Spiritual Abuse: Introduction

Tears literally poured down her face as she spoke the words, sheer desperation in her voice, yet with hope and confidence in her words. “Trudy, they want me to repent and come back to believing what they believe. But I can’t do it. I just can’t do it now that I know Jesus.” These were the words spoken by a young woman–meaning my age or younger–who spent her entire life going to church, practicing a religion. After one encounter with Jesus, she saw that her congregation didn’t teach Jesus, but taught religion.

She went on to tell me how her family felt she had shamed them by leaving. They felt rejected even though she repeatedly told them she cared and loved them. It wasn’t good enough. If she refused to return to her congregation, she was not welcome in the family. She was shunned.

The church pursued her as well, telling her she would go go hell if she did not repent and reinstate her membership. By all external appearances she still held to every rule, every standard. What had changed was her belief system. She traded religion for relationship and she could not keep silent about that relationship with Jesus. She spoke with respect and honour even though she was deeply wounded by her family and the church.

Eyes pleading, she asked, “Trudy, what do I do? It hurts so bad!”

It is difficult to look into that depth of pain and know there is nothing that can be done to resolve the circumstances. The circumstances may never be made right. In that moment the only thing I can offer is to bring Jesus to the pain, and the pain to Jesus. The only thing I can do is help people in this situation understand how God sees them, how He loves them, how He grieves with them, and help them see in the Bible, that God is not like that!

I have heard these testimonies of pain frequently. The above story is not a one-time event, but a blend of repeated cries from women and men, deeply wounded by, typically well-meaning, religious leaders. Usually the leaders—be it Bishops, Priests, Elders, Ministers, Preachers, Pastors or other leaders—are only trying to ‘protect the flock’ from what they perceive to be deception or sin. That never makes it right. Spiritual abuse is wrong in every way, regardless of the intent of the heart, because it completely violates the heart of God and misrepresents who God is!

God called leaders to ‘shepherd the flock’–using biblical terminology, 1 Peter 5:1-3–not to control through manipulation and abuse. Never did the right to control enter into the equation in God’s leadership guide and it is not to be part of New Testament church life. Never can it or should it be accepted or blessed as such. We’ll touch on that again in another post.

Does this mean a church should be a ‘free for all’ and ‘do as you please’ with no one to hold the church accountable? By no means! But that’s a topic for another day. Today is merely an introduction to a very complex and multifaceted problem.

John 3:16-17         16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.     17. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through

The topic of spiritual abuse has been on my heart for weeks, but how does one go about tackling it? I’m not certain… but I’m about to find out. I want to spend a few blog posts looking at some of the ways that often well-meaning humans misrepresent the heart of God, especially within the context of spiritual abuse either in churches or Christian organizations.  Iwill not attack on them—that would serve no purpose whatsoever—but rather looking honestly at the pain, and then hearing what God says in His Word, for the purpose of inner healing. In the process we will explore the impact abuse has on victims because of lies they believe about God and themselves, and find God’s truth to break down the lies.

We will look at what we do know about God, based on stories in the Bible and especially drawing from the life of Christ, and explore the mystery of His heart and His character. Since He is Emmanuel, ‘God among us’, it seems most appropriate to watch God and learn the right way from Him. The best way to become like someone is to study the individual as closely as possible on a personal level. Jesus is ‘God in the flesh’ and therefore the best example and role model.

When we know someone personally and someone else comes along and tells the untruth about them, we are much more likely to take a step back and say, “No… I know that person. That can’t be right.” So to know Jesus, and know Him intimately, equips us to stand against the damage of spiritual abuse. Ultimately, spiritual abuse is rooted in misconceptions about God. If we know God intimately and personally, we have nothing to fear from Him or people around us—“…there is no fear in love…”—but when we don’t know Him we can be tossed about by the control and misrepresentation of men and women who profess Christ, but live out of selfish ambition.

Knowing God is the key to standing against spiritual abuse, manipulation and any form of spiritual control. God placed us here with the freedom—or God-given right—to choose our path, our faith, our allegiance. It is wrong that any human would try to take away what God has given us as a gift, and attempt to control and manipulate the mind through fear. God did not. Why should they?

