Your Hope is NOT in Your Perfection

Recently a friend shared about a stressful relationship– someone was texting her repeatedly, and she felt terror that she might misstep and make the relationship worse. My friend isn’t perfect, of course, so she was wanting to be wise and cautious in how she responded.

Eventually, she was in tears, asking for input and prayer that she wouldn’t mess it up. I did pray for her, but I also reminded her:

Sister, your hope is not in your perfection!

It’s an easy truth to forget.

Even as Christians, we can begin to believe an anti-gospel.

AN ANTI-GOSPEL CHRISTIANS SOMETIMES BELIEVE

We can believe that, “if we act right, X will happen.” Then we insert all kinds of things into that “X” —

  • this relationship will be healthy.
  • she will stop gossiping about me.
  • my child won’t have academic struggles.
  • that person won’t behave in XYZ ways toward me.
  • I won’t have health problems.
  • our relatives will want mutually-enjoyable, long-term relationships.
  • I’ll have a good marriage.
  • my work relationships will be fruitful and at rest.
  • our children will all follow Jesus.

The trouble is, even if we COULD pull off “perfect” behavior, God has built this world so that we don’t get to control that second part of the sentence. Even IF we “act right,” we can’t make X happen as a result. (But really — psst — that’s a mercy!)

Even if you did everything “right” to try to fix it–

  • your relatives or friend might be someone who is addicted to drama and stress in relationships.
  • that fellow church-member might never like you.
  • your child very well might struggle academically, spiritually, morally, or physically.
  • the flu, Lyme, cancer, MS, or leukemia may yet come your way.
  • your marriage may not look like that “ideal” you read about.
  • that person may always behave in rotten ways.
  • you can lose jobs, or lose respect on the job.
  • your children may not actually desire to love and serve King Jesus with their lives.

Act right; get right results” is a lie. And for the Christian, our highest example of this is Jesus Himself.

We don’t always realize it when we’ve veered off-course and started to believe an anti-Gospel.

For me, I didn’t “get it” until we went through a years-long trial. We obeyed God’s Word in addressing an issue, but that relationship/situation never recovered. For years, we tried everything to repair it– to actively pursue peace– but nothing worked. In fact, the longer we tried, the worse it got.

Eventually, that person began gossiping– privately and publicly lying and slandering my husband. It was painful, but the situation taught me that I was believing an anti-Gospel.

Afterward, I could look back and see more clearly–

Part of the reason I pressed that we should try, and try, and try some more is because I was believing that if we just did everything “right,” it would surely turn out right. And that is simply not true.

It’s an anti-gospel.

We don’t try to do what’s right in order to get the right result. We obey God because we love Him and because it’s the right thing to do.

But even as we obey God, we must trust the results to Him, and not look to the results as a verdict on how “good” or “bad” we did.

When the prophets of God spoke truthful words of warning and danger, people hated them, sought their lives, and they often lived chaotic lives of random provision with intermittent seasons of depression. When Jesus and His disciples did things “right,” they encountered slander, hatred, seething, attacks, disdain, and betrayal. When Paul and early Christians sought to serve the communities around them and share the Gospel, they were beaten, stoned, run out of cities, condemned to death.

Good outcomes are not equivalent to God’s pleasure.
Difficult outcomes don’t mean something was poorly done.

And not a creature exists that is concealed from His sight, but all things are open and exposed, and revealed to the eyes of Him with whom we have to give account.

Hebrews 4:13 (Amplified)

God moves according to His own will, and in the end, every thing will be seen in the light of God.

Thus, when we hit situations where we feel our hope turning toward our own perfectionism, let’s bolster our own hearts with this truth:

Our hope is NOT in ourselves. Our hope is in the Lord–

  • the one who SEES everything
  • the one who HEARS our prayers
  • the one who will DO what is best
  • the one who WILL make all things right, in the end.

Grace and Peace,

Jess

Go to Counseling with NO SHAME: Get the Help You Need

The early part of this summer was a hurricane in our lives.

I won’t recount all the details, but we were poised to buy a family business. Instead, the carpet was yanked out from beneath our feet. Had we been on our own, we would’ve gone scrambling, but God placed solid paver stones under our feet with each step we took, and has faithfully led us toward where we needed to be and what we needed to do as a family after that shocking loss.

