I recently read a quote, “An untold story never heals. It just festers until it comes out in unwanted behavior.” I write this today as a survivor. I write this today because the last thing I need in my life is unwanted behavior. I think you’d agree there is enough of that in this world already. If you are currently experiencing conflict or have survived the hurts and wounds of an unhealthy church atmosphere, I’m telling my story with the intent that you’ll be comforted, inspired and given hope. The hope needed to make it through one more day, one more hour and even those times hope is needed to endure one more minute.
February 27, 2015
As a survivor, I’ve resolved to live the rest of my life serving the Lord healed and whole. It’s because of the grace of Jesus, I can take back my life and write the narrative of my story of abuse and recovery so others can see the faithfulness of God. By documenting my journey of healing via writing and video, it’s enabled me to safeguard any unwanted behavior that may result in me hurting others. Knowing I was wounded, I was afraid of becoming a wounder. My purpose is to be a voice of the indescribable healing power of Christ, while offering hope and clarity for those who suffer in silence.
I recorded myself on February 27, 2015 one day after my first counseling appointment and have it here for you to watch. I have more videos documenting my journey. Deep down in my soul I felt my story may help some one. I watch this vlog now and notice how TIRED and EXHAUSTED I was at this time of my journey. I was still shaking the sadness and seeking to understand what was happening to me. (This was recorded 6 months after my family left the church)
I consider myself a “Seasoned Saint.” I am part of the older generation in my church and I believe God allowed my life storms so the younger generation can learn from. One such storm that’s guaranteed in this lifetime is the experience of intense pain inflicted by betrayal, rejection, grief, or you “fill in the blank.” Relief from that pain becomes the primary obsession of the victim. I compare my search for healing of my hurt heart like that of a drug addict looking for their next fix. Or like a mom searching for her child that has been abducted. It was my obsession to understand my circumstance and be better. Healing, peace and forgiveness became the finish line I strived to cross every single day.
This pain however is magnified to a confusing degree when its source comes from the Church. By the leadership you trusted. By the very people you’ve prayed with, served with, labored with, admired, respected, loved, and done life with. I so relate to the words of Anne Graham Lotz in her book Wounded by God’s People:
“Those who have been most hurtful, those who have been the most unkind, those who have betrayed, slandered, and undermined me have been those who have called themselves by God’s name.”
After serving at my local church for 23 years, I was compelled to walk away in August of 2014. I was not fired. I resigned. I could no longer be associated with the decisions that were being made by the leadership. The decisions were not biblical and my conscious was getting the best of me. I struggled with resigning since, wait for it… 2007. I’m not proud that I stayed seven years longer than I should have, but now I understand WHY I did.
I’ve been diagnosed as being Spiritually Abused. A term not well known but the practice is wide spread. As soon as I heard those two words come out of the mouth of my counselor, I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom and an immediate relief of distress.
No more rationalizing it, defending it, ignoring it, excusing it or covering it up. The weight of seven years consumed with confusion and shame immediately lifted off my shoulders. It’s like I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t put words to it. I have beaten myself up wondering why I didn’t leave that church when I first witnessed the sin. I was abused by narcissism and frozen with fear. Uncovering and naming my problem was like sitting in the doctors office thinking you have a terminal disease, but then the doctor diagnoses you as simply having the flu. Heavy sigh right?? There is nothing like the gift of CLARITY.
As I dove head first into researching my diagnoses, I’ve found that churches across America have swept this issue under the preverbal rug. I’ve also discovered that many people who are aware of this type of abuse are afraid to talk about this subject due to many factors. People don’t want to believe that someone they admire, especially a Pastor, is capable of abusing others. Denial, denial, denial. Across the nation, church leaders are hurting others as they hide behind the mask of position and authority. Why isn’t something being done? People fear change. People don’t want to be the one who calls someone out. People have been deceived to think their need for a leader supersedes taking a stand for what is right and wrong. This line of thinking overpowers them and they end up compromising what’s right in order to keep the status quo and not interrupt their comfortable routine of life.
One detrimental factor that the enemy uses in today’s church community is fear. Fear is paralyzing. Fear is clever. Fear and complacency caused me to compromise the very principles I believed in and taught to children and their parents. My fears overwhelmed me and got my eyes off of the promises of Jesus.
-The fear of thinking that no one would believe me.
-The fear of leaving the families I’ve nurtured without a leader.
-The fear of misleading families by leaving the church without exposing the true reason.
-The fear of not providing financially for my family.
-The fear of committing social suicide by leaving friends of 23 years.
