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Archive for May, 2013


Refer to Step 10: I choose to believe God still has a purpose for my life—a purpose for good and not evil.

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

—Victor Frankl

How can you tell when someone is “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk?” In recovery, as well as in every aspect of life, it’s an important question—one that requires answering each day of your life.

What you say is important, but what you do is far more important. If you care for your fellow man; if you have compassion for those caught in addiction, despair, or other acting-out behavior; if you routinely display love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness; you are walking the walk—even if you are silent about it. You just don’t realize it most of the time.

If your walk with God is shallow, if your beliefs are simplistic, and if you are unwilling to have your faith challenged or questioned, your recovery will be weak, fruitless, and easily derailed. To become everything you want to be and are capable of being, you must develop a strong relationship with the Lord. There’s simply no other way. You have to own it yourself for your recovery to have value.

Therefore, instead of proclaiming that which is not strong in your life with bumper stickers, tee shirts, Facebook posts, and canned answers, wouldn’t it be wise to strengthen your faith, rather than just drift along aimlessly, nursing grudges and acting like a victim?

Intellectually and philosophically, Christianity is time-weathered, profound, and enduring. At the same time, most Christians in America are unable to handle legitimate questions—questions that recovery demands.

Most of Christ’s disciples were ignorant men, but they changed the world. You can change your world, too. Before that can happen, however, you must strengthen your inner man by spending quality time with God. Without it, you’re destined to have thoughts no deeper than a bumper sticker slogan or a Facebook affirmation.

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. (Philippians 1:27)

Jack Watts   Resources

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

Religion is for people who are afraid they’ll go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

—Anonymous

One of the characteristics of someone who has experienced religious abuse is a blithe, disconnected attitude, making him or her unwilling to take a firm stand about anything. Having experienced shame and rejection from those they once loved and trusted, being strong and committed to anything is the furthest thing from the wounded person’s minds.

Although they may have a clear understanding of what is right and wrong, they have stopped being active participants, unwilling to act upon their convictions. Except for whining, complaining, and faultfinding, their prayers would be virtually non-existent. Having been wounded, they embrace a life of anonymity and obscurity. Pursuing a course that requires taking a firm stand about right versus wrong is for others—not for them.

There’s only one problem with this strategy. It is never God’s will for His people to remain stagnant, nursing their wounds for the remainder of their lives. That’s why recovery is so important.

If this describes you, God is calling you—right this minute. He wants you to be a loyal son or daughter and stand firm for His purposes.

Obviously, anybody who has been wounded needs time to heal, but a convalescence of years—perhaps decades—is too long. You need to rouse yourself and get back into the fray. That doesn’t mean you should re-submit to an abusive religious leader, which you should never do, but it does mean you need to bow your knee to God and ask Him what He wants you to do next.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get to work. You have more to offer than you realize, and there are millions of desperate people who can benefit from the wisdom you’ve obtained through your abusive experience.

Sitting on the bench as a spectator isn’t what God wants from you. For your recovery to have lasting value, you need to put it to good use. God needs you, and He wants you back in the game.

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:17)

Jack Watts   Recovering from Religious Abuse

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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.

Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.

—Emily Bronte

In recovery—any kind of recovery—people must learn to embrace their brokenness rather than resent it. If they don’t, they develop an attitude of self-pity, which nearly always leads to relapse. Resentment doesn’t work—never has, never will. Acceptance does.

When you are in the depths of despair, you have a choice to make. You can learn to be at peace with your circumstances, or you can nurture your sense of wounded-ness. Although nobody likes being down, it’s where you can learn the most about life and about who you really are.

When a person has been shattered, broken, and discarded, all pretentiousness leaves them. They cease being puffed up and arrogant. When you look at them, you can tell they have been reduced to practically nothing emotionally. Such broken-heartedness is difficult to miss. The person’s countenance seems to even diminish—like a deflated balloon.

Before their world came crashing down, most of these people thought they had something significant to offer God. They were important; they brought substance to the table. Although they would never admit it publicly, they thought they were better than others. You can picture someone like this, can’t you?

The world is full of men and women with perspectives like this. Have you had experience with a person like this? If you’re being completely honest, are you still one of them?

If so, you can understand how an abused person could become resentful, can’t you? After all that you’ve experienced, do you still have grandiose thoughts? Or, has that stage of your life passed? Do you feel defeated, without purpose, and hopeless? Has your self-esteem taken a big hit? Do people feel sorry for you because of all that you’ve been through?

