for looking at the envelopes. I did see envelopes for multiple credit card bills for cards I know I didn’t have in MY wallet. All the while, he rages about how the kids and I eat too much. He says he will not give me money for groceries for the next six weeks. Then he comes home with bags of snacks for his buddies for their “guys’ night.” He measures shampoo levels, toilet paper usage, how fast soap disappears. You think I didn’t communicate with him? Believe me, I talked and talked and talked to him. I communicated that we as parents have the responsibility to feed and care for the needs of our growing children. He turned on us, and blamed us for the financial mess HE was in.
You weren’t there.
When the threats that one or all of us might not live to see tomorrow made us sick to our stomachs, I held it together while holding my children. When the kids couldn’t sleep because of the fear, I sang to them of Jesus’ love. When my children were racked with sobs on the floor because he had taken another pet of theirs away, (and killed it, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that), I rocked them, sobbed with them, loved them the best I knew how. When he yells at them to “Just shut up!” or tells them to “get out of here, I don’t want you,” I calm their hearts and tell them over and over that they are loved, and wipe their eyes and their noses. Yes, I told him. I told him he was destroying his family. I told him to stop threatening the children – even in a roundabout way. I told him to stop making jokes about killing me. Killing them. I told him he was tearing down his own home. He blamed me for being not getting his sense of humor, being over-sensitive, and for turning his children against him.
You weren’t there.
So now… I came to you. In my weariness, I finally asked for a lifeline. I invited you into my pain. I invited you into my blackness, my faintness, my exhaustion, my endless pit. You who say that you love me as Christ does. You who say that you care for my soul. You who say that you want what’s best for me and my family and the church. You who say you want to “help [us] both to learn to identify the problems that are damaging [our] marriage,” but then don’t ask me what’s been happening. You hold yourself up as the expert who is going to tell me what our problems are without ever asking me what’s been going on behind the doors of our own home? How can this be possible? But… I told, nevertheless. I told what’s been our lives for years and years. I told.
You weren’t there.
I came to you for help. I finally had to start bringing light into my darkness, exposing the evil that’s been done to us to the light of day, the light of truth. I have brought all my pain, all the damage, all the devastation to Jesus. HE is rescuing us from our Egypt, from our oppression. However, I am at my most vulnerable right now. You see, I told. I communicated. That is what it’s all about, right? Communication? But now… he knows that I told. I told what he calls “his secrets”. Now his mask is cracked. He knows. I am vulnerable.
You weren’t there.
You tell me you are going to help us learn “to understand one another.” Please LISTEN. Please hear me! I DO understand him. I have stared into those eyes during the good times, the moments of kindness and laughter that kept us staying. I have also stared into those eyes as he has threatened us, ruined us, shredded us, humiliated us. I have spent __ years studying this man – studying his moods, his looks, his face, the set of his jaw, the squint of his eye, the shift of his weight, the movement of his hands, the movement of his arms (just in case), his words, the meaning behind his words, the movement of the corner of his mouth, his need for admiration, his derisive laughter, his sniggering when he “got” me again. I have studied him meticulously all these years to try to avoid the next rage or joke at my expense or humiliation or cruel trick. YOU need to understand, from someone who DOES know him inside and out – he will not go down without a fight. I am scared, hurting, confused, shaken, broken, financially ruined, sexually damaged, and nearly destroyed by all that he’s done to us. And you want to put me into a room with this person? I KNOW HIM. He will lie, shift blame, label me as crazy, act humble, draw you aside into his “confidence,” convince you that you and he are the clever ones in the room who are now working together to solve the problem of… me. If that doesn’t work, he will lash out in anger, rage, cry, tell you he’s the victim, blame his parents and environment, yell, pull suddenly into himself and stare right through you — ice-cold. He will intimidate, threaten, laugh, deny, storm out and then half-“apologize” (so that you will be obliged to apologize TO HIM for “words that were said,”) or use any other variety of tactics in order to get you to back down and admire him again.
I cried out to you for help. You sent me this letter. You completely discounted my pain, my family’s pain. You made yourself out to be the expert in a situation you have never looked into, have never visited, have never seen. You have used words like “one another,” trying to shovel even more blame onto my shoulders, implying that this… torture… was somehow mutual, again without ever asking me what has been happening to us. Jesus said to the hurting, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” I wanted, I needed you to be the arms of Jesus here on earth. I cried out to you for help. And yet again…
You weren’t there.
I hope that readers will be encouraged along their own pathway out of the dark.
Readers may remember the show “19 Kids and Counting” on TLC , featuring the Duggar family. They may also remember the popular show being cancelled when allegations came to light that the eldest son Joshua Duggar had molested young girls during his teenage years, including four of his own sisters.
He has subsequently been released to supervised custody in the home of family friends.
However, Josh’s wife Anna, whom he married during the first season of the show, now has six children, with one on the way, to care for and protect. Protect, because some of the sexually-abusive pornographic images Josh possessed showed the molestation of children who were the same ages as his own.
I wanted to send my prayers for Anna and her children during this nuclear winter of a season that she must be going through. I also wanted to encourage her with some of the beautiful truths I found as I walked through my own “bleak mid-winter.”
I hope others will be encouraged as well.
You don’t know me. But I want you to know, you are not alone. You are going through an impossible situation right now. You are in a spot you could never have imagined when you were falling deeply in love with Josh. I can guess that, in the beginning, you just knew this was going to be your happily-ever-after. Josh loved you, his family loved you, you belonged to the same faith, you both believed in and served the same God. Heaven’s windows of blessings were open… your life was going to be a perfect, blessed, Christian piece of Heaven on Earth. I know… because I’ve been there. I believed that about my life as well.
And now… Through no fault of your own, (let me repeat that to help it sink in), through no fault of your own, the whole thing is…
destroyed? smashed? shattered? is there even a word that takes in the entirety and breadth of what has happened to you and your children? I am so sorry. I truly am so, so sorry.
I remember the pain as I forced myself to rise in the morning to go try to be a good mom to my sweet children. They were older than yours are now when things fell apart for me, but you know… they’re always your babies.
I remember the shame I felt from within. I had had a lifetime of teaching that the wife is the glue that holds the family together. It was schooled into me that the husband is the head of the family, but the wife is the spine, the backbone that binds everything. My attitude, my loveliness, my winsomeness, my quiet submission – I was taught – is what really steers the course of the family. So when things went so wrong, I felt deeply that all this must somehow be all my fault. As the backbone of the family, I also had the shoulders to carry the burdens loaded on me by my own upbringing as well as callous or cruel comments made by others around me.
The “if-ing” started… punches that came from my own mind, my heart, my upbringing; each “if” and “if only” knocked me to my knees. “If I had been better, then he would have/wouldn’t have…” “If only I had been more ‘available,’ more ‘giving,’ then he would have/wouldn’t have…” “If I had been more attractive, more submissive, more generous, sweeter, kinder, more _____, then he would have/ wouldn’t have…” “If only I had been less demanding, less contentious, less problematic, less _____, then he would have/ wouldn’t have…” Somehow, I was not enough and too much at the same time. Somehow, the crash of my world was caused by everything I had done wrong.
I found that… weirdly… freeingly… none of the “if only”‘s would have mattered. I’m sorry yet happy to say, whatever I thought I could have done to change my husband, to win him, to make him the man I believed he was when I fell deeply for him, none of what I thought I should have done… none of that would have made him “see.” Nothing I could have done would have made him see and change what he was doing to me – his wife – and to his family. None of it would have made him want to change permanently. I am praying that you will come to realize down deep in your core, as I did, that there is nothing you could have done to make things better in any way. Freeingly, I finally understood that my husband’s decisions, his choices, his actions are his. Not mine. His actions are not on my shoulders.
You see, I was taught that I, as a wife, could do something to change my husband’s heart. But here’s the lesson God led me through. What does the truth of God’s word say?
John 6: 63 — It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (HCSB, italics added)
Ezekiel 37: 14 — And I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,” declares the LORD.'”
Proverbs 21: 1 — A king’s heart is like streams of water in the LORD’s hand; He directs it wherever He chooses.
So, I hope you can see the lesson I had to learn the hard way… Changing any other person’s heart, turning them into a good, Christian person is the Holy Spirit’s job. God’s job. It’s not my job. Only God can truly change someone’s heart. It was never my obligation or my problem! I was and am relieved of that duty! The burden of “fixing him” was never mine to carry. My upbringing had laid a God-sized load on my small, weak, human shoulders. No wonder it felt impossible!
The next issue along this line I had to deal with was… if God is all-powerful and loving, and if I’m praying long and hard for my husband to change, then why doesn’t God change his heart?
This was so difficult for me to wrestle with! It had to sink in through to my backbone that God doesn’t force His way in to a person’s heart who doesn’t want all of Him there. What I mean by this is… some people, like my former husband, talked about loving God, talked about wanting to serve Him, talked about wanting to bring Him glory, and talked, using other expressions of devotion, faith, and forgiveness. But, the only part of God he wanted was the part that was going to bless him in whatever he wanted to do. He only wanted the part of a God Who was going to forgive him no matter what evil he did. He wanted only the parts of a God Who would uphold and approve of him, and the parts of a God Who would let all of his vile actions slide into some metaphorical miasma of forgiveness and forgetfulness. He also seemed to like the parts of a God that would condemn the people he didn’t like. But not him.
However, my former husband didn’t want to let the parts of God into his heart that condemned his own cruelty. He didn’t want parts of God that would judge him for how he treated his wife. He didn’t want to let in the parts of God Who would shine the Light of day and truth on what he did to his own children. He didn’t want to let in the parts of God who would condemn him for what he did to — how he used — those smaller and weaker than him, or those vulnerable to his charm and manipulation. He didn’t want that part of God.
However, Deuteronomy 6: 4 says in the famous passage called The Shema,
“Hear O Israel! The LORD is our God the LORD is one!”
