Monday, March 19, 2018

Spiritual Abuse Nonsense

"In the past, I've never looked at you as your weight. But from now on, when I look at you, your weight is all I will see." 

Woah! Shocking? Sticks and stones may break my bones but those words still sometimes haunt me. And that was a bit ago. Spiritual abuse is the topic today. And we are overcoming it!

So, let's talk about Spiritual Abuse. And let's try to do it in a godly way. Because it is real, it is devastating and it is evil. And scripture has a lot to say, And so do I. Because I am a victim and also a survivor. I pray to God I've never been a perpetrator. Let's also examine what is NOT abuse. And it will be a rough read and raw. I'm going to tell you about some real events. It won't be pretty. But hang on. Jesus always  holds us in His hand. Always.

Victim is not a word I would ever use to describe myself, as a rule. I am a survivor and an over comer. I am sassy and fierce and a rock! I have walked through hell and back and if you remember, I Don't Even Want To Smell Of Smoke. I do not sit around and wallow, for the most part. I don't ask anyone to feel sorry for me, which is good because I am not a person that people care to worry about too much. (Too sassy maybe? Too blunt, plainspoken? Yup. I get it, No shade throwing here. I can clearly take care of myself.) If I have a pity party, I am party of one in general. I am a "pick myself up by my bootstraps and man up" kind of girl. I am strong, I am invincible, I am...well you get it. Yet I  spent a few years, trying to get over some of the most hurtful things I've ever experienced in my life. I'm hoping to help you if you've been there. And if maybe you see yourself in the evil parts of this, it's not over for you. There is always forgiveness. And I'm still a work in progress. But I have forgiven. I have been forgiven. And I have found peace. 

Let's wade in easy and start with criticism,  Criticism isn't always abuse.  And it can even be well meaning,  It doesn't always come from an evil person who intends harm. I think. I mean, don't we all know how to fix other people? The log in "their" eye is so obvious! Let's help "them!" Hurt feelings be damned! (To hell ya'll. I'm not a potty mouth. Don't write to my <redacted> and tell <redacted> I've converted to crass language. <Redacted> tried to help me think of a better word. Disregarded? Danged? Ignored? None really make the point. I'm leaving the word in and your objection has been noted and reported to management.) I want to start this thing off with this example from my own life because I still find it downright funny. A pastor's wife needed to meet with me, come along side me, if you will. She was not rude or condescending. Just to the point. Her concern? My weight. She wouldn't admit that it was a problem for her. Her issue, she said, was that it didn't seem to be a problem for me. I carried myself like a " regular" size person. I seemed to like myself. As the Women's Bible Study Teacher and Youth High School Girl's Teacher, I was clearly sending an ungodly message, as a leader (bless my heart) that God was OK with being overweight. That is not the message I was trying to send. The message I was trying to live out was that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and I am a daughter of the King, made in  the image of GOD ALMIGHTY,  and I am also one who is struggling but will not walk with my head down in shame. WHAT? My God is not a Good of shame. Scripture says: 
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I KNOW THAT FULL WELL." Psalm 139:14. 

"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in our own image, in our likeness...'" "So God created Mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and FEMALE He created them." Genesis 1: 26-27 

These verses tell me who I am. No person gets to do that. But I also don't pretend a weight problem is not a problem and can even be sin. (This will be a theme as we go on.) And this woman didn't hurt my feelings. And to be sure, I addressed it in class lest anyone be led astray by my great hair (boy, do I miss it) and esteem. It led to a great discussion and no one was confused as to whether I was pleased with my weight. And we discussed the logs in our eyes. After all, scripture doesn't say not to judge, just be sure you're not guilty too. And this well put together woman had no log in her eye and her intent was honest, I think. This was not abuse. It was not mean. It was not bullying. I didn't enjoy it. So what? We don't have to get our drawers in a twst if there's no need. Try to get the "constructive" out and move on. 
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others. you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Matthew 7: 1-2

I struggle with my weight. It's a life long struggle. I struggled with it before I even had anything to struggle with because it was my identity in my family. My sister was the "skinny one" so I was the "fat one" even though I wasn't really fat at all. "You're just chubby, honey," well, at least as far as any adult in my family was concerned. And they were very verbal my whole life so it is a hard shell I have there. I developed it early and it is hard to break through to cause harm. I have a mirror and I buy my clothes. I do not live in denial. I also have a doctor who keeps my feet on the ground and is not playing with me or my health. I also feel sure God wants us to have healthy bodies. Scripture doesn't really address weight loss. Probably because very few people had the privilege of "fat" back in that day. But about "fit," we have some direction.
 "Don't you realize that your body is the temple of The Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a HIGH price. So you must honor God with your body." I Corinthians 6: 19-20.

"Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- this is your true and proper worship." Romans 12:1

I'm including this so you don't think I'm ignorant to the scripture. I don't pick and choose what I like. I am NOT saying it's good, or OK to be overweight. It's also not OK to pick on or make fun of people with that struggle any more than it is OK to do the same to anyone with any other struggle, or sin. God is not mean. He does not tell us to be mean. 