If this has been your experience, what should your reaction be? How do you think you should proceed? Your answer will tell you how far you have come on the road to recovery.

When my heart was embittered, and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. (Psalm 73:21-24)

Jack Watts   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.

Through the clouds of midnight,

This bright promise shone,

I will never leave thee,

Never leave thee alone.

—Anonymous

It’s comforting to know God is always with you—no matter what. When you’re wounded, however, especially by a Christian leader you once trusted, there are times you wish God would just leave you alone. You’ve had it, and all you want to do is run away from anything that has to do with God. The thought of anything religious makes you sick, doesn’t it? Have you ever felt this way?

I certainly have—many times. When I did, all I wanted was for God to go away and leave me alone.

Fortunately, He doesn’t go away, even when you wish He would. When He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” it wasn’t an empty promise. He meant it. You can count on it when you want to and also when you don’t.

Although, you may want Him to leave you alone, He will not—not for long anyway. Perhaps you’re smiling as you read this. You know it’s true, don’t you? You’ve experienced God’s subtle presence when you’ve deliberately rebelled against Him. Am I right?

In your heart, when you say; “Just leave me alone,” why do you think He doesn’t?

It’s because He loves —exactly the way you are. You have value to Him, and He has a purpose for your life. There are times when you may not believe it, but it’s true nonetheless.

The Lord paid a high price for you and, because you belong to Him, He’s not about to give up on you. Remember this the next time you decide to “go off the deep end.” You can take all of your anger and hostility out on God, if that’s what you want. You can even engage in self-destructive behavior if you like. But that’s the problem with being a Christian. Sin just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. Because you know too much to enjoy dissipation for long, it leaves you with a feeling of emptiness and worthlessness, and you know it.

O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me. Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou dost understand my thoughts from afar. Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down, and art intimately acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3)

Jack Watts   Resources

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Father,

You are aware of my troubles like no other.

You understand my adversities completely.

At times, I become so fearful my skin grows cold,

And it feels like I can hardly breathe.

I feel helpless, paralyzed with trepidation.

My heart is gripped by panic and an

Alarming apprehension of the future.

I’m afraid of so many things.

I’m fearful of people and of being alone,

Of never experiencing happiness again,

And of devastating economic catastrophe.

Father, it seems like the list never ends,

And I lack the courage to help myself,

Which I’m ashamed to admit—even to You.

I need You; there is no one else to help.

Be my strength, when I am weak.

Be my fortress, when my life crumbles

And the future seems filled with foreboding.

Father, who else can I rely upon but You?

Sometimes I’m even afraid You don’t care,

Nor do You really intend to help.

I want to be strong and confident,

But I am not strong—even though I feign that I am.

Give me strength and confidence, Gracious Lord,

As I take a halting step forward—one day at a time,

With nothing sustaining me but my trust in You,

Which I acknowledge is often fragile and tenuous.

Jack Watts   Resources

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Father,

I feel so helpless.

I’m afraid of so many things.

I’m afraid of people and of being alone,

Of never experiencing happiness again,

Of not having enough money, and of the unknown.

Father, it seems like the list never ends,

And I lack the strength to help myself.

Question: What frightens you the most? Name at least two or three things.

After being abused, the most important thing is take care of yourself emotionally. This is especially true when the abuse has been recent. The importance of self-care is essential in the healing process. Often, the hurt and pain are so severe just making it through the day is all a person can do.

Question: What are some specific things you can do today to take care of your emotional needs? Try to think of something you know you should be doing but haven’t. Now, do it today and for the following week.

But why didn’t God rescue you? He could have, but He chose not to. Instead, He treated you like a son or a daughter and allowed you to suffer at the hands of a ruthless, self-serving religious leader—just like He allowed His Son to suffer at the hands of the Pharisees. God could have rescued Jesus, but He didn’t.

Question: Have you ever considered that during your abuse God treated you like a son or a daughter and didn’t abandon you, as you were certain He has done?

It’s normal to go through a myriad of emotions after abuse, including all the stages of grief; but at the other end, we have to come to the place where we are willing to risk everything again. We have to believe God still has us in the palm of His Hand and nothing can separate us from His love and purpose. It doesn’t mean we have to put ourselves back in an abusive situation, but it does mean we have to be willing to take another chance.