God is a united Whole. He is One. My former husband could not pick the parts of God he liked, because God doesn’t have pieces or parts of His personality. He is Whole. He is One. Take the Whole, or you don’t have any.
And, Galatians 6: 7 says to him,
“Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; for whatever a person sows, this he will also reap.”
So, if my former husband didn’t want that type of God — who is the whole, true God of the Bible — the God who apoplectically loathes willful, sinister, deliberate cruelty towards any other human being as He holds close the down-trodden victims — then the whole, true God was never truly in his heart. He sowed idolatry, making a god in his imagination who would bless him no matter what. He wanted a god who would just hear the pious-sounding, multiplied, empty words he said and who would turn a blind eye to the wicked actions that he did. There will be consequences for setting up a system of empty-word worship for the god of his own making.
So, why wouldn’t an all-powerful God change his heart, make him good? I prayed an age for that. But, I had to learn that the true God will not force change on a human’s heart that doesn’t want Him. God cannot abide (live with) sin. God will never go and live in a heart that doesn’t want His Light, His Truth, and His Spirit. God will never live in the heart of a person who chooses darkness because he loves the dark.
John 3: 19, 20 — And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, so that his deeds will not be exposed.
Jesus also said that people like this wouldn’t listen anyway.
“But because I speak the truth, you don’t believe Me. He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” John 8: 45, 47
So, I had to learn all the way down to my socks that this is why God would not change my former husband’s heart. Because my former husband did not want the true Him, the whole Him, the all-exposing Light-of-Day Him. He did not want God to change him. Because he loved the darkness. He thought he was fine as he stood in the darkness. He hated the Light (God the Father, Jesus, the Spirit) because he didn’t want his deeds to be exposed. He did not want the God…
who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. I Timothy 6: 16
You see, he loved darkness.
So then, I had to deal with the question, “Where does that leave me?” My upbringing, my churches’ training had focused all the lessons for us Christian girls on how to be a good wife. They taught that Christian marriage and family was the point of our good-Christian-girls’ existence. We wouldn’t be whole women or fulfilled until we had a Christian husband and family. I was taught to quietly accept heartache when others hurt me. To bless others always. To put others’ welfare always above my own. The unspoken message was that in the long run, I really didn’t matter. I was made only to serve others.
I was taught that marrying a Christian man would mean that I would be secure under his “umbrella of protection.” My husband would make the majority of the decisions, and I would make the home, keep the family, and submit to him as he submitted to Christ. My husband would be called by God to his specific ministry, and I would be his support, his comfort, and his help-meet. Essentially, God would deal almost exclusively with my husband (or before that, my father) and I was there to be their biggest fan and supporter.
But… what if my husband wasn’t being led by God? What if he was actually opposing God and the Light of His truth? What if my husband was cruel? What if his actions showed that his heart loved darkness?
This is where I had to learn another lesson and let it sink in all the way down to my socks.
I was loved by God.
I am loved by God.
I (me, myself, myself as my own person) am loved by God.
God has a calling, a plan, and a purpose for me — as my own person.
This lesson is still sinking in. I’m not very good at living it yet. But still, I had to start learning it. I am loved by God as a separate, individual human person, not as some man’s package deal. God doesn’t love only the men in my life, and then I get thrown in on the deal, whether they like it or not. God did not “buy one” man, and then, as a woman, I was the “get one free.”
God loves me. Specifically. Especially. Intentionally. Purposefully. With a focused, smiling, twinkling, generous eye on me. He sees me. His heart loves me. He went to the cross for me. He was beaten and died to save me. He rescued me from my sin and lostness. Not seeing this selfishly or arrogantly. But thankfully. Gratefully. I matter. I matter to Him. You matter. You matter to Him.
Think of the Woman at the Well (John 4). My upbringing and teachers focused mainly on the waywardness of this woman. But, I started thinking about the circumstances of this story. Jesus was a Jew. Normally, Jews walked miles out of their way to avoid going through Samaria, where this woman lived. Instead, Jesus chose to walk toward her city. He knowingly timed it so that He and the disciples would get there around supper time, so the disciples would have to go out shopping for supper for a while. Because of this, He made sure He was sitting at the well alone. He also knew (because He is all-knowing) that this woman would be coming to the same well alone in the evening. He knew that this woman’s waywardness had caused her to be shunned by the “good people” of her city, so she had adopted the practice of getting her water when everyone else was in their homes, taking care of supper. So, when she came out to get her water for the next day, Jesus was sitting there, alone, waiting for her. Just like He planned.
He came all the way, to her city, so that He would be sitting there when she arrived. He came to meet her. He came to talk to her. He initiated conversation with her. He opened the door, socially. He had come to start a relationship with her. He didn’t come to talk to her husband. She didn’t have one. He didn’t come to talk to her live-in boyfriend. He came all that way to see her. She mattered. He wanted a relationship with her. Out of gratitude, she did go on to be that town’s first missionary — telling men, women, and children about the Jesus she had just met. But he didn’t order her to. He wasn’t using her as a meaningless cog in some evangelizing machine to reach the men around her. He just came to be alone so that He could talk to her. Again, she mattered. As a true child of God, I matter. God met me. On purpose.
“But, aren’t I called to be my husband’s help-meet? Don’t I honor God by serving the man whom God placed as my head?” my upbringing advises me.
I had to look hard at that last question. Do I honor God by serving… a man? a person? a created being? I had to learn the answer to that is… no.
Who am I to serve? God. God alone.
Sure, I can do good for those around me. I can do things to help others. I am called to love others. But, Whom do I serve? Whom do I center my cares and my existence around? A created being? or the Creator? My Creator?
“You shall have no other Gods before Me.” (Exodus 20: 3)
Romans 1: 23 — … they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind…”
I had chosen to set my devotion on a man, hoping that he would then be devoted to God. So, in my mind, and according to what I’d been taught, I would be serving and loving God, just kind of indirectly.
But… God wants me. Directly. God wants you. Directly. Not “through” another person, whether male or female. God has focused His attention, His affection, His love, and His grace on me. On you. Directly. I had to realize my idea of serving and loving God by serving a man had caused me to make my husband, my marriage, an idol. And God did not want any idols between Himself and me, His Beloved.
When the Israelites set up the golden calf in the desert, they weren’t thinking, “Oh boy, today I want to serve and worship a slab of cold, yellow metal.” They weren’t ignorant. They conceived that they were serving God, who they envisioned in their minds as invisibly riding on, or steering, or directing a “divine” calf (a concept-image picked up from cultures around them). They then made a tangible image of “God’s calf” in order to “focus their worship.” They pictured that God would use this ethereal calf in divine realms as His vehicle, His agent. So, instead of worshipping and serving an invisible, indescribable, boundless God, they thought if they served and took care of God’s agent, they would be serving God… indirectly.
I had to realize that my upbringing had trained me to do the same thing the Israelites did. I was serving someone who I thought was God’s agent, and hence, I thought I was serving and loving God. But I wasn’t. I was serving the calf, not God. I had set my husband, my marriage as my idol, thinking that would mean I was serving God… indirectly.
But God wanted me. A relationship with me! He didn’t want any intermediary to get between me – His Beloved – and Himself. He wants a direct relationship with me! The infinite God has focused His attention on me, and He doesn’t want me to put anything else in the way as some sort of go-between.
I Timothy 2: 5, 6 — For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
So, these are the lessons I had to learn that I hope you can gain something from:
1. My (former) husband’s decisions and actions were his own. He acted of his own will, his own choosing, and none of it was my fault.
2. It was not my job to “fix” him. In fact, it is impossible for me to “fix” him. That’s a job only God can do. Only God Himself can change hearts.
3. God will not force the man in my life to change. God certainly does have the power. He has the power to do anything. But people choose the dark because they love the darkness. Such people don’t want the Light of God in their hearts and lives because His Light would expose their deeds. And God is not a tyrannical brute. God will not force Himself in to where He is not wanted. He is not that sort of God.
4. God loves me. I am not an afterthought. I am not the “get one free.” I was not just thrown in on some package deal. I am not just a cog in God’s machine built to reach someone else. God focuses His love and affection on me. Pointedly. Intentionally. Affectionately. On purpose. He knew me before the foundation of the world. He wants what’s best for me, not the people who hurt me.
5. Trying to worship God “indirectly” by serving a created person is a false teaching. This teaching sets up an idol who comes between me and the God who took all my punishment on Himself to save me. God doesn’t want anyone between His Beloved and Himself. He wants a loving relationship with me directly.
Oh dear Anna, I hope this has been some comfort to you as you walk an impossible road. I’d like to leave you some verses that have been achingly beautiful or very clarifying during my impossible walk.
All of Psalm 37.
Psalm 45: 10, 11 — Listen O daughter, give attention and incline your ear; Forget your people and your father’s house; Then the King will desire your beauty, Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him.
Isaiah 54: 2-6, 9-17
“Enlarge the place of your tent; [a]Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, do not spare them; Lengthen your ropes And strengthen your pegs. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations And will resettle the desolate cities.
4 “Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; But you will forget the shame of your youth, And no longer remember the disgrace of your widowhood. 5 For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of armies; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. 6 For the Lord has called you, Like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, Even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” Says your God.
9 “For this is like the days of Noah to Me, When I swore that the waters of Noah Would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor rebuke you. 10 For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My favor will not be removed from you, Nor will My covenant of peace be shaken,” Says the Lord who has compassion on you.
11 “Afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, Behold, I will set your stones in antimony, And I will lay your foundations with sapphires. 12 Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies, And your gates of crystal, And your entire wall of precious stones. 13 All your sons will be taught by the Lord; And the well-being of your sons will be great. 14 In righteousness you will be established; You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear; And from terror, for it will not come near you. 15 If anyone fiercely attacks you, it will not be from Me. Whoever attacks you will fall because of you. 16 Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows on the fire of coals And produces a weapon for its work; And I have created the destroyer to inflict ruin. 17 No weapon that is formed against you will succeed; And you will condemn every tongue that accuses you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord.
