Archive for November, 2009

Refer to STEP 4: I believe that God understands my wounded-ness and He alone can heal me.

When you see how easy some people’s lives seem to be, do you ever wonder if God is holding you to a higher standard than He does others? So many people seem to have such a comfortable, easy life, while those of us in recovery mine—by way of contrast—seem to have a much more difficult time. If that’s true, then what is the reason why? Is this coincidental or is there a purpose for it? If there’s a purpose—a purpose you can understand, then you can accept setbacks for what they are—purposeful growth experiences.

If everything that happens to you has value in making you the man or woman God wants you to be, then each learning experience is necessary for you to be a complete person—a person whose value can benefit others as well as yourself. If you can accept life on these terms, your growth is inevitable, despite whatever your temporary setbacks might be. If you can’t, then it shows something else. You still has an important lesson to learn.

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Refer to STEP 9: I humbly ask God to change anything He desires.

Most of us function in our daily lives with many false beliefs. Perhaps the greatest is that we control our own destiny. Everybody wants to believe this, but it simply isn’t true—as the vicissitudes of life teach us repeatedly.

We all want to believe the outcome of our lives depends upon what we do or what we don’t do. We believe we are the masters of our own fate, that we are self-made men and women. We come to believe this so fervently that controlling our own destinies becomes our right, something to which we are entitled. Additionally, we often demand that God make our desires come true—like a peevish and petulant four-year-old demands to have their own way with his or her mom and dad. In the same way, we also insist that God acquiesce to our wishes and, if He does not, we pitch a fit like a child, demanding that our way be His way. Like a good parent, God smiles and does what is best for us from His perspective—not ours.

God is in control, and He will not change His plan to suit ours. That’s not going to change. No matter how much we want something, if it is not part of His plan for our lives, we can’t make it so, and chaffing at the bit produces nothing but heartache and pain—unnecessary heartache and pain. Accepting that this is true is wise and helps us maintain our bearings in our recovery.

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Publishing Contract

Last week, I accepted an offer from Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, to publish two of my books.

91 days to Recovery from Religious Abuse will be published first and will be available next fall (2010) wherever books are sold.

Hi, my name Is Jack will be published the following year.

Obviously, I’m pleased. If you click on the Books tab, you can read a chapter in the following:

  • Hi, My Name Is Jack
  • 91 Days to Recovery from Religious Abuse
  • In Its Season
  • Pushing Jesus

The first three are finished, and Pushing Jesus will be complete by Spring. A fifth book, Recovery from Abuse: One Day at a Time will be finished by next Winter.

Jack Watts

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Refer to STEP 8: I shared my experience with a trusted friend and confessed to God the exact state of my heart.

People frequently believe they are not in God’s will because following their current path has proven to be very difficult. In this way of thinking, which is shared by millions, because the strain of day-to-day living has proven to be such a grind, it couldn’t be God’s will. After all, above all else, God wants them to be happy.

I hear this all the time. This thought process appears to be correct, but it isn’t. It’s confused thinking. Being happy is not a character quality; it’s a state of mind. What God wants is for people to be joyful in difficulty, despite how thorny their circumstances tend to be.

This isn’t a subtle difference; it’s substantial. Joy produces serenity, regardless of what the circumstance might be.

Recently, I heard a young lady bemoan her situation, indicating that she must be going in the wrong direction because her journey was so tough. Looking at her, I said, “You’re stronger because of what you’ve experienced—much stronger. I can see it and so can everyone else. I know your situation has been tough, but it’s also made you a more capable person with strong, estimable character qualities. That’s what God wants, and it’s why He has allowed such difficulty in your life. He will allow you to go through as much sorrow and pain as it takes to produce the character qualities in you He desires. It’s that valuable to Him.”

As I reflected after I said this, I remembered two years earlier when I went to her wedding. She radiated as a young bride and was very beautiful. Two years later—to the day—she also radiated, as tears streamed down her cheeks. But this time the beauty was stronger and more pronounced because it came from the inside out. The strain of the experience had produced a strong woman—a woman far more capable than she had been two years earlier.

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

By the time I was thirty-three, after having established my relationship with God as my core relationship in life fifteen years earlier, one might expect that I was a well-established man with strong character qualities, but that was not the case. In nearly every area of life, I was still a little boy who happened to look like a man. I was floating along in life, buoyed by good looks, charm, a great smile, and manipulation. I had learned to talk the talk, but whenever difficulty came my way, I carefully skirted it, choosing evasion of responsibility over facing life on life’s terms.

