Bible Abuse, Part 3:
Building a Support Network
In my last article, I talked about the way in which one’s faith community can apply social pressure to you so that you feel your sense of control over your relationship with God is best placed in their hands and not your own. I encouraged you to not let others define your relationship with God for you, but to pursue a personal relationship with God that is defined in terms of your own experience of God.
Yet, sadly, this choice - -the choice to not let your church, religion, or family of origin define you or your relationship with God – can be a very isolating decision. This is why it is best to follow up that choice through the additional steps in confronting & overcoming Bible abuse of Avoiding Negative People And Churches, and Developing Your Personal Support System.
Many of us must first distance ourselves from abusive and spiritually destructive people and communities before we can begin to experience the fruits of recovery in our lives. Such individuals or groups will try to get you re-entangled in their ideologies and will try to influence you to return to the negative, self-destructive thought patterns you have learned through Biblical and spiritual abuse. In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus makes this fairly clear. Here Jesus tells us that we need to always be open to forgiving others and being reconciled to others. Yet, there are limits to this reconciliation. If someone is repeatedly abusive to us, Jesus says we must confront them on it. If they refuse to change, we should involve a third party mediator. If repeated mediators, including representatives of the community of faith, fail to end the abuse, we then must distance ourselves from our abusers, so that the abuse does not continue. Jesus’ words here are not meant to be rigid rules (after all, there may be occasions in which abuse is of the type it is dangerous to confront the abuser yourself). Even so, they apply to the situation of abusive communities of faith and abusive individuals. Though we have a responsibility to be open to forgiveness and reconciliation with them, if a group or individual is not open to changing its abusive approach to you and to those from your background, there is a need to distance yourself from them so that you can find the proper healing you need in your own life.
This ought not mean isolation, though it may feel as though it does at first. Genesis 2:18 tells us it is not good for us to be alone and isolated from others. Loneliness is not God’s plan for any of us. We have a deep emotional and spiritual need for other people. Unfortunately, for many of us, our spiritual communities of origin are places where we have been spiritually abused and where we have our Bible abuse re-enforced. To surround ourselves with people who have bought into and who dish out the abuse we are trying to recover from will only slow our recovery. Yet, as we begin again in our process of recovery, we can transform our relationships from sources of oppression to sources of healing.
Jesus modeled the way to this in his life. In speaking of those who do not let themselves be defined by society’s mold, but instead live out their own personal relationship with God, as I wrote about earlier, Jesus says “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30). He can promise this by teaching us to re-define our relationships in light of us being whom God made us to be – “Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:49-50). In other words, we can re-gain father, mother, brother, and sister if we lose those connections in the pursuit of being fully who God made us to be, as we let our closest relationships not be defined by biology or place of origin but by a shared commitment to being who God made us to be and a shared respect for people’s individual journey with God. In other words, the people whom Jesus teaches are to be closest to you are not necessarily your biological family or those you knew growing up, but instead those who share the commitments you have made: to accept yourselves & others as God’s children, fully accepted by God in all the diversity they share; to living out who they are, without needing to conform it to society’s standards and prejudice; to letting their relationship with God define itself and not be defined by human conventions.
How does this apply in the context of recovering from spiritual abuse?
What it suggests is that we need to look for individuals that share our commitment to healing from spiritual abuse and to finding a relationship with God not hindered by prejudice and fear. We need to let those people surround us, becoming a community of support. We need to let the people closest to us be people who help us to discover faith, hope, & love again and people who accept us as we are. We need to build around ourselves communities where we can live out the Bible model of James 5: 16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed”. We need to plug into and help build networks of people where people can openly share their struggles, fears, scars from abuse, and pain and through sharing it together, praying together, listening to each other, and being together, find emotional and spiritual healing.
For some of us this may begin with connecting with a non-discriminatory pastoral counselor and/or therapist. We also might find support groups in local churches, online, or who meet in homes. You may be blessed with non-discriminatory churches in your area that can act as communities of healing and support where you can re-build a network of relationships in which your experience of abuse can find healing.
As a part of my personal ministry, I help build communities of healing like this where none yet exist. The center of my ministry is planting churches and small faith communities which are non-discriminatory and in which acceptance and diversity reign.
I encourage you, if you are beginning this journey, to reach out where you are at, whether through an online group, a local non-discriminatory church, a local counselor or therapist, and begin to build a community of support around yourself.
Just as importantly, let yourself be a person of healing to others, one whom others can express their pain, frustration, and struggles with and know they will not receive judgment or condemnation.
© 2006 Micah Royal
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