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Refer to Step 1: I acknowledge that my life is shipwrecked and not where I want it to be.

 

On the surface, the first step may appear to be the simplest in any type of recovery. All you have to do is recognize your situation accurately and acknowledge it. That’s simple, right?

In one sense, it is the easiest step, but for more people than not, it’s by far the most difficult. This is because you have to “admit” you’re not okay the way you are; you need help. For nearly everybody, especially believers who think they should “have it all together,” acknowledging they do not, can be the most difficult thing in the world. Facing reality often is.

For nearly everybody, it takes substantial time and enormous heartache to be willing to seek help. This just seems to be part of human nature. But this is what is required—seeking and accepting help. You have to admit you are not all right the way you are, and you will not be all right without getting the help you need.

Step 1 is about denial—about telling yourself a lie, believing it, and insisting it is true. Denial is the false belief—maintained steadfastly—that you have everything under control, when you clearly do not. It is the inability to look at life and say, “How have I allowed myself to become like this?” Those in denial insist:

  • I’m fine.
  • I’m okay the way I am.
  • There’s nothing wrong with me.
  • I don’t need help.
  • Leave me alone!

 

Denial can be more pervasive for those who have been religiously abused than for alcoholics or drug addicts. The reason is simple: you are never put in jail for driving under the influence of being abused. This kind of devastation is primarily internal. It’s in your heart and in your soul, where the destruction manifests itself in negative emotions and attitudes. Shame, bitterness, resentment, hatred, and revenge are its fruits.

Unlike the effects of alcoholism, you will not develop cirrhosis of the liver—just hardheartedness, which can be equally devastating. This is why it’s so difficult for many to admit their lives are shipwrecked. They can’t see the destruction from the outside, but it’s there—just below the surface, poised to wreak havoc in their lives.

This is certainly no way to live, nor is it God’s Will for your life to have so little meaning. So, if you’re ready to be done with the high price of low living, join me in this prayer of surrender.

 

Father,

I’m not where I want to be—

Not even close.

I’m not the person I want to be—

Nor the person I’m capable of being.

Even worse, the gap between the two

Is increasing, rather than diminishing.

If I’m being honest with myself,

Which I routinely try to avoid,

I constantly and repeatedly excuse

My poor behavior and my poor attitude.

I don’t like myself the way I am.

I’m a pathetic substitute for what I should be—

For what I know You want me to be.

 

But it’s even worse than this.

Nearly everyone who knows me well

Recognizes that my life is shipwrecked.

I may look acceptable to casual observers,

But to those who know me—

To those who know what I’m capable of being,

I’m certain they don’t like what they see.

How could they? Neither do I.

My intimacy with You has evaporated,

Even though I pretend that it hasn’t.

Father, I know who I am,

And I acknowledge this to You.

I will no longer pretend to be what I am not.

I have traveled the wrong road for so long

I’m not certain I can ever

Follow the correct path again,

But I want to more than anything.

Admitting this truth to You frightens me.

I have refused to face the truth for so long,

But I am now willing to do so.

I know I can’t change on my own.

Without Your help, I have no chance at all.

Will You meet me on my journey?

Will You hold my hand and touch my heart?

Will You be there for me and not leave me behind?

Will You, Father? Will You?

Without Your help I will never make it on my own.

I come to You humbly, in Christ’s precious Name.

—Amen

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25a)


Unanswered Prayer

 

Refer to Step 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with the Lord, asking Him to reveal His will to me and to provide me with the power to carry it out.

 

I strain toward God; God strains toward me. I ache for God; God aches for me. Prayer is mutual yearning, mutual straining, mutual aching.

—Macrina Wiederkehr

 

If you travel in Christian circles, what is it that fellow believers most admire? Is it a person who is effective at evangelism? Is it someone who provides substantial financial support for the church? Is it someone who suffers and dies gracefully, never reproaching God? Maybe it’s someone with the gift of service—someone who helps others as part of the church’s community outreach?

While all of these things are admired, I believe that the quality most admired is when someone always seems to have his or her prayers answered. This—more than any other quality—appears to be universally admired by Christians. The reason for such esteem is simple: most people rarely have their prayers answered.

In modern Christendom, the whole concept of prayer has become distorted and flawed. Prayer isn’t getting an answer from God; prayer is becoming one with God, so that you begin to think like He does. When your prayers go “seemingly” unanswered, you need to dig deeper into the matter until you understand what God is trying to teach you.

When the Lord prayed, He never wondered whether or not the Father would answer Him. God always did. It’s the same for all of God’s children. He always answers our prayers, but He almost never answers them in ways that we predict. This doesn’t reveal God’s limitation but ours. His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts.

