How I Overcame Spiritual Abuse

by | Jul 2, 2009 | Purpose & Identity

It was my hunger for God that opened the door to spiritual abuse in my life.

As strange as that may sound, it’s the truth. From the time I was a small child, I sought God and hungered for an intimate relationship with Him. I wanted desperately to please Him.

I did not realize then that my desire to do His will was born out of my need for His acceptance and approval—two things I thought I would never have. But it led me, as a young woman, to dedicate my life to “full-time Christian service” and started me on a pilgrimage through various churches, denominations and religious institutions in pursuit of His perfect will.

I willingly submitted to the human authorities placed over me in these various organizations, based on the scriptural admonition that we should submit to those who rule over us (Heb. 13:17). I was taught that to “rebel” against these authorities was to rebel against God.

Fortunately for me, some of these authority figures were men and women of honor, integrity and wisdom. They cared for their flocks and sought to obey God according to the revelation they had. I grew and learned much under their care.

Others, however, misused the authority that had been given to them. They exercised control over me spiritually and personally. They used the name of God to back up their own soulish desires, questioning my love and devotion to God if I didn’t do what they desired. They tried to fit me into a mold of their own making rather than allowing me to be who God created me to be.

The “mold” required drastic changes in my personality, career and call. By nature I was an outgoing, fun-loving extrovert, but I had to become a “woman of quiet spirit”—one who didn’t speak. By gifting I was an administrator and teacher, but I had to give up any opportunities to use my gifts in the broader Christian community because I was told that I must stay home and take care of my husband, children and household. If I didn’t, I would be responsible for my husband’s spiritual condition—and he might “run away to join a cult.”

Even worse, I was told that God would not be pleased with me unless I behaved, or performed, the way my leaders felt I should.

One organization in which my husband, Art, and I worked would not even allow us to buy a Sunday newspaper. This same organization hired us to work six days a week but paid only my husband; I was to work for free. The salary was so meager we could not live on it, but we did it because we loved Jesus and wanted to please Him. It was a miserable, gut-wrenching time, with little personal freedom.

At one church my pastors were lovely people, but their hearts had been wounded through years of misunderstanding and pain. Some of their pain came from the neglect, as well as the physical and verbal abuse, they had experienced in their own childhoods. It was also the result of hurts they had received from the members of the body of Christ to whom they had ministered for years.

People they had birthed into the kingdom, taught and nurtured abandoned them for greener pastures. People they had supported financially and for whom they had travailed in prayer left them when they needed them most. These unhealed wounds greatly affected their ministry. It became a mixture of the prophetic word of the Lord filtered through their own pain and emotional needs.

Because of their dysfunctional backgrounds, these pastors doubted God’s love for them. They could not receive it and could not give it to others. But rather than acknowledging their weakness, they masked it—along with their insecurity, fear, frustration, despair, grief and dying—behind a veil of “authority.” They took the position that they were the pastors (prophets, apostles) of the house, and if we didn’t listen to them, we were not only in rebellion, but also in danger.

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