The Effects of Spiritual Abuse
Tonight I realized how much spiritual abuse is affecting me. It started with me searching the internet for ways to get back into reading my Bible. I found this article: http://blogs.spiritualabuse.org/2017/11/21/reading-the-bible-after-it-was-used-to-control-and-abuse-you/
and all of a sudden it clicked! Spiritual abuse has had more of an effect on me than what I thought.
It probably started before I can remember. Some of my earliest memories include having my mouth washed out with soap for saying a bad word I heard someone say and being told that I will one day give account before God for every bad word I say, even if it was dad who said some of them. It fostered the wrong kind of fear of God, in that I began to view Him as this distant Person in the sky who only waited to beat me up for everything I do wrong or mess up or wasn't fast enough, just like my dad.
It is so tangled together yet at this point that it is hard to separate things from each other. Another one was how I heard in church that women may not wear jewelry or pants(and yet my mom had these things and others in the house leftover from the neighbor's garage sales with the intention of reselling them on her yard sale) and they have to wear a cape on their dress and a head covering. The church was the head authority and if we disobeyed any of the rules and refused to be corrected we would be kicked out of the church even if it was only because of extra biblical rules. Thus a person was forced to conform and when questions were asked they were answered with: we've always done it this way. From the pulpit a person was taught to be afraid of God and that a person can only *hope* to be saved when they get to heaven. It was fear and works based. It was as though you were trying to jump a bar and yet it kept being lifted higher and it was next to impossible to succeed as more and more rules and guidelines kept being made. When I did attain I felt proud that I had finally "arrived" on the outside which was a false peace because in reality my heart was just as wicked as before. It was a vicious cycle.
I forget how old I was when my mom gave me a Bible for my birthday and told me I "need" to read a chapter every day. I tried out of duty because I wanted to do the right thing. I don't remember how well I did but I would feel guilty every time I didn't.
Almost every morning we would read a chapter in the Bible. We would take turns, dividing up the number of verses to the number of people who could read. Occasionally if there was a verse about children obeying their parents my mom would use the verse(s) to try to guilt us into obeying better or give us some other reprimand. As I continued growing and understanding what I was reading I realized that my parents were not living up to what they expected us to which caused much confusion.
It wasn't till I was about 16 that I started reading the Bible seeking to understand who this God of the Bible was because I realized that He is different than my parents portrayed (parents indirectly give their children either a correct or incorrect view of God by the way they treat their children, in case you didn't know that). I wanted to know Him and I spent many an evening after my sisters were in bed asleep, reading the Bible, seeking for this God that I wanted to know. Isaiah became my favorite book of the Bible.
I had many questions but nobody to ask them. When I did have the courage I only got the answer that this is just how we do. Nearly 10 years later I connected with a couple who taught me how to study Scripture. I got tired of people's opinions and beliefs and finally told God that I need Him to give me answers in His Word for only then will I be satisfied. And He did. I began to see so many things in the Mennonite church that I could no longer support and thus I was faced with the choice as to whether I will follow God and the truth He has shown me or will I please my parents. Not an easy choice for anyone who has ever been faced with it...
In leaving the Mennonites I got connected with the Holiness Pentecostal movement as to my understanding of Scripture at the time I considered that to be the most biblical church. I was wrong. The most painful one was the teaching of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was taught that you didn't get the Holy Spirit till you speak in tongues. It caused me so much pain and confusion. I was told often I could be filled only to go home disappointed to the point of utter despair. It caused me to doubt my own spirituality. It was in essence another variation of a works based religion. If a person would just pray or fast enough they would have a break through and victory or an answer from God. If I pleaded the blood I expected to be protected from the enemy and harm etc. I felt like I was trying to manipulate God in giving me what I want. There is just a lot of stuff taken out of context and you can read about a lot of those things on a friend's website at bereanholiness.com where she and her brother have written articles to try to line things up with Scripture again. It took the shutdown in the spring of 2020 to kinda knock some sense into me. I had gone through some very painful things and church to some extent made things worse. Also God began helping me see how the movement was very similar to the Mennonites but on the charismatic end of things. There had been many red flags that had been niggling at the back of my mind but I was refusing to see them.
Here's a few things that I remember spoken by people in this movement:
-perhaps the reason you don't have the victory is because you aren't praying enough for others.
- holiness people in other countries don't have what we have because they are loaded down with jewelry.
-other churches don't have we have because we live a "holiness lifestyle"
-people who speak in tongues but wear jewelry and/or pants are filled with the devil.
There is a whole lot more that could be said. But some of the ways the things I was taught affected me was:
-since I couldn't be at church on Wednesday nights because I lived 3 hours away I would spend an hour or more praying which in of itself was nothing wrong with it, but in what I had learned in those circles, it was filled with vain repetitions to the point where it was as though I was begging God over and over almost though I needed to wake God up and somehow get Him to move in compassion. If God knows every thought that goes through our mind, wouldn't He also here us when we quietly and simply pray specifically?