Hosea 2: 14-17, 19-20, 23
“Therefore, behold, I am going to persuade her, Bring her into the wilderness, And speak kindly to her. 15 Then I will give her her vineyards from there, And the Valley of Achor [Trouble] as a door of hope. And she will respond there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she went up from the land of Egypt. 16 And it will come about on that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me my husband And no longer call Me my Baal [Master]. 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals [idols] from her mouth, So that they will no longer be mentioned by their names.
I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In favor and in compassion, 20 And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.
I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!’”
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Malachi 2: 13-16 (addressed to men acting wickedly)
13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because He no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, dealt treacherously with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
15 … So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,”says the Lord Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful or deal treacherously. (NIV/NASB)
Also, I just love the encouragement of this sermon:
A few years ago, my kids and I and pets escaped my abusive husband and home with just what we could carry out in a few vehicle trips.
Panicking and floundering, I thought, Hey, the people in my church will help me, right? After all, this was my home church. I had grown up there. They knew me. They knew my parents. They knew my kids. Their kids had played with my kids. They had been my kids’ Sunday School teachers. I had been their kids’ Sunday School teacher. I had served with them. We’d done Bible studies together.
Of course they knew him as well. But surely, they would be able to see past his polished exterior once I finally let them know what he was like behind closed doors, right? Once I finally broke my silence and told what was happening to us — what was being done to us — my church family would be shocked into action and would defend the beaten down. They would stand with and defend the widow and orphans of abuse, right? After all, that’s what the Bible says is true religion.
If the reader has seen any of my other blogs, I think we all know where this is going.
I cried out to them for over a year. They met me with “Biblical counseling” that always focused on “my sin”, but never spoke about what X had done to me and my kids. I begged for understanding. They forced me to “confess” any bad thoughts I had had about him AND any bad thoughts I had about them for all they were putting me through. Wrecked, I even lied and made stuff up to make sure I “confessed” enough so that the “counseling” session could be over. They told me I must cry tears of “genuine remorse” over my “bitterness” before they would end the session. They insisted that there must be tears. Readers of George Orwell’s 1984 may feel a bit of deja vu.
I did cry.
While my mouth was “confessing” the list of people I was supposedly bitter against, my insides were crying out to Jesus. I was broken… shattered… crushed. The realization finally cut through the decades-thick fog in my brain. My church, my friends, my spiritual home, were not going to do a thing to help me. They were only going to pile on and crush us under.
Even worse, I slowly realized they were actively breaking me down to compel me to return to him. They smiled through feigned-benevolence masks and dripped poisoned-honey words. “This is for your good.” “We love you.” And “Only we have the answers. Don’t seek help anywhere else. Otherwise, you are outside the will of God and He cannot bless you. You don’t want God angry with you, do you? You’ve got enough problems on your plate. You don’t want to add God being angry with you to your troubles.”
They allowed me to make a list of some of the things he had done to me, if I wanted to. Relief flooded my core. Finally, someone was going to hear me! Finally, someone was going to listen! And I hoped that when they heard what sinister things we had been subjected to, they would finally “get it.” Human compassion would wash over them. They would not be able to stop themselves from stooping down to where we were, finally look full into our faces, finally say, “Oh, how you have suffered! You poor, brave souls. How can we help you?”
When I brought them that list, haltingly hopeful, they said the fact that I had even made that list demonstrated my ongoing bitterness, my unwillingness to forgive (even though he never asked for any forgiveness), and they refused to even look at it.
I went to pastor after pastor on staff, people who I thought were my friends. I searched for compassion. I was hoping for a Job 2:13 experience.
13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (NIV)
The response was the same no matter whose door I staggered in to. “Why are you talking to me about this? Not my department. We should just force you two into a room together so you could get “this thing” worked out.” I even handed a pastor a pamphlet from FOCUS Ministries (https://www.focusministries1.org/ ) about how a church should correctly treat the victim of domestic abuse — listening to her, aiding her and her children. This was a pastor who had been a friend for a few years. He had been to our house countless times. We had been to his. Our kids played together. We worked on projects together.
This pastor – this friend – glanced at the title, slid it right back to me unread. My friend looked me in the face and told me this wasn’t his department. My friend told me to take it somewhere else. And like all the others, my friend also chanted the chorus that they should lock me in a room with my abuser so that we could “get this thing worked out.”
After reading umpteen other stories from other women who had been abused in their homes, only to be betrayed and re-abused by their evangelical churches, it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t just my church. I absorbed literature from Focus Ministries. Their mission is to implore churches to start helping the domestic violence victims in their midst and to provide them literature if they should ever start. I contacted them. They said couldn’t get churches interested. I read Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? He is one of the secular experts in domestic violence, and from his years of experience, he knew that churches almost always betray the victims who come to them for help. This wounding betrayal of, and piling more abuse on, abused and battered women and children was systemic. My case wasn’t just some isolated aberration. What happened to me was the norm.
I just want to say, I am not generalizing my following points from my isolated dealings with my one church. We tried other churches. I talked to loads of other evangelicals. I am also drawing the points from the huge number of stories I’ve read from other women in situations like mine. I am gratefully stirring in clarifying teaching from abuse victim advocates, bloggers, and (yes!) even great pastors who have come to understand how evil operates in a domestic violence situation. More importantly, I am mining information from an “insider.” After all we went through, my son wanted to become a pastor in order to “do it right.” He wanted to really help people in a similar situation who would come to him as a future pastor. He wanted to get abuse victims to the help they would need.
So, he went to a big, evangelical Bible university. He sat under the teaching of evangelical professors. He studied books written by big-name evangelical preachers. He wrote papers and took exams over the accepted thoughts, trends, and practices of evangelical writers. He did all this until he couldn’t take it anymore. He endured their teaching for three, long, (and as he called them) dark years. And he shared with me all that they were dousing him with.
So… What lessons did I learn from Evangelicalism?
I am not important.
I learned that my feelings weren’t important. My counselors and pastors insisted that my feelings deceived me. All that X had done to me and my children truly didn’t matter, and that I needed to believe them when they said that my sin was the root of my pain. I just needed to make myself act happy and positive. Change my actions. Fake it til I make it. That was the driving train engine. Then, my thoughts would change. That was the coal car in this little train. Lastly, my emotions would then be dragged along to start running on the right track.
When I tried to explain again what X had been doing to us, they always circled back to, “But what about him? Try to see things from his perspective. Put yourself in his shoes. Walk a mile in his moccasins. Let’s remember he must have had a bad childhood. Let’s remember that he’s had to deal with an unhappy wife for a long time. Just think about how much he is hurting right now. You broke up his family.”
I. Didn’t. Matter. My kids’ pain didn’t matter. It was all about him. That old Y chromosome gave him value — value I could never have with my double X’s. And even though my sons had Y chromosomes, they were young enough not to have wedding rings. They were singles… young men. Therefore, their Y chromosomes had less status, less value. As single young men, their function was to silently obey and offer “respect” (obeisance, fealty) to their sire, their father. And more importantly, without wedding rings and without attaining the status of being “a family man”, their word was suspect when they corroborated my story with stories of their own abuse.
Along with this…
God just wants to use me.
I know that this is a line so often preached from the pulpit with a warm voice and a smile. “God wants to use you. You just have to make yourself available. The only ‘able’ you have to be is ‘available’.” They said that it should be our greatest joy to be used by the God of the universe and our Creator.
But…somehow this line always seemed to “not fit.” If God is a relational God, who wants to be our best friend and the Lover of our souls, why would He want to “use” me? How was this any different from the abusive people in my life? These people all claimed to love me, like God claimed, often using flowery language that I inevitably was a sucker for because I desperately wanted their words to be true. But, then in the day to day, these people just used me. Used me for their own needs and purposes.
So how was “God wants to use you” supposed to be a good thing? How was He supposed to be different from all these people? The preachers said it was because God was perfectly good. So being used by a good God would be good for me, since He loved me perfectly. But… all these people claimed the same thing. That they loved me like no other. That they nit-picked, scrutinized, criticized, and “disciplined” me for my own good. They claimed that they loved me so much that they were (sigh) giving me lessons in serving that would make me better in my future. That they loved me so much that they had to relentlessly insult me, hurt me, and tear me down in order to “toughen me up,” therefore helping me (helping me?!) survive in a harsh world.
But really, if God wants to “use” me, then I am just a means to an end. I am simply a link in the chain that will eventually reach the next “trophy of grace.” According to this point, I am nothing but a stepping stone in Providence’s path whose true destination is the front door of the next Billy Graham or J.D. Greear or whichever Y-chromosome-carrying, high-profile preacher is God’s real next target.
Everything is my fault.
This may sound to some as completely hyperbolic. However, it is what I was taught. In one church that we attended, the pastor taught from the pulpit that the correct Christian answer to the small-talk question, “How’re you doing?” now had to be, “Better than I deserve.” Because we were all such rotten sinners. He even had us practice the response antiphonally over and over. Call and response. “How’re you doing?” We droned back, “Better than I deserve.” This was in a church where the expectation was that the congregation was mostly born-again Christians. This was in a church that preached that Christ saved us completely. But apparently, we were still rotten.
My “insider” informed me though that this is how evangelical universities and seminaries teach their future-pastor students to treat their congregation. Preaching-class professors taught my son that every week a good preacher must pick a sin, accuse the people in the congregation of that sin, and then offer a plan to overcome that sin, usually using a catchy mnemonic device to help the sin-laden congregants remember the plan to make themselves better. However, he gave a sermon in class called “You are a Pearl,” geared toward Christians to remind them of how God had sought them out because He, God, declared them precious. He reminded the students that they are greatly loved.
My son was graded down because he did not nail his fellow Christian classmates with an accusation or present a plan on how to fix the accused sin-problem. You see, the prof explained that evangelical preachers must point out a sin every week. That way, people who want to please God, and who have a tender heart for Him, will feel compelled to come back to church week after week, afraid that they might miss a hidden sin that is secretly perturbing and angering the God they love.
But, some girls in the class came up to him afterwards and whispered, “Thank you. Thank you! Your sermon meant so much to me.” (By the way, females in the preaching class were not allowed to graduate with a Biblical Exposition degree, even though they took all the same classes, wrote the same papers, and took all the same exams as their male counterparts. They gave “speeches” and not “sermons.” Diplomas in the hands of double-X’ers read “Major in Communications.” Y-chromasomers’ diplomas read “Major in Biblical Exposition.”)
Evangelicals teach over and over that there is no good in us, even after we’re saved. My life is “better than I deserve.” My “insider” had profs teach that Jesus’s payment on the cross only “counts” towards the sins a person sinned before the point of salvation. But from that point on, any new sin remains on his or her account. We must constantly on edge, looking inward. We must be constantly introspective, must be constantly searching for sins in thought, attitude, or in deed, and must be confessing at all times. There is no good in us. What adds another layer of disturbing is that the main prof who taught this was a student favorite.
God hates Christians. He only loves the lost.
Really? That’s extreme! Surely evangelicalism doesn’t teach that! But… yes, yes it does. My “insider” student had this taught to him in Christian college by his professing-Christian professors. Their point was that God loves the lost so much that He seeks them, pursues them, died for them in order to save them. But, the profs also teach, God hates the people already in the kingdom because they continue to fail Him and they continue to sin. This point was actually written in a book the students studied in their Systematic Theology course — a core course that is required for all pastoral students.
When I sat under such evangelical teaching in my churches, I always thought the “God loves you”‘s they threw out from the pulpit sounded so fake and hollow in their mouths. The pastors had just spent a half-hour to forty-five minutes accusing me, telling me how much God was disappointed with me. Very often, they would rail against “secret sins” I couldn’t even know I had on my account. I had secret motives, agendas so well-hidden, even I didn’t know I had them. I was that sinful. Then they would lay down the three R’s, or the five P’s, or the four Q’s of this week’s plan so that I could fix this sin I’d been accused of. They would hammer on signing up for accountability groups so that someone could be checking up on me to see if I was implementing this week’s plan to fix this week’s sin. Because God hates sin. And I’m a bad sinner. So, even though they wouldn’t go as bold as what their Systematic Theology college text said, I didn’t miss the message. I had taken basic algebra. If A=B and B=C, then A=C. God hates sin. I’m a bad sinner. Then God hates me.
But at the end they would throw out a few, “Remember, God loves you”‘s, smile at us, people would drone amens, and the pastors would raise their hands in blessing. Now, go. Be better. You sinner.
I often left empty, down, and not a little hopeless. And confused. God obviously hates me. But I’m supposed to remember God loves me.
Sometimes we would wrap up the haranguing – I mean the service, by singing “Amazing Grace.” But somehow, even though people around me are wiping nostalgic tears, I could never figure out why this grace was all that amazing. I just felt weary as I left, holding my notes full of the seven L’s that I’d have to work on this week. “Smile! God loves you!” Yeah, I suppose…
God has a plan for your life! (But He’s not telling you what it is. You’ve got to guess. And He’ll “discipline” you if you guess wrong.)
I can’t tell you how often I would hear from the youth pastors and from the pulpit in “big church” that God had a plan for my life. But no one seemed to have any answers of how to figure out what that plan was. As a church, we — adults, tweens, and teens alike — were all compelled to take a “spiritual gifts” test every few years. Then when we received our answers, the leadership would start phone calls trying to recruit congregation members to volunteer based on the “giftedness” that individual’s test results showed.
But other than using personality tests to try to fill babysitting spots in the nursery, or to find someone to run the PowerPoint, no one in the church had any ideas of how to figure out what God’s plan for your life was. As a teen, this created a ton of anxiety for me. Because there were other Sundays when the pastor would preach on how Christians often step outside of the will of God. Sometimes they might not even know they did it. And if Christians did step outside of God’s will, they opened themselves up to God’s discipline. His discipline might include removal of His blessing, bad things happening to you, mental health issues beginning or increasing, serious mental illnesses, physical illnesses, or even death. Sometimes, we were told that because of our sin, our hard-heartedness, we could be responsible for the death of someone we loved.
I agonized over this for years. I didn’t want make God mad at me! I didn’t want to lose God’s blessing on my life! I didn’t want bad things to happen to me! Or even worse, to a family member! I remember so many times in small groups when I was a teen, that other girls (most often girls, but not exclusively) would also exclaim that they just wish God would let them know what His will was for their lives. Wishing for divine skywriting was mentioned so often!
Even as an adult, when I helped out in the high school ministry (before I was “church disciplined” out of the position, post-separation and divorce) teens were still saying the same thing in our evangelical church. “I just wish God would sky-write what His will is. I don’t want to get it wrong!” they would agonize.
I knew exactly what they were going through. Weariness. Anxiety. Frantic verse-searching. Underlining. Highlighting. Searching for answers. Hours of praying, saying the same words over and over, hoping this time to finally have a clear message from above. Reading the next teen-geared evangelical book that was sold in our church’s bookstore and passed around the group.
We couldn’t afford to get this wrong!
Like the Christian music group MercyMe sings in their song, “Best News Ever,”
“Some say, ‘He’s keeping score’ So try hard, then try a little more Hold up, if this were true Explain to me what the cross is for” (italics added)
What I’ve learned since leaving evangelicalism
I have learned that “God loves you” is not a fake and hollow tagline to follows the blistering rhetoric from the pulpit.
“God loves you” is the wellspring of life.
I have learned that God doesn’t hate Christians.
I learned that God loves His children. He loves them so much that He seeks them, pursues them, died for them in order to save them. And once we accept His irresistible gift of Himself, we are clean and wrapped in Christ’s clothes. Christ’s lifetime of perfect actions is written permanently on our account. He gives us His perfect human life here, and says, “Here, this is now your life as far as Divine judgment is concerned.”
I learned that Jesus did it all for us. He lived a perfect, acceptable life in our place. He was beaten, tortured, and was painfully killed instead of us. And He rose to new life to show us that the death penalty payment was finished. He rose to show us what our resurrection would look like. He could have straight to heaven to His Father when He died. But He rose so that we will too.
I learned there are no three R’s, or six S’s, or four B’s that we have to remember to try and straighten ourselves out. We can’t make ourselves clean. If we could make ourselves better, then “hold, up, if this were true/ explain to me what the cross was for.” We can’t make ourselves better. In fact, if we’re trying to clean ourselves up, instead of coming to Him with our sin and mess, we’ve already done it wrong. We can only come to Him, without excuses, without a plan. We thankfully and gratefully accept His sacrifice as being in our place. We tell Him about our ongoing sins and failures and hurts and thoughts. We tell Him all about it and ask Him to fix us, to give us His clean heart. We don’t need a plan. We need a new heart. And God, with holy hands, will shape and mold our hearts slowly to have new desires, new sensitivities, and new loves. More like Him. And one day, we will be wrapped in the loving, tender, joyous eternity of God Himself. It may be scary, and we will feel powerless, but we’ve never had the power to change our hearts to begin with.
I learned that I am important. The eternal God, who holds the entire universe in the palm of His hand, took off His God-ness, while losing none of it, none of Himself, and squeezed His eternity into a two-cell human flesh zygote/embryo. He was born the normal way, had human skinned knees, had a human runny nose, had a human mother and a human father who made mistakes. This God, who walked among the galaxies, naming each star — most that humans would never see — this God struggled to learn how to make His tiny baby body roll over. He was probably bullied in school. No one that perfect could get through the “junior high” age without having some big kid pick on Him. He had zits. He had a squawky voice and too-big feet for a while. We know that even His brothers gave Him lip and attitude. God lived a day-to-day human life. Perfectly. And He died in my place, taking my death penalty. And He rose again so that I could too one day. God did that for me. Yes. I am important.
I learned that God does not just want to use me. He doesn’t have some future big-name Y-chromosomed preacher in mind down the line somewhere that He needs me to link to. He doesn’t want to use me to be just a cog in His divine machinery. He wants me. For some reason, I am His goal. I am His lost coin He rejoices over. I was His lost sheep. I am the pearl.
Sure, other people might hear me talking about Him. I mean, how could I not? Hopefully, they will gratefully accept His sacrifice, His death, His blood, His gift, for their own. But, I am and remain the apple of His eye, not a cog in the works. And whoever else accepts Him as his or her Savior, you are His goal. You are His lost coin that He rejoices over. You are His lost sheep that He went looking for. You are His pearl. He can focus all His attention on me. And on you. You see? He’s that big.
I learned that not everything is my fault. Sure, sometimes bad things happen in a broken, Satan-ran world. That doesn’t mean everything is my fault. But, even if things were my fault, Christ’s payment effected my end-of-life-judgment account to be stamped, “It is finished. Paid in full.”
But, once I learned from my “insider” that pastors are trained to accuse their congregation of new sins every week, I realized that this false guilt that had been heaped on me was a manipulation tactic to keep me returning to their pews out of fear. But I finally understand this verse.
1 John 4:18, There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. ESV
I should not have to come to church out of fear of missing some sin that will knock me out of God’s will. I should not have to come to church because of some ginned-up, manufactured “love” — meaning because I have to. I should come to church because I want to out of real, felt love for God and for His fellow sheep. If I come to church out of guilt or fear, then that church’s teaching is not perfecting me in love. And I need to leave there.
It is a blind goose that cometh to the fox’s sermon.
John Lyly, English writer 1553-1606
I don’t want to be a blind goose anymore. I want to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) And alluding to the fable of the North Wind and the Sun, I don’t want to be buffeted by their gusts of guilt and shame. I want to walk in the light and warmth of the Sun.
God has a plan for our lives! And He told us what it is.