Though my whole heart was delighted at the pursuit of that beautiful dream, I’m grateful for where we are, and what He’s done.

Nonetheless, the emotional fallout for me was not insignificant. I went to the Psalms to try to voice my emotions in prayer, but I couldn’t focus. I tried to “Do the Next Thing,” but often couldn’t even identify what that was.

The needs were all so pressing, and instead of trying to meet them all, I just went numb. Escapism became my modus operandi– I zoned out on devices, seeking escape and calm and predictability and control.

Sometimes my hands and feet moved in the direction they were “supposed” to– working deliberately to stabilize our lives in the here and now– but even that never lasted long.

My mind and heart were weighed down, cluttered, hurt, and confused.

I NEEDED HELP

I needed perspective, and –even more than that– I needed to talk with someone for whom my story would not be “too much.”

And, yes, I know that God is always there to hear us. But the truth is that I had almost no time alone to pray or talk, and even if I had, we’d been hit by a great blow, and I was still rumbling from that hit. My brain felt like it was in the residual shakes of a gong. There was too much noise and it drowned out even things that seemed simple.

I couldn’t make sense of life.

Our story sounded crazy, even to me.

It’s tiresome to perpetually feel like you have to hold back– like if someone actually heard all the details and concerns on your mind, they would just stop listening and avoid you like the plague thereafter because it’s all just way way way too much. I didn’t know how to voice our story, or my emotions and reactions amidst it all, but I knew I couldn’t go on like this.

I needed to sort it out.

SEEKING A COUNSELOR

So I sought out a counselor, someone with whom I could just bare it all and have her tell me the truth and help me. With some searching (and it took multiple efforts!) God gave me a beautiful counselor (actually an older woman I knew 20 years ago, although I didn’t realize it until 40 minutes into our first session!).

We had two months worth of sessions together, and the biggest thing she did for me was this: she listened, and responded empathetically and insightfully to my story.

Yes, she gave me resources; yes, she prodded with insightful questions and biblical principles, and reflected back to me what she was noticing and hearing. But the biggest gift of it all, for me, was her validating that the weight on my shoulders, and the weight on my mind, really WAS an awfully heavy load.

Somehow, just that — an “outsider” telling me the truth about my life — was very freeing, and also helped me scale over the great hump of sorrow and shock. She helped me to inwardly move deliberately toward reality and away from the past, away from zoning out, and away from numbing myself with devices. After time talking with her, I not only could take steps toward:

  • building an enjoyable, sustainable life
  • investing in church, family, and friends HERE–

— but she helped me realize that I actually wanted to pursue those things.

The inward attitude change (and awareness of my real heart goals) was what I needed in order to begin external behavioral changes.

(For me that looked like: turning off devices; decreasing the quantity of time taken up by binge-video-watching; increasing the time spent engaging with the seeming-chaos of real life.)


I share this because… I hope it will give you courage to reach out to a skilled counselor if you need help.

Also, I want to explicitly say that even though I come from a background of “biblical counseling” — this woman was not a biblical counselor. She was simply a Jesus-loving woman, trained in counseling, able to listen and enter into my story, care about my life, and help me.

Additionally, it was beneficial to have someone who doesn’t “know” me and doesn’t have any skin in the game of my life, to help me sort life out and help me regain my footing on the God’s path. What I mean by that is– no matter what I decided in our counseling sessions, it would not materially change her life. Neither of us have a community, reputation, paycheck, or set of friendships that are dependent upon one another.

She simply wanted to help me love Jesus better and work through the issues and emotions that were plaguing me. And she did.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING COUNSELING.

Sister, life is hard. The heavenward path is long. The blows of life can be wearying. We don’t have to perpetually “buck up” and feign strength. The whole point of the Gospel is that we are weak and needy.

If you need help, take steps toward what you need and get it. There’s no shame in that.

Grace and Peace,

Jess

The World’s Falling Apart– What Can We DO?!

Surely we all feel it!

  • Lockdowns & increasing rules
  • Division, even among groups that normally agree
  • Spiritual leaders exposed as fraudulent and abusive
  • Global economy in crisis
  • Uyghur concentration camps (and no one acting for their justice!)
  • Medical/health battles
  • Increasing isolation
  • Depression, mental health, suicides increasing
  • Rampant domestic violence, divorce, and child abuse
  • Geopolitical strife
  • Sexual confusion
  • Whispers of wars

Something’s terribly wrong with this world.