Question: Are you willing to take a chance on God again? Be honest. Write down exactly how you feel and keep your answer. It will be interesting to see if you feel the same way this time next year.

Because of failures in the past, most recovering Christians believe their future should be limited as well, which seems appropriate to them. Having already acknowledged their wrongdoing, most cannot accept the fact they have been forgiven. They have been restored completely, and there is nothing that can hold them back other than themselves.

Question: Is this you? Because of your experience, do you feel so worthless and ashamed that you believe your future should be limited? Which is it—yes or no?        

Jack Watts   Resources

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Refer to STEP 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with God, asking Him to reveal His will to me as well as the power to carry it out.

Christianity at any given time is strong or weak depending upon your concept of God. 

—A.W. Tozer

For any type of recovery program to be effective, the person working it needs to develop a relationship with God. In most recovery programs, God is referred to as a Higher Power, which can be anything, including group consciousness. For many, this is as good as it gets.

For Christians recovering from religious abuse, however, it’s a little different. We acknowledge the Trinity, narrowing our focus to a biblical perspective of God, which spares us from the dead-end street of following pantheism. As recovering people spend time nurturing their relationship with God, they come to Him as Friend, as Comforter, as Sounding Board, and as a Helper. But they rarely come to Him as Almighty God.

The difference is significant. People limit God’s power in their lives, which also limits the level of their recovery. The reason is because most don’t feel worthy to ask Him for what they really want and need. They believe He is either unwilling or incapable of answering significant prayers for someone who has been so unworthy of blessing.

Because of past failures, most recovering Christians believe their future should be limited as well, which seems appropriate to them. Although they acknowledge their wrongdoing, many refuse to believe they have been forgiven, reasoning they don’t deserve any better. They don’t accept that they have been restored completely, and that there is nothing that can hold them back other than themselves. In essence, their sense of fairness becomes self-limiting.

Think of it this way: If God has forgiven you, what right do you have to withhold self-forgiveness? If you think of it this way, the very thought of not forgiving yourself seems audacious, doesn’t it? Don’t allow your emotional self-punishment to minimize God’s ability to restore you completely. Today, make a commitment to stop beating yourself up because of your past. Come to God—not as Comforter and Friend—but as Almighty. If you do, you will not be disappointed.

Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is His name, “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:2-3)

Jack Watts   Resources

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Refer to Step 10: I believe that God still has a purpose for my life—a purpose for good and not evil.

 

If a man is going to do anything worthwhile, there are times when he has to risk everything on his leap, and in the spiritual domain, Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold by common sense and leap into what He says, and immediately you do, you find that what He says fits on as solidly as common sense.

—Oswald Chambers

Going through an abusive situation is never something a person plans to do. Obviously, it’s an unwanted experience. When it occurs, it’s generally considered to be a detour, an unwanted bump in the road, surprising the abused person.

At the same time, there are no accidents with God. Everything has a purpose, including many unpleasant circumstances, including abuse. If you learn to go with the flow—to believe God still loves you and has a constructive plan for your life—you are definitely on the right track.

It’s normal to go through a myriad of emotions after abuse, including the stages of grief, but when the process is complete, you must come to the place where you are willing to risk everything again. You must trust that God still has you in the palm of His Hand and nothing can separate you from His love and purpose. This doesn’t mean you have to return to an abusive situation, but it does mean you have to be willing to take another leap of faith, depending on God as you do.

God is committed to developing your character, making you into everything He intended for you to be. His goal is for you to be rich in character qualities such as love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. This is always His goal, never for anything less. Knowing God is with you and for you, regardless of the circumstance, makes trusting Him your wisest option, even after a spouse or a trusted religious leader has been abusive.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-31)

Jack Watts   Resources

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Refer to STEP 5: I recognize the only way back to a productive life is exactly the way I came. I have to repair my relationship with God and make amends with everyone I have wronged along the way.

Adversity is the mint in which God stamps upon man his image and superscription.

—Henry Ward Beecher

When spiritual abuse occurs, there is always the temptation to conclude God doesn’t care or that He really isn’t there—not really. To feel this way is normal, at least for a while. Along with these feelings, the following question is universally asked: “If God is really in charge of everything, then how could he have allowed this to happen?”

Even Christ asked the question when He was on the cross—”Why have You forsaken Me?”

With Christ, the answer is obvious. If God had rescued His Son, Christ would not have died for our sins. Being forever lost, we would have no way to reestablish a relationship with God. I’m grateful that He didn’t, aren’t you?