Come to me, all who weary and heavy-ladened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
Therefore, there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2
His plan for us is to rest. If we are in Christ, if we’ve accepted Christ’s work on the cross as being in our stead, then we are new creatures. We are no longer under divine judgment. So, we rest. We rest in His work, His love, His life lived perfectly in place of our lives which our sins and others’ sins against us messed up. Live. Just live. Pray. Make decisions. Follow your new desires. If it doesn’t pan out, you are forgiven. If it does pan out, you are forgiven. Rest. Life won’t be easy in this broken, broken world. But He knows. He’ll get you through. He’ll get you home.
Of course, when sinful, selfish, or destructive actions and desires crop up (which they still do), we come back to Him. We tell Him all about it. He already knows. No excuses. No plan of how to fix it. We ask Him to forgive us again. We ask Him to continue His good work He began in us, creating our new, clean hearts. But we rest in the fact that Christ’s perfect eternal life is on our accounts. If our trust is in Christ and that His work done on the cross counts for us, then we are in Jesus, and God cannot cast us out because God cannot cast out Jesus. Jesus is God, and God cannot cast Himself away from Himself. We are secure.
Isaiah 54 snippets
4 – Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; But you will forget the shame of your youth, and no longer remember the disgrace of your widowhood.
5 – For you husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of armies; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth.
10 – For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My favor will not be removed from you, Nor will My covenant of peace be shaken,” Says the LORD who has compassion on you.
15 – If anyone fiercely attacks you, it will not be from Me. Whoever attacks you will fall because of you.
“Chum” is such a nice, evocative, old-fashioned-y word for friend. It recalls the Leave-It-To-Beaver era types of playground friendships, back when the world was black-and-white, at least on TV screens. Your chum was a friend who would be there after school, at your house on Saturday morning, and maybe even would let you come along with his or her family on their vacation. “Chum” implies a comfortable, organic friendship. A chum would get down in the dirt with you when you fell off the merry-go-round. You, in your turn, would help her limp to the school nurse when she twisted her ankle running the bases. And, most importantly, he would stand beside you against the local bully. Because nobody, but nobody, picks on his best friend!
After my children and I escaped our abusive home, I begged my life-long church for help. We only had what we had been able to grab that day. My X had made sure I lost my job. We were desperate.
My church made clear that they wouldn’t help us financially or in any practical way. Like they told me, they really don’t do that sort of thing. Any help they would give me would only encourage me in my undesirable course of action. Their point was even more clarified when a family-friend pastor called and asked me over and over, “Well, what are you going to do?” Never, “How can I help?”
My church assigned me a nouthetic “Biblical” counseling team. They offered counsel from all the training they had acquired — one long weekend once a year at some hotel, with a few lectures and some break-out sessions. You probably know the counsel they had been taught and tried out on me. Wives submit to your husbands. Marriage matters more than the people in it. Pray even more. Memorize the right verses, and (because I reached a new level of scripture memory) X would miraculously become nice all the time, not just in public or in front of them or when he wanted something.
I just needed to center myself on Christ. Once fully “centered” on Christ, insults, silent treatments, threats, sneering, hatred, mind games wouldn’t bother me anymore. (No explanation of how to make that “centering” thing work, but apparently it had to do with saying a prayer and then going back home and faking a quiet, cheerful attitude no matter what he did to me or my children or the pets.)
The counseling they had learned said feelings don’t matter, or worse, feelings lie. The counselors taught me about the “train.” I needed to revamp my thoughts (the “engine” of the train) about the situation — including reframing the abuse I was living with into seeing it all as poor X’s cry for help, poor X’s hurting inner child throwing tantrums, poor X’s way of dealing with stress — the stress I and the kids were obviously causing him. Then my changed “engine” of thoughts ( which meant going back to denying the reality of my situation like my mind did under the fog that abuse had created for my whole marriage), that “engine” would pull along, and would be fed by, the “coal car” of my attitudes. My attitudes would become more positive the more often I thought pleasant, reality-denying, thoughts. Then, eventually, those stubborn feelings (like this was all wrong, like we were in pain, like X was cruel), which were in the “caboose,” would be dragged into the correct, positive-thinking path. After drawing the train for me several times on a whiteboard, it eventually just stayed up there.
We heard a lot of phrases that my kids and I condensed down to, “You should, you ought, shame on you for not…” We grew to use that as a label for all the teaching we received. The “You should, you ought, shame on you for not…” kind of teaching.
The one thing I never heard was shock. I never heard horror at what had happened to me and my children and my animals. I never saw sorrow over what X had done to us. I never saw anger at what someone had done to a daughter of the King. I never heard what an old-fashioned chum would say. “Nobody, but nobody, does that to our friend — to God’s friend!” And I never heard, “How can we help?” At least Job’s friends saw him in his pain and reacted like things really were bad for him.
Job 2:13 Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.
When I wasn’t “healed” (meaning having gone back home with a positive mental attitude and a quiet spirit) within the six-week allotted time period with prayer, scripture memory, and a Christian book study, they tried it again. When that didn’t “heal” me, (see aforementioned definition of “healed”) they passed me around to a couple other rounds of counselors, who each prayed with me, made me memorize more verses, and picked other Christian books.
So even though I was prayed with, they emphasized that they were praying Ephesians 3:14-19 for him!
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant [X], according to the riches of His glory, [for X] to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in [X’s] heart through faith; and that [X], being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [X] may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
So they put that beautiful prayer of Paul’s into their mouths to pray for my bully, my abuser! Because that’s what they were trained to do. They may have been my “Biblical” counselors. They may have even said we were friends. But the kind of friend who says, “Nobody, but nobody does that to my friend”? I was not their chum.
The other chum…
The other definition of chum is not so pleasant or homey. It is a term for when fishermen take what they consider “trash fish” — fish of no monetary value in the marketplace — chop them up, and use them for bait to attract more desirable fish, like “trophy fish,” such as the marlins and sailfish that are then stuffed and mounted above a fireplace.
I know that Jesus asked the twelve to follow Him and become “fishers of men.” But I don’t think He had the “offal” that nouthetic counselors teach in mind.
I was told that I needed to go home to my abuser, with a quiet, gentle spirit, along with my memory-verse-strengthened “Christ-centered” spine. I should pray minute by minute for X.I ought to ignore everything X does to me, my children, my pets. Shame on me for not trying to filter everything X did in light of his bad childhood, his stress at work, his dealing with his “difficult” family.
They kept playing on what love I had had for X when things were new and better, when X was nicer. They told me he must be in a difficult place right now for him to act the way he did. (Never mind that I told them he’s always been that way. X’s charm was simply a mask to win me and them over. X’s normal, abusive ways were just intensifying, as abuse does.) They pressured — didn’t I want to see X come back to his former ways? (Again, I said X was always that way, it was just intensifying.) They said he clearly was not acting as a Christian right now (again, I said X was always… oh forget it…), so I needed to win him back. If he was saved, as he claimed, then he was now living as a “carnal Christian.” I didn’t want to see him fall under God’s discipline, did I? So, they said, I needed to be the “means” God would use to reach him to bring him back into the fold. With a gentle, quiet spirit, without a word.
And if he was never actually born-again-saved, then I needed to be the “means” God would use to reach him for real this time. So I needed to let God use me to reach out to him. I needed to win him over. I needed to love him back into the fold. I needed to pull him, draw him, lure him.
(Italics added to emphasize where their focus lay.)
But let’s go over my second definition of chum.
“It is a term for when fishermen take what they consider “trash fish”, fish of no monetary value in the marketplace, chop them up, and use them for bait to attract more desirable fish, like “trophy fish,” such as the marlins and sailfish that are stuffed and mounted above a fireplace.”
I needed to be the “means” that God (at least they say it was God) would use to draw him? Lure him? Aren’t they in reality saying God (really their program) wanted to use me as bait?
I wasn’t the fish they were after. I had no monetary value, no social value, no marketplace value. I was broke, alone, now a pariah at church, and destitute. I was the trash fish.
But it was okay, even good, for the church (God, they said) to use me as bait, as chum — send me and my kids back to be crushed more, wounded more, and, as X had threatened, possibly chopped up (not kidding), so that he — a “trophy of grace” — could be won. If he came back to his “rightful place” as the head of our house (if we were still alive; if not, then coming back as a newly-single, sorry-for-what-he-had-done-to-us man) and he took the next step the church had lined up for him — to become an elder — then truly, God’s grace, power, and mercy would be on display for all to see! Praise the Lord! (Stick him on the mantle…)
But I read in the Bible…
Jesus sought out the woman with the issue of blood. He knew who she was. As an example of Jesus’s knowledge of each person, remember the story of Jesus calling Nathaniel? John 1:45-48 says,
“45 Philip *found Nathanael and *said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”46 Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip *said to him, “Come and see.”47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and *said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael *said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (Italics added for emphasis.)
So, He knew everything about that woman. He knew her parents and her parents’ parents. He knew how many hairs were on her head. He knew where she was at that moment. He knew her prayers, her tears. He knew her. He may have been on the way to heal the important man Jairus’s daughter, but he could have done that from right where he was. He could have spoken the word right there. After all, He spoke the word outside of the tomb of Lazarus. He didn’t have to go into the tomb. But he walked the path to this important man’s house. He walked it to make his way past the woman. He chose the road where she was so that she could reach out to Him. And He stopped when she touched Him. Why? Everyone in the crowd was touching him. As a celebrity without a modern bodyguard entourage, he would have been pushing His way through packed, narrow, Middle-eastern lanes and crowded plazas.
This woman was broke. All of her money had gone to useless doctors. She had no social value. She was a pariah because she was perpetually ceremonially unclean. She had no value in the marketplace of personhood. She was a trash fish.
But He stopped on His way to somewhere “important.” To acknowledge her. To speak to her. To look her in the face. To see her. To call her “Daughter.” To free her from her suffering.
He didn’t use her to reach, to lure, somebody more “important.” She was important. To Jesus, this little nobody woman was His trophy. His trophy of grace — His unearned favor. In the eyes of her town, a trash fish. But according to her place in three different books of the Bible, she was His trophy.