And it’s not just “them” — it’s “us!” Even “we” don’t agree.

Lord, help us!

When I’m sucked into non-stop news cycles, my heart catches fire with:

  • anxiety/stress/fear
  • anger
  • a desire for certainty, to make the “right” decisions
  • a grasp for control

But this morning, as I joined with other ladies to sit before God’s Word (Psalm 15 this week), my heart tuned in to these truths:

  • King David’s generation had wicked-doers, financial-cheaters, slander-speakers, lie-celebrators, truth-revilers, friend-harmers, promise-breakers– AKA “vile persons.” These things are not unique to our age, to your community, to your life, or mine.
  • The hope of the Gospel is not that we can get it together and behave perfectly–only Jesus could keep the rules. Lists of ways to live the “right way” can only take us so far, and without Jesus, they will break the spirit and bring about hopelessness.
  • As we learn to walk by the Spirit, Jesus can change our heart to make us more like Him.

I’m not really focused on Psalm 15. It’s a fine Psalm, but it’s one of thousands of places we can go in the Bible to zoom out and remember God in the midst of the terrible truth about this world.

The one thing we can do when we are consumed by {enamored with, overwhelmed by, incensed by} the news of the day, is:

TURN TO GOD’S WORD FOR A MORE ACCURATE PICTURE OF THIS MESS OF A WORLD.

God is able to remake our hearts, and able to transform our perspective from one of anxiety, stress, and debilitating fear. He is able to transform our insides, and the way we are looking at things. He is able to help us see what’s happening and yet not be controlled by the events around us.

When we fix our gaze on Jesus, and let His Word inform and reform our minds, it changes everything.

It’s a simple thing, and yet it’s a thing I often overlook, or get too busy for. How about you?

Let’s help each other!! If you have ideas about how we can

  • choose to turn toward the Word
  • rather than toward fixating on the world (news, stress, fears, dangers),

please share them in the comments.

Womanhood & Our Identity Idolatry – Part 3 (of 3)

In Part 1, we talked about:

  • the unreliability of basing our identity on seasons, or characteristics about us
  • the way we are all geared toward identity idolatry (feeling that what we do/choose is the same as who we are)
  • and the way God – in kindness – seeks to shake us loose of that.

And in Part 2, we dug deeper into:

  • our identity in Christ– what it means and why it matters
  • why “motherhood” as our key identity is a dangerous thing

As women, we can easily view ourselves through our identities. “Single,” “Newlywed,” “Career woman,” “Mom of Three,” “Empty Nester,” “Military Wife,” “Widow.”

But God loves us too much to let us find our joy in a place that ultimately won’t satisfy us. Put another way, I believe God has custom-built every stage of womanhood in such a way that every wrong identity will– at some point– fail us. 

So one of the ways that we can choose to turn away from identity idolatry is to stop trying to “choose our own identity.” Instead, choose to stop, evaluate who HE says you are, and let GOD define your identity. Submit to the things HE says about you, and live in a way that shows you believe HIS words over your own.

This is one of my favorite verses because it puts me in my place and reminds me who I am in relation to God. It reads: 

“Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 

Romans 9:20

We are the clay, being made into pots, and He is the Potter. In a pottery shop, the potter decides what the pot is for, and designs it according to his purpose.

But somehow, when it’s our lives, and we’re the ones who are clay, we want to be (like the verse) clay that talks back.

We want to ask questions of God and say, “why did you make me this way? Why didn’t you make me that way? Why aren’t things going the way I’d like?”

But everything gets put into perspective when we remember that GOD is the Potter.

HE is the one who made us. He knows what we were made for. So if we want to know what it means to be His child, we have to look to the POTTER and listen to Him to know WHO WE REALLY ARE.

If we want to know what it looks like to be a wife (or daughter, friend, mother, single woman, aging woman) who is submitted to Christ, we look to HIS Word and let it define us. 

Instead of us “choosing our own identity,” He defines our identity. 