2 Tim 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
I read that scripture on this side of my situation and it’s so clear. I’m ashamed it didn’t resonate within me years ago, but I understand all that was attacking me and all that I was navigating just to survive, hindered my ability to make proper decisions.
There are many things that have helped me on my healing journey but reading the definitions of Spiritual Abuse was the best resource that jumpstarted my road to being whole again. With each sentence I read, validation and redemption swelled up inside of me, as I had a clearer and deeper understanding of what I had endured.
It’s difficult to describe what happened to me. So I have provided the exact definitions that blessed me and here’s praying they bless you:
Defining Spiritual Abuse
Jeff VanVonderan, author of Soul Repair writes: “Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.”
Dr. Ronald Enroth, Professor of Sociology at Westmont College, defines spiritual and pastoral abuse this way:
“Spiritual abuse takes place when leaders to whom people look for guidance and spiritual nurture use their positions of authority to manipulate, control, and dominate.”
Dayna Drum, contributing author at revelantmagazine.com wrote:
“Spiritual abuse is similar to other types of abuse, but it’s committed under the banner of spirituality. It can be subtle or painfully loud—anything from unquestioned pastoral authority, to practices of shaming members if they don’t fulfill religious expectations, to badmouthing members who have left.”
In the book Healing Spiritual Abuse, Ken Blue compares other types of abuse with spiritual abuse:
“Abuse of any type occurs when someone has power over another and uses that power to hurt. Physical abuse means that someone exercises physical power over another, causing physical wounds. Sexual abuse means that someone exercises sexual power over another, resulting in sexual wound. And spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.”
Another definition of the term spiritual abuse is found in the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen and it states:
“Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment.”
How I wish I could see your face as you read the above definitions. Some of you may not even realize you’re in an abusive situation until the clarity found here in these definitions. You are not alone. You are not going crazy. You ARE seeing it right.
All in all, Spiritual Abuse is when someone in a key leadership position at church manipulates and takes advantage of you for their personal gain. The abuser has worked hard at mastering the skill of manipulation. The deceit and maneuvers are effectively subtle that you are unaware you are being used. Because of your respect of their position, you assume they are above doing wrong and are above sinning in the manner in which you have witnessed. They have covertly earned your trust, which causes you to dismiss the sin, believing they are held accountable by others. But often never are…
What do you do next?
Talk about it!!! Talk about what has been honestly going on with a trusted colleague, friend or family member. Strongly consider counseling. Getting help from a reputable Christian counselor is nothing to be ashamed of. I believe Christ gifted those individuals for such a time as this.
I learned that your abuser is counting on you to NOT talk about it. It is one of the things they know about you. They are well aware that you are concerned about the image of the church that you’ll keep its secret. You see, if you keep the church’s secret, you will conveniently keep their secret too. I was manipulated in this exact way. Trust that the Lord of the universe is BIG enough to handle your situation. The church belongs to our Savior, not the pastor or leadership. Talking and processing your experience is healthy and it is your first step to recovery and healing.
1 Corinthians 3:11-13
“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.…”
A good friend of mine, who served on staff with me for ten years, reminded me that all the ministry I built in the past, under the stress and unhealthy circumstances was built with hay and straw. Pastor Eric McPherson witnessed first hand what I endured and went on to explain that if fire was put to the Kingdom work of that time period, it wouldn’t stand the heat and would burn away. He encouraged me that in the new chapter of my life, to focus on rebuilding using precious stones, as those stones will withstand the heat of the fire and persevere because Jesus is the foundation.
I’m led to believe that this blog/vlog is one of my precious stones. There many teachable moments I know the Lord wants to use relating to my story and to try to fit them here in one post would not do them justice. Please stay tuned as I piece them together with each upcoming post. I covet your prayers and comments as my intent is to give comfort to those who are hurting and confused. There’s hope in our Lord and He will meet your needs and shelter you in your storm. He did it for me. Healing and feeling myself again didn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that needs to run its course. Decide to lie down at the feet of Jesus and allow our Savior to save you. Victory is around the corner…I promise!
Spiritual Abuse Links:
Soul Repair and The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Jeff VanVonderen
Dayna Drum Article – “It’s Time to Address Spiritual Abuse”
This link from Truth Guard helped me navigate my last few months on staff. “Should I Confront My Pastor”
10 Ways to Spot Spiritual Abuse
Facebook Pages to like:
Spiritual Abuse Recovery
Spiritual Abuse Awareness
Follow my Spiritual Abuse Recovery board on Pinterest