Note: For the first part of the story, see Confusion’s Bitter Fruit – Part One
I arrived at the ministry center in September a confident college graduate, comfortable with myself, desiring to please the Lord, and wanting to serve Him and others. But, I quickly became confused, first about the situation, and later about my relationship with God. Not incidentally, this is one of the devastating hallmarks of spiritual abuse: it puts barriers between a person and God and plants doubt in places or relationships that should be safe havens.
Somehow I knew without being told that questioning the system would not be well-received. Happy smiles and cheerful obedience were expected and anything less was confronted, often harshly. It seemed that anything other than complete submission was viewed as rebellion and quickly turned into a “what’s wrong with your soul” problem. Thus, shame was layered over any disagreement with the establishment. When I left, I carried that twisted lie of the enemy with me, and it quietly marred the landscape of my heart for years.
One of the things that hurts as I reflect back on the “hand over your keys” incident and all that followed is knowing that I volunteered for the “opportunity.” I actually signed up for it and wanted to go, so I felt like I was somehow to blame for letting it happen. And that made me somehow to blame for other confusion, disappointment, and pain I endured during years of involvement with this particular ministry.
Another thing that made processing difficult is that there was some good fruit, both at the time and through the years. I made lasting friendships and participated in meaningful ministry. My family was involved, and my parents and siblings became some of my best friends as we served together. We made many happy memories which later made trying to reconcile the negative with the positive all the more confusing. I spent a lot of years methodically stuffing the negative in vain attempts to focus only on the positive; I couldn’t bear the thought of being labeled an “energy taker.”
I realized as I wept in Phil’s arms that night that I wasn’t still holding on to bitterness and anger about the situation, though I’ve certainly needed to process those feelings over the years. I have chosen to forgive and tried to mentally muscle my emotions into submission. In fact, I became dangerously good at suppressing my true feelings in favor of saying the right things, presenting the expected front.
This wasn’t an occasion to talk myself out of a wrong attitude and into a right one. These tears came from a place of raw emotional pain. Pain of finding myself in an unfamiliar place, feeling confused, unappreciated and vulnerable, and feeling like I couldn’t ask questions without being lumped with “those people”: the ones who didn’t just do as they were told.
Whether in this ministry or in countless others that could be named, I know others have experienced far worse – so much so that it’s not even fair to compare our situations. But I decided to share this chapter of my story with the hope that perhaps the way God led me to process might be of help to someone else.
Please don’t think of it as a set of principles or a formula, but rather a direction to start or perhaps even a pathway toward healing. The Holy Spirit can lead in many ways; this is just the way He’s led me.
First of all, I took the time to relive the pain when it surfaced and to acknowledge the depth of emotion. It is SO worth making the investment of time to think and pray through these things! The enemy would want us to believe it’ll take too much time or hurt too badly to bring the pain into the light and let God address it there. But that, my friends, is a lie. Stuffing things inside to make the outside appear “just so” leads to panic attacks, among other things! God knows how much we can deal with and when. He is a Gentle Pruner of sickly vines.
Allowing myself to feel with honesty has been an important part of the healing. By speaking God’s truth over me, my husband is helping me truly believe that it is okay to express the full range of emotions. I can be honest with him – and even more significantly – with God.
What a sweet relief it is to not feel compelled to measure every confession, trying to get the wording just right so as to not offend my Savior! I’m learning that He loves me just as I am and invites me to rest in my imperfection recognizing that He knew the full depth of my depravity before He chose to die to make me His own. That doesn’t mean I don’t “hunger and thirst for righteousness” but it means that I follow Him in response to His love not from a compulsion to somehow try to earn it.
Secondly, as I wept that night, I asked God where He was when this was happening. I have learned enough of the sovereignty of God to know this didn’t take Him by surprise. He knew all that would unfold before I set the first patent-leather shoe on the red carpet. And, as much as I’ve fantasized about how things would have been different had I kept my keys and walked back out the door that day, I didn’t. And I don’t get to do it over. I stayed, and that set in motion events that have affected many as the years have unfolded.
God responded to my question with a whispered reminder to my heart that He had been with me all along. He watched as I let go of the freedom I was walking in and struck out on a journey to make myself more like Him by following all the rules presented so compellingly by the president and others. When you desperately want to do it all perfectly, formulas can be so seductive!
Through the years, Christ watched me wear myself out and finally let me come to the end of my rope in order to open my eyes to the truth that He has always loved me with an everlasting love based, not on my performance, but on His finished work on the cross. This is the beauty of grace: He initiates; He makes the dead heart live; He promises to complete the work He starts. And miraculously, there is wheat in the midst of the chaff.
And my job? To live each day in response to His love. To embrace the beauty in the midst of ashes. That may result in making some of the same choices that were first packaged as a formula but made now within an entirely different framework. And the motive makes all the difference, just as the apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 13 about the nature of what is love and what isn’t.
God reminded me of these things that night. Then I asked him to show me the lies I had believed and the truths that disarm them. Immediately, verse after verse from His word came into my mind, reminding me that He never forsakes His own, but gently leads them like a shepherd. He is not the author of confusion, but rather the embodiment of love.
As I listened to the Spirit speak comfort to my soul and my husband’s whispered words of love, my crying lessened, my breathing slowed, until the last wave of pain rolled over me.
“I had no idea that was all in there,” I said as I laid my head wearily on my husband’s chest. “But, I’m glad it’s gone.”
Why God waited twenty years to rip out the root of confusion, I don’t know. Its fruit has been bitter indeed. But He is good. All the time. So I know there is purpose in it all, a purpose that involves my good along with His glory. And I wouldn’t trade the relationships I still treasure from this season of my life.
The next morning, as I read my Bible, the passage for the day included Jesus’ words: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It’s that truth I cling to as I pray for God to teach me what it looks like to pursue a life of love, faithfulness and simplicity through a relationship rather than a formula.
This song has become my prayer as I reflect on both the wounds and the healing I’ve experienced throughout my association with the Institute. Please take a few minutes to listen and be encouraged.