Since God defines who we are, it is crucial that we know what HE says about us, and rank that higher than anyone else’s input (including our own). HIS WORDS about us should be the filter through which we see ourselves. 

So, if you ARE in Christ, if you have repented and turned to Jesus in faith, let’s go through a list of verses. Look them over, and as we go through, take note of any that strike you as particularly meaningful today.

Let these verses wash over you and REMIND you who you are.

Sister, whatever phase of life you’re in,

  • you are not who the world says you are.
  • you are not who the internet says you should be.
  • you are not who YOU think you used to be and can’t get away from. 
  • you are not a compilation of your biggest failures.

If you are in Christ, God says these things are true about you, and they are true “even if” you are divorced, have a prodigal child, have cussed in the past 24 hours, haven’t picked up your Bible in a long time, are the focus of gossip and derision in your community, or feel like you’ve made a mess of your life.

No matter who you are, or what you’ve done/not done, if you have claimed the name of Jesus, these are true:

  • Isaiah 43:7  “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” — YOU WERE FORMED BY GOD, FOR HIS GLORY. 
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17  “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” — YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU ONCE WERE. YOU ARE NOT DEFINED BY THOSE OLD SINS. YOU ARE NOT A SLAVE TO SIN. YOU ARE A NEW CREATION.
  • 1 Peter 2:9  “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,” — YOU ARE CHOSEN, SET APART, PURCHASED BY GOD.
  • Ephesians 2:10  “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” — YOU WERE MADE BY GOD AND HE HAS GOOD WORKS ALREADY PREPARED FOR YOU TO DO.
  • Romans 8:1  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” — YOU ARE NOT CONDEMNED.
  • John 1:12  “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” and Galatians 3:26 “ in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” — SISTER, YOU ARE HIS CHILD.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — WE ARE NOT DEFINED BY OUR SIN. INSTEAD, IN CHRIST, WE ARE MADE RIGHTEOUS.
  • John 15:5,16  “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit… You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” — GODLY, LASTING FRUIT WILL COME FROM OUR LIVES WHEN WE ARE ABIDING IN CHRIST.
  • Philippians 3:20  “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” — SISTER, WE ARE CITIZENS OF HEAVEN, NOT EARTH. WE SHOULD BE MORE DEFINED BY THE CULTURE OF HEAVEN THAN BY THE CULTURE OF THIS WORLD, OF AMERICAN POP STARS, OR EVEN THE CULTURE OF OUR LOCAL HOMESCHOOL GROUP. WHETHER OR NOT WE FEEL LIKE IT, OR FULLY UNDERSTAND IT, OUR CITIZENSHIP IN HEAVEN IS A REAL FACT ABOUT US.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:5  “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” — IN CHRIST, WE WALK IN LIGHT AND TRUTH, NOT DARK & SIN.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20  “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” — LIKE AN AMERICAN AMBASSADOR GOES AND REPRESENTS AMERICA IN A FOREIGN PLACE, YOU ARE AN AMBASSADOR THAT TELLS THE WORLD WHAT GOD IS LIKE. YOU ARE TO KNOW HIM AND HIS WAYS WELL, SO THAT YOU CAN REPRESENT HIM WELL. GOD IS MAKING HIS APPEAL TO THE WORLD AROUND YOU, THROUGH YOU. 
  • Galatians 2:20  “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” — YOU WERE NOT SAVED TO LIVE FOR YOU. I WAS NOT SAVED TO LIVE FOR ME. YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED SO THAT YOU CAN LIVE BY FAITH, AND LET THE LIGHT AND HOPE OF CHRIST SHINE THROUGH YOUR LIFE.

It’s easy to drift into fear and doubt, or even just the simple fog that comes with being distracted by the world around us.

But it is dangerous to forget the truth about who we are. What you believe about who you are makes all the difference in the world in the choices you make, the words you choose, the relationships you pursue, and the way you view your place in the world.

We all need to be reminded, regularly, about who we are in Christ.

God has mercifully built life in this world so that every phase of our lives as women will leave us on shaky ground, UNLESS we are building fully on the foundation of Christ alone.

But in Christ, we have a firm foundation for our identity. We can walk in peace, and not churn inwardly. We can have confidence, without arrogance. We can see chaos around us, and experience sorrows, and retain our hope in God alone.