That does not, however, remove God’s Word as Truth and authority. It doesn’t mean we should disrespect leadership. That is also not biblical.

In this series, as always, but especially here, I welcome feedback, suggestions, questions, thoughts challenges and anything you would like to share. I don’t have all the answers, but God’s Word does, so that is where I will go for answers. My one request is that we speak kindly and respectfully when we disagree, and that we don’t do any personal attacks. This can be a very sensitive topic and stir up a lot of anger in those who feel violated. The anger is not surprising or wrong, but what we do with it is critical. If you have suffered spiritual abuse, please don’t name the individuals responsible—I can’t approve that for my blog. If you need to vent or get something personal off your chest, or if you need prayer, email me at info(insert ‘at symbol’)faithgirlsunleashed.com and I will respond and will pray for you. Alternatively, if you would like contact information for a professional counsellor, I will be happy to do my research and try to connect you with someone in your area. (Canada and USA only) I am a certified life coach, speaker and trainer, not a counsellor.

As much as possible, I will post at least once a day—on a good day twice. If you share a story or a question, I may refer to it in my blog but will not share your name, location or any details that would expose you or make you vulnerable. If you do not wish for me to refer to it, please explicitly say so.

I look forward to finding God’s light, in a dark and painful journey. There is hope in every dark experience.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

God Doesn’t Play the Daisy Game

“He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me…. “

As a little girl, when I had a crush on a boy, I would play the daisy game. With each ‘he loves me’ the anticipation grew. But, as I neared the end, if it looked like it was going to end on ‘he loves me not’ I would throw the faulty daisy to the ground and start all over with a new one. Seems to me, as I recall it, that sometimes I would pull two petals at a time, if I grew impatient, just to get to the end faster. However, if it seemed to be in my favour,  I would go back to removing petals one at a time just to hear ‘he loves me’ in the ebd. Having heard what I wanted to hear–that I am loved–I would skip away happily.

It occurred to me recently that I used to play the daisy game with God.  Unfortunately when  I landed on ‘He loves me not’ I actually believed it. It wasn’t as simple as moving on until I ended with ‘He loves me’. I thought of my salvation as a fragile petal that could be plucked at will when something wasn’t right in my life. If I sinned or was angry, for example, a petal would fall and the echo in my heart would proclaim a resounding ‘He loves me not’. I didn’t have the courage to grab the next petal, clutch it in my hand and say “He loves me! Yes He does!” Instead I sank in defeat and as I did all the petals began to scream “He loves me not!” The moment I repented or had a happy-mood-swing, I felt loveable and claimed the next ‘he loves me’ petal, but they were fewer and farther in between with the passing of time.

My expectation at age 12, when I first ‘responded’ at Revival Meetings, following a hell fire and brimstone message, was that God would make me good. I thought He would miraculously make me perpetually joyful, obedient and victorious. As days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months and months turned to years, I discovered that the miracle cure didn’t work. Terrified of hell I kept trying but with no one to disciple me in my faith or mentor me, I became discouraged and by age fifteen I took the ‘God daisy’ and stomped on it. The hope of being loved or loveable was gone.

I left home a month before I turned sixteen and spent the next two years ripping bouquets of  daisies out of God’s hand and shredding the petals. Hurt, angry and desperately searching for love, I ran as far from God as I could, grabbing broken petals as I ran and begging for just one that would tell me I was loved.

A month after my eighteenth birthday I had a profound revelation through the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. As He spoke the words “neither do I condemn you” something happened in my spirit. In that instant I realized that every petal on every daisy I ripped from His hand and shredded said “I love you”.

God doesn’t play the daisy game. The moment we receive Him as our Lord and Saviour we are saved. Our salvation does not rise and fall, based on our humanity, nor our perfection or the lack of it.

The petals in His daisy bouquet simply say: “He loves me. He loves me lots!”

