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Hmmm...I have found it a bit challenging to write about a topic that still actively triggers me, but I have had a look at it from a couple perspectives lately, so here goes. This post is part of November's Synchroblog. Please do take time to go and read all the posts!
I think that the root of spiritual abuse stems from confusion: about who God is, about who we are, and about how to treat each other. Everyone is confused, on some level, about these three things. The problem is not that we are confused, but that we are unwilling to embrace self-awareness about it so that we can deal with our confusion effectively.
Spiritual abuse comes from two basic kinds of relational dysfunction:
- Because I am confused about who God is, I am confused about who I am in relation to God and to Others. This confusion, if I am not vigilant to seek the Truth for myself, can make me vulnerable to being dominated by the convictions of others.
- Because I believe I am right about who God is, I am self-righteous about who I am in relation to God and Others. This conviction makes me vulnerable to dominating others who remain in confusion.
But this is not a post about shame. It is a post about repentance and redemption. And it's something that we all need to engage with throughout our lives. We never get past the need for repentance and redemption, because none of us are perfect.
As an aside, I think many Christians have problems here because they have misunderstood Sanctification as a state to be achieved instead of a process to embrace. It is yet another example of the Already/Not Yet Paradox....
The late M. Scott Peck, MD, in his important book, The Different Drum, spoke about the four stages of spiritual growth. One important insight is that as you grow, you have to choose to remember yourself as you were in the earlier stages so that you are able to relate to those still in those stages. People who forget this tend to only relate to those in the last stage they passed through. Those who are farther back in the stages of growth will not only not relate to such a person...but will typically think they are evil.
One more morsel from Peck (see this post) that I think comes into play for this topic has to do with laziness. Peck came to see original sin as laziness: “attempting to avoid necessary suffering, or taking the easy way out.”
The vulnerable and the dominant are both caught in the web of laziness. Striving to know God and know yourself and others is the ultimate in necessary suffering. No one can do this work for us--we must embrace the struggle ourselves. Yes, we need companions on this journey, but we must each walk the path, step by step, ourselves...or we do not gain the strength, experience and stamina we need for relationship with God and Others.
To take the easy way out, to attempt to avoid this necessary suffering, misses the mark. It's sin.
For those who are confused and vulnerable, missing this mark can look like trying to find someone who will tell you what to think and do. These folks teach people to treat them like children who can't do things for themselves. They find their way to churches or other institutions that will give them boundaries and, for all intents and purposes, make their decisions for them. These churches or other institutions will, by definition, stunt the growth of these folks by encouraging them to cede their personal power and self-control. It may seem benevolent, but it is still domination and it slowly steals Life.
For those who believe they are Sanctified (done deal) and Authorized to represent God, missing this mark can look like choosing programs and policies and procedures that control and standardize the thoughts and actions of others. These folks, intentionally or not, make others dependent on them rather than discipling them toward greater maturity. Resorting to power and control are actually attempts to take the easy way out by not really having to love and teach and correct personally in the context of authentic relationships. "If you would just do what I tell you to do, everything would be fine." Or maybe not....
Now that I've sketched out spiritual abuse a bit, let's turn to redemption.
I have become more and more convinced that AA's 12 Step program is possibly the best foundation for discipleship, and certainly a good way to engage in the necessary suffering of growing up. Yes, it is a program, but it is one that brings persons into the hard work rather than shielding them. In the end, we are all addicts trying to recover from something!
The 12 steps, as outlined on the Realistic Recovery blog, are powerful. Have you ever read them? Worked through some of the program? It is worth your time...and it is something that needs to be done with at least one other, preferably a mentor.
I would prefer a group of three: someone I look up to as farther along the road, me, and someone who looks up to me. I think it is most balanced if someone is helping us up and we are helping someone up. Of course, these persons must be willing to engage the process with you and have already proven themselves to be trustworthy. It is not a small commitment, this....