When my luck ran out and I was forced to make some hard choices, I made a determination to be the person God created me to be. Life was difficult for years but, because I had little practice at responsibility, it was much harder than it needed to be. The maturity I achieved came in a concentrated form, with the pressure remaining constant.

Now, many years later, I am a man in every sense of the word, having my character forged in God’s winepress of adversity. It was a painful experience, but from the Divine standpoint, absolutely necessary. Without it, I would still have my gray hair, but all I would be is a little boy who looked like a mature man. The world is full of men who have never grown up. There’s a surplus; that’s for sure. At long last, however, I can say that I’m not one of them. I owe that to God’s faithfulness and my commitment to recovery. In my case, I needed to recover from alcoholism as well as from religious abuse, but I’ve done it for years—one day at a time.

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Refer to STEP 4: I believe that God understands my wounded-ness and He alone can heal me.

When you see how easy some people’s lives seem to be, do you ever wonder if God is holding you to a higher standard than He does with them? So many people seem to have such a comfortable, easy life, while those of us in recovery—by way of contrast—seem to have a much more difficult time than they do.

If that’s true—and I believe it is—then what is the reason for it? What is the purpose? In my own life, I distinctly remember when I was thirty-three and prayed, “Father, thank You for sparing me from trouble. Everything has always gone so smoothly for me. Nothing bad or difficult has ever happened to me. My life has been free from pain and suffering. Thank You for that. I’m so grateful—so grateful.”

In my simplistic perspective, I believed what I prayed was true. God was taking care of me by sparing me from all the heartache suffered by others. Within a month of the time I uttered that prayer, things changed for me, and the subsequent thirty years has been filled with difficulties. Have I struggled and chafed under the strain of my circumstances? You bet—big time!

But I’ve also grown, and the growth was the purpose behind all the difficulties. God promises not to put more on us than we are able to endure which, at the time, never seems to be true. It always feels like the weight of our hardship will break us, but God knows us better than we know ourselves. He stretches us beyond our comfort, which is His intention. At the end of it, however, we develop deep character qualities, which we could not have obtained through any other means.

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

One of the origins of spiritual abuse comes from the narcissistic men and women who lead Christian ministries. The problem, which happens quite often, stems from a mind-set that equates the minister’s viewpoint with God’s viewpoint. In a de facto sense, they become one in the same. Consequently, these leaders come to believe that the ends—their ends—justify the means because they are God’s ends as well.

As these Christian leaders view it, because they are doing God’s work, whatever they do is sanctioned—authorized by God. For example, leaders like these have a cavalier attitude about financial compensation for work done for them. In an effort to be wise and frugal with “God’s money,” they contract work they never completely pay for.

Reasoning that the ministry goals supersede the need to be fundamentally fair with those who labor for them, they frequently cheat people out of what they are owed and believe they are being obedient to the Lord by their behavior. When asked about a legitimate bill by a shorted vendor, they become offended.

This is how they view it: Because they are perusing God’s goals, their calling is higher than those who contract to work for them. In this arrogant perspective, the religious leaders don’t believe treating their vendors ethically is required, and they don’t. This attitude, which is deeply resented by those who have done work for them in good faith, is sinful and never God’s will.

In my quarter century of working with ministries, I have seen hundreds of examples of this kind of abuse. Ministries all over America do it everyday, creating emotional carnage in their wake. Sadly, those, who have been cheated by a narcissist, blame God for the offense. Becoming offended, they cast aside a life of faith, embracing cynicism instead. More than any other thing, this produces people who have become jaded by serving Christian ministries. It’s wrong at so many levels; it’s difficult to list them all.

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

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STEP4: I recognize that God is not the abuser; people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

Not everybody who has been abused goes quietly. Most bow their heads, tuck their tails, and withdraw to live out their days wounded and scorned, but not everybody is willing to be a martyr for the religious leader. Some, convinced that they are right and the Christian leader is wrong, refuse to walk away without a fight. Occasionally, some of these people are absolutely correct. They can prove they are right, and they are willing to go public to do so.

When this happens, an interesting phenomenon occurs. When the abusee “has the goods” on a narcissistic leader and the ministry is forced to face an unpleasant truth, it’s never followed by an open act of repentance. Genuine humility is never an option. The leader rarely comes forth to admit openly how he or she has wronged another. That only occurs when they are forced to do so. It’s never their immediate reaction. Instead, like sleazy politicians, they choose to cover up their wrongdoing.

