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Changing Direction in Life


The Aftermath of Abuse

Refer to Step 3: I accept that the responsibility for getting back on track is mine and no one else’s.

Everything that is happening is ultimately for the good if we’re willing to face it head-on and use our adversities for soul growth.

—Joan Borysenko

Shortly after a person has been wounded by religious abuse, friends of the victim invariably say, “It will be okay. You just have to trust the Lord; that’s all.” With that, they are finished with the issue. No further practical help is offered. After a while, the victim doesn’t even receive a word of comfort from their fellow congregants because people tend to withdraw from someone who has been pushed aside. They simply don’t want to deal with all of the negativity. Who can blame them?

To the victim, however, such advice is meaningless. Instead of helping, platitudes like the one above tend to make a difficult situation even worse. As people withdraw, the abused person is left to deal with the problem by himself or herself. This is when many turn to self-defeating behavior. It provides relief from the pain—a one-day reprieve from reality. It’s also how people become “hooked” on alcohol, prescriptions, or inappropriate relationships—none of which work long-term.

When a person reaches his or her bottom, and there are no other options, that’s when they are finally willing to take the advise of their friends and “trust the Lord.” By this point, their emotional isolation has taken a substantial toll, and the person doubts that their life will ever be worthwhile again. When a person reaches this point, that’s when God’s presence and help become more real than ever. It’s when He touches the places that hurt, providing illumination, insight, understanding, and healing.

All that’s necessary for this to happen is one thing: the person must realize that the responsibility for getting back on tract is theirs and no one else’s. When they reach this point, when they become willing to admit this, their lives can begin to change for the better.

Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)

Jack Watts


From my weekly article in SONOMA CHRISTIAN HOME:

WHO WILL I BE FROM NOW ON?

Part of recovery—after enduring the initial trauma from your abuse—is determining who you intend to be for the rest of your life. You have to decide whether or not you will be a perpetual victim?

If this isn’t what you want, you will have to take the necessary steps to become the person you know you were created to be? Making this decision is an important step and needs to be made thoughtfully. Most don’t do this. Instead, they just drift along aimlessly, trying to forget about their painful experience.

Living in such denial isn’t a good strategy. It never works, especially with something as serious as abuse. Shortly after an abusive experience, most have a natural tendency to shrink away from conflict. They become tentative, insecure, and uncertain. Other people, by way of contrast, become cynical, jaded, hostile, and combative. Still others seem to fluctuate between the two, which is a particularly volatile mix, producing instability and acting-out behavior.

None of these reactive responses is desirable. If you want your life to count—really count—you’ll have to abandon your natural reactive tendencies, choosing instead to pursue proactively a life where you make a determined effort to change how you respond to your abuse. It’s critical to your recovery to do this.

If another abusive situation occurs, which may happen, although it might be difficult, taking a firm stand in direct opposition to the situation may be exactly what you are supposed to do. Even the Lord, who loved everybody, had conflicts with abusive, self-righteous religious leaders. So should we. It’s probably the best way to ensure that evil does not triumph.

As you pursue your recovery, your usefulness to the Lord and others will increase. If you are willing to be used, join me in this prayer:

Father,

My spirit has been rejuvenated.

Even my step feels lighter,

As the burden of my past has been

Lifted from my shoulders.

Now free to walk into the future,

Unencumbered by guilt, shame,

And all of my self-defeating behavior,

I want my life to have more meaning

Than the mediocrity that has become my routine.

The pursuit of valueless materialism no longer

Has the appeal it once held for me.

In fact, my definition of success has changed.

My spirit has been awakened, and I want

To spend all of my days, which You have numbered,

Doing what You would have me do—

What You have prepared for me.

I’ve learned that I can understand

Your leading as I look back,

Far better than by looking forward.

Whatever You have in store for me, Lord,

Regardless of what that might be,

That is where I want to spend my days.

Having wandered so far from You in the past,

I know the mischief I am capable of,

Which is not what I want for my life.

Father, guard my heart so that

I do not wander away from You again,

Pursuing fruitless, meaningless endeavors.