But why didn’t God rescue you or those people in Oklahoma? He could have, but He chose not to. Instead, He allows people to go through a world of suffering. Why would He do that? Does it mean He doesn’t really care about us after all? In your own circumstance, when God didn’t rescue you, did that mean you were abandoned by Him?

No, it doesn’t mean that at all. It means He has treated you like a son or a daughter, allowing you to suffer at the hands of someone abusive—just like He allowed His Son to suffer at the hands of the Pharisees. God could have rescued Jesus, but He didn’t.

God had a purpose for what happened to Christ, and He has a purpose for what happened to you as well. Knowing how many hairs you have on your head, God knows your situation more intimately than you do. He is aware of every aspect of your abuse and, no matter how badly you’ve been hurt, He is still in charge—no matter what.

His silence may seem unjust, but it is not. His silence may seem unkind and unloving, but it is not. You may not feel His presence and you probably don’t, but He is there for you no matter what. You can not only count on it, but you must count on it.

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)

Jack Watts   Resources

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

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them—every day, begin the task anew.

—Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva

When a person’s abuse has been recent, it’s difficult to hear that God has a purpose for allowing it. He does; but it seems particularly cold and unfeeling to hear it expressed. Perhaps it’s better to say that He might want to use this experience in a person’s life a little further down the road than what that person might be able to understand, when the pain is still acute.

As one woman expressed it, “I’m not sure I could have believed or recognized there was a purpose in my abuse when it first occurred. I’m afraid I would have been mad at God for letting it happen because of some big plan He had for my life.”

A response such as this one is typical. After being abused, the most important thing for a person to do is take care of himself or herself emotionally. This is especially true when the abuse has been recent. The importance of self-care is essential in the healing process. Often, the hurt and pain are so severe that just making it through the day is all a person can do. If that’s all you can do, you need to be gentle with yourself and let it be enough. It’s okay, especially when you’re fragile and vulnerable.

In my own case, I spent nearly a year unable to do much more than take it one day at a time. It’s essential to take care of yourself. In fact, it’s your most important responsibility; some days, it’s your only responsibility.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)

Jack Watts   Resources

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Father,

Our hearts ache, as we witness Nature’s destructive force.
As we go about our business, each and every day,
We become used to our routine, thinking it will never end,
Foolishly believing we have control over our circumstances.
Then, in the twinkling of an eye, everything changes,
Just as it has for our fellow countrymen in Oklahoma.

Father, be with these dispirited Oklahomans in a powerful way.
Comfort them with the love of Your Holy Spirit,
Assuring them that neither height nor depth,
Nor famine or nakedness, nor tornado or earthquake
Can separate them from Your love and presence.
As difficult as it is for us to be grateful at this time,
We know Your Promises are greater than this destruction.

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

You give and take away;

Blessed be Your Name.
—Jack Watts

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Father,

You are aware of my troubles like no other,

And You understand my adversities completely.

Sometimes, I become so fearful my skin grows cold,

And it feels like I can hardly breathe.

I feel helpless, paralyzed with trepidation.

My heart is gripped by panic and an

Alarming apprehension of the future.

I’m afraid of so many things.

I’m fearful of people and of being alone,

Of never again experiencing happiness,

And of devastating economic catastrophe.

Father, it seems like the list never ends,

And I lack the courage to help myself,

Which I’m ashamed to admit—even to You.

I need You; there is no one else to help.

Be my strength, when I am weak.

Be my fortress, when my life crumbles

And my future is filled with foreboding.

Father, who else can I rely upon but You?

Sometimes I’m even afraid You don’t really care,

And that You really don’t intend to help.

I want to be strong and confident,

But I’m not strong—even though I feign that I am.

Give me strength and confidence, Father,

As I take a halting step forward—one foot at a time,

With nothing sustaining me but my trust in You,

Which I know to be fragile and tenuous.

Jack Watts   Real Prayers

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Father,

The wounds from my abuse run deep,

Creating shame, anger, and

An Overwhelming sense of worthlessness

That enervates every area of my life.

With my mouth, I deny this is how I see myself,

But in the recesses of my mind,

I wonder if my abusers are correct about me.

 

Question: What are the emotions associated with your abuse? How has it affected your self-worth?

Part of recovery—after enduring the initial trauma from your abuse—is determining who you intend to be for the rest of your life. You have to decide whether or not you will be a perpetual victim, or if will you take the necessary steps to become the person you know you were created to be?