Therefore, when it seems like you are praying to a brick wall, there’s a reason for it. Instead of getting frustrated or mad, it’s far wiser to change the way you are praying. Rather than praying for your desired result, start praying to understand what God is trying to teach you instead. If you do, your growth will be exponential. If you don’t, you’ll remain frustrated and immature.

 

And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray was we should, but he Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep to for words; and He who searches the hears knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Jack Watts


Learning to Listen

 

Refer to Step 8: I will share my experience and my own wrongdoing with a trusted friend, confessing the exact state of my heart.

 

 

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

—Ernest Hemingway

 

 

Perhaps the greatest service you can provide to another human being is to listen to them—to listen to exactly what they are really saying. In Christian circles, the art of listening is not promoted as much as it should be.

For those of us who have worked the 11 Steps to recovery from religious abuse, however, there is very little that is as important as listening. We know how easy it is for others who have had their walk with the lord derailed by an abuser. Because it has happened to us, we are well positioned to help others get back on track with the Lord.

The importance of learning good listening skills cannot be overestimated. When someone is abused, he or she often resorts to self-defeating behavior to medicate the pain they have experienced. This behavior—whether it involves medicating with sex, alcohol, drugs, pornography, over spending, or over eating—creates feelings of guilt and low self-esteem, making the abused person feel like they are as worthless as their abuser said they were.

Experiencing a mountain of guilt—based on their behavior, the abused person becomes extremely self-protective. They become very hesitant to open up to anybody, especially a Christian. They are fearful of further abuse and of being judged harshly. They may talk but, more often than not, they will never open up willingly, allowing you inside their hearts. You have to earn that right, and you do so by listening. Once you have established trust, they will open up to you much more freely.

Because there is such a need, those of us in recovery must be quick to listen, while never being judgmental of the wounded person. If you can learn to do this, you will be of great value to the Lord. Always remember, He already has plenty of people who are quick to condemn those who are wounded and hurting. Don’t be one of them.

 

This you know, my beloved brethren. But let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. (James 1:19)

Jack Watts


 

 

Refer to Step 5: I recognize that the only way back to a productive life is exactly the way I came. Therefore, I commit to repairing my relationship with God and making amends with everyone I have wronged along the way.

 

 

A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.

—Michael G. Cioppa

 

After making an apology for poor behavior, there’s an overwhelming sense of relief, which leaves you feeling calm—lighter than air. You say to yourself, “That wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be.” If that was all there was to it, you would be correct, but there’s another part that’s more difficult—much more difficult. It’s making amends for what you’ve done wrong.

For example, if someone treated you unkindly, and you’ve maligned that person’s character in response, essentially bearing false witness against that person, an appropriate amend would be to go back to those you have deceived to set the record straight. This is necessary in spite of what has been done to you. That’s because you’re the one in recovery, making you responsible for your behavior and not that of the other person.

Resolving a situation like this is never an easy task. Receiving forgiveness from someone by making an apology is comparatively easy to making amends that fit the situation. Additionally, making amends runs counter to our prevailing American culture. We want to ask forgiveness while skipping restitution. By believing an apology is all that’s required, you might think you’re avoiding the hardest part, but you’re also relinquishing your right to a profound blessing.

This is where substantive change in your character can occur. For that to happen, however, you have to travel the full distance and make amends for your behavior. In essence, you’re saying, “I used to be this way, but no longer. As part of my apology to you, I make a commitment to never behave like this again. To prove my sincerity, I’m also going back to the people I’ve deceived about you, and I’m going to tell them the truth. I’m sorry. It will never happen again.” Then do it.

Making amends like this is difficult, but it’s what changes you, producing real and substantive character transformation. By doing this, you refuse to circumvent the truth. You refuse to deflect. You refuse to practice denial.

When you face the truth courageously, remember that God has your back every step of the way. Responding like this will change you from the inside out. It’s where recovery principles weave themselves into the fabric of your being, and you start to grow into the person you’re meant to be.

Jack Watts

Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may gave something to share with him who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:28-29)

 


Puffed-Up Ministers

 

Refer to Step 4: I recognize that God is not the abuser; people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

 

Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence; it is the action of impurity upon impurity.

—T. S. Eliot

 

In modern day Christendom, the idea of being called to the ministry has undergone a change—at least for many. Because of this change, which at first is subtle in a person, the seeds of religious abusiveness become fertile. In the early church and in the Scriptures, being called to the ministry meant that a person was called to serve others, regardless of how those served might respond. Because the person called was serving the Lord, while serving others, fulfillment came by being faithful to God and to no one else.