We can know with certainty that He is making us holy, without having to fake it or imitate external perfection. We can humbly grow, without requiring that everyone around us adopt all the same habits and convictions as we’ve come to have.

In Christ, we can walk through terrifying and tragic things without being shaken.

I want to go back to one final question I mentioned at the beginning of part 1: “Will there be anything with my name on it- a hospital wing, a scholarship fund, a grandchild? Can I do something lasting and meaningful with my life?”

When our goal is our own glory, we are doomed for disappointment, but when our goal is for Jesus to receive the glory, this gives identity and value, makes our relationships meaningful, gives our roles their importance, and makes us beautiful even as time and gravity take their toll. 

Whether we are young or old, the lasting and meaningful thing all of us can do in our lives is to make sure that the banner that hangs over our lives has the name of Jesus written on it… that the things we do, the words we speak, the investments we make — of our time and our energy and our resources– go toward making HIS name great in all the earth. 

As women, this is the true answer to our desire to accomplish, and be a part of, something lasting and meaningful. Our hope can’t be in our kids, bodies, careers, or our names outlasting us.

Our good God loves us too much to let us find our identity in anything other than Him. But IN Him, we have a rock-solid foundation, the secure loving relationship our souls long for, and an eternal inheritance that can not be taken away.

It sounds over-simplified, but it really is true:
The answer to every identity question we ask is found in CHRIST. 

Grace and Peace,
Jess

Womanhood & Our Identity Idolatry – Part 2 (especially “MOTHER”)

In Part 1 we discussed-

  • the unreliability of basing our identity on seasons, or characteristics about us
  • the way we are all geared toward identity idolatry (feeling that what we do/choose is the same as who we are)
  • and the way God – in kindness – seeks to shake us loose of that.

Ultimately, there are 2 categories into which everyone in the entire world can be sorted:

  1. IN SELF— this person has not trusted in the blood of Jesus to pay for sin. {This person may even mention Jesus, but when you pay attention to where their focus is, they are actually resting in their own service, obedience, behavior.}
  2. IN CHRIST— this person HAS trusted in the blood of Jesus alone (nothing else– no works, no striving, no “trying”, no human goodness) to pay for sin 

When you dig below the surface in people’s beliefs, there’s often an expression of “hoping the good outweighs the bad”, or “hoping He’ll let me in since I’ve tried to do the best I can.” Whether or not we claim to be Christian, if our ultimate confidence is resting in self, in our doing, in our behavior, or acceptability to God or others, we are resting in self.

The problem with this is that our “self” is always changing.

Have you noticed it? 28-year-old you is not the same as 14-year-old you. 43-year-old you doesn’t think the same way, or value the same things the same way, as 26-year-old you.

To take it even more ‘micro,’ morning-after-a-bad-sleep you isn’t the same as about-to-eat-your-favorite-treat you. Just-got-a-new-job you isn’t the same as three-months-into-a-valley you.

Because our “self” is constantly in flux, growing, adapting, extending, recoiling, learning, self is not a reliable place for our hopes and our identity to rest.

This is in stark contrast to the rah-rah message that even some marketed-as-Christian woman teachers give:

Lean in, girl. Find your joy, girl. Speak your truth, girl. Look for what makes you sparkle, girl. Your kids’ll be fine; you gotta do you, girl.

There is only one identity that will not fail us, or disappoint– and once it’s ours, it can not be changed and can never be pulled out from under us.

Our identity, hidden in Christ, as a child of the Almighty God– is secure. Author, Hannah Anderson wrote, “Your identity is found in His identity; and you will never know yourself, never be yourself, apart from Him.”

If you are a believer, if you are “in Christ”–

let’s remember who God says we are.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

~Galatians 2:20

Are you in Christ? Then this is describing you– you have been crucified. This is a past action that is true about you. It’s no longer YOU who live. Christ lives in you. The life you live is to be lived by faith in His perfect obedience, not your own.

This is tricky, because we still sin– even though Christ lives in us, there is no magic wand that instantaneously makes us Christlike. But as we walk in faith,

  • the Holy Spirit guides us,
  • leading us into all truth,
  • growing us in discernment,
  • forming us by the Word,
  • and increasing our love for God.

