Archive for May, 2011

Standing up at the end of the 5:45 AA meeting at Triangle, I said, “Hi, my name is Jack.”

“Hi, Jack,” came the familiar response. “I’m an alcoholic, and it’s been eighteen years since my last drink.” The audience, which was filled with familiar faces, all clapped, smiled, and hooted their approbation. Eighteen years makes you a rock star at AA. It was a wonderful moment. As the applause subsided, I said, “I remember the day I picked up my white chip like it was yesterday. I was determined to stop drinking, but I had no idea how to do it. It took about a year for me to come to the point where I no longer craved alcohol. I thought that was all I needed.”

When I said this, most people laughed. Like me, they knew my journey to sobriety had just begun.

Continuing, I said, “By the time I picked up my five-year chip, I no longer thought like an alcoholic. It took that long for me to become sober—completely sober.”

Several newcomers groaned when I said this, recognizing the daunting task that lay before them.

“When I picked up my ten-year chip,” I said, “I had finally learned how to incorporate my recovery tools into other areas of my life. And from then until my fifteenth anniversary, I learned how to live day-by-day in recovery, especially understanding the value of being completely honest with myself.”

“From fifteen until now has been pure fulfillment. Every day, I help someone—no matter what. It’s always like that—not just some days.”

Looking at some of my friends who were beaming, I continued. “Most people don’t learn to live until they are told they are dying. I want more for my life than that. Continuous fulfillment is achievable, as long as I remain sober in body and spirit—one day at a time. Thanks for being there for me when few others were. It means the world to me.”

As I sat down, I realized I was no longer a prisoner of my past. My chains have been broken, and I’m free to go forward, embracing the truth and the light. I’m free to finish strong.

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Refer to STEP 4: I came to believe that God understood my wounded-ness, and He alone could heal me. I chose to accept as true what God has said about Himself. He is good and can be trusted. I recognized that God is not the abuser—people who misuse their authority are the abusers.

If working the 11 Steps is the key to recovery from religious abuse—or any type of abuse for that matter, developing a different mindset is the key to making recovery easy or difficult. You can make things difficult for yourself—or easy. The choice is yours.

To begin with, if you insist upon understanding why your abuse occurred in the first place, you are destined to frustration, bitterness, and failure. At some point, many people understand why, but most never do. God knows why; that’s for sure, and He’s in charge—no matter what. If you can accept this, you’re on your way. If you can’t, you’re experience heartache, whether you like it or not.

You’ve heard the Bible verse that says, “Yea though He slay me; yet will I trust Him.” To most, it seems like sentimental nonsense or poetic hyperbole. To those of us who are in the process of recovery, however, it’s neither. It’s exactly how we feel. Having our spirit crushed and nearly killed by abusers, we understand the Phoenix—rising from the ashes to experience new life and fulfillment.

That’s the attitude each of us needs to have: “Yea though He slay me; yet will I trust Him.” With it, God is free to work in our lives to produce everything He wants from us. Without it, we chafe at the bit and produce nothing of value. Our lives will amount to nothing more than wood, hay, and stubble.

If you want more, renew your mind. Accept the Lords purpose as your own and press forward. If you can do that, your life will begin to exhibit valuable characteristics—qualities like gold, silver, and precious jewels.

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

He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself (Prov. 9:7, NASB).

Most Christians are good natured people, which certainly shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Being good natured, we are usually quick to forgive and easy to reconcile with—even when it involves reconciling with the person who has abused us. On the surface, this may seem like the “right thing to do”; but there is a snare in it, which can be very damaging to the person who has been abused.

Although those who abuse others in the Name of Christ normally use “church talk” to do so, which makes the wounds particularly difficult to endure, underneath the smooth tongue of the abuser is a scoffer—a heartless, mean-spirited person. With a syrupy smile, religious abusers use Christian words to eviscerate those who oppose them, chiding their fellow believers repeatedly.

It may seem like the right thing “to love the abuser” out of his or her error, but it’s a dangerous course of action.

Most abusers display varying degrees of narcissistic behavior; so when they are confronted—even in a gracious, loving way, their fragile psyche’s can’t tolerate being rebuked. They lash out, wounding the person whose only goal is to help them.

Confronting an abuser doesn’t work—period. They don’t respond to loving, gracious correction. The reason why is simple: They don’t believe they are ever wrong—not about something specific anyway. This means that any confrontation, regardless of how innocent or well-meaning, is an affront to the abuser. The person doing the confronting, regardless of how gentle it might be, is opening themselves up to insults and further abuse.

