Archive for August, 2012

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.

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seamed with scars.

—E. H. Chapin

Having experienced religious abuse as a Catholic child in Boston, while living in a hippie community in California during the Vietnam War that turned into a cult, and as an adult working for Christian ministries for thirty years, each experience has had a shaming effect upon me. For many reasons, I believed I didn’t measure up, and my sense of self worth was abysmally low. I certainly was not the Lone Ranger. Many of my peers had similar experiences and felt the same way—exactly the same way. Some of those around me seemed to be able to handle their abusiveness better than I could.

I wanted to be like them and cast God aside, but I couldn’t. For me, He was real, and I had to deal with Him, regardless of what others chose to do. Perhaps that’s why helping other people recognize their abuse is so important to me. I knew that when I began to understand the causal factors behind my abuse, I would be able to use the recovery tools I learned as a member of AA and turn my life around spiritually.

For years, I wondered why everything happened the way it did. I often thought, Why did that have to happen?

In recent years, I’ve come to accept that nothing occurs without a reason. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but each incident had a purpose. Each chaotic incident and personal failure helped me become the person I am today.

When events were unfolding, I was in too much pain to have any discernment. It was all I could do to make it one day at a time. Since then, however, my concern has always been for people who have been wounded—for the underdog. That’s why I have been writing about religious abuse for years. My burden is to help the millions of wounded Christians whose lives typify pain and sorrow more than love and joy.

Despite what has happened in your past, you can become the person God created you to be—the person you know you want to be. I know it.

And after you have suffered for a little, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (I Peter 5:10)

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.


True repentance means making amends with the person when at all possible.

—Lawana Blackwell

In the last half century, Christianity has undergone a fundamental change. People no longer consider themselves to be as accountable as they once were. Because God forgives their sins by simply confessing them, that’s all that is required in their eyes. Saying a quick prayer, they dismiss their behavior and move on to the next item on their agenda.

They rarely take into account the pain they’ve caused others, and most don’t make amends for their actions. In their minds, they don’t believe it’s necessary. For them, forgiveness and accountability are vertical and never horizontal. Such thinking, however, repudiates Scriptural teaching, and it leaves a trail of broken relationships that never heal.

That’s why taking inventory and writing down the exact nature of your wrongs is so important. It provides a level of introspection that’s healthy and appropriate, and it allows you to take a hard look at what you’ve done.

It’s easy to dismiss poor behavior and to gloss over wrongdoing, when all you have to do is think about it. It’s much more difficult to be self-deceiving when you put it down with pen and paper. Taking the time to be completely forthright is an essential part of recovery, and there’s no way to circumvent it. It’s healthy, appropriate, and absolutely necessary. After taking inventory becomes routine, it will cease being a chore. Like flossing your teeth, you couldn’t imagine what life would be like without it. It’s that integral to recovery.

For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you, what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (II Corinthians 7:11)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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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.

No man knows the genuineness of his convictions until he has sacrificed something for them.

—E. H. Chapin

Feeling defeated and inadequate as a result of religious abuse—and perhaps because of their family of origin issues as well—men and women nearly always have difficulty regaining their self-worth. They want to feel worthy, but they don’t. They want to make a positive contribution, but they don’t believe they are capable of doing so. They want to experience fulfillment but, because of the shame inflicted by their wounding, their efforts are half-hearted and nearly always end in failure.

Has this been your experience? Do you believe success is destined for others and not for you? Do you believe that your best years have passed and nothing noteworthy or of value will ever come your way again?

If so, you feel exactly like most abused people. You’ve been victimized, and you have responded like a victim. That’s normal, but it doesn’t have to be your lifelong experience.

It’s certainly not God’s will for you to languish, wasting your life in despair. Your past doesn’t have to impact your future adversely, but getting out of the hole can be difficult—very difficult. In fact, if you depend exclusively on your own initiative, it’s nearly impossible.

That’s where the value of using the 11 Steps becomes evident. You can now work a program that will help you deal with your feelings of inadequacy, and you will be able to regain the solid relationship with the Lord that once was yours.

Accomplishing this will not be easy. It requires hard work, done consistently over time. The good news is that you can make steady progress and, with each step forward, you will become increasingly stronger. With that in mind, why not shake off your lethargy and get to work on your recovery? Don’t delay; make the commitment and start today.

I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am not longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:18-20)

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.


It is easier to pretend to be what you are not, than to hide what you really are; he that can accomplish both, has little to learn in hypocrisy.

—Charles Caleb Colton

When you started to move away from the Lord, whether consciously or unconsciously, you began to compromise who you were. At first, it may have been just a thing or two, followed by additional conciliations. Before long, however, much of who you were—much of what made you strong, purposeful, and resilient—was no longer there. You became a vestige of your former self, while still maintaining the illusion that you were okay.

Your denial of reality was that complete. You could still talk the talk, but you gravitated to the darker side rather than toward the light. Although you maintained many characteristics of Christianity, on the inside, where it really counts, you became hollow—a shell of what you once were.

If you’re really being honest, does this sound like your experience? Take a moment and think about it.

Have little pieces of your character been shaved off one at a time? Do you wonder if there’s anything left? Does reading this cause you to bristle? Is it painful to introspect at such a tender, vulnerable level? Is it all you can do to continue? Do you want to walk away and think about something else?

If so, you’re precisely where you need to be. It’s the place where you can begin to see the difference between who you pretend to be and who you really are. Others may tell you what a wonderful person you are, but you know the truth, don’t you? Their approbation doesn’t match how you feel on the inside, does it? You’re not even close to where you want to be. Your success, as measured by the state of your heart, is far emptier than you ever thought it would be.

If all of this is true, then you’re in a spot where God’s healing touch should be very desirable. There’s nothing like it. All you need to do is stop walking away from God, turn, and begin walking back. When you do, He will be more than you ever imagined Him to be. He will strengthen your inner man with love, joy, peace, and purpose.

For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a does, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual does, this man is blessed in what he does. (James 1:23-25)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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You know how badly I have been mistreated

By those who should have fostered my welfare

But did the exact opposite—instead,

Taking advantage of my trusting nature.

I’ve expressed my outrage and indignation

To You so often that I’ve lost count.

This affront has deeply wounded my soul.

Out of my pain and ire, I know I have hurt others,

Which I have tried to excuse but cannot.

I fear I have become like those who have hurt me,

Injuring the innocent—just as I have been.

Father, I acknowledge I have done this—

That at times I have become a hurtful person.

I don’t want to be like my abusers,

But in all candor, I know that I have been,

Despite my insistence to the contrary.

Forgive me, Father. Heal my wounded heart,

And restore gladness to my troubled soul.

As an act of contrition, I have chosen to abandon

My self-serving ways, which have been so wounding.

Despite my vexation and my disquietude,

I choose to stop spreading malice and enmity.

To sustain my determined resolve,

I need Your strength more than ever.

Will You reach down and empower me?

Will You help me bridle my caustic tongue?

Will You keep my feet from stumbling?

Transform my wandering heart, Lord,

And keep me close to You at all times.

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I have behaved in ways that have not only

Hurt me but many others as well.

I acknowledge this to You right now.

I’m so sorry for having wronged them,

Which I had no right to do.

Question: How many people have you wronged like this? Is the list long or short? How substantial has the wrong been?


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?

 Question: Answer the questions above honestly and forthrightly.


It takes a tremendous amount of courage to acknowledge that you regret past behavior, especially to a spouse, parent, or sibling, but it has to be done. There’s no getting around it, no matter how difficult it may be. Besides, it’s one of those things that will nag at you—never giving you rest until you’ve done it.

Journal: How many relationships like this do you have? Think of everybody who belongs on this last and write down their names.


Father, do whatever you want with me. I accept all of it graciously, willingly. Such prayers seem so noble when we say them—that is, until the Lord actually initiates real change. When that happens—when His pruning process begins, we scream Holy Murder! The pain is often so intense that we’re certain we cannot make it through. We are all for pruning—just as long as it’s not too painful.

 Question: Has this been your experience? How painful has the pruning process been?


God doesn’t work in common sense ways—never has, never will. Because His ways are not our ways, we rack our brains and cannot understand how He operates; but when we look back at his faithfulness over time, we realize that He has done what we have asked—but in ways we never anticipated or even considered.

 Journal: Write about an episode in your life where God was faithful in ways you never anticipated. When you’re finished, be sure and keep the paper. You may want to refer to it from time to time.

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Hi Jack:

When I worked through Recovering from Religious Abuse: 11 Steps to Spiritual Freedom, I did what it said and got a mentor. I am actually well emotionally now as a result of the work I have done, and it took the time it required.  I can see now my life is the life God gives me in Christ, and it is not the same life I had.

Before reading Recovering from Religious Abuse, which really did the final hard yards for me, I had done a lot of work on my recovery.  I am now accepting I need to be part of Overeaters Anonymous for a long time.  I need the support of others who know something of my suffering and can help me when I fall into a hole.  I also know I can ask for help now without being overwhelmed by shame.  That’s nice for me.

I decided to share this with you as it may make sense.  I enjoy what you write in your reflections because I get to see the same God I love from another point of view.  So, this is just sharing really.  The person I most need to make amends to is myself, so I don’t have to travel very far.  I am finding it easier and, although hard, I am on a food plan and getting better at living within the boundaries it sets to help me manage my weight and diabetes.  Sometimes restrictions are good for my life.

In the last little while we had two prisoners escape from our local jail—my husband was telling me about it last night—when they got out at around 2 a.m., they found it was too cold. They rang to doorbell and asked the guards to let them back in, so they could get back in their cell.  It was too cold outside. No charges were made; they just took them back to their cells.

Prison is not a bad thing.  Limits are not a bad thing.  I am willing to accept that now.  I wasn’t for a long time.



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