Here is a real life example of mean. And make no mistake, it's also abusive. I have a friend who is one of the most amazing people I've ever met. He has personally invested in my family. He invests in the lives of others much more than his own. If there is any need, I mean ANY NEED, this man will help you out. No questions asked. He loves the Lord with all his heart, soul and mind and has dedicated his life to sharing that every way he can. EVERY WAY! He works in ministry. If you know him, you do not see his weight. It's likely you see all of those things I just mentioned and more. And I've also witnessed him being the butt of his boss's fat jokes. I've witnessed his boss belittling him and preaching publicly against his weight and his habits! I witnessed the boss going to an event held by my friend and doing pull ups on the beams from the ceiling while making fun of the fact that my friend probably couldn't do it. Who was his boss? His PASTOR! What does scripture say? A LOT! A small sampling:
"Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He gives favor." Proverbs 3:34
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such that is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Ephesians 4:29. 
That does not mean build up your muscles doing pull ups at the church pot luck y'all! It means to build up, lift up, encourage the BODY, our BROTHERS AND SISTERS. This is so abusive. It is tearing down. Suddenly people may begin to see you as your weakness and not your strength. Remember, this pastor, as well as you, are fearfully and wonderfully made in God's image! If this is a practice you see in your life or the life of someone you know, put a stop to it. Do not stand for it. Do not just walk out in disgust (as I did.) Go to your brother and show him his fault. Don't allow it to continue. It may take time, but a true person of God will appreciate you showing him or her their error. Be prepared to be disliked if necessary. Take a stand. And don't be afraid to apologize to your friend if you didn't do what was needed, even if it's 9 years later. 

In the Church the only sin we love to cast stones at more than the ones we aren't committing, are ones we've overcome. Addiction, abortion, weight issues and adultery, among others. No one is harder on a person who is overweight than a person who WAS overweight 5 minutes ago. And we can be MEAN about it while sounding like we're trying to help. ("Oh Honey, you have the most beautiful face, but I'm worried about your health. Have you tried {insert health/ diet supplement/ diet book/ celebrity diet popular at the moment here}?  I was HUGE, like you, until I discovered it! God used it to help me overcome my ungodly ways. It will save your life and you'll be as pretty as your face. You'll never need to eat again!") Ugh! 
("Donna, your weight talk is making me uncomfortable," you are likely saying by now. Don't worry. It's going to get worse then better. Well that's the intent. I'm not finished writing yet. So keep reading. Unless "fat" is a trigger for you. In that case, hit the X and go with God.)
So let's get to the ugly. Real ugly. Evil ugly. Then let's talk about the solutions. Because why point out a problem if you don't point out solutions.

"In the past, I've never looked at you as your weight. But from now on, when I look at you, your weight is all I will see." 

We, a group of 5 were together in a room. Four of us had made the other one, my boss, very unhappy and we were apologizing. Sincerely. Even though we had done nothing wrong but be misunderstood. Still, I had asked them to join me in apologizing because we had inadvertently hurt his feeling and I felt apology was the right thing to do. But he was mad. Very mad. Hulking out, scary, might rip my face off and wear my skin as a mask, mad. In all of my years in Church and in Ministry, I've never witnessed this. Usually, people apologize sincerely and the offended forgive. Not this day, not this man. Not my boss, who was also my pastor. This man could not control himself. And for me, it was terrifying My friend Kristine was one of those there that evening and she wrote about this incident twice. Once here: Glimpse of Being Fat and once here: Too Fat and Back- a glimpse of my journey of acceptance and healing. She's a gifted writer and I urge you to read it. 

