For the first several weeks after we were tossed out of our church I felt like I still had sea legs.  I had learned over the years to walk somewhat steadily – or at least with a great deal of familiarity – as the wind and waves of spiritual abuse crashed over and around me.  Though I found myself on solid ground, my body, mind, and spirit continued for a time to lurch and sway as though I were still on board that hulking monstronsity of a church from whence my spiritually abusive treatment had pounded unabatedly.

The deception of sea legs once one is back on solid ground is that you feel as though you are wobbling, rolling, and shifting.  It is more than unsettling.  It is nauseating and frightening.  I lived in a panic not knowing if I could or even should move forward in a life devoid of church, Christian friends, and that all-important to-do list that had made me moderately acceptable the last few years as I gave inordinate amounts of time and money to the church.  For years while I was in the church, I was scourging myself to show my agreement with the leadership that I was completely unworthy.  So, too, I was exhausting myself trying to prove that I was changing into a better person by attempting to make things right, to grovel, to repent for sins of which I was unaware, to give more, do more, be more of what they wanted me to be.  I tried so hard to win their favor – it was like riding on a ship in a storm.  I would lean one way as the ship rolled and crashed, but just as I thought I was finding my footing it would writhe in the opposite direction.  After years and years, this became my “normal.”  I knew how to navigate on the ship, how to stay upright on my feet. Truly, I clung to the railing of the ship for years and vomited and vomited and vomited over the side – a sure sign to my abusers that I was not yet worthy of their acceptance and favor.  I was so incredibly sick from the way that the ship church kept rolling and twisting and if affected every aspect of my life.

And yet this had become the life that I knew.  It was the life I was comfortable with.  It was my world.  And I didn’t know how to live without it.  So when I was thrust onto the solid grown outside the church, I continued for a time to roll and twist and vomit. My initial reaction upon being irradicated from the church was to do anything and everything to win my way back onto the ship.  My husband and I attempted to set up meetings.  I was willing to admit to anything, confess that I was the wicked witch of the west, take whatever punishment was deemed appropriate – no matter how degrading, shaming, or humiliating.  

But after a few days, the nausea began to abate, the room around me stopped spinning and roiling, and as I realized that none of those whom I had counted Christian  friends in the church were not going to make any effort to reach out to me, my perspective began to change.  Though I had been blogging for a couple of years about my experience with spiritual abuse, until my dependency began to wear off, I was like an addict who knows that what they are “using” is killing them.  I had been willing to “pay ” anything to stay in that noxious environment and it wasn’t until I was out of it, which was for me a short while, that the mesmerization began to loosen its hold on me.

Still not completely free, for a while I entertained the idea of trying to accomplish outside the church what I had wanted to achieve inside the church.  I had always felt called to minister to people who struggled with being “lesser than” – from supporting aspiring worship leaders to helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus.  So, I of course thought about starting a ministry for the spiritually abused.  I met with a few people and communicated with a counselor about having her input or even leadership in a group.  (The counselor had also been abused by the same person in leadership who had tossed me out of the church.)  I thought about writing a book – and still am often encouraged to do so.

During those first few months, I so wanted for my life outside of the church to continue just as it had when I was inside the church.  It was where I found my identity and I didn’t want to let that identity go.  But with time, I began to realize that my desire to have a “ministry” outside of the church was simply my continued attempt to convince myself and others that I was worthy, I was good enough, I did measure up, that I was valuable.  All of those messages from the church that I was unloved, unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary, were still rambling around in my head and heart and I was still trying to board a ship of my own making – trying to do something to convince those who had abused me – and myself – that they were wrong.  

Gradually, as the ground beneath my feet became more and more stable, I my heart began to realize that which my head had known for many, many years:  that my value was inherent in that I was made in the image of God and I am one of His beloved.  The head-heart connection is, ultimately what kept me in that abusive environment for so long.  I knew in my head that the messages the church and senior pastor had been communicating to me all of those years about not measuring up were wrong.  It was this “knowing” that kept me from being acceptable to him because I would tell him how wrong he was – theologically and with scripture as proof.  Time and time again I railed to the pastor that what was happening to me was wrong and why it was wrong and why it needed to stop.  And I demanded answers about why it wasn’t changing.  Yet, he refused to respond.  At one point he even derided me for being a “theologian” as though the fact that I could support my stand with scripture was another negative about me.  

I responded that I am not a theologian but I do understand grace and mercy, forgiveness and reconcilliation and restoration.  And the fact that I demanded those things for myself and for others was the impetus for it being denied me in deeper and deeper ways until I was totally ostracized and then eventually tossed out fo the church. Being in that situation – fighting for what was right and what was true and what was most Christ-like, yet living under tyranny and judgment and ostracism created an atmosphere like a ship in a storm at sea.  It was my strength of faith and survival instinct that allowed me to endure nearly debilitating abusiveness for so long.

The journey of truth from head to heart over time brought me to a place where I was able to gradually let go of my need/desire to prove my worth – to anyone.  My value is not determined by anything other than my existence.  And the only accomlishments I need to make are to do what is placed before me each moment of each day.  Leading my students to discover, expressing the delight of seeing my granddaughter, watching my sons turn into gentlemen of character and integrity, walking side by side with my husband as we grow old with grace, encouraging friends, neighbors and acquaintances, offering a kind word to everyone we meet.

When the ground is solid beneath your feet, you discover that striving is unnecessary.  You discover what it means to walk humbly with God.  


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