Archive for January, 2009

When I was first subjected to religious abuse, I was hurt, angry, and confused. My life became purposeless for a long time. When I realized that wallowing in self pity wasn’t making things better, I knew I needed to make some changes. I would never become the person I was created to be by nurturing bitterness, and nobody was going to help me. I had to help myself.

That’s when I stopped my downward slide and started working to recover what I had lost. Realizing God was not the problem but the solution, I looked to Him, and the words He spoke, as my source of courage and inspiration. I looked to God for hope—for a way out of my emotional pit. I had to rethink nearly every aspect of my life, changing practically everything. At first, I was overwhelmed by the daunting task before me, resenting all that needed to be done but, after a while, I chose to embrace it instead.

When I was much younger, I had a vision for what my life would be—a vision which was quite grandiose, but God’s purpose was different. Becoming who He wanted me to be has taken substantial work, and it continues to take regular work. By looking to God for the future, rather than blaming Him for the past, I chose life over the debilitating half-life of bitterness.

I worked out a new purpose for my life—a more realistic one. Now that I’ve lived it for many years, I can’t imagine I was created for anything else. My life is filled with the peace and contentment I always desired but was never able to achieve.

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STEP 8: I share my experience with a trusted friend, and I confess to God the exact state of my heart.

READING: After you’ve confessed your sins to a trusted friend—or after someone has unburdened their soul to you, prayer is the next thing mentioned in the Scriptures. That’s not an accident.

When someone exposes themselves at their deepest level, becoming completely transparent, knowing how to pray for them becomes easy. You can pray for what they really need and what God really wants for them—deep character transformation. That’s why confession is so important. It strengthens the person who makes the confession and the person listening as well.

It heals both of you, strengthening the positive character qualities of each. It also makes prayer truly meaningful. Because being transparent with God and with one another has become so rare in our generation, most of our prayers are like a spoiled two-year-old who demands things from an indulgent parent. “God give me a new car . . . a new house . . . and, while you’re at it, a new spouse.” We want new things, different things, better things. That’s what we pray for—things.

God, on the other hand, is interested in restoring people—hurt, wounded, disillusioned people. People like you and me. Confession and prayer is how He does it, and it’s absolutely essential for your recovery to have quality. There’s no way to circumvent it. You must “come clean” before you can become whole.

SCRIPTURE: Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. Ephesians 6:18 (New Living Translation)

PRAYER: Father, teach me how to pray for myself and for others—how to pray for what people really need rather than for material enrichment. In light of my confession, teach me to pray more effectively.

ACTION STEP: After spending time in confession with your “trusted friend,” ask him or her to pray for you. Do the same for them. Be sure to thank God for His healing power. He is administering it into your life even now, through confession.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (New American Standard Bible)

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. James 5:16b-18 (New American Standard Bible)

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STEP 2: I refuse to continue living my life pursuing self-defeating behavior.

READING: After you’ve experienced religious abuse, life changes—not a little but a lot. It’s never the same again—no matter how fervently you desire it. It’s just not possible. No matter how much you want to, you just can’t return to a life of naïveté. The reason is simple: you know too much. Your eyes have been opened and, once enlightened, you can never retreat to the simplicity of your former innocence.

Because returning to an easier way of life is no longer an option, many choose to throw in the towel, abandoning God and Christianity. Instead they settle for half-lives—consumed with bitterness and shame. Having experienced abuse at the hands of a trusted religious leader, many refuse to become vulnerable again. Through cynicism, contempt, and anger, they harden their hearts, protecting themselves from further abuse.

They believe their self-protectiveness is beneficial, but they are mistaken. By remaining bitter, they are actually validating the abuse that holds them a prisoner to their past and a hostage to the future. They become stuck—unable to move emotionally or spiritually, trapped in a joyless life—a life they have chosen for themselves.

