Soon after we were tossed out of our church, a woman I have only met through social media because she also was abused, told me that I needed to realize that I am not a victim – I am a victor.

And while that might have been a nice little message to wrap my brain around so that I kept from wallowing in a cesspool of victimhood, it really isn’t that simple.

Never did I want to admit that I was a victim of spiritual abuse at my last church. If I had admitted it, truly accepted it as the reality that it was, I would have left years earlier. Instead, I clung to the belief that this was all a mistake. I convinced myself that the senior pastor was a good man who, if I could just say the right words and do the right things, would understand that I was being misjudged and treated unfairly.

But, in the end, I had to accept that, yes, I was a victim. For years. And just as being a victim of any abuse, this victimization impacted every part of my life. For nearly fifteen years I was focused on proving that I was worthy of being accepted in the church and by church leadership. And while I could function among family members, friends, and co-workers, I was never fully present. Every relationship in my life suffered from a level of my absence while my mind and heart dwelt deeply on trying to overcome the unnamed defects that kept me living as one persecuted.

The judgment and ostracism without reason or explanation convinced me that I was defective and so fault-filled that I wasn’t even worthy of a conversation to explain the guilt that led to my condemnation. I was so intent on trying to win their favor with only the knowledge that something was wrong with me, that I gave up being myself.

I couldn’t be outgoing because maybe I was too gregarious.

I couldn’t be intelligent because maybe I was a know-it-all.

I couldn’t make a suggestion because maybe I was too critical.

I couldn’t be helpful because maybe I would do the task incorrectly.

I couldn’t be encouraging because maybe I was too patronizing.

I carried the fear of rejection – a fear of that if I didn’t do what I was told I would be even further ostracized. What I couldn’t wrap my head around was that rejection had already happened. They had already rejected me every time they told me something else that I would not be welcome or allowed to do. This was a fact that I did not want to accept. I agonized over it.

I was allowed to believe that the leadership of the church, and therefore God, had rejected me. Neither wanted anything to do with me and the only reason they hadn’t tossed me out of the church completely was because they were obligated to “love and accept me unconditionally.”

Isn’t it interesting that unconditional love meant only that I could show up for services? Unconditional love did not mean that I could be free. To be myself. To serve. To live transparently. Unconditional love only meant that they tolerated my presence.

But, ultimately, they allowed me to believe that God did not love or accept me – that I was not good enough for Him because I was not good enough for them.

Causing me to question my standing with God. That is spiritual abuse.

Yes, I am a victim of spiritual abuse.

And I am also a victor.

Because I know that God loves me unconditionally. That He will never leave me nor forsake me. That He was not responsible for what those people did to me to make me believe that I was unworthy, unwanted, unacceptable. God doesn’t act like that. God doesn’t act like them.

And they don’t act like Him.

I am a victim. And a victor.

Together. At the same time.

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