Question: Have you given any thought to what type of person you want to be, or have you been content to just drift along through life?

That’s where the value of the 11 steps comes in. It requires a person to go back and resolve the conflicts that created the pain. Although initially difficult, painful conflicts can be resolved and peace restored. All of the broken relationships can finally be put to rest, which rarely happens for most people. There’s no getting around the conciliatory process, which is good.

Make a List: Take a minute and make a list of all the broken relationships you have in your life. Wouldn’t you like to do your part to resolve the problem?

Recovering from a situation where you trusted an abusive authority figure is very difficult. Your soul is burned with scar tissue covering the wound, and you become skeptical and jaded for a long time. Recognizing that this is where you are, however, is the first step in your recovery.

 

Question: Are you willing to admit that your abuse has caused problems that need resolution?

This is your first step to spiritual freedom. The way to fall in line is by putting everything in God’s hands—especially the outcome, which you have no control over anyway. Look to Him; thank Him for your circumstance; and fall in step. When you do, numerous character qualities will be enhanced within you.

Everybody has trials. Everybody has disappointments. Everybody has failures. It’s what you do with them that counts.

 

Question: Are you willing to put your life into God’s hands?

Jack Watts   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.

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.

—Thomas Paine

The Scriptures teach us to “count it all joy” when we experience difficult “trials” in our lives. When you read this for the first time, it seems like it must be a typo, doesn’t it? In your mind you say, Surely, God doesn’t expect me to count it all joy when I’ve lost my job, my house, my child, or my health, does He?

As difficult as it seems, that’s precisely what He wants you to do—to count it all joy. Simply because you do not see a way out of an encumbering circumstance doesn’t mean there isn’t one. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and He knows the outcome. From His perspective, it’s already a done deal. All He is waiting for is for you to fall in line.

The way to fall in line is by putting everything in His hands, especially the outcome, which you have no control over anyway. Look to Him; thank Him for your circumstances; and fall in step by doing the next right thing. When you do, numerous character qualities will be enhanced within you.

Everybody has trials. Everybody has disappointments. Everybody has failures. It’s what you do with them that counts. If you chafe, becoming bitter and petulant, you will have failed to grow in an area where you need to mature. This means you need to repeat the exercise—like a student who needs to retake a failed course. The choice is yours: you can either demonstrate wisdom, by “counting it all joy” when difficulties arise, or you can continue to repeat your mistakes.

I’ve gone through many trials with mixed results. Like most, I’ve chafed more than I should have, which has meant I’ve been forced to repeat the learning process numerous times. Now, when difficulties come my way, I choose to repeat this chorus:

You give and take away

You give and take away

My heart will choose to say

Lord blessed be Your name.

In everything give thanks; for this is God’s well for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:18)

Jack Watts   Resources

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Refer to STEP 1: I acknowledge that my life is shipwrecked and not where I want it to be.

I never trust people’s assertions; I always judge them by their actions.

—Ann Radcliffe

Throughout Scripture, we are taught to welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and give of ourselves to those in need. Christ taught us what we do for the “least of these” is what we do for Him. The church is tasked to be the voice for the voiceless and a defender of the afflicted. When it works, it’s beautiful, but when it doesn’t, dysfunction prevails.

Most of the dysfunction results from fallen man behaving accordingly. Sometimes, it’s much worse than that.

That’s when abusiveness becomes a problem. Because many Christians are young and inexperienced, they accept beliefs that contradict God’s Word. When they ask their trusted leaders to explain what’s happening, the explanations they receive often contradict sound teaching.

If this happens to you, you should run. Unfortunately, that’s not what usually happens. Instead, most re-sell themselves about what’s occurring, making the leader’s error a cherished belief instead of what it is—a destructive distortion. That’s where the problem begins.

Lack of familiarity with the Scriptures makes naïve Christian’s easy prey for abusive leaders—those who know the Bible just well enough to distort it. Because of this, it’s easy to abuse young, trusting believers. The end result is a shipwrecked life for each person who falls victim to the abuser.

Has this been your experience? If so, recovering from a situation where you trusted an abusive authority figure can be very difficult. Your soul is burned with scar tissue covering the wound, and you become skeptical and jaded for a long, long time. By recognizing this is where you are, however, you have taken the first step in your recovery.

I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be on the alert. (Acts 20:29-31a)

Jack Watts   Resources

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