Is this where you are? If so, the good news is that there is a way out—a way to become all you were ever meant to be. God is still there for you, waiting to reestablish you in a different way. It may not be the life you dreamed of, but it’s the life you were meant to live. Having been wounded—like God’s Son, you can experience the abundant life God promised when you first believed. But this time, you’ll have your eyes wide open, making you more useful to yourself and to others. Although your life will be different, it will also be aligned with God’s purpose for you—a purpose rich in fulfillment.

SCRIPTURE: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10 (New American Standard Bible)

PRAYER: Father, root out the bitterness and anger I know is inside me. Bring me back to You—back to a relationship which is intimate and full. Return a sense of peace to me, please.

ACTION STEP: Reestablishing intimacy after being hurt can be very difficult. Begin by spelling out everything that frighten you about reconnecting with God. Be thorough and honest with this list. It doesn’t matter how disillusioned you have become. God will meet you right where you are—no matter how far from Him you have wandered.

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STEP 7: I write down my experience completely and honestly, spelling out my abusive experiences in detail as well as my subsequent behavior.

Steps one through six are primarily vertical in nature, except for the second part of STEP 5. Putting your relationship with God in order is the most important part of recovery. It’s the key to all others. Until you are on solid footing with God, little progress can be accomplished, and your behavior will not change substantially. At best, you will learn to talk the talk. You may fool others, but your insides will still be hollow and disquieted—precisely like those who have abused you. In order to become the vibrant person you were created to be, you must reconnect with God. It’s simple to do, but it’s not easy.

When your vertical relationship has been solidified, it’s time to focus on your horizontal relationships—your relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. That’s what STEP 7 is all about. It’s where your recovery takes a turn from being focused inwardly to being focused outwardly. Even though this step entails spelling out your personal experience in substantial detail, it’s when you begin to turn your attention from yourself toward others.

For many, this part of recovery may be very difficult. Often, people prefer to “let sleeping dogs lie,” refusing to dredge up the past. They believe this course of “inaction” is wise, but it isn’t. They’re just fooling themselves—exalting their fears and ascribing wisdom to them.

If the “dogs” had been sleeping, there wouldn’t be debilitating emotional pain or self-defeating behavior, would there? Since anger, guilt, shame, and many other toxic emotions keep the lives of abused people in perpetual turmoil, the dogs have been anything but sleeping.

You will not recover without taking an accurate moral inventory. You have to face your past. There’s no way to get around it.

As you prepare for this week, make a commitment to be completely forthright about the abuse you’ve experienced, as well as your subsequent behavior. Without scrupulous honesty, most of the value of STEP 7 will be lost. If you are determined to be honest, much of the pain from your past will fade and soon become a distant memory.

In recovery, there is a saying: “You are only as sick as your secrets.”

Like so many pithy statements, it’s surprisingly accurate. STEP 7 is your opportunity to expose your conduct to the light—to God. It can be difficult—no doubt about it. At the same time, it’s freeing. Currently, you may have the weight of the world on your shoulders, producing significant apprehension. It may make you want to quit, or at least put off STEP 7 for a while—a long while.

Resist this urge at all costs. Be courageous and move forward. The reward is worth it—guaranteed

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Have you ever asked yourself why there are so many church people who are abusive? According to the Zogby poll, there are as many as 30 million people who have left the churches of their youth—many because of one form of abuse or another. Others see the church as irrelevant—as an unsafe place for them emotionally. Many wonder, “How can there be so much abuse in Christianity?”

I believe I have the answer—at least in part. It’s because numerous church leaders stop walking in the light. They think they are, but they’re not. They believe they do, but they don’t. Having once had a transforming experience, they enshrine it. It provides them with a sense of superiority. They also exalt their education and and their experience to validate actions which are insensitive and abrasive. Because of their “profound experience,” anything they do is OK in their eyes. After all, they’ve “been chosen” to lead.

