Archive for February, 2008

Refer to STEP 1: Recognized that where I am in life is not where I want to be.

As Jimmy and Darby learned, God has a way of getting your attention. You can merrily go along your way, without a care in the world, but God has a way of orchestrating your circumstances to absolutely stop you in your tracks. When He does, all you can do is ask for mercy.

With Jimmy, it took a catastrophic experience, which nearly cost him his life. It might take something like that to get your attention as well—hopefully not.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. You can choose a gentler, easier way. A change of heart is always available to you. You can make a change without all the drama. It’s definitely the wisest thing to do.

Maybe it’s like that old Framm Oil Filter commercial: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” The choice is yours.

Think about this in relation to Jimmy’s story and your life. Which will it be?

Related Articles
Jimmy’s Story, Part 1
Jimmy’s Story, Part 2

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Refer to STEP 6: Made a commitment to turn away from my pride and refused to become just like those who abused me.

When you’ve been abused by someone is a position of authority, you experience many thoughts and emotions. One of them is what I call “the spirit of self-vindication.” Because you’ve been wronged, there is an inevitable desire to retaliate. You want to “set the record straight.”

You say to yourself—or to anyone who will listen, “I’m not going to let them get away with this. I’m going to . . .” and then you proceed to explain how you are going to even the score.

This is where things get tricky. Whether you are right or not is only half of the issue. Your motive has to be correct as well. If it isn’t, then you are in danger of becoming exactly like those who abused you in the first place. That’s what the spirit of self-vindication produces—another layer of self-righteousness.

When you act upon it, you are taking matters into your own hands. You try to force an outcome, and that rarely works. It feels great, but the satisfaction is short lived. The fruit from it is bitter, and you’re either forced to make amends or justify your poor behavior from then on.

Only the very brace will apologize and make amends. Most choose to rationalize their retaliation as just, reaping a hard heart in the process. Being vengeful only works in movies and cartoons, but you knew that, didn’t you?

To learn more about about the subject, go to: Recovering from Religious Abuse: 11 Steps to Spiritual Freedom.

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Refer to STEP 4: [God] is good and can be trusted.

If you’ve been scolded out of the church, you probably think God doesn’t want you back. That’s certainly the message you received when you were hounded out—either stated or implied. The church would be better off without you. The church is for good people . . . people who don’t ask questions . . . people who don’t rock the boat.

Am I right? Is that the message you received?

If so, here’s some really good news for you. God does want you back. His love for you neither ceased nor diminished, regardless of the circumstances. It doesn’t matter what you may or may not have done. God loved you then, and He loves you now. Nothing can change that, and nobody controls whom God loves either. He loves you, period!

Perhaps that’s why you’re reading this right now. Intuitively, you know it’s true. Or, maybe you believe God doesn’t love you because you don’t love yourself.

“How could anybody love me,” you might ask? “You don’t know what I’ve done.”

Here’s some more good news. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. God loves you anyway. You may not believe it, but it’s true.

He wants you back; He wants a relationship with you—in spite of everything. There is a way out. There is a way up, and it’s available to you right now.

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Part 2 of 2

After college, I married and moved to Atlanta. On the surface, life was great. My wife, Darby, and I were both working for Wachovia. We were on track to taste the good life, living for fun and the weekends. We were experiencing life to it’s fullest—we thought. But our life did not include God; In fact, I cannot remember even one spiritual conversation with Darby prior to getting married. Through a series of dramatic events, however, He did get my attention.

As I was living each day, trying in my own strength fill a huge void inside, I got a stunning wakeup call in 1996. I suddenly became ill and found myself near death, brought about by a bleeding artery caused by ulcers. After a week of intense procedures, 17 pints of blood and hundreds of injections, the doctors prepared me for surgery.

Darby had left my side, and I was scared and alone I began to pray, “Father, . . .” After just a few words, I suddenly had this loving assurance that I knew I was taken care of. I instantaneously had this sense of peace and contentment I had really never experienced before. I knew I was in God’s care; and no matter what the outcome, I was in His loving hands. I experienced—for the first time—what it meant to have a relationship with God based on trust and love, not on rules and fear.

I fully recovered physically. Spiritually, things would forever be different because of that experience. I now had a personal relationship with God—a relationship based on trust not fear.