I had been working as a volunteer Women''s Ministry Director on staff at a small church. And it had been very hard. I had been pushed as low as I could go. That had never happened before. I am generally not treated poorly. People are generally kind or at least nice to my face. I am not bullied or put my face. I am also not a person who accepts abuse. I never understood those who stayed in abuse. I always thought I certainly wouldn't put up with it. Not for a minute. Until I did. Impossible demands? No problem, I'll meet them. Lots of yelling at me then apology and asking forgiveness? I forgive.  I would quit my "job"and then change my mind. Seeds of discord were planted behind my back and I was made to apologize to anyone who didn't like my decisions. Then I had to try to make them happy. No problem, it costs me nothing to apologize and it keeps the peace, was my thinking. Making sure that I knew I had no voice with the church leadership because he was their leader happened often. Forced to try to please every single person? Yup. He acted like we were friends one minute and enemies the next. So confusing. Such a whiplash of confusing emotions. If someone gossiped, there was "gossip in the Women's Ministry" and all of leadership was alerted to my failure before I was.  Was I blameless? I honestly have no idea so I can't claim to be blameless. My personality was certainly shut down. I could barely hold my head up and sometimes could barely get out of bed. There were days I cried all day. I felt I was disappointing God. Why didn't I just leave? I really felt God had put me there and I was hoping to be used of Him for however long I could endure. I was mostly alone. My one friend that I had left at the church was driven out. I was afraid to talk to anyone, even those who had been my friends long before any of us joined this church. Most people were afraid to speak to me. So I held on too tight. I didn't let anyone in. I appeared rigid, unfriendly, unapproachable and disapproving. I held my head too high. I shut down my listener. I autopiloted my way through. That was all  ongoing for a couple of years before the meeting above. After that, this man and I did have a Matthew 18:15 meeting. (Look it up) I was physically afraid but scripture says go tell him his fault and I did. I cried the snotty, ugly cry through the whole thing but I got through it. And it made him feel powerful because everyone knows I don't cry in public so I had no power there. But still,  I hoped it was getting better. The first change I noticed was not good. He began calling me "Miss Donna." (I'm older than him by 3 years, I think) Soon, everyone was calling me "Miss Donna" and I felt old and useless. So,  it was not going to get better. And it didn't. I stayed for another year, believe it or not, and then I resigned and not a day too soon. In months the walls of everything came crumbling down around the man. At least that's what I thought had happened. But sometimes, evil is allowed to flourish. I did not remain silent. But I also didn't tell anyone else's story. I only told my story to those who asked. No one cared, really. People called, but most didn't care what happened to me. They wanted gossip. So where is the good in all of that? Well, there is no good in all of that. Scripture says: 
"And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who have been called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
I loved God and was called. But there is one thing it doesn't say. It doesn't say "all things work together for good RIGHT NOW." I prayed and I waited. And I hurt. I couldn't walk in a church without fleeing and having an anxiety attack. No pastor would I trust. I was raw. And my Church family was hurting too, over different things. They couldn't be there for me even had they wanted to. We all sat and licked our wounds in separate corners. It was worse for them because the confusion continued for them. Tragic. Inexcusable. Yet still, forgivable. 

Why did I tell you all of that in such detail? First, God "sends" me so many people who have similar stories. I want you to know you aren't alone. I sat in a lecture recently on kinds of abuse and part of the lecture was on Spiritual Abuse. Yet, it was brushed right over and most knew nothing about it. So I can help there. I know. And with knowledge comes responsibility. And I want you to know there is healing. I want you to know that neither God nor his Word ever changes. When He says He will never leave you or forsake you, you can be sure of it, even if you can't imagine it or feel it in the moment. God has chosen to use people to do His work here on Earth and as it turns out, we are a mess! None of us is perfect. Not a single one. And God desires to have a personal relationship even with those who struggle with doing the right thing. Because there is forgiveness for everyone. And as I remind myself of that, I want to remind you of that too. No matter which end of those stories you may relate to.
"If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9.
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." 1 Chronicles 7:14. 
"Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sin is proclaimed to you." Acts 13:38

Second, there is power in bringing things to light. It's therapeutic. It's healing and it's also important not to sit by and allow evil to prevail. If you have a story, tell it. But tell the whole story. Not just the bad parts or just the good parts. Scripture says that what is done in the dark will come to the light. I pray that I am a light and that I am transparent. I don't claim perfection.
"For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." Luke 8:17. 
"For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open." Mark 4:22
(These are both the same story. It's important enough to be listed in two of the Gospels. Don't put your light under the bed y'all!)

Third, I want you to see the pattern of abuse. It's not special. I wasn't special. It's as old as time. It's textbook. But I couldn't see it from the bottom of my pit at the time. If it resonates with something inside you, I beg you to do something about it. Reach out to me. I will help you get help. I know people. They can help. Because you should know, you probably weren't the first. I wasn't. I was pretty far down a list.. I pray that he has gotten some good help. I pray there has been repentance and restoration of relationships. I pray that the cycle ended. As you can see, I pray for this person. First, because scripture says to, second, because it's healing for me and lastly, there is a long history in scripture of imprecatory prayer that turned into real, honest forgiveness. Here are a few books that can help you in identifying and overcoming Spiritual Abuse. They were helpful to me. They aren't theology books, but still good reads.

And the final thoughts are these. I have not been left nor forsaken by my God, not even in the darkest of days. I have found ways to continue doing what God has called me to do. In places and ways I never even imagined or dreamed. I am able to understand the abused in ways I could not before. Walking in someone's shoes is not imperative for understanding, but it does not hurt at all and it sure helps to have empathy. And we have been able to go to a church service without fear, heart palpitations, anxiety attacks or running out. Because I am loved. I am precious to God. He has sent people into my life in surprising ways to minister to me. This was new for me. I'm used to being the one people go to. He has shown himself faithful. I am still in the struggle with my weight. We are not friends. I turned 50 recently and it really helped me focus on what is important. Christ and Him crucified. That's what I want to be my focus from now on. I want to hear well done. I don't want to even smell of smoke!

I'm going to give the last words to Kristine, taken from her blog. Because it's beautiful.
"Dear friends, I know I probably have offended some of you by this post.  I am very sorry that was not my intention, at all.  However, I felt very strongly that this needed to be said.  If you are one who is in my shoes, who feels unlovable because of the way you look or how you have performed know that you are loved.    Please know that God's love for you is not dependent upon anything you do, on how well you talk, or what you look like.  God's love is not based on anything you can do or be.  God loves you because you are His creation.  God loves you inexplicably and completely.  I will be praying that you will feel His love tonight. -Kristine

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