But I read in the Bible…
Of the woman at the well. A trash fish to everyone else. She had had five husbands, and was living with a sixth man. As someone pointed out recently, women were not allowed to divorce in that culture. Only husbands could divorce their wives. That means she had loved and had married and had been thrown away by five husbands. And she was trying to find love again. But she was alone. She was coming to the well in the noonday sun because none of the “good” people of the village wanted anything to do with her.
Normally Jews walked around the whole area of Samaria to avoid those “disgusting” Samaritans. But Jesus walked through Samaria. And Jesus stopped in Sychar, her town. And Jesus sent his disciples away to go get food. So He could be alone, so He could be available to talk to her when she came to the well. He sat down. And He waited. For her.
He changed her life. He didn’t use her to reach the “trophy fish.” She was the trophy! His grace, His unearned favor, was for her. If you read carefully in John 4, Jesus doesn’t tell her, “Now that you believe, I’m using you to reach your village. Go draw everyone in your village to me.” He doesn’t. He reveals himself only to her. Like Jesus predicted, the joy she has found spills out of her like Living Water, splashing into her village. The village was reached. Many believed. But not because Jesus used her as chum, as bait. He gave her worth. She was His trophy. The others were just drawn to her joy and her Jesus.
There are so many more instances like these throughout the Bible. God doesn’t use the hurting, the victim, the crushed, as bait. God doesn’t use the “trash fish” of society to reach a “trophy.” Jesus sees value and worth where others see none. God sees. God reaches. God searches. God stops.
Excerpt: “Recently I gave a sermon on Matthew 13:44-46. I wanted to post the basic manuscript here, as well as go deeper into the implications….
Many pastors today use this passage to say that we should sell everything for the kingdom of God. They’ll say something along the lines of, “If you aren’t sold out for God’s kingdom 24/7, 365, then you aren’t really in love with Jesus,” or they’ll say, “To be a Christian is to give your all for God every moment of your life.” (Or another one I hear all the time is “You must keep your eyes always fixed on Jesus.”) They’ll say that, just like the man in the parable, we need to go sell everything for God, literally or spiritually. If we hold anything back, then we are doing it wrong. These types of teachings club people over the head and guilt them into working harder to have a better Christian life. This also “ironically” guilts people into coming back to hear that pastor speak about how to be sold out at all times for the kingdom of God.
Yet, This is not at all what the passage is saying.
Rather, this passage is saying “You are the pearl.”
In the same way, Jesus came down from heaven and gave everything to purchase us. He could have come as the Final Judge, and he would be just in doing so. But instead, He chose to give His life – His all – for us. He chose to purchase us, redeem us.”
I was surprised to hear that your head pastor and you parted ways suddenly. I daresay that one might use the term that you are now “separated.” I understand that he left you suddenly. I am sorry.
I also understand that he was a “difficult” person. Just hearing one of his earlier sermons about a call for unity in the church led me to understand that all might not be well behind the doors of this church.
After all, this shepherd of the flock explained from the pulpit that each attendee must agree with him, must not question him, and must not cause him any trouble, (oh… him and the elders he added). Or else, he (and the elders) would see to it that that person’s reputation would be ruined. He very carefully explained the ancient system of “credit” — back in the ancient marketplace, a person had a tile with his name on it. Shopkeepers would break off corners of the tile, the pastor explained, as purchases were made. However, if those debts were not paid, the shopkeepers would break that person’s tile. So, the pastor explained, if anyone caused him (oh, and the elders) trouble, creating “disunity,” he would make sure that a person’s “tile” was broken. He would make sure that person’s “credit” — his credibility, his reputation — was ruined within the church community.
Hmmm… a person who threatens…
Also, I understand that a dearth of staff, church employees, and even several pastors suddenly felt the need to take early retirement or to find other employment since he arrived and dug in.
Hmmm… a person who intimidates others…
Also, I understand that upon his arrival, he took assessment of the church, and proceeded to rearrange staff, to change the church website, to change the church’s logo — essentially to compel the church into “rebranding” and remake itself to fit his tastes, his ideas, his “vision.”
Hmmm… a person who is controlling…
Hmmm… a person who pressures, threatens, and forces others to fit and fill his tastes, his whims, his ideas…
Sounds so much like the type of person I came to you about when I asked for help with my abusive then-husband…
Well… I am sorry to hear that you had to deal with that.
I would like to return to you the words of comfort that you offered me when I took my children and ran from my abuser. Like II Corinthians 1:4 says, “… we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted…”
Here are your words of comfort returned to you…
First, you must NOT separate! I know he left suddenly, but you must seek him out! After all, he is the “leader of your home (church).” He may not have been the pastor you thought you were getting, but he is the head pastor you have now. You chose him. You should have seen any “red flags” before you signed on the dotted line. After all, you “candi- ‘dated'” him for a while. So now that you have a contract/covenant with him, that makes him God’s man for you, whether you like it or not. (Sorry that you didn’t understand that people like him do something called “lovebombing.” You should look it up. In a secular expert’s book. I could give you recommendations.)
If the head pastor is willing to give a hearing to your earnest pleadings for reconciliation — for you must seek reconciliation earnestly — you must offer to submit to him quietly, reverently (re: I Peter 3:1,4). Apparently, (and unfortunately for you) he is and has been behaving in ways “disobedient to the word,” and therefore, you — as members of the body, sub-shepherds, under the head pastor — must be submissive, “so that [he] may be won without a word by the behavior of [his supportive elders] as [he] observe[s] your chaste and respectful behavior.” You must strive — no… bend over backward, no… give your all — to be winsome! After all, as you comforted me with these words, “you must be winsome to win some!”
It doesn’t matter what he has done. Don’t bring up any of his actions. His actions are not relevant here. His long-standing patterns of behavior and his treatment of you are not relevant. His actions are his actions, and he must deal with them before God. You must do the right thing! And that means submitting to the head (pastor) that God has put over you! Joyfully! Without grumbling! After all, “You must not touch the Lord’s anointed!”
As a matter of fact, I was disappointed to hear of all those pastors and staff leaving recently! They must be recalled. All of you must be put into a room with him with a counselor, and it is essential that we talk this thing out! That is what needs to happen! You all just need to be put together in a room with him, locking the door if necessary, and you just need to talk this all out. After all, as you told me, I’m sure this was all just a big misunderstanding. This whole thing has to simply be a collection of small issues that you did not deal with or talk through properly, and that grew out of proportion. He, and you, are essentially just having a tantrum. So, the solution is, we must put you all in a room together, and you need to talk it out! Instead of “couple’s counseling,” we’ll call it “church leaders’ counseling!”
You say he threatened you? You say he made sure you lost your jobs? You say he removed your income and left you without money? You say he’s ruined your references so that it’s hard to find a job anywhere else? You say he’s damaged your reputation? Left you with almost nothing?
Oh sirs… let me sit next to you as I say this. Let me rub your back as I say this. Let me tell you I love you as a sibling in Christ as I say this…
You most likely took all of his words, his “jokes,” his behaviors wrong. You must have been holding grudges against him a long time for you to see him now the way you do. He’s hurting. That’s probably why he does what he does! Hurting people hurt people! Right? He probably had a bad childhood. He most likely was not treated well along the way. He probably had problems in former churches, with former elder boards. He needs love and support now more than ever. After all, he‘s without a job right now, without a church home! He needs friends and kindness right now. I will pray… for him.
After all, one of the titles of a book you made me read was, How to Act Right When Your Spouse (or head pastor, I guess) Acts Wrong. So you need to start acting right! Even if you think he’s acting wrongly. Submit joyfully to the authority God gave you! After all, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
This brings me to another huge point. You must look to your own sin. Obviously, both parties are at fault. It takes two (parties) to tango, right? That’s what you told me. It always takes two to tango. Damage in relationships could never be one-sided, right? Never caused by the actions of one party while the other tries desperately to heal, love, reach out, forgive and forget, right? Please don’t tell me of his behavior. Please don’t tell me anything of his offenses. That only demonstrates to me that you are unwilling — unwilling! — to look at yourselves, to look at your own role in things going wrong. You must look deep into your own hearts, and the collective heart of the church’s leadership, and find the sin deep within. If you can only think that he caused the damage, and that you really tried to be kind and patient and loving, then you obviously have some secret sin blinding you. You must repent of this secret sin you are not even aware of. If you continue to insist that he was the one who hurt you, and that you tried so hard to make things better, then you are more sinful and selfish than even you can know. “The heart is evil above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Throw yourself before the mercy of God! Confess! Confess! In tears of repentance. There must be tears! I’ll sit with you and rub your back while you start crying and confessing now. Right now. Do it now! I must see your tears, your weeping of repentance… I’ll wait…
What was happening behind the closed doors of your offices? Did he threaten you? So, what was your sin? What did you do to make him do that? Were you harsh in your words? Did you approach him at the wrong time of day? Did you make sure he had a nice meal on his desk for lunch in the office?
And did his threats make you feel afraid? Then your fear obviously shows you are sinning by not trusting or depending on the Lord enough.
Did he cut off some people from their livelihood? Did that make you angry? Did the injustice of it all upset you? Did your feelings of helplessness overwhelm you? Then you have sinful feelings of bitterness. Confess! Don’t let that root of bitterness take hold!
Was he controlling? Did he yell angrily? What did you do to deserve this? Did he tear you down consistently? Maybe what he said was true after all, and you really need to humbly look at yourselves. Did he shame you? Maybe you needed some more humility? Did he laugh at you? Did you need to learn to laugh at yourselves better? Did he undermine you? Maybe you were holding your ideas and opinions too tightly and you need to agree with him? Did he play mindgames with you? Maybe you needed to let him win? Did he move the goalposts constantly as you tried to placate him? Did you try harder? Did he make you feel small? Maybe your opinion of yourselves was too big anyway? Did he make you feel that you’re no good? Maybe your ego needed knocking down a peg or two?