By the nature of the office, a minister is the servant of others; or, at least, that’s what the person is supposed to be. In this generation, however, this is no longer the norm. It has flip-flopped. Now, it is the minister who is served and not the other way around.

Because of the minister’s skill and calling, they have been elevated to a class above those to whom they have been called to serve. This reversal of positions has become so entrenched ministers have become celebrities, adored by their followers like rock stars or sports figures. This transformation has become so accepted that few realize how far it has drifted from the original model.

Part of the problem is the terminology hasn’t changed. Ministers still obsequiously refer to themselves as servants but, in their hearts, many are anything but servants, especially those who become abusive. They are the lords; and when someone gets in their way, the offending person is castigated and discarded, being maligned by “God’s servant” in the process.

This kind of treatment has become so routine that millions have been abused by those who have been called to serve them. It’s one of the major reasons why there are so many have abandoned going to church.

 

And when it came about that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” (Acts 1025-26)

Jack Watts


Father,

There was a path that seemed so promising—

A road that looked like it was Your way,

But it was not. There were far

Too much compromise involved

To be something that You would honor

And, in the deepest recesses of my heart,

I knew it—in spite of all my protestations.

Nevertheless, I followed the wrong path,

And paid a terrible price for doing so.

Later, with no other recourse available,

I came to You once again—sorrowful,

Humbled, and crushed—with hat in hand—

Ready and willing to accept necessary change.

This time, instead of medicating my pain with vice,

I endured the obligatory heartache for a period

That I thought was far too long, but You knew

Was exactly what was required.

You promised that if I would humble myself

You would exalt me at the proper time.

I didn’t believe this was true—not literally

Nor that You would do it—not really.

But You have, and I can clearly see

Your hand in the restoration of my life.

Now, I stand strong, far wiser, and more resilient,

With a countenance that is calm and sane.

Humbling myself because I had no alternative,

I never considered that in Your wisdom,

You had orchestrated my circumstances

In a way that I could do nothing else.

This wasn’t the road I would have chosen for myself,

But it’s the road You have chosen for me.

I wish I could say that I have learned all my lessons,

But I know who I am. I know that in my own heart—

I am prone to wander—prone to leave the God I love.

Father, take my heart and prevent it from

Following another fruitless path leading nowhere.

In Christ’s Name, amen.

Jack Watts


Father: 

In the midst of my despair,

When at night I longed for the day,

And in the daytime desired it to be evening,

When sorrows made it difficult to breathe,

You were always there beside me,

Even when I was certain that You were not.

As fear relentlessly rattled my being,

You continued transforming who I would become.

Ever mindful of my frailties and weaknesses,

You purged and pruned and cleansed.

Then, one day, as I waited for the gloom

To overwhelm me once again,

Which had become my daily routine,

It was gone, vanishing like it had never been there,

Leaving me stronger, more resilient, and far wiser.

Journal: Have you ever had an experience like this? If so, write about it.

 

If you ask the spiritual leader about his or her display of materialism, they will probably say, “It’s proof of God’s blessing.” Then, they will be quick to add, “You can also receive abundance like this, if you will give, expecting great things in return.” If you use your head and think for yourself, you’ll recognize that this is proof that the leader is adept at manipulating people to make sacrificial gifts to the ministry. Those who give, however, are not innocent in this scenario. They are giving with the expectation of abundance to follow, which means it’s not true giving at all but a quid pro quo barter with God.

Journal: Examine your own conscience about this. When you give, is it really giving, or is it giving to get something in return? Write out your answer.

 

To experience the highest level of recovery, not only do your actions have to display honesty but your thoughts and desires must also be based upon integrity. There’s simply no other way. Without being honest at this level—where your conscience is completely clear—you will never be the person you are capable of being. It’s just not possible.

Journal: What about your thoughts? React to the statement above, either positively or negatively, writing out your reply.

 

In recovery from religious abuse, helping others along the path to spiritual freedom is also an integral part of recovery, but it’s a little different than in a substance abuse program. To be the greatest help to someone who has been spiritually abused, you must learn to identify God’s interest in them rather than your own.

Journal: Do you know how to identify God’s interests in another? Write out your answer.

 

After living in recovery for a while, however, things may get a little stale, and you may slip back into some old patterns of behavior, which probably will not serve you well. When this happens—and it will—you need to exercise your will and get back to work on yourself. Remember this: Recovery is not a destination but a continuous work in progress. In one sense, you never arrive—you’re not supposed to.

Question: What do you think about this? Have you ever considered recovery to be a process and not a final destination? Do you realize that developing a new way of life is the answer and not the method?

Jack Watts

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