© Trudy Metzger 2012

To be a Friend of God

It all started with a random thought about my brother-in-law, Leonard Hursh, who is in ministry with the Eastern Mennonite church in Pennsylvania. That thought took me back to my own days in the Mennonite culture and I started recalling the preachers of my childhood. Some were dynamic speakers with passion for truth, regardless what their perception of truth was, and these men inspired me even where I did not agree with them. Some were very on target in their teachings, almost charismatic. Others were dryer than dinosaur bones. Yet others manipulated the mind out of a need for control and power. We saw it all, as most denominations and cultures do—the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

This thought led me to asking the question, Where was God? In a culture that had so much good in it, how was it that the true God seemed to have slipped into the shadows for many? Hidden at times, angry and in your face at other times. In a culture that prided itself in two main things—peace and humility—how did God become so violent and angry for some, or even for many?

This was not true in every conservative Mennonite denomination, or in every preacher, but my experience from age nine to fifteen often felt like a ‘graceless’ existence. Because of the hard-handed distant leadership of some key preachers and authority figures, I became disillusioned with God, faith, religion and, particularly, my denomination—the Conservative Mennonites. I have since learned to know many kind and caring individuals there, who are Born Again believers. Even in my childhood memories I can now find the good in those years of anxiety and fear, but at the time I was a lost child who mostly felt the anger, fear and shame.

Today, as my brain stumbled through the past, one memory overtook the others. It was not a one-time thing. It happened repeatedly, starting at age ten until I was about fourteen, in the days before my heart was completely hardened.

The song leader would get up, go to the front of the church, perch his Hymnal on the music stand, clear his throat, and announce the song number. As we began to sing, tears started to pour down my face and I could not stop them. There were a few songs that did this to me, but two especially disarmed me. I didn’t understand why then. I felt ashamed. Angry.

I presumed anyone within earshot of my sniffles or sobs, or anyone who saw the tears fall, silently prayed that I would repent, assuming I was feeling convicted of some great and horrible hidden sin. That was the only time we really saw tears in church. And that is why the tears made me angry, because I wasn’t convicted of sin.

Hidden behind that surface anger were feelings I couldn’t identify.

I recall one morning when the song leader chose both of the songs that so deeply touched me. Today, as the memories returned, I revisited the words of the songs and I started to let myself feel all of those things again. As I did, I allowed myself to explore those feelings and discovered a deep heart cry that I believe most of us have, if not all of us.

The first song, Precious Memories, tore at my heart. The only ‘memories’ I carried were of pain and trauma. I wondered what it would be like to sing that song and burst with joy, to know that the memories of family, love and closeness would go with you for life. Depressed and sad, tears spilled down my face. I wanted desperately to know love.

The second song, had I understood it all back then, was the definition of true love.

“I come to the Garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” (Couldn’t resist sharing…. As I wrote this I listened to Elvis Presley’s version of In The Garden on Youtube.)

A prayer I have prayed for years, and continue to pray, is that people will know me as someone who loves God and considers God to be my best friend, through Jesus. I want to be a friend of God. More importantly, I want God to know me as His friend—someone who is not afraid to identify with Him, even when it’s not popular.

James 2:23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.

Like Abraham, who made some pretty messed up decisions, and was still called God’s friend, I want that to be my story.  Though I’d be happy to do without the messed up decisions, it’s too late to avoid that part… I’ve already made those.

As I travelled down memory lane and felt the same emotions in these words, I realized that the tears were the tenderness in my heart for God, as my Friend, in the midst of the chaos and hell of the abuse and violence in my childhood. Reliving the memory, I see myself sitting in the Lakeview Conservative Mennonite church as an eleven year old girl, crying. I see Him walking beside me in a cool and quiet place—the garden of my heart—reminding me that I am His, engaging in conversation, listening to my pain, and telling me that I will not walk the path alone.

The song ends with needing to go, bringing with it a sense of sadness at needing to part and reminding us that our ‘this world life’ awaits, drawing us away from that sweet connection with God.

Thirty-two years have come and gone, since that beautiful spring morning when my heart cried out to know God that way, to be close, to be confident that I am His friend, that He values me and delights in me. Thirty-two years… and many, many rough waters later I see that I have what my heart cried for that day.

Life isn’t perfect. Heck, I’m not perfect so how could life be? I mess up. I sin. I fail. But always, always He is there, my ‘walking buddy’ ready to lift me up and encourage me to keep walking when I fall.

© Trudy Metzger 2012