Did he make you feel worthless? Then obviously, you just need to center yourself on Christ! Center yourself on Christ and His opinion of you. Regardless of what he does or whatever happens to you, center yourself on Christ. Then you will feel, and be, all better: no matter what tricks he plays, no matter how much he yells at you, no matter how much he gets others to laugh at you, no matter if he holds you up for ridicule, no matter if he makes cruel sarcastic jokes at your expense, no matter how he tricks you, or lies to you, or shames you relentlessly. Just center yourself on Christ! (I’m still not sure what that means fully, or how that works, but it’s what you repeated to me, so it must be good for you, too.) I’ll give you some verses to memorize. Luckily for you, I’ve still got the list you made me memorize and you quizzed me over week after week. Oh, and pray! Write out those prayers, and someone will be around to collect them and evaluate them and point out the wrongly-motivated, selfish things you’re praying for. Lose your job because of him? It’s okay, because now you’re centered on Christ! You’ve got some verses memorized and you prayed! So, ignore what’s happening to your livelihood right before your eyes! He threatens you? Ignore what your ears are hearing! Has he carried through on some of those threats just to show you he means business? Just remember to say (or sing if you want) over and over to yourselves… “Jesus loves me!” You’ll be fine!
If your stomach knotted whenever he came to the office, if you tried to hide from him as much as possible, if you tried to speak to him about the pain he was causing you, and it always blew up in your face, and you somehow ended up being shamed into being the bad guy (even though he hurt you!); your behavior and feelings demonstrate a lack of trust. This creates a huge problem on your part. You see, you must be “available” (you know what I mean, wink wink) to him at all times! He is your head (pastor). If he stops you in a corner of a hallway and wants to have a conversation with you (even if it feels like he’s just using you — grilling you for details that he’s going to use later against you or someone you care about), you must make yourself “available.” If he comes into your office to pry into your life and digs in for personal details — blowing through your boundaries of levels of distance and social intimacy — you must be open to him! Again, be winsome! You must be “available” for whatever level of conversational or social intimacy he desires to approach you for. If you are withholding, then you, sirs, are the problem! You are closed off to his advances. No wonder he is looking into other offices, searching out other sources of social or conversational intimacy! No wonder he left you! If he blesses you by coming back because of your begging, and he demands outrageous things that make you very uncomfortable, creep you out, or even hurt you(r wallet, your schedule, your private family time), you must make yourselves “available.” Again, he is your head (pastor). As you taught me all my life, you are under his umbrella of protection and leadership, as he is under Christ. You will only be blessed as you bless him.
You say he is not showing Christ-like qualities? You say you wonder if he even really is a Christian, even though he leads in the church? (Like I repeatedly brought up to you about my guy?) His spiritual standing is not for you to decide. True-Christian or not, you need to keep reaching out to him. If he comes back to be your head pastor again, Godcommands that you submit to his authority, surrender your will, ignore your doubts, your fears, and most importantly, squelch and confess your gut feelings that he may just be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Another point… if he is not showing Christ-like qualities — if he’s no longer acting like a Christian — then your office, your relationships with him, have just become your mission field. And as you know, you must show yourself approved within your field of mission. And how do we show ourselves approved? By suffering! Long-term suffering! Patiently bearing up under the heavy, heavy load that his behavior has laid upon you. That is how you will demonstrate that you belong to Christ. Christ’s way is the way of the cross. We are called to suffer along with him. After all, a Good Father disciplines his children, and suffering is part of this discipline. And like you reminded me, Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” So stand under this discipline because you will yield peaceful fruit or righteousness… if you remain. And remain you must. Because, as you have taught me all my life… “God is not interested in our happiness. He is interested in our holiness.” So stand in there. Stand in the gap! Pray for him who spitefully uses you! Each one must bear his own load. And this, sirs, is your load. You must prove yourselves worthy of the calling by which you have been called! By following in His sufferings! And therefore, again I say, for all those who climbed down off the altar of sufferings, and took early retirement or another job, I say that you as leaders must recall them. Have them return to the altar. You must all prove yourselves by enduring his shaming you, taking up your crosses, suffering for Christ, loving at all costs (including the cost of your mental and physical health, like you told me… [just trust God, don’t protect yourself or your health or the kids]). Prove yourself by loving your enemies unconditionally, submitting to the authority God has placed in your life, never giving any cause for the minister to grieve because of you, forgiving seventy times seven, loving patiently, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things! LOVE NEVER FAILS! HALLELUJAH!
Remember… anything less, and we as your congregants will label you as bitter. You must be joyful at all times — especially in his presence, should he deign to come back to you. Don’t let bitterness take root “in your hearts” (you always added that when counseling me, even though that phrase and meaning is not in the verse of Hebrews 12:15). Forgive everything, even if he never asks for forgiveness or repents or shows any signs of lasting change. (That’s not in the Bible either, but you used it on me, so I’ll comfort you with the same.) Make every, and I mean every effort to reconcile. Go back to him! Reach out! Woo him back!
As to legal matters, like contracts or covenants, as you told me, you must keep reaching out to him, trying quietly, reverently, respectfully to win him over. Do not accept his resignation letter. Do not seek or file any termination of his employment. Keep reaching, keep praying. Find yourself a closet to pray in every day. Make this as ritualistic as possible to earn God’s favor. Write the prayers down so we can check that you’re doing that. Make sure if he threatens you in any way, that you take absolutely no legal steps to protect yourself — you must not protect yourself physically, financially, legally, socially. Be completely open and vulnerable. Trust God.
If you do take steps to protect yourselves, we as the congregation will bring you up for a disciplinary hearing. Then if you insist on trying to protect yourselves or your families, then we will put you under church discipline, and we will order your instant resignation from serving in office, indeed from any form of service within the church that has been a huge part of your lives all these years. And we will make sure that all concerned are notified that you are under discipline, and that they are to shun you. And what’s more, we will make sure all of the aforementioned proceedings are kept secret, so that no one who would support you, who would stand with you, or who would be kind to you will know what’s going on and what we’ve done to you.
If you are good enough to refrain from trying to protect yourselves legally and in any other way, and if you refrain from moving forward with any legal termination of the employment contract/covenant, then, we as the voting members of the congregation who put you into office, we will look over your efforts. But you must give the whole process time. You must be in prayer. At some point, we will go to him in a group of two, like Matthew 18 says. Then we’ll wait. And pray. For a long time. Then, we will bring it before the (*select committee that we will keep secret.* Listen, I know the verse says to bring it to the church, but as you have shown me, that passage really means a secret committee that you are not allowed to know about, may not appeal to, may not make your case to, or may not make any defense to. Right?) Again, you may not sign, file, or accept any legal documents until we have reviewed the situation. Even though we were never in your offices, never in your halls when he did the things he did to you, never really witnessed any problems (other than those odd, threatening, dark, controlling pulpit statements every once in a while…) we still know what’s best for you. We must give the process time. We must give God time to work. In two to three years we will review everything. Then we will let you know if you may start legal proceedings to accept his resignation.
In closing, I will return to you the words in the letter that you delivered to me as a team of two – a pastor and an elder (along with a church transcriptionist) — the letter that you blindsided me with on that horrible day that you put me under church discipline. Here is the “comfort” (church discipline) that you handed me when I came to you begging you for help to escape our abuse. I have simply reversed the references.
Dear [Church Leaders],
As [a member] of __________ Church, we desire that all [church leader relationships] found in our church body be strong, healthy, affirming and God-honoring. For the [members] of __________ Church, we expect their [church leader relationships] to be models for others in the church to both witness and imitate.
We are aware that you and [former head pastor] are separated and that, at least at the present time, you are not making progress toward reconciliation as a [Christian brotherhood]. Therefore, it is the decision of [this member] of ______ Church to remove you [* I only have the power to suggest that “you should remove yourselves”*] from your leadership position as [elders, pastoral staff] with our prayerful encouragement that you and [head pastor] work aggressively on the reconciliation of your [Christian brotherly working] relationship.
We stand ready to assist you and [head pastor] in whatever ways we can. We would strongly encourage the [group] of you to seek counsel together from one counselor, to remove any and all obstacles to reconciliation that have been put into place in recent months (** hint… they meant my taking out the protection/restraining order to protect myself and my kids…**), and to humbly seek God’s direction and healing for your life together as [pastor and leaders.]
It is important that you know that we care deeply for you and for your famil[ies] and that we are praying for restoration of your [Christian relationships]. It would be our great delight to hear that you and [head pastor] are actively working together to reconcile your [working] relationship and, therefore, [this member would] be able restore you to your leadership role.
I have sat in the pew and heard all my life that Christians are to sacrifice themselves in the living out of their daily lives. Christian radio said, “Sacrifice yourself. Surrender yourself.” Christian books said, “Don’t shrink from the pain this may cause you.” Christian conferences said, “Pour out your life.” Bible study leaders, using big-name Christian packaged materials said, “Surrender your rights.”
(But just to thicken the fog of confusion, they would always throw in, “Now… I’m not saying that you should be a doormat…” I could never figure out how to walk that tightrope.)
Big-name preachers tell you to pray more. In a specially-made, custom closet, if you really want God’s blessings to flow. If you have to add onto your home to fit it in, that will really seal the deal with God. Submit more. Fast more. Give up things you like more — like your favorite foods, TV shows, hobbies, sports, activities. Sacrifice your time, your money, and like I’ve said in another blog, your children. My former pastor even directed that you lay your family’s heirloom jewelry in the offering plate. Then you would see the windows of heaven open and blessings would pour out upon your head. Your cup would overflow. This is what I was taught.
I have read many devotionals that say pretty much these same things over and over. For one example, Joni Eareckson Tada writes in her devotional Diamonds in the Dust (1),
“I picture myself on the altar, and as soon as God strikes the match to light the flame of some fiery ordeal, I do what any living sacrifice would do. I crawl off the altar! … Please don’t argue with the Lord about how heavily He stokes the fire of your trial. Just get back up on the altar. It’s your spiritual worship!”