And because we have been crucified with Christ, we are no longer enslaved to sin— meaning we no longer have to sin. We are freed from the intransigent grip of it. This is a result OF our salvation, rather than something that contributes TO it. We are able to turn away, and honor the Lord Jesus with our actions.

One more piece of identity knowledge is found here– (“the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.“) Paul tells not just who we are in Christ, but he tells us about our value: The Son of God loves you. He gave Himself for you.

And this is past tense– DONE. Your value is unchangeable.

You don’t have to get sucked into the vortex of questions like, “am I valuable? am I desirable? does anyone actually know and love me? Does this latest (sin/ weakness/ attitude/ accusation/ difficult relationship) make me less than?”

You are loved, desired, and worth sacrificing for, and you know these are true, and will remain true for your whole life, because God has already done them.

OUR QUESTIONS GET AN ANSWER WITHOUT US AT THE CENTER

Thinking back to part 1– the questions that our hearts ask, as humans and as women– our natural bent can be to see ourselves primarily through the lens of earthly roles and functions. 

But when our identity is in Christ (and not in our self/choices/abilities), all of our questions get their true answer-

  • Q: Am I worthy of being loved?
  • A: I am loved— NOT based on me and my changing sense of acceptability, but because He is a God who lavishly, deeply, covenantally, sacrificially LOVES His children. This lasting love is based on One who will not change.
  • Q: Will someone be my friend, despite my unreliability and failings?
  • A: Yes I am befriended— by the faithful, never-failing Savior who gave Himself for me. This friendship is not dependent on my highs or lows. He knows everything about me, and there is nothing I can do to earn, or to lose, His eternal friendship.
  • Q: Am I worthy of pursuit?
  • A: Yes I have been pursued— Jesus left Heaven, came to earth, the cross, and the grave. He was raised up as the full proof of His promises. Because of His actions (not mine!), I can live with Him in eternity.
  • Q: Am I valuable?
  • A: Yes I am valuable— I was intricately made with a unique fingerprint, and a unique soul. There will never be someone else just like me. Made in God’s image, I am precious and dearly loved. 
  • A: Do I have anything of value to offer?
  • A: Yes— He has given me spiritual gifts and has specially created me in a way that uniquely reflects His character and can reveal His nature to people around me.

But our heart will also get answers that through an earthly lens, seem unsatisfying– like this:

  • We might ask, of a man or a friend, will you complete me? Will you validate and cherish me?
  • There is a man who will complete me and cherish me: Jesus. It might seem cheesy to say this, but Jesus is the ONLY one who will never disappoint us.
    If you are expecting this from a man, or from a friend, your expectations will CRUSH that person. Jesus is fully good, and trustworthy. Everything He does is right and dependable. He gives me everything that I need. He is the only person about whom this will be true in my life. 
  • Will this be the love I’ve hoped and dreamed of?
  • I have the love my heart hopes for and dreamed of— in the perfect Man Jesus Christ who gave Himself for me, always listens, always gives what is best, always cares for me, always provides for me, and never brings unnecessary hurt or suffering into my life. When I expect this from any other man, I am idolizing an earthly love that is impossible, and devaluing the exquisite love of Christ.
  • Will someone celebrate my beauty and value and love me in all the ways I want to be loved?
  • The answer is: In a way, yes. God loves us in ways we didn’t even know we needed. But in a way, no. Because He loves me He will not give a cheap me-focused “love.” I am not the center of the world, and being loved does not mean that I, or the passing desires or interests in my life, need to be unendingly celebrated. Jesus gave His life, and so we celebrate HIM and sing His renown, not the other way around. Our hearts long for glory and worship. The truth is: We were not created to be worshipped by men, but to be worshippers of the God-Man Jesus Christ. 
  • Can I stay beautiful, even as I fight graying and gravity?
  • No, I can not remain outwardly young and beautiful (according to the world’s Cosmo-style standards). BUT, in a vastly more important way – God says my beauty is much deeper than outward appearance. He calls me His beloved. Instead of focusing on my outside looks, He renews me inwardly. He makes me look more and more like His Son, Jesus, with each passing year. As my body begins to fade, droop, weaken, and decay, my inside is being renewed, so that I will shine brighter, be stronger, and have a increasingly beautiful SOUL.