They forget their walk is moment-by-moment, with the Lord providing illumination for the next step forward and nothing else. They forget they need grace and mercy just like everyone else. Because they believe they are superior, they treat others as less important. To those chosen to lead, being a follower is a lesser calling.

They lose their compassion, and when someone gets in their way, they have no problem crushing that person’s spirit. In fact, they believe it’s their right and duty to do so—self-absorbed as they are. Because they’ve institutionalized their experience, it becomes metallic and puffed up rather than alive and vibrant. Sadly, they flaunt their authority, while assurring people they are humble servants of God.

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STEP 6: I make a commitment to turn away from my pride and refuse to become like those who have abused me. I abandon my desire to spread malice because of my pain and anger and chose to relinquish my right to be self-absorbed.

This is where your commitment to recovery gets tested, and it’s a place where it’s easy to get stuck. In the aftermath of abuse, being angry is understandable. For a short period, it’s normal and even healthy.

The problem is that more people than not become stuck in their anger. When they do, it leads to bitterness, resentment, and irreconcilability. Unfortunately, they don’t progress through it. That’s not healthy. It leads to a wasted life—a life God never intended them to live, and it’s certainly not a life you want for yourself either.

Think of it this way. Making the effort to turn away from your pride and your desire for self-vindication can be as difficult as jogging up a hill. When you jog uphill, you go against gravity and have to make a concerted effort to move forward. It’s much more difficult than jogging downhill, which requires little effort. By going uphill, however, several positive things happen. You become stronger and, as you take each step upward, you gain confidence. You also know you’re accomplishing something worthwhile—something that makes you more fit for the inevitable challenges of life.

It’s the same in recovery. It takes real work to abandon your pride, but that’s what you must do. You must make a concerted effort to stop indulging in self-pity. You must begin the process of thinking about someone other than yourself. Doing this is like jogging up a hill. At first, it requires substantial effort, but it becomes easier the more frequently you do it.

The sooner you stop insisting upon your vindication, the sooner the healing process can begin. If you insist on maintaining your position, you will remain stuck. It’s impossible to move forward to a peaceful life while throwing stones. There’s no way to become stronger while you languish in a rut.

You have to let it go—all of it. Nursing your anger and resentment is like nursing an infection which keeps you perpetually debilitated. You have to take your medicine, which in this case is like draining the infection of all malice, bitterness, and vengeful thoughts. When you do, you’ll begin to recover. You’ll begin to strengthen.

This is hard for many people—perhaps most. Recovery is difficult work—like jogging up a hill, but it’s also rewarding. It helps you build character. Because this can be so difficult, STEP 6 may take more time for many of you. If it does, that’s OK. Take as much as is required, remembering that the goal is your recovery—your complete recovery.

You want to be everything you’re capable of being, and this can only occur by purging yourself of toxic emotions. Once this happens, you will begin to experience love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness—the life you’ve always wanted for yourself.

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After making a heartfelt apology for poor behavior, there’s an overwhelming sense of relief, which leaves you gratified—feeling 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 aspect, which is substantially more difficult. It’s making amends for what you’ve done in the past. For example, if someone treated you unkindly, and you’ve maligned that person’s character in response, essentially bearing false witness, an appropriate amend would be to go back to those you’ve deceived and set the record straight. This is necessary despite what’s been done to you. Remember, you’re the one in recovery. You are responsible for your part, regardless of what the the other person may have done to you.

Resolving a situation like this is never an easy task. Receiving forgiveness from someone by making an apology is comparatively easy to making amends which are appropriate for 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 most difficult part, but you’re also relinquishing your right to a blessing—a significant blessing.

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

Making amends is difficult—no doubt about it, but it’s the part of recovery which changes you in ways that are permanent. By doing this, you refuse to circumvent the truth. You refuse to deflect. You refuse to practice denial. You do the tough work which produces permanent change at the core of your being.

You face the truth courageously, knowing 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. It’s where character qualities like honesty and straightforwardness become the central part of your being. It’s where you become a better person.

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