Also from the same book in a devotional authoritatively called God’s Will for Your Life (2),
“We can know the will of God in a general sense, for God’s will is that we be saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering. God’s Word makes all this clear.”
She then goes on to quote Dr. John MacArthur when he says,
“If those five elements of God’s will are operating in your life, who is running your wants (your desires, your life)? God is!”
So… They say, if I was suffering, then I was in God’s will. He would be happy with me. Blessings would come. However…
I didn’t have the courage at the time to admit, even to myself, that I didn’t like this God. He wasn’t any different from any other abuser I had in my life — causing and enjoying my suffering at His pleasure. But… God is God, right? And God is love. Being God, He gets to define what love is. Hurting me didn’t fit my definition of love, but, like they say, He’s the boss. (They like to use the Christian-ese “sovereign.”) “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways,” they quote. So if I suffer, it makes Him happy. And that’s God’s love. That’s what I was taught.
So as my life twisted and contorted in a nightmare of abuse, I did what I was taught –what was hammered into my soul. It was all I ever knew. I sacrificed myself. I surrendered myself. I surrendered my rights. I prayed. I fasted. I wept. All this would make God happy, right? I stayed, which sacrificed my mental and physical health, my well-being. And regretfully, I for a long time, I sacrificed the safety and soul-well-being of my children.
And I waited. I waited for those heavenly windows to open. I waited for the change to happen in my husband/abuser. I prayed constantly for the lightbulb to appear over his head — the one that would indicate that he finally understood, “Wait! I have been intolerably mean and cruel. This is not good! This is not right! This is not what the God I claim to serve would want. From now on, I need to be kind, loving, gentle, and Christ-like!” I waited on the Lord, like a good, little, Christian girl. For over twenty years. I waited.
But the change never came. Those heavenly windows stayed shut.
So I left.
However, intimidation started ramping up from my then-husband. So I went to the battered women’s shelter, and they helped me file a protective order.
Then, that same day, as I received “Biblical” nouthetic counseling (ugh! Don’t get me started!), a pastor angrily broke into my counseling session. He threw down a piece of paper in front of me. He said it was the phone number for the sheriff’s office, and ordered me to call it. He ordered me to have my protective order lifted immediately! He was essentially ordering me to sacrifice my safety and my children’s safety all over again. Why? Because the church leaders wanted and needed my abuser to come to church and continue to lead the children’s ministry! That night!
I had been so well trained, and I was so desperate for approval at the time that I complied. Thank God that He had placed a judge in our court system that understood abusers. The judge ordered that it stand. He had also ordered that the level of protection was set higher than what I had originally asked for because of the type of threats my abuser had made against me and my children!
The church then told me to sacrifice our ability to attend my home church so that the abuser would be able to continue leading the children’s ministry. So we stayed home. Then, I found out months later that our abuser couldn’t legally attend the church because of the judge’s orders. We were supposed to be free to attend and move about in our regular places. But the church never told us that he couldn’t attend and that we could. So we were told to sacrifice any ability to reach out to our church community in our most trying time.
A New Perspective
Now, I am examining microscopically those beliefs that held me in bondage all my life.
Does it make God happy to see me suffer?
I found that He says in His Word,
For if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men. Lamentations 3:32-33
I called on Your name, O Lord, out of the lowest pit. You have heard my voice, “Do not hide Your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help.” You drew me near when I called on You; You said, “Do not fear!” Lamentations 3:55-57
So, does it make God happy to see me suffer? No. God wants to draw us near.
If what I’d been taught all along says that my suffering does make Him happy, then… Why doesn’t it work? Why don’t our sacrifices make Him happy? The answer is always the same. Jesus Christ. The cross. His Word says,
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5
Jesus paid it all (an oldie hymn line, but a goodie!). On the cross, Jesus took our shame –our deep embarrassment over what we’ve done — our failures, our sins, our misery, our guilt. Jesus, God Himself, was scourged, beaten, and crucified in His human body to take our penalty. Therefore, when we gratefully accept Jesus’s death and resurrection as payment in full for us, God puts His goodness, His right standing, His good deeds, His perfection on our account. When He looks at us, God the Father sees His perfect Son and all of His perfect works. So however perfect Jesus was, (perfectly perfect!) that’s how perfect we now are to God.
So why do the big-name church preachers and leaders call us to sacrifice ourselves? Stay on the altar? Keep suffering under the hand of abusers?
If Jesus the Son’s sacrifice was complete and overwhelmingly acceptable to God His Father as payment in full, then wouldn’t the call to sacrifice yourself be trying to add to the finished, complete work of Christ? Wouldn’t the preachers be saying to God, “Listen, I know it was the death of Your own Son and all; but sorry, I’m saying that was not enough. I’m going to continue preaching that people must continue suffering on purpose to try to make You happy.”
If we must continue to sacrifice ourselves, then why did Christ have to die? If we could somehow earn God’s favor, then what was the point of the cross? Some sort of cosmic safety net to try to catch those who didn’t earn favor well enough here on earth? A get-out-of-hell-free card in case we’re not doing well enough at life? May it never be!
It’s a slap in the face to God, who generously provided the way to peace with Him. By giving up His Son. And to Jesus, Who gave His life in a horrific death to purchase that peace.
So, if we are not supposed to earn God’s favor by suffering on purpose, then what do we do with the bad things that happen to us in this world? These are the sufferings James talks about in his first chapter.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
Again, these are trials that you can’t get out of. That diagnosis. That court ruling. That job loss. It doesn’t make you holier– there’s no merit — to stay in a bad situation if you could get out of it. Christ’s work was enough. Paid in full. If there’s a way out, take it.
Does God use the suffering that this broken world dishes out to draw me to Him? Yes. We come again and again to the Father, to Jesus, and to the Holy Spirit who did everything for us, gave us all gifts in the spiritual realm, including peace with Him, and Heaven itself.
Does anything, including the abuse I’m suffering, escape His notice? No. Does it get by Him? Does the abuser “slip one past” the Almighty? No. Judgment is sure for the hard-hearted wicked. One day, their eyes will widen in terror as they realize that they didn’t get away with it after all.
But He uses it all. I know what happened to me made me dive into good material, good websites, good theology, and good life-stories of abused people whose lives have been redeemed on the other side of Hell’s valley. Their sharing lit the way for me to see that I will be led out of Hell’s valley as well. By Christ Himself. And guided by the lights lit by others along the way.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being save and among those who are perishing. II Corinthians 2:14-15
I have found people that I never would have connected with if my life had been peaches and roses. I have found people who have truly lived through hell. That smell of the smoke still clings. Jesus the Redeemer uses it to create the base-note in our sweet aroma, our perfume, that He makes waft through every place He now leads us. Like the next verse (16) says, “to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…”
So again, does God want me to stay and suffer like the big-name churches have spewed out on their congregations? Do I have to keep crawling back up on the altar? Is it sin to crawl out of the fire? NO! God’s Word says,
Deliver those who are being taken away death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh! hold them back. Proverbs 24:11
By all means, escape if or when you can. Without guilt! Christ came to set us free!
31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:31-32,36
But, what about Romans 12:1? That’s used a lot to speak about sacrificing yourself.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
Remember, always check the context. In the previous chapter, Paul lays out why God has chosen to not save only and all Jews at this time. He is extending salvation to us Gentiles. Thanks be to God, we are made part of His great salvation! Paul is reminding the Gentile believers in Rome to remain thankful and humble, and to never believe they were or had something so special that God overthrew His chosen people to gain them.
Paul points out that God is using Israel’s present partial hardness-of-heart to extend salvation to the Gentiles. And He is using saved Gentiles to pique the interest of spiritually-minded Jews to draw them to salvation as well. So God is reaching out to all people, in various ways, to make a new people for Himself. Therefore, we are to live our new lives in humble thankfulness and worship, since we have been made acceptable to God through Christ’s full payment on the cross. We in no way earn acceptability to God by sacrificing ourselves or by any other of our actions. Christ makes us acceptable through His perfection put on our account. Then we walk with Him, living our new lives He’s given us, making ourselves available to Him in thankfulness and praise.
So what about all those other verses the preachers use to say to suffer for Christ’s sake — Philippians 1:29, II Cor. 1:6-7, etc.? Checking the context around these verses most often reveals that this suffering arises often from the reaction of the “religious” people around you as they try to forcibly shoehorn you back into their “good, little, suffering, submissive, quiet, Christian girl (or boy)” mold. And somehow, you will find, you just don’t fit anymore. Jesus called it trying to pour new wine into old wineskins.
But they will shun you. Long-time friends in the church no longer look your way in the grocery store. Or they will stop and speak uncomfortably to you if cornered. The leaders will hold meetings with you, or hold meetings concerning you without your presence or knowledge. They will try to force you back to the way you were, or even back into the hell you were in. They will call it working toward unity. They will call it proper submission to authority. They will call it the will of God.
They may even discipline you, try to silence you, or put you out of the church. This is the suffering that will happen. They did it to Blind Bartemaus in Jesus’s time after Christ freed the blind man from his sightless world. The truth is that Jesus’s sacrifice has set you free to walk in a new life. But they will make you suffer to try to mold you back into conformity.
This is the sacrifice the big-name preachers and followers seek. Sacrifice yourself to fit them. This is the altar they want you to lay yourself on. But, you may find you have to sacrifice your old church, your old “friends” (who didn’t support you when in your deepest need anyway), your old lifestyle. Come out from among them. And then what Paul said will start to make sense.
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ… Philippians 3:7-8
Come, be outside the camp.
Eareckson Tada, Joni. Diamonds in the Dust, 366 Sparkling Devotions. Zondervan Publishing House. 1993 May 21. Living Sacrifices
Ibid. November 8. God’s Will for Your Life
All Scripture verses are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.