Let my heart rejoice in Your ways.

Give me peace, purpose, and the resolve

To accomplish Your will each day,

For as many days as I have left.

Thank You for healing my wounds,

In Christ’s Name I pray—Amen.

Jack Watts


God’s Touch Changes Everything

 

Refer to Step 10: I choose to believe God still has a purpose for my life—a purpose for good and not evil.

 

Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.

—George Sand

 

Salvation is easy. It doesn’t require a thing from either you or me, other than the acceptance of a free gift. Providing the gift is God’s part. He did it all, which is what love, mercy, and grace, are all about. That He loved you at your most unlovely moment is the essence of Christianity. It’s what makes Christianity truly unique and special.

That God was willing to reach down, touch you in your vulnerability, and lift you up is what makes having a relationship with Him so desirable. Once that happens, regardless of what anyone might tell you differently, you are a child of God’s and always will be.

At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be about. Unfortunately, people tend to forget the tenderness of their own experience, choosing instead to regiment a dynamic relationship, which can never be accomplished successfully. Through their efforts, they make Christianity hard, rigid, unyielding, and unforgiving. They try and make a deeply personal experience into something cold, austere, and systematic.

If a Christian is smug and self-righteous, legalistic and condemning, haughty and judgmental, then how attractive can that be? Not very! Most people run from anything that is so unappealing. Who can blame them?

You recognize the kind of people I’m describing, don’t you—the heartlessly religious who are never wrong about anything? Sadly, Christianity has far too many people like these. They call women, who have aborted their babies, murderers, forgetting that they, too, were no better.

The self-righteous lift up a version of Christ that is not in the New Testament—not even close, and yet these are the people most feared in churches. These are the people who are eager to share their exacting, unyielding opinions, which they expect everyone to accept. Their bitter sting keeps many from embracing God’s love, acceptance, and mercy.

That’s why being in recovery has such value. You’ve had to lean on God more completely than most. If you display love, joy, long suffering, and a genuine concern for those in need, then you are lifting up Christ the way you’re meant to. That’s very attractive to hurting, desperate people, searching for answers. If you’re smug and self-righteous, however, you will also have a great impact for God—a negative impact. Like many things, the choice is yours, as are the consequences.

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that o one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)


Unlearning Old Behavior

 

 

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

 

 

When I live in the past, I live in regret. When I live in the future, I live in fear. When I stay in the present, everything is okay.

—Anonymous

 

After the pain of our abuse begins to subside, after we realize our life is going to take a very different direction than we desired or expected, we start asking ourselves what lessons we need to learn from our painful experience. Although this may sound like a healthy place to start, it’s not. There’s one step before this, which needs to be addressed:

 

What do I need to unlearn from my experience?

 

If you make the decision to begin with this question, your recovery will be deeper and more thorough. Before we become fit and useful to ourselves and to others, we need to unlearn the errors we have internalized as true, while we were enmeshed in our deception. Until we do this, we will flounder, making less progress than we should.

It does no good to simply criticize our abusers, essentially throwing verbal stones at them. It may feel good at the moment, but it doesn’t help the healing process. We need to do more.

We must recognize our deception and make a conscious decision to never be entrapped by the same falsehood again. By doing this, we will be unlearning whatever imprisoned us in the first place. Once accomplished, we will finally get back to square one. Upon reaching this spot, we will be ready to allow God’s Truth to cleanse us and renew our spirits. But make no mistake about it—we have to unlearn our errors before our recovery will have lasting value. If we don’t, we remain vulnerable to the next abuser who comes along.

 

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Jack Watts


One of the really great recovery slogans in Alcoholics Anonymous is this: It really isn’t yours until you give it away. What this means is that—to solidify all that you have accomplished in sobriety—to own it as the essence of who you are, you must help someone in the same way you have been helped. This makes helping others become an essential part of your recovery.

In AA, or any program, helping others by becoming a sponsor is one of the key components. They say, “The time to call your sponsor is before you pick up a drink—not after.”

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.