Anne Ortlund’s “life verse” encouraged her along the road of life, especially through middle age, as she realized that (contrary to the message of the world) the path of a godly woman is a life that grows brighter and brighter until we reach Heaven:

the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day.

Proverbs 4:18

BUT WHAT ABOUT GLORYING IN MOTHERHOOD? THAT’S GODLY, RIGHT??!

When our identity is in motherhood, we will emphasize external appearances, and results, rather than truth in inward places, and simple faithfulness.

Our hopes will be in having the perfect labor, getting discipline right, choosing the “right” forms of schooling, childcare, and having the “right” convictions. As they age, our hopes will transfer from our shoulders (with the more controllable things like choices/plans) to a far less controllable set of shoulders: those of our children/teens/young adults.

  • We essentially may ask our children, will you be my trophy child? Will you adopt all of my views and grow up to be amazing to prove to the world that everything I did was worth it?
  • The answer is: No, I do not need trophy kids. You don’t need trophy kids. And your kids need NOT to be trophies. Only one child was perfect, and He grew up to be a Savior. God loves me too much to let me tie my identity and value to my children and how they turn out.

    We sin, and our children sin. Our children will all disappoint us in various ways. Some of them may utterly blow it. Our children will very likely not have the exact same view on the world that we did, and the way we know this is that we very likely do not view the world the exact same way our own parents do/did.

If we put the weight of our identity on our children’s shoulders, it will crush them and very likely ruin our relationship with them.

At times, especially when we find ourselves in the “middle of the story,” we might feel that none of our efforts were “worth it.” We can feel like an utter failure if we keep our eyes fixed on the current outcomes. The “gut punches” of motherhood are heart-wrenching, but they are common, because our children are humans.

But through these ups and downs of motherhood (similar to the fluctuations of our own whims/desires/strengths/weaknesses/interests), God is teaching us to place our hope in something stronger and better.

Motherhood is one beautiful way that God can bless and sanctify a woman. But God does not mean for us to derive our ultimate identity and value from the role of being a mother.

I don’t need self-glory and applause for each decision I make, each conviction I have, each thing I do, or things I won’t do.

I don’t need to be celebrated for days that go swimmingly, or flogged for days that are wretched.

I don’t need to be set up on a pedestal for the kids I raise who appear to turn out well, or treated with disdain and sidelining if I raise kids who seem unimpressive, go through seasons of wandering, or don’t immediately seem praiseworthy.

It is not ME who should be glorified or centered in my mothering.

It should be CHRIST.

When, as a mother, I’ve tried to be faithful with the goal of Christ’s glory, then the outcomes are HIS to sort out, and I can rest.

Because then, my identity is in Him and not in my kids, and not tied to how they turn out.

If I put my identity on them, we will all, definitely, eventually, crumble… but if my identity is in Him, He will not disappoint. Even if/when my kids do.

There is a real freedom in detaching our identity from the ups and downs of changeable things in this world.

a thrift store pillow I keep seeing & consider buying each time I see it 🙂 🙂 🙂

THERE IS ONE SAFE PLACE FOR MY IDENTITY TO REST

As a woman, ABIDING IN CHRIST is the only place I can find real peace in my identity. In HIM, my heart can be at rest. 

In Christ, life has meaning.

The value of your life is not tied to how your son and daughter turn out. Or how your performance review comes out this year. Or if anyone buys your book. Or if you never even write a book. Or if your marriage, garden, hairstyle, wardrobe, wedding, home decor, dietary standards, dress size, labor and delivery experience, dating life, or home business, is everything you hoped it would be.

Your quest for identity will not be satisfied when it rests on these shaky and ever-changing “foundations”. To myself, and to you, I’m saying today:

your quest for identity will not rest until it settles on Jesus.

Part 3 next time; for now–

Grace and Peace,
Jess

Womanhood & Our Identity Idolatry – Part 1

On Twitter, (in April 2016) New York City Pastor Tim Keller was asked: “What are the false gods of our society?” Part of his reply was– “the myth that you can choose your own identity.” 

He is absolutely right. Sister, this is the one of the great lies of our age:

“you get to pick who you’ll be and no one else has any right to say anything different. You set the standard for who you are and other people need to celebrate and affirm and circle around you and your self-chosen identity.” 