Related Links
Jimmy’s Story Part 1

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Refer to STEP 6: Made a commitment to turn away from my pride and refused to become just like those who abused me.

When someone has been spiritually abused, an interesting thing happens. They develop a mindset like their abusers—exactly like their abusers. The victim becomes self-righteous in their anger and resentment, lashing out at their perpetrators in the same venomous, cruel way.

Each “abusee,” however, believes their wrath is justified because of their earlier experience at the hands of their abuser. They never put it together that it’s the same thing. Although they make a distinction, there’s no difference.

Abusive behavior is abusive behavior, regardless of who does it. That’s the nature of self-righteousness. It’s an attitude that always justifies itself. That’s why it’s called self-righteousness.

I understand how painful and humiliating your experience was, but guess what? If you continue insisting that you are right and “they are wrong,” you will never heal. You’re stuck, and you’ll stay stuck—just like a car in a mud hole. Although the tire spins faster and faster as you press down on the accelerator in a vain effort to get out of the hole, there is never any progress. It spins aimlessly—but dangerously. Smart people back off.

Is that what you want for your life? Do you want to spin aimlessly, wasting your days, which might end up becoming decades? Do you want the people you love to back away, fearful of your wrath? Do you?

Of course you don’t, but that’s what will happen unless you acknowledge your pride and your anger.

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Part 1 of 2

My name is Jimmy Ferrell, and I grew up in Toccoa Falls, Ga. I was reared in a very small hometown church, which my parents still attend. I heard “fire and brimstone” sermons from my earliest memories. Growing up, my relationship with God was characterized by judgment, condemnation and fear. I viewed God as a dreaded taskmaster who did not tolerate mistakes. I had many self-imposed moral restrictions from my early days. I even decided to give up watching TV for two years when I was ten years old.

By some standards, I had an extensive knowledge of the Bible, but I somehow missed the story of God’s loving grace. My “God view,” forged by very condemning and demanding preaching, was that God was a relentless taskmaster—not a God of love. I grew up thinking that God was a severe taskmaster, imposing lists and commands—do’s and don’ts I had to follow with nearly complete accuracy, or else I would not go to Heaven.

My picture of God was not a peaceful, gentle God walking in the Garden of Eden. It was of a God who was waiting to punish me when I screwed up.

This cold, distant view of God drove me to turn my back completely on anything spiritual from ages fifteen-to-thirty. During these fifteen years, I questioned many things about God, including His existence, even though I continued to drag along the condemnation, burdens, and guilt into every aspect of my life. As you can imagine, I looked for ways to leave this heavy burden behind and drown the pain from my past. I drank and partied my way through these years caring for little along the way.

Related Links
Jimmy’s Story-Part 2: God, a Relationship of Trust and Love

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Refer to STEP 8: . . . Confessed to God the exact state of your heart.

It doesn’t matter what kind of recovery program it is, confession is part of the process—an integral part. Without confession, you can’t heal. You’re back in the mud hole spinning your wheels, getting nowhere.

In recovery from religious abuse, confession is even more important than in other programs. The reason is simple: The greatest hindrance to recovery is pride. Alcoholics, drug addicts, and sex addicts know their behavior is wrong, and most of them are not proud of what they’ve done–or the pain they’ve caused. It’s different for those who have been spiritually abused.

For example, I’ve heard some say:

  • “I don’t have anything to confess. They are the ones who need to confess, not me. I didn’t do anything.”
  • “OK, I’ll confess—just as soon as they do, and not one minute sooner.”
  • “God knows everything that happened. I don’t need to tell Him anything.”

Have you ever heard something like this, or said it yourself? I certainly have, and I remember the state of my heart when I did. I was proud, arrogant, self-righteous, and badly hurt. I didn’t realize how callous and bitter I had become.

That’s why confession is so important. It’s an emotional tenderizer for the heart. It helps take the sting out, and it’s really hard to stay angry when you finally reach the point where you’re willing to open your heart to God.

One more thing—when you tell God what’s really going on inside you, He forgives your bitterness, and He cleanses you from everything else that isn’t right in your life.

Confession is simple and easy, but often it’s the hardest thing in the world to do. Being humble always is. But you knew that, didn’t you?

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