This requires you to really get to know the person, pray for them regularly, and listen for God’s leading in their lives. In AA, the most important thing a sponsor can do is to teach those they are sponsoring how to live life on life’s terms, without medicating with alcohol. It’s noble and worthy, but it’s also simple when compared to helping someone develop his or her relationship with God—once it has been damaged by religious abuse.

If you can learn how to serve another in this way, you will have done a service that will have eternal consequences. There’s nothing like it in importance. If you want to invest your life in a worthy way, help someone who has been the victim of religious abuse to reconnect with God in a meaningful way. It’s hard work but, if you have success with it, nothing in life will be more rewarding.

If you are willing to put yourself “out there” to help others, say this prayer with me:

Father,

Having been used, abused, and discarded,

By those who insisted they spoke in Your name,

But most certainly did not,

My self-worth has suffered significantly.

Having internalized this shaming charge,

Which my abusers have levied against me,

I have acted in ways contrary to my beliefs.

These truths have set forth in Your Word,

And they reside deep within the core of my being.

Having tried to run from You for so long,

I now see how flawed my judgment has been.

Returning has required me to renew my mind

And to begin looking at life as You do.

Thank You for enlightening me with wisdom,

For revealing to me that You have good things

Planned for me and not for the calamity I have feared.

At times, I still have trouble believing You, Lord,

Believing that the validation You have

Planted in my heart is real and long lasting.

The stinging indictment of my abusers

Has found fertile ground in my soul,

And continues to resonate, telling me that

I am a person without value—without worth.

When I begin to internalize this message,

Flood me with Your love, Your truth, and Your Word.

Let my heart believe You when You affirm,

You are my child—loved and valued.

And I most assuredly have a purpose for your life.

Whenever you have doubts, come to Me,

And I will remind you that you have value.

Thank You for loving me unconditionally, Father,

Amen.

Refer to Step 10: I choose to believe God still has a purpose for my life—a purpose for good and not evil.

 

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

 

Jack Watts


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

Jack Watts

Review & Reflection 3.46


Father,

I wanted my life to be so different,

To be easier and more carefree,

But that was not the path You chose.

As I see the smiling faces of others—

Those who talk about You as if they

Know You intimately, but do not,

I wonder why their lives appear to be

Free from disappointment and conflict,

While mine has been stressful and difficult.

Question: When you look at the lives of others, do you tend to judge their outsides by your insides? If you do, bring this before the Lord, and tell Him how you feel, knowing you are not seeing reality accurately.

 

Instead of seeking and choosing to follow God’s leading, many people, including those who have been used, abused, and discarded by their church or Christian organization; chase after the desires of their own heart, believing that they are making a free choice to do so. It’s easy to see why they believe this, but it’s not the road to freedom. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

Journal: Is this what you have done? Is your experience similar to this? If so, write about how you thought you were free but were not.

 

In your heart, you start to realize that the relationship is not really what you need for your recovery—not what you need to be the person you are capable of being. You know it, and your conscience regularly reminds you that it’s not helping you be the person you were created to be. In reestablishing your connection with God, you know that this relationship has become a hindrance. Even worse, you can only deny this for so long. In the end, you realize that it has to be terminated. This means that, sooner or later, it has to end, which is often very sad.

Journal: If you have had a relationship like this, write about it, being completely honest and transparent.

 

My experiences in recovery are complex. They are more like the troubles David had with his family after he was king. In these stories, even when he was triumphant, it often brought him as much grief as it did joy.

Journal: Write about a situation in your family where doing the right thing cost you dearly, remembering that nearly everybody has an experience like this

 

Doing the right thing in recovery is often very difficult—just ask someone. Regardless of what type of recovery it might be, walking in integrity is frequently challenging. Everybody likes the idea of doing the right thing, but when there is great pressure exerted against you, it’s not easy at all. This is especially true when the pressure is initiated by a loved one. To take a leap of faith in a circumstance like this can be very intimidating.

Journal: Continuing with this same theme, write about a family situation where doing the right thing was very intimidating.

Jack Watts

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