The last few episodes of my podcast have been dealing with spiritual abuse and false teachers. It’s not the most traditional Christmas topic I know. However, if you cut through the decorations, manger scenes, and fuzzy feelings, I think this is exactly what Christmas is about.
Knowing our broken human tendency towards religion, power, and control, the Almighty God became a human being. He came in humility and gentleness, without demanding anything from us or exerting any power or control over us. Jesus lived among humankind for three decades, as the exact image of God, showing us the heart of the Father before making the ultimate sacrifice. Rather than demanding religious behaviors from us, God appeased Himself.
And that is the real point of Christmas. 🙂
Brokenness is all around us, even within communities of Christians. I know that many of you have experienced church hurt or spiritual abuse within your church setting. Or maybe the abuse came from Christians who weren’t a part of your church. Maybe it was an organization, or Bible study, or youth group. Whatever the situation, you came away broken, wounded, and confused.
Now what? How do we heal from this kind of pain? Will things ever be normal again?
This post and the podcast that accompanies it (dropping at 5pm tonight) won’t have all the answers. There is no quick fix. Honestly, you won’t ever go back to the person you used to be. There will always be residual junk to deal with: scars and triggers that are now a part of you.
I recently came across this nine minute video from Lina AbuJamra who worked at Harvest Church in Chicago and experienced immense brokenness while there. I’ve never heard anyone express my feelings so perfectly. She nails it.
We know what it is to be broken. Let’s keep talking about healing.
The goal of healing isn’t to bring you back to where you used to be. It’s to make you healthy. And you may discover someday, as I have, that you are healthier because of the wounding. Despite the pain that I’ve gone through, honestly because of it, I am softer. I care more about people’s hearts and less about their outward behavior. I am much quicker to give grace because I have a better understanding of how much grace God has given me.
Am I fixed? No (laughs). There is still a wound. There are still things that trigger me. I am still skeptical about church leadership and people in power. But I am healing.
And I want to share some things that have helped me heal with you.
Things to know:
- Give yourself time. People take a varying amount of time to heal from spiritual abuse depending on who they are and how they process etc. Don’t rush it. Don’t feel guilty because you are still sad and angry. You have been hurt and it’s okay to not be okay right now.
- Feel ALL the feelings. So often in Christianese Land only positive feelings are acceptable. That’s a lie. Don’t minimize what happened or the negative feelings you feel.
- Avoid spiritual bypassing. I didn’t know this was a thing until recently, but it’s so good. Spiritual bypassing is when we use spirituality to avoid dealing what’s actually going on in our hearts. We can pray about something or think I just need to forgive. We can quote verses or use Christianese phrases, but we are really just trying to ignore heart issues. Deal with your heart issues!
- Give yourself grace. Grace may be a foreign term to you depending on the type of spiritual abuse you’ve been through. Shame and guilt are not from God. Relax, let down your guard, and allow yourself to lament. Grace is a beautiful thing.
Things to do:
- Find a good therapist. Not all therapists are created equal, so look for someone who comes with excellent recommendations. Validation is a huge part of recovery. Having someone else tell you that you aren’t crazy, and the stuff you’ve experienced is wrong, and that you’ve been hurt goes a LONG way in healing.
- Find safe people and if possible a safe community. I know that not all churches are safe. But finding a Christian community of people who understood, gave grace, and allowed me to be broken, also allowed me to heal.
- Get a new Bible translation. This one was huge for me! I could hardly read my old Bible because people from my cultic organization were talking in my head. Getting a different translation opened the Bible up to me again. I was able to read it for myself and seeing the context around misused passages allowed me to find truth for myself. On a similar note, learn about good hermeneutics. Discovering that there was a proper way to read the Bible based on understanding principles of literature was incredibly liberating.
- Don’t pressure yourself to perform spiritually. If you need a break from reading the Bible or formal praying or whatever other spiritual behavior you were burned by, that’s okay.
- Start a lie journal. As you recognize lies that you were taught or that you just believe about yourself or God or spirituality, write them down. Leave a line for the truth when you discover that as well. This allows you to remember the lies and choose to believe truth even when you don’t feel it.
- Read about Jesus. For some reason false teachers seem to fixate most on the God in the Old Testament. I think He is easier to twist than Jesus is. So I would encourage you, when you are ready, to being reading the gospels. Jesus shows us who God is, and if our view of god doesn’t match up with Jesus then that god in our head probably isn’t real.
I don’t have all the answers, just my own story. And for better or worse, spiritual abuse is a part of that story. I’ve come to grips with the fact that the things I’ve experienced will affect me for the rest of my life. But even as they’ve broken me, God has used that brokenness to draw me closer to His heart.
Although there was a time when I would have thought I was crazy, I can honestly say now that I am better for having been broken.
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Books that may (or may not) be helpful:
- Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero
- Spiritual Sobriety by Elizabeth Esther
- The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
Looking for the Real God Podcast Links: