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Archive for July, 2012


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 being wounded by religious abuse, friends routinely say, “It will be okay. You just have to trust the Lord; that’s all.” With that, no further practical help is offered. After a while, you no longer receive words of comfort because people tend to withdraw from you. They just can’t handle someone like you who is in such obvious pain. Having no solutions to offer, they don’t want to deal with all of the negativity. Don’t blame them. It’s just the way most people operate.

To you, such advice is meaningless and rarely supportive anyway. Instead of helping, platitudes tend to make a difficult situation become far worse. As people withdraw, deserting you, you are left to deal with the problem alone.

Feeling abandoned, this is when many turn to self-defeating behavior, which provides relief from the pain—a one-day reprieve from reality. It is also how abused people become “hooked” on alcohol, prescription medications, overeating, overspending, or inappropriate relationships—none of which work long-term.

When a person reaches his or her bottom and has run out of 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, however, and the person doubts his or her life will ever be worthwhile again.

When someone reaches this point, that’s when God’s presence and help become more real than ever. That’s when He touches the places that hurt the most, providing insight, understanding, and healing. Just one thing is necessary for all of this to happen: you must accept that the responsibility for getting back on tract is yours and no one else’s. When you reach this point and become willing to admit this, your life can regain meaning.

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)

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Father,

Allow me to serve others with gladness—

Without keeping score,

Always giving, never expecting to receive.

Allow me to give of myself,

To give of my talents and of my goods,

To give of my time and of my energy,

To give of my heart and of my soul.

Help me understand the needs of others,

Never criticizing,

Never demeaning,

Never scolding,

Never condemning.

You have been so gracious to me,

Always Loving,

Always forgiving,

Always restoring—

Never chastising me for failing,

Even though I have been misguided

More times than I have not.

Father, keep a condemning spirit

Far from my heart and further from my lips.

Allow me to serve others with gentleness,

With compassion and tenderness,

Never diminishing the value of another.

Let me extend mercy to the brokenhearted,

Just as You have extended it to me.

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I acknowledge Your sovereignty because

I want “things” from You.

I want You to bless me—

To make my life easier,

To make my will Your own.

I know my prayers focus upon

What You can do for me,

Because I’m interested in Your blessing—

Not in getting to know You better.

 

Question: Think about your prayers. What percent of the time do you spend asking for things for yourself? When you come up with a percentage, write it down and look at it each day for the next week.

After the pain of our abuse begins to subside, after we realize our life is going to take a very different direction than we wanted 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. We need to ask ourselves, “What do I need to unlearn from my experience?”

Journal: Write down the things you need to “unlearn.” For example, what negative attitudes have you acquired since your abusive experience? Take as much time as you need, this is an important part of your recovery.

In spite of what anyone might tell you, God is not a blessing machine, ready to dispense material favors for all who ask without qualification. When you review the “Fruit of the Spirit,” conspicuous consumption is never mentioned. What is mentioned are estimable character qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness.

Question: In your life, what are your five most conspicuous character qualities? Name them. How many are positive, and how many are negative? Be honest.

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.

Question: Take a moment and think of someone you know who resembles this. Is that person attractive to you or repulsive? Is that person someone you want to be like? Remember your answer.

As a child of God, He expects us to lift Him up. That’s all. That’s our entire responsibility in witnessing—nothing else. Isn’t it freeing just to read this and take it in?

Journal:  What would “lifting up” the Lord look like for you? Take a few minutes and write down your answer.

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Refer to Step 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with the Lord, asking Him to reveal His will to me and to provide me with the power to carry it out.

 

Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words!

—Unknown

As a child of God, He expects you to lift Him up. That’s all. That’s your entire responsibility in witnessing—nothing else.

Isn’t it freeing just to read this and take it in?

I can’t save anyone any more than I can damn them. Neither can you. We don’t have anything to do with a person’s eternal destination. We don’t get a vote—never have had one, never will have one. That’s left up the Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit—where it belongs.

Then, what is your part in the process?

It is to lift up Christ, which you do every time you act out of the nature He has imparted to you, rather than out of our own, self-serving nature. If you act out of your best interest and nothing more, you miss an opportunity to lift Him up. When you are Christ-like, you display love, joy, peace, and patience—all the fruit of the Spirit of God. When you suffer reversals with dignity, you are also lifting Him up. When you choose His way over self-seeking materialism, you are lifting Him up. When you are kind, expecting nothing in return, you are lifting Him up.

When you seek your will, you are not. The greatest problem comes when you deceive yourself into believing your will is God’s will, and you press for it at the expense of what He really wants. That’s a strategy that never works, and it always manifests itself as a poor witness for Christ.

Being Christ-like works; nothing else does. It draws people to the Lord much better than a three-minute testimony with inflated claims, coming from a stranger. The former is genuine, while the latter is little more than an infomercial, which is contrived, forced, and disingenuous—something that never delivers as much as it promises.

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (John 12:32; Colossians 3:17)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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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. That’s God’s part. He did it all, which is what love, mercy, grace, and acceptance 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 say to interpret it 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 produces legalism. It should never be done and can never be accomplished successfully. By their efforts, those who do so 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 will that be? Not at all attractive! Most people run from anything, which is that unappealing. Can you blame them?

You recognize the kind of people I’m describing—the heartlessly religious who are never wrong about anything. Sadly, Christianity has far too many people like this. They are the ones who condemn homosexuals, telling them they deserve to have AIDS. They call women, who have aborted their babies, murderers, forgetting that they, too, were once 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 embrace without question. Their bitter sting keeps many from embracing God’s love, acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness.

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, and that’s very attractive to hurting, desperate people, searching for answers. If you’re smug and self-righteous, you will also have a great impact for God—a negative impact.

Which one will it be? Like so 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)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Refer to Step 4: I chose to accept as true what God has said about Himself. He is good and can be trusted.

 

Sometimes God doesn’t change your situation because He is trying to change your heart.

—Larry Rust

In spite of what anyone might tell you, God is not a blessing machine, ready to dispense material favors for all who ask without qualification. When you review the “fruits of the Spirit,” conspicuous consumption of capital is never mentioned. What is mentioned are character qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. Each of these estimable character qualities is highly valued by God, and if you want to be a person after “God’s own heart,” you will hold them in high esteem as well.

Too often, most of us complain to God because we want material blessings without the slightest consideration of whether or not receiving them is actually in our best interest or not. What we want is for God to spare us from the legitimate consequences of our actions. We have come to learn government bailouts are counter-productive, but we never seem to understand that our demands of God, which are similar to a governmental bailout, are frequently as counter-productive.

We are like a child who demands candy from a reluctant parent, never considering what harm it might do. Because we don’t fathom or understand the bigger picture, we demand that God make our will His will, and then we criticize His for His treatment of us, when He doesn’t comply. To us, it seems like our prayers have gone unanswered.

When we don’t get what we want, it’s usually because God is working on other, more important aspects of our lives.

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b-3)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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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 your abuse begins to subside, after you realize your life is going to take a different direction than you wanted or expected, you start asking yourself what lessons you need to learn from your painful experience.

Although this may sound like a healthy place to begin, it’s not. There’s one step before this, which needs to be taken. You need to ask yourself, what lesson do you need to unlearn from your experience?

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

It does no good to simply criticize your abusers, essentially throwing verbal stones at them. It may feel good for a moment, but it doesn’t help the healing process. You need to go far deeper than that.

You must recognize your deception and make a conscious decision to never be entrapped by the same falsehood again. By doing this, you will be unlearning whatever imprisoned you in the first place. Once accomplished, you will finally get back to square one.

Upon reaching this spot, you will be ready to allow God’s Truth to cleanse you, permitting you to renew your spirit. But make no mistake about it—you must unlearn your errors before your recovery will have lasting value. If you don’t, you will 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   Recommended Resources

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Father,

When I come before You,

I always pay lip service to

How awesome You really are.

When I say this, I mean it—sort of.

I know it’s true, but I’ll have to admit

That what I’m really interested in is me.

I acknowledge Your sovereignty because

I want things from You.

I want You to bless me—

To make my life easier,

To make my will be Your own.

I know my prayers focus upon

What You can do for me,

Because I desire Your blessing—

Not getting to know You better.

I wish I was a better person than this—

That I had more character than this—

But I don’t that I don’t.

Admitting the truth embarrasses me,

But I have to be straightforward.

Father, help me change my heart,

To desire You for who You are

And not just what You can do for me.

Give me a heart that seeks Your wisdom,

Rather than just Your benevolent generosity.

Help me see beyond my limited world

To what You are doing in the lives of others.

Give me a heart for someone other than myself.

I know my selfishness; it’s ever before me.

I know You are busy in my life,

Changing me from the inside out,

Helping me to become a faithful child.

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Father,

I know You want me to trust You completely,

And I do—at least, much of the time.

Because of my past wounding,

And feelings of worthlessness,

I still struggle to believe that You love me—

That You accept me just as I am,

Regardless of my circumstances.

 

Question: How do you feel about yourself? Do you feel worthless or close to it? If so, be honest and admit it.

The next time you see someone going through a horrific situation, especially an abusive one, pay careful attention. The Lord is probably at work in that person’s life—big time.

 

Question: Take a minute and think back. Can you remember someone being in a situation like this? If you can, what changes did you see in their lives a year or more later?

Although I was unable to change the outcome in either situation, I was changed when I made a stand, saying, “This is wrong, and I won’t be part of it.” In your abusive situation, is this something you should also consider doing?

Question: When you recognized the abuse, what was your reaction? More importantly, what did you do about it?

Admitting that you are angry with God is the first thing you need to do. So, be honest with yourself about it. Nothing good can happen until you do so. Then, realize you have to do everything in your power to get back on the right track. Nobody is going to do it for you. You have to do it yourself. One of the best ways to do this is by journaling about it.

Journal: Be specific about what you have done to get back on track. If you haven’t done much, what would you like to do in the future?

Tragically, because people have been wounded so deeply, many come to believe the best years of their lives are behind them—with little to look forward to. This way of thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, adversely impacting a person’s entire lifetime. Expecting little, their goals are met every time.

Journal: What are your goals for the future? Where do you see yourself in five years? In writing your answer, it’s okay to dream a little.

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Refer to Step 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with the Lord, asking Him to reveal His will to me and to provide me with the power to carry it out.

 

We find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve.

—Maxwell Maltz

Whenever I ask someone to tell me what their goal is for recovering from religious abuse, I’m always amazed by how little they hope for. Some will say, “I just wish it had never happened. All I want is to get through this situation the best way that I can.” Others will say, “If I could just get back to where I was before all this happened, I’d be satisfied. That’s all I want—nothing more.”

Nothing more! Whenever I hear something like this, it’s hard to believe so many people have such low expectations for the future.

I suppose that’s one way to look at it and, if it’s the best a person can do, that’s okay. Tragically, because people have been wounded so deeply, many come to believe the best years of their lives have already passed and are behind them—with little to look forward to in the future. For them, this way of thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, adversely impacting their entire lifetime. Expecting little, they meet their goals every time.

Although many people think this way, the future doesn’t have to be like this. Life can be much, much better than simply muddling through. Your goals may have to alter somewhat, but achieving fulfillment should still be the bar you intend to reach.

I am firmly convinced each victim of abuse, whether religious or otherwise, can do better than just aimlessly wandering through life, making it by the skin of our teeth. In your recovery, learn to set your goals high. You can be everything you ever envisioned yourself to be. Your potential hasn’t diminished. In fact, because of the value of your experience, which can help other wounded people, your life can be more fruitful than you ever imagined.

I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Refer to Step 7: I will make a detailed, written account of my abusive experiences, as well as my subsequent behavior. I commit to being as thorough and honest as I’m able.

 

We must never allow anything to injure our relationship with God. If it does get injured, we must take time to put it right.

—Oswald Chambers

I doubt it’s possible to experience an episode of religious abuse without injuring your relationship with God. It just goes with the territory, regardless of which role you play in the situation.

If you have been falsely accused, the pain and hurt from the confrontation causes damage, and you suffer accordingly. If you have a measure of guilt and have been appropriately confronted, pride inevitably rears its ugly head, and that always injures a person’s relationship with God. It’s why the number one on the list of the “Seven Deadly Sins” is pride.

Although each position in the conflict has its own unique set of issues, each is injurious to the person’s relationship with God. The tendency is to sweep the problem under the rug and carry on with life, just as if nothing has happened. Proceeding with this strategy in life is a mistake, but it’s one many people make. Unfortunately, they pay a heavy price for doing so.

To avoid this pitfall, the first thing required is to be honest with yourself, admitting you are angry with God. Nothing good can happen until you become honest. Then, realize you must to do everything in your power to get back on the right track.

Nobody can do that for you; you have to do it yourself.

One of the best ways to be honest is by describing how you feel. By writing it all down, you will be more likely to avoid denying a problem exists. Once you’ve written about it, you can leave it for a few days or even a few weeks. When you return to it, you might be surprised by what you have written. Most people are. It’s a great “snapshot” of your true emotions, and it can help you become increasingly honest in the future.

Make me know Thy ways, O Lord; Teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth and teach me, for Thou art the God of my salvation; for Thee I wait all the day. Remember, O Lord, Thy compassion and Thy lovingkindnesses, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to Thy lovingkindness remember Thou me, for Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord. (Psalm 25:4-7)

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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.

 

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

—Anais Nin

There is an aphorism, generally attributed to Lord Acton, which is one of my all-time favorites. When I first read it decades ago, I was in graduate school, and I incorporated it into my life. Since then, it has worked its way deeply into my heart, becoming an integral part of who I am—a part of my core values. It guides my actions and provides clarity to my thoughts. It reads:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

When it comes to spiritual abuse, this statement seems particularly applicable. Most of us, when we see or experience abuse, simply leave, extricating ourselves from a difficult, toxic situation. Maybe that’s the best thing to do, but maybe it isn’t.

In my own experience, I have confronted one situation head-on, and I have left a similar one quietly, without saying a word. As the years have passed, I feel much better about the time when I confronted it than the time when I didn’t.

Although I was unable to change the outcome in either situation, I was changed when I made a stand, saying, “This is wrong, and I won’t be part of it.”

In your situation, is this something you should also consider doing? Your primary responsibility is to take care of yourself and your family. That’s a given, and if that’s all you can do, it’s enough. If you think you can do more, however, you probably should. It may be difficult, but you’ll feel better about yourself as time passes. It’s what “good” men and women do, and that’s what you want to be—a good man and woman—one who will not sit idly by and allow evil to triumph.

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind. (Colossians 2:18)

Jack Watts  Useful Resources

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Refer to Step 2: I commit to stop living my life in pursuit of self-defeating behavior.

The greatest concern of our lives is not the Kingdom of God, but how we are to fit ourselves to live. Jesus reverses the order: Get rightly related to God first, maintain that as the great care of your life, and never put the concern of your care on the other things.

–Oswald Chambers—

Putting the Kingdom of God first can be the most difficult thing in the world to do, especially for materialistically minded Americans. For us, Christianity is fine, just as long as we can be prosperous and comfortable. If our affluence is threatened, we never consider it to be God’s will.

“God would never do that to me,” most of us reason. For us, prosperity and a strong portfolio are essential components of our faith. If this assumption is challenged by a pastor, we become offended and shop around for another church—one that will validate our consumptive inclinations.

Because we think this way, being spiritually abused may eventually become a positive experience. Once it has happened to you, you feel shattered and believe your world will never be the same. You’re right; it will not. This means you will need to learn to look at life differently. You will need to have your mind renewed to see new possibilities. That is precisely what God wants you to do.

Shattered people cease to be self-centered. Instead, they develop the capability to seek God’s purposes. Until this happens, it never occurs to people that God wants them to have depth, which has far more value to Him than providing His children with pleasant, carefree lifestyles.

So, the next time you see someone going through a horrific situation, especially an abusive one, pay careful attention. The Lord is probably at work in that person’s life—big time.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:32b-34)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Father,

I know You want me to trust You completely,

And I do—at least, most of the time.

Because of my past wounding,

Coupled with my feelings of worthlessness,

I still struggle to believe You really love me,

And that You accept me just as I am,

Regardless of everything I’ve done.

Perhaps that’s why I whine and remain timid,

Even though Your desire is for me

To be strong, joyful, and self-assured.

I desire inner strength, but that’s rarely an option.

Father, how can You love somebody like me?

That You do is something I cannot fathom.

Such love and acceptance is beyond my grasp.

You say you love me despite everything,

Even when my self-defeating behavior

Has been overwhelming and crippling,

Dulling my senses and my desire to seek You.

Nevertheless, as You display Your faithfulness,

My trust in You increases and strengthens,

But it still is not as sound as it needs to be.

I pretend to be strong—to be supremely confident,

But I’m not nearly the person on the inside

I appear to be on the outside.

I pretend to be what I am not—

To be far more secure than I really am.

I even attempt to fool myself,

But You know my frailties, which I try to mask.

I don’t understand why You care about me so much,

When I don’t care that much about myself.

Such love is a great mystery to me.

In my quiet moments, which I attempt to avoid,

I try to fathom such love and caring,

But I simply cannot.

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Father,

I know You’ve forgiven my transgressions,

Which have been many, some even egregious,

But I can’t seem to forgive myself.

I cannot divest myself of my shame.

Father, my sin is ever before me,

Relentlessly grinding my self-worth

Into the ground, telling me I am no good,

Which in my heart I believe to be true.

Question: Is this how you feel? On a scale of 1-to-10, with one being the least, how much shame do you feel? Has this number decreased over time? Perhaps have you have tried to simply stop thinking about it?

Instead of living in denial, make a conscious commitment to embrace your failures—making them your own. Acknowledge them; accept them; and move on. Never allow your past failures to corrupt your future. Stop living in shame. Stop looking to the past, which you are powerless to change. That’s what God’s forgiveness and mercy is all about, and it’s where your recovery begins. This is the bottom you must reach before any real, substantive growth can begin.

Question: Have you reached your bottom yet? Wouldn’t you like to get rid of your sense of shame once and for all?

 

The only way to regain what has been lost is to come to God Almighty, the God of the Trinity, and develop your relationship with Him, based on Scriptural truth. Although unscrupulous men and women may have twisted your thinking about God, for full recovery to occur, you must regain an understanding of God, based on how He has revealed Himself—not how others have portrayed Him to be. You have to learn once again that God can be trusted. Without relearning this, your recovery will only be partial at best.

Journal: Write about the shame you feel—the awful feelings that haunt you. Also, write about how you have been shamed by your abusers.

 

 

Try to take life as it comes. Keep an open mind and an open heart. Make a commitment to do the “right” thing; and if you have difficulty figuring out what that might be, just know that it’s often your most difficult choice. Stay loving, and don’t take everything personally. God isn’t choosing to put you in harm’s way. He is allowing your struggles to deepen your character so that you can develop compassion, which will allow you to take care of the needs of others. At the end of the day, when you can accept your trials with grace and dignity, the person who will benefit the most from them is you.

Question: Can you begin to see how your experience might help other people who have been shamed and abused just like you have been? If so, start thinking about ways you might help someone else.

 

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.

To understand, than to be understood.

To love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

Journal: After being abused, being self-absorbed is quite common. As you spend time in recovery, you will learn to think of others. It’s a mark of the progress you have achieved. In your situation, how would that look? Write about it.

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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