That’s why it’s usually wise to refrain from being confrontative and simply move on. The price for correcting a scoffer is never worth it.

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Refer to STEP 4: I choose to believe what God says about Himself: that He is good and can be trusted.

Lord, help us to accept the pains and conflicts that come to us each day as opportunities to grow as people and become more like you.

—Mother Teresa

For prospects, training camp in the NFL can be very stressful. Coaches “get after” each player repeatedly, frequently chewing them out, being no more than two inches from their face. It can be quite intimidating, but most players are grateful for it—that’s right, grateful. That’s because when the yelling stops, the player knows the decision has been made to cut him from the squad. Players realize that as long as they are being yelled at, they are still on the team. When it stops, they will not be part of the team much longer.

In a way, it’s the same with you and me in our relationship with the Lord. As long as He is “making things warm for you,” as Mark Twain used to say, you can be assured He has something important for you to do in life. It’s His way of coaching, and it’s quite effective. His voice isn’t as harsh or rough as a coach, but His hand is much firmer.

If everything is going well and there is no stress or conflict in your life, there’s no way for you to grow. Stress produces an opportunity for maturation. Without it, you would become stagnant and stop growing.

You’ve heard the expression, “No pain . . . no gain.” It’s not in the Scriptures, but it’s certainly what most of us have experienced, isn’t it? If you can keep this in mind, it will make it easier to accept unique and difficult situations, which is the tough stuff of life.

Behold, how happy is he man whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal. (Job 5:17-18)

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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.

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 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.

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Refer to 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.

An aim in life is the only fortune worth the finding; and it is not to be found in foreign lands, but in the heart itself.

—Robert Louis Stevenson

Following the Lord—really following the Lord—makes a person vulnerable to ridicule by well-intended friends and family members. It’s why so few are willing to take a chance on doing precisely what they believe God wants them to do.

Instead, most make good, solid common sense decisions and ask God to bless them. When He doesn’t, they chafe and blame God for being unloving, uncaring, and distant. He is none of these things, but neither is He able or willing to make people’s common sense decisions His will.

He has an eternal goal, and His desire is to lead you to His purposes—not Him to yours. Christians love to say they want nothing more than to do God’s will; but in reality, what they want is for God to rubber stamp their will, which He never does. When a person gets caught up in God’s purpose, that person has no goals of his or her own to achieve, which outwardly may appear to look foolish.

Christians who have clear, self-actualizing purposes become caught up in their own goals. Certain that their purposes are also God’s; they allow the ends to justify the means, behaving in ways that are harmful to others. In essence, they become abusive, believing God sanctions their behavior, which is never the case.

For God, the means are always the ends where humans are concerned. Being faithful in little things is more important to God than having grandiose aspirations that appear lofty and noble but actually require stepping on others to achieve.

That’s why it’s important to remember that abusing others is never God’s will. Non-believers clearly recognize this kind of behavior for what it is; and it’s the reason why so many reject Christ. Because Christians are so hurtful, non-Christians don’t want anything to do with such callous, cruel behavior, especially done in the name of God.

Who can blame them?

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

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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.

More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them.

—Harold J. Smith

When you’ve been wounded by religious abuse—shamed, humiliated, intimidated, and ridiculed, the natural inclination is to retreat into a protective shell. In your heart, you just want to “go away” and never have anything to do with “those people” again. The problem is that God is often thrown in the same category as your abusers. By withdrawing, you have probably also retreated in your relationship with the Lord, which is definitely self-defeating behavior.

If you’re really being honest with yourself, has this been your experience? Not wanting to experience the pain and emotional dysfunction associated with your abuse, have you swept everything, including your relationship with God, under the rug? Have you said to yourself, I don’t want to have anything to do with God ever again?

Although this is the course of action most people follow, it’s a strategy that doesn’t work well—not long-term anyway. To heal—to become the person you were meant to be, you must revisit your abuse, feel the pain once again, release it—forgiving your abusers, and move on. Nothing else will heal you effectively.

Keeping the issue buried deep within you may feel comfortable—like it’s the right thing to do—but it isn’t. What works is reopening the old wound, which drains the malice, and allows the anger, bitterness, and resentment to heal. Repressing painful events doesn’t work in any other area of your life, and it will not work with religious abuse either. To heal, you must face your situation once again. It’s the only way. At first, it will definitely feel uncomfortable; but over time, you’ll realize how necessary this course of action has been.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves. (II Corinthians 4:7)

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