Day 17 of 21 Days of Healing: How to Respond

Posted: November 24, 2014 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
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His mercies are new every morning.  (Brain work.)

Day 17

A few days a go I attended a conference for teachers in my discipline – music. Of course, the first person I ran into is a life-long member of the church that tossed me out last December. In fact, because she divorced several years ago, she no longer serves in any capacity. (He had an affair and refused church or any other kind of counseling. The wife did everything she could to save their marriage. But I digress.) “I haven’t seen you in a long time!” she exclaimed. And because she was with another woman whom I did not know, I simply replied, “Oh, like all of us, I’ve been very busy!”

We continued our small-talk for a while and then moved on.

Later that day, I saw a gentleman who “knew me when.” Throughout my years of spiritual abuse, my son was in an auditioned choir that this fellow and his wife directed. We chatted for several minutes and then he said, “I just want to say you look fantastic! I didn’t even recognize you at first. Is it the hair? Your glasses? I’m not sure what, but you just sparkle! You look really good!”

I didn’t mention that I have gained 20 pounds in the past 5 years so I would have thought my appearance had not improved (more on that in a day or two), because I have been told many times over the past few months that I look wonderful.

When we first were tossed out of the church, people were very supportive and understanding of the pain that I was experiencing. How I bled all over the place from the wounds that had accumulated over the previous decade plus! And I so appreciated the supportive comments.

After a while, people with whom I had shared the pain of being tossed out of the church started making what I am sure were, in their minds, loving remarks and suggestions. Sometimes it was when I would run into them in person.  Sometimes it was them sharing a neat and tidy little quote on Facebook.  Sometimes it was a comment made to my husband when I wasn’t around.  I’m sure they are well-meaning but they often had not “kept up” with me enough on a personal level to know just how far I had come in my healing process.

As I said earlier, at first I bled all over people. I was outspoken about spiritual abuse and, some would say, reckless in my openness. As I healed, I became even more outspoken in my Facebook posts, twitter comments, and in face-to-face conversations about the impact of abuse, the mindset of one who is healing, and an advocate and encourager for abusive victims.  So many times people would read my comments or the quotes I shared or links I posted and assume that I was still very, very wounded when, in fact, I was very advanced in my healing process.

Here are a few of the comments I would receive:

I’m sorry you are still hurting.

Have you found a new church yet?

I hope someday you are able to find healing.

Why don’t you get involved in (fill in the blank)?

I had to remember that their comments were meant to be helpful but often they simply irritated me.  Why, I wondered, did they assume that I was still so broken and bleeding?  Why couldn’t they understand that just because I was vocal, I was not bitter or hurting?

And then I realized that it was because I continued to talk openly and honestly. And even when I had told a friend or two that I was well on my way to healing, they weren’t convinced. Because for some strange reason, people think that once you are healed, you will shut up about what happened to you. To many people, healing should be demonstrated by not talking.

And I’m sure that’s true for some people. Once they feel better and “move on,” they don’t need to wallow around in all of the negativity and what is often seen as (and sometimes is) self-pity. Many of you will one day discover the blessing of speaking of your abuse as a long-ago memory. Thank God that there is a gift in forgetfulness!

But what some folks have a hard time understanding is that some of us who have healed (and I’m not saying I’ve arrived – I carry scars that will ever remind me) are now living out a new calling, if you will. And that calling is to keep talking.

You know some of the big names out there who had terrible things happen in their lives and went on to start or fund organizations to combat abuse? Would my same friends and acquaintances who think I will demonstrate my healing by not talking say the same thing of Oprah or Boz Tchividjian? Would they say to Oprah, “I’m so sorry you are still hurting?” Or do they think she’s a phenomenal advocate for people who have suffered abuse (of many kinds) and hope she continues to speak on their behalf? Of course they want her to continue that good work of speaking out and helping others.

So, when the woman from my church said she hadn’t seen me in a long time, if she had been alone, I know I would have said, “I know. But since we were tossed out of the church, you probably won’t see me very often.” I don’t know how she would have responded because I don’t know if she is aware of what happened, but it would lead to an interesting discussion, you can be sure.

Then there are those who think that I just need to find another activity. But remember, I now know my core values and I have some bucket lists. So, when someone asks, “Why don’t you get involved in (fill in blank with activity/charity/etc.)?  Unless I truly want to, my response is, “I’m sorry.  I’m already committed.”  Maybe my commitment is to reading a book that night or I’m planning on sleeping in, but I have made commitments to myself and if what they are asking doesn’t fit what I want to do, I don’t do it.  I’m not interested in making other people happy or winning their approval by doing what they think or want me to do.

When someone makes a “I hope you find healing someday” kind of comment, I often respond by telling them, “Oh, I’m not saying this because I’m still hurting or bitter.  I’m speaking out because I’m vocal about spiritual abuse.  People need to know what it is, that it’s wrong, that they are loved and valuable, and that they can heal, too.”

When someone asks, “Have you found a church yet?” I ask them, “Are you inviting me to your church?” When I ask this question, I never get a “Why, yes! I would love for you to come to my church!” Isn’t that interesting? I’ve only had one person invite us to her church – right after we were tossed out of ours and we were too raw wise to consider it. And one person has told me I need to find a church but that hers is too broken to recommend.

Were they to say, “Yes! Please come to my church!” I would then say something like this:

“I don’t think we are going to be interested in looking seriously at a church for a while yet.” If they pursue it further, then I would say, “I don’t think there are very many churches out there that are ready for the accountability that we would hold them to, so we are comfortable not getting enmeshed in that again – at least for now.”

And those who tell me I look fabulous? Why wouldn’t I? I no longer have the look of one condemned. I sparkle! I glow! I exude happiness because I am happy, loved, accepted, wanted, appreciated, and joyful.

Please don’t allow anyone’s comments or questions lead you back into thinking you aren’t enough or that you aren’t healing or even healed simply because you have a voice. Sometimes it’s in using that voice that you find the most healing.

How about you? What questions and comments do you get? How do you respond? Or how do you wish you would have responded? I would love to learn from you.

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