I made my way to the prayer room, a tiny ‘hole in the wall’ sized room, at the front end of the Lakeview church. I waited awkwardly for one of the five ministers to give me directions. One of them motioned for me to go in and sit down on the chair in the corner farthest from the door. Not that it was far, since the room would have been best suited for a small walk in closet.
My hands felt sweaty as they greeted me, one at a time, as I entered the room. I wondered if they could see how nervous I was… or had I mastered the ‘confidence front’ so well that they didn’t notice? I wasn’t sure what to expect in the meeting, or why I had even agreed to be here.
Having taken off their black hats, these men in their black ‘straight-cut’ suits took turns greeting each other with the Holy Kiss, as was the church’s custom, and then seated themselves around me. Each man carried his own chair in, holding it until the door was closed, as there was no room to have the chair in place beforehand. To say our knees almost touched would be a slight exaggeration, but it felt that way.
Being alone with these men who were about to interview me, was unnerving, especially since not one woman joined us that night. I, at age eighteen, sat all alone in the tiny prayer room, waiting for them to do whatever it was that they were about to do.
A Messy Road
Only weeks earlier, life had been very different! I was an eighteen year old rebel living with an ex-con drug dealer in the states, in a place so trashed, violent, and spiritually twisted that—forgive me–it almost made the thought of hell seem appealing. Before you judge that statement, watch the worst ‘Hoarders’ show out there and add some of the most demonic rituals possible. That was what I lived in, and it seemed much like a living hell. (I did not engage in the demonic, but people around me did, and I was subjected to hearing the horrible graphic details of things I have never repeated to this day.)
With no money and no job— because I wasn’t American—I was at the mercy of the man with whom I lived, relying on him to provide for me. And he did, in the sense that I never went without food for an entire day. Most times I was limited to one meal each evening, with maybe a slice of bread in the morning, but I never went completely hungry.
I had a small suitcase with a few jeans, two dresses, and a few tops, along with a Bible, a photo album and my ‘Dear Jesus’ diary. That was all my earthly belongings.
The journey that had led me to that horrible place started with violence and abuse in our home, followed by the spiritual abuse I had witnessed in the very church where I was now being interviewed for membership. And in between was an array of tragic experience, including rape, more sexual abuse, casual dabbling in drugs, and more than my fair share of alcohol consumption. I had packed a lot of living in a short life, landing me in a hopeless existence, back in the same mess as the one that had started down that messy road.
Rescued From Myself
Almost miraculously God brought me out of that hell and gave me another shot at life. My fiancée had a truck run to Kitchener Ontario, and I knew the location, only blocks from where I had lived. I volunteered to be his guide.
In Kitchener, surrounded by familiar places, I started to feel homesick. Not for family. Not even for people. For Ontario. For Canada. My home. My country. A place I could work, have money and be independent. I was tired of living in a small room, alone day after day, with nothing to do. Unless watching a ten inch black and white TV counts… with no channels. I had spent months that way, eating my one meal a day, wandering to the other room, only to wander back. Light a cigarette. Get a drink. Read my Bible… now and then. That had been my life for about three months.
Now, sitting in that tiny room, surrounded by these men I braced myself, uncertain what to expect.
They started with a prayer and all the right words. They were glad I had returned and seen the error of my ways and wanted to offer some guidance and encouragement. A few little details on my clothing would need attention and my nylons should be black, not an off-black shade. My covering should get any smaller—it was borderline unacceptable.
The bishop sat directly across from me, his little black notebook in hand, jotting down comments as we went along. And then we go to the big issues. If they understood right, I had lost my virginity. Was that true? And if so, with how many men? Who were they? What were their names?
I was shocked. Blindsided. Why were they asking all these questions? Nothing could have prepared me for that moment, packed like sardines in a prayer room with five full-grown men asking for details about my sex life. Had the window been any larger, I might have attempted a jailbreak. But I was trapped.
There was no way I would tell them everything. I told them what they already knew but nothing more, and didn’t include the rape or other sexual abuse. I could not. Just confirming what they already knew left me feeling stripped. Naked. Vulnerable. And so I lied. Told them that was all there was, there was nothing more to tell. Nothing else had happened. There wasn’t a chance in eternity that they would enter the raw pain of the trauma I had been through. I would have to ask God for forgiveness later for lying to them. I knew He would understand.
The Bishop said I would need to write letters to these men and give them to the bishop, along with addressed envelopes and, after reading and approving them, to ensure I was properly repentant the bishop would mail them for me. They wanted to make certain that I had properly repented of my sins. In my letters I would need to explicitly apologize for any sexual activity in which I had engaged. (God only knows if they have photo copies to this day… glued into that little black book.)
I felt violated all over again. It still is not easy talk about what happened at that meeting. Even though I have released them and moved on, the scars remain, and below the scar a little tenderness. I share it here because of the number of people who have experienced, in one form or another, this level of spiritual abuse and shame. It is a difficult thing to recover from. But it is possible.
My healing has come from taking this experience and contrasting it with who God is, based on what I know from the Bible. When I accepted Jesus weeks before this event, it was through the story of the woman brought to Jesus to be stoned, after being caught in adultery. (John 8:1 – 11) The freedom I felt when I heard Jesus’ words, “I don’t condemn you either, go, and don’t live in sin any longer,” drew me to Him.
Jesus knew the woman’s sins, but He didn’t go over the list. That isn’t what He wrote in the sand and he didn’t have a little black book. He simply offered grace and forgiveness.
I couldn’t reconcile that story and my salvation, with the questions I was asked and the notes I watched the Bishop write in his little black book. I couldn’t reconcile what I felt when that song drew me to Christ, with the violation I felt in that room.
Regardless of the intent of their hearts, these men had it very wrong and misrepresented God’s heart to the extreme. I had to make a decision, as everyone does who suffers spiritual abuse. Would I allow humans to define God, or would I let God define Himself?
© Trudy Metzger 2012
Go to First Post In This Series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/
Very thought provoking! While I have not encountered spiritual abuse in the church, at least not at the level you describe, the theme of following God vs. man is alive and well in many churches and worthy of examination. Anyway, I’m so sorry that the best intentions of these men fell so short, but not sorry that God has redeemed you in such a beautiful way.
Thank you Monica! God has been kind and gentle with me, even when the journey was not. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I am thankful that I understand others who are going through Spiritual Abuse so that I can encourage them through it.
Blessings on you Trudy for sharing your story.
Thank you Cameron! And thank you for reading it. Blessings to you!
I’ve often thought that the commandment about taking God’s name in vain had more to do with spiritual abuse than it did with cussing. I could be wrong here, but if we justify things in God’s name that even He doesn’t justify, if we condemn things in His name that even He does not condemn, then we are elevating ourselves to a position above Him. And that would be using His name in an empty way, robbing Him of His significance. Just imagine how God must feel when His name is used to bolster some mortals’ perceived authority, making Him out to say something He never said. And then using that to shame or frighten someone into obedience. Just something I ponder from time to time…
That is a profound thought! I have never thought of it that way before, however, that makes perfect sense! I’ve always believed the abuse of power, especially using God’s name, offends the heart of God. This gives more clarity as to one of the reasons why.
When we do things, like manmade rules and interpretation of scripture, and offer that as a gift of worship and obedience, God will graciously accept it as such. (Great example is the cultural attire we grew up with) The problem is when we use it for manipulation and fear-mongering. That is where we cross a line, don’t you think?