Reasoning that an open admission of guilt would make too many followers lose their faith, leaders like these do everything in their power to hide the truth—to camouflage reality. This, of course, goes against core Christian beliefs, which requires confession of wrongdoing by everyone, especially leaders. The reason such leaders refuse to humble themselves in this way is because they don’t believe they need to follow the same rules as everybody else. They are above mundane, petty acts of contrition, which impede their noble, exalted purpose. This attitude of superiority rather than service is a clear indication of someone who abuses those he or she has been called to serve.

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STEP4: I recognize that God is not the abuser; people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

For religious abuse to occur, arrogance on the part of a religious leader is required. People have differences of opinion all the time but, when one opinion is elevated so far above another person that it is positioned as “God’s will,” then abusiveness is certain to follow.

The person who doesn’t buy into the program is not only rebuked, but his or her relationship with God is also called into question. To criticize the minister is perceived as criticizing God, making the person who disagrees have flawed character qualities. Routinely, those who are in opposition are depicted as “carnal”—as purposefully going against God’s will. This makes the questioner’s walk with the Lord appear to be defective, and that’s exactly how it is positioned. When the abuser says, “I’ll pray for you, brother,” you can be certain that no prayers will be forthcoming—only character assassination. As such, the questioner is castigated, abruptly discarded and shunned—just as a leper would be in India. The person asking hard questions becomes an “untouchable”—rejected by those who were co-laborers just a short time before.

This kind of treatment happens routinely in ministries and churches, wounding people beyond their capacity to cope with the situation. When the process is complete, there is another person added to the ranks of the religiously abused.

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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 I chose to relinquish my right to be self-absorbed.

Of all the reasons for religious abuse, perhaps the greatest is the steadfast determination that “you are right and the other person is wrong.” Maintaining a position militantly and arrogantly causes more wounding than anything else.

When it’s one of the central tenets of faith, it’s one thing, but most militancy comes from micro beliefs—things about which people can differ and still remain true to God and themselves.

Because people would rather argue than entertain any question that might shake their worldview, church people are constantly discarding people they should choose to embrace instead. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to call someone a name that might wound them than to embrace any divergence in opinion. Castigating political liberals for this, Christians need to take a good look at themselves because they do the same thing. Indeed, it is easier to fight for your beliefs than live up to them.

Today’s Thought: It’s easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.

—Alfred Adler—

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

Abusive religious leaders don’t forget the importance of God’s calling—not completely anyway. Nearly every clergyman can point to a time when they realized God wanted them to devote their careers to the ministry. That’s what makes the problem of religious abuse so difficult to recognize. For the most part, the abusers believe they are being faithful to their calling—never questioning their motives or goals. As these ministers view it, the problem isn’t theirs. They are right.

The problem is with those who don’t buy into their program, which is the purpose to which God has called them. The problem is with those who get in the way. It’s the people who question or criticize the goals of these ministers, which have been divinely mandated, who are the problem. People who don’t follow the minister’s lead—blindly follow, without questioning—must be wrong. There’s no other conclusion possible, and people like these deserve the criticism they receive. They are opposing God’s will, regardless of how small or insignificant the issue might be.

For abusive leaders, there is rarely any gray area. You are either for them or against them. It’s why they surround themselves with sycophantic “yes men”—those who consistently tell them how wonderful they are. If you oppose them, you might as well be opposing God Himself. Because God has given them a vision for the direction He wants them to follow—because He has “told them” what to do, any criticism of their agenda is met with harsh rebuke. But that’s not all. That’s just the beginning of the abusive treatment, and it’s why millions suffer from it.

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STEP4: I recognize that God is not the abuser; people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

Somewhere in time, the idea of being called to the ministry has changed—at least for many. In 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 means that a person is called to serve others, regardless of how others respond. Because a minister is serving the Lord, while serving others, that person is fulfilled by fidelity to Christ—fidelity to His calling.

Being the servant of others is what a minister is or, at least, is supposed to be. In our generation, that has flip-flopped. It is now the minister who is served and not the other way around. Because of the minister’s position and oratory skill, they have been elevated to a class above those to whom they have been called to serve. This has become so entrenched that ministers have become celebrities, adored by their followers like rock stars and sports figures.

This transformation has become so accepted that few realize how far it has deteriorated from the original model. Part of the problem is that the terminology has remained constant. Ministers still obsequiously refer to themselves as servants but, in their hearts, they are anything but servants. They are the lords, and when someone gets in their way, that person is castigated and discarded.

The problem has become so serious that millions have been abused in the name of Christ by those who have been called to serve Him.

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