-I would faithfully read the Bible morning and evening and then when my pastor's wife texted everyone that they had started reading 2 chapters instead of just one she also encouraged us to take time to do the same and so in my conscientious mind I started reading 4 chapters a day. There's nothing wrong with reading the Bible but when you do it out of duty and your heart's not in it then it's not a good thing. I say that because God wants us to serve Him with every facet of our being and if our heart's not fully engaged then something's wrong.
-looking back now I see there was also pride and I considered myself more righteous than others who didn't wear a head covering or a skirt or speak in tongues. But...pride is an abomination to God.
I think it all began to shift when the most important relationship I ever had turned bad, very bad. There was a lot of spiritual abuse to the point that I didn't even think I was saved. I wasn't given a voice. The people on the other side of the relationship did not understand abuse or know how to deal with abuse survivors which caused even more damage. It didn't make it any better when people at church said things like:
-I haven't seen you run("in the Spirit")in a while.
-you seem sad( but when sharing why I was sad they would give suggestions which honestly sometimes made matters worse because I didn't feel heard or understood)
-don't lose your "shout"( it was as though I was not living up to what "they" thought I should be)
I'm very thankful that God led me to the church He has. They are not perfect, but I definitely hear the Gospel in simple, easy to understand terms. There is no striving but rather simple realization of who we are in Christ as sinners and trusting in Him as we continue to grow spiritually. There is no repetitious prayers but rather a quiet and simple prayer as though God hears and there's no need to get loud. There is a seeking the Scriptures to see what it really says and how it all ties together rather than cherry-picking verses to support our individual conclusions or understanding. It took me several months of going to church before the Sunday morning came where I was actually excited to go to church.
Around this time I was given a book by one of the members called The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse which you can buy here: https://www.christianbook.com/the-subtle-power-of-spiritual-abuse/david-johnson/9780764201370/pd/201379?en=bing-pla&event=SHOP&kw=books-0-20%7C201379&p=1179517&dv=m&msclkid=4f2ddf38a99c1844f641be27163456ca&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Shopping%20Main&utm_term=4580359283328954&utm_content=s-books
In it was this one example that I couldn't get out of my mind. I don't remember all the details but it was about a man who was going for counseling and his dad had held the Bible and ministry above his family. He realized his dad had made the Bible his idol. His counselor asked him, What did the Israelites do with idols in the Old Testament? They burned them. So he went and burned his Bible symbolizing his dad's idol. The story then went on to tell how he eventually went out and bought himself his very own Bible and continued serving God.
Since I couldn't get this story out of my mind I thought perhaps God is wanting me to do the same. I prayed about it and eventually did burn my KJV Bible (which by the way is considered to be the only true Bible by both Mennonites and Holiness Pentecostals as far as I am aware of.) There was a great relief in my spirit almost as though I was set free on an even deeper level from the traditions and religiosity I had been indoctrinated with all my life. But alongside of that there was also guilt and fear; guilt for burning God's Word and fear of what people would say if they knew what I had done and that I wasn't specifically reading the Bible anymore.
It bothered me so bad so I told my counselor about it. She was compassionate and understanding and reminded me that God knows my motivation for what I did and that even though it appears as though I was burning God's God's precious Word in essence I was actually burning the legalism and religiosity connected with the KJV Bible from my past. Such a relief!
I still had about 6-9 different Bible apps on my phone that I would open to read or search for something so it wasn't as though I had completely stopped reading God's Word. I also daily see verses on social media as well.
After about a month or so I bought myself a new ESV Bible with a beautiful blue leather cover. It was so exciting to get my very own Bible that I chose myself in the version I wanted. All personal decisions in this purchase. And even though you may laugh, I sleep with my Bible at my side, maybe kinda like some people have a teddy bear. Yet this "teddy bear " is more than just a "stuffed animal that brings comfort", I look at it, softly run my hand over the cover, and through my mind go pictures of my journey and how God used His Word to bring me to where I am today. It is so precious!
Before I opened this new Bible for the first time, fear gripped me for all I could see is all the times my heart was not engaged in the reading, but I just read it with my mind. I didn't want to read it like that. I prayed about it and tried to read but to this day several weeks later I have not gotten past John 6(I started in John 1). It is so frustrating! I want my heart to be in it!
So finally I got desperate enough that I tried to search online for tips to find ways to get back to reading the Bible and instead found the blog post I shared in the beginning. All I found was that I am not the only one. I shared the link on social media and got a private message saying it was a help to one of my friends who admitted struggling in the same area and it helped her understand why, therefore I decided to risk sharing my story so that perhaps God will use to help yet someone else.
In saying that I'm risking it I mean that even though I feel no pressure from God I still feel a lot of guilt and fear of what people would say or think if they find out.
Remember that saying that used to be repeated as children or anyway we did and I'm sure others have as well, sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me. The first part may be true, but I now see that words do more damage than even sticks and stones, because they attack a person's spirit and cause them to take actions they would not have otherwise such as suicide.
So in saying all this I want to say that this has been written from a raw and vulnerable place and even though I welcome questions and comments please be respectful even if you disagree with my choices. Also please remember that you won't understand someone else's story unless you have walked in their shoes. I guess what I'm trying to say is please don't comment unless you have something nice and encouraging to say. Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I hope you have a great day!