The key to redemption is being willing to engage in the suffering that comes from honest self-reflection. And this is where Step #4 shines: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Yeah, when was the last time you did that? Have you ever done it?
Take a look at this list of Character Defects and Assets...Looking at the Man (or Woman) in the Mirror. One man, talking about processing Step #4, said that they were not able to look at the Assets until they had thoroughly processed the Defects...because it was too easy to fool themselves into thinking that they were not really that bad--all things considered. Our capacity for self deception is, sadly, enormous!
Again, this is not a guilt or shame exercise. Rather, it is a courageous opportunity to look deeply at your character. Of course, Step #s 5, 6 and 7 deal with those defects discerned, while #s 8 and 9 move to identifying who we have harmed through these defects and the making of amends, where possible. Step # 10 commits to regular self-examination and promptly admitting defects as they are recognized. This is what the process of Sanctification looks like, friends. It is a life-long process.
Step # 11 commits to improve our conscious contact with God and # 12 commits to living life by these principles and sharing them with other addicts. Yeah, sounds like the Jesus Creed, doesn't it?
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There are so many others who have developed such important works that will help with understanding spiritual abuse and redemption. My friend, Brad FuturistGuy Sargent, is a fabulous place to start....
In the end, I believe the only way to approach spiritual abuse and redemption is to realize that we all participate in it, one way or another. We have spots where we avoid necessary suffering and take the easy way out. We have spots when we use our power to control others so we don't have to do the hard work of confrontation and correction. We have spots where we submit to the power and control of others so we don't have to do the hard work of being confronted and corrected.
If you have been abused, seek help as you process the pain...you are not alone and guilt and shame will not bind your wounds. If someone speaks to you with words of guilt and shame, RUN! Look for resources to help you. Be gentle with yourself, because the process of grief can be intense and last longer than you might think. God can handle your emotions....
If you have witnessed abuse, wake up and look for those who are hurting and come to them with listening ears. Hear their story fully. Bear their pain with them in silence, without inflaming it with your own emotions. Honor their trust with fidelity. Your presence is more important than any words you might want to say. Be patient and do not press them beyond what they are willing to share.
If you have been abusive, gather up the courage to STOP and confess it to God. Follow the 12 Steps. Get deep into Step #4. Look into the options offered on the other posts in this Synchroblog. Find someone who will walk with you as you embrace the necessary suffering of repentance, confession, reparation and, if possible, reconciliation. Let God's redemption drill down into your soul, to drain the swamp and clean up your soul.
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We teach each other how to treat us...but we need to learn a better way. I call that way Perichoretic cHesed. The 12 Steps are a particularly lovely theme of The Great Dance.
Whether we like it or not, the human condition is wrapped up in suffering because growing is painful -- physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. But this is the sweetest of pains, because our dancing partner is Jesus. Are you draging him along in your dreadful dance, or are you letting him lead you in The Great Dance?
Life is a long list of Necessary Losses: the loves, illusions, dependencies and impossible expectations that all of us have to give up in order to grow. Trying to cheat and avoid the pain of these necessary losses leads to all manner of chaos and destruction. That way dragons lie....
Be blessed as you journey. Do not think that you go alone, for Father, Son and Spirit are always with you. But do find companions to hold your left hand and your right hand as you go, because we're all in this together.
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Here are the links to the reset of the posts in the Synchroblog:
- Justin Steckbauer – The Servant Leader: A Radical Concept
- Mary – Can I Get A Doctor?
- Glenn Hager – The Man Of God Myth
- Lisa – Forgive
- Jeremy Myers – Reconciling Mark Driscoll
- Peggy Brown – Abi and November’s Synchroblog: Spiritual Abuse and Redemption
- Edwin Pastor FedEx Aldrich – Shooting Stars: Of Scandal, Abuse, Restoration, and Systematic Failures
- Tara – Forgive Us Our Sins As We Forgive Those…
- Liz Dyer – Sorry