~Tim Keller

We see it in the way culture focuses on gender-identity and sexual-identity. This should give us a clue: IDENTITY REALLY IS A BIG DEAL. Who you believe you are makes a massive difference– in how you behave, the choices you make, your priorities, and more.

What we believe about our identity today, shapes who we become tomorrow.

I read about a person they call, “The Dragon Lady:”

“the 55-year-old has undergone a number of painful procedures over the past few years including nose modification, tooth extraction and eye colouring. She also has a forked tongue and a full-face tattoo as part of her transformation into a ‘mythical beast’.

We might laugh at this, shake our heads, or feel pity, disgust, or sadness… but the truth is this:

All of us are prone toward identity idolatry.

It is very likely that this so-called “Dragon-Lady” is actually asking deep questions of the heart–

  • Can I be something special and noteworthy?
  • Will people love me even if?
  • If I choose something off-beat or unknown, will people still celebrate me and my choices?

And I want to talk about heart questions like that. One of the ways I think this happens in our lives as non-Dragon-Lady women is that we ask new questions as we enter each stage of our lives as women.

We may identify ourselves with various roles and titles.

And beyond whatever we say or do on the outside, deep in our hearts, there are questions that seek answers we relate to our value:

  • In girlhood, we ask- “Am I worthy of being loved? Am I worth protecting? Will someone be my friend?”
  • In our teenage years, we ask- “Am I pretty? Will someone love me romantically? And pursue me?”
  • As a young woman, and as we enter our careers, we ask- “Do I have things to offer? Am I valuable? Is my womanhood something I can embrace? Can I be equal to her/him/that role/that challenge?”
  • If we become a wife, our hearts ask questions like- “Will you complete me? Will this be the love I’ve hoped and dreamed of? Will you celebrate my beauty and value and love me in all the ways I want to be loved?”
  • If we become a mother, our hearts may ask questions like- “Please– will you be my trophy child? Grow up to be amazing, so it proves to the world that my labor, sleepless nights, sacrifices, and special efforts were worth it?”
  • As we age, we ask- “Can I stay beautiful, even as my body gives in to gravity? Will there be anything with my name on it- a hospital wing, a scholarship fund, a grandchild, a book? Can I do something lasting and meaningful with my life? Am I going to be alone in the end? Will anyone love me?”

We probably all have asked at least some of these questions.

In each stage, women want a meaningful identity, and we want to have value.

But I hope you can already see:

If it becomes the central part of how we think about ourselves, each role of our lives as women ultimately sets us up for –not possible– but a CERTAIN downfall.

NONE of these seasons of our lives are meant to be a firm foundation for identity.

Beauty fades. Bodies sag. Jobs get downsized. Husbands and children all sin, will disappoint us, and ultimately die. Even if people notice us and our talents or beauty, we can chase and chase and chase, and will eventually realize, THIS DOES NOT BRING HAPPINESS.

Our hearts whisper the truth our mouths– and even our souls– may not be strong enough to speak:

“this CAN’T be what I was made for.”

If we base our identity on roles, appearance, seasons, and abilities, we will fall– it’s not “IF” it’s “WHEN.”

And as His children, God loves us too much to let us derive our value and identity from anything other than HIM. 

  • Have you ever wondered WHY God has let certain parts of your life fall apart
  • Have you experienced the hurt that comes from painful, wounded relationships?
  • Have you wondered why your failures– or your family’s failures– get exposed?
  • Does it feel like the rug keeps getting pulled out from under you?

Ultimately, God is teaching us that nothing else will satisfy.

He wants us to turn away from identity idolatry– with ourselves at the center– and instead seek Him, and find our true identity in Him.

The truth is this: when we set up this desire to be worshipped and receive glory for our appearance, sacrifices, or talents, we are actually setting up an idol in our heart.

Sister, God loves you too much to let you center your identity on you.

The most significant distinction about you is not:

  • Male or female?
  • What do you do for work?
  • Married or single?
  • Mother or not? (Nor its corollary: # of kids?)
  • Skinny or plump?
  • Public, private, or home-schooling family?

No. The most significant issue is one God speaks to us in Jeremiah 9:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.”

The thing that really defines all of us is this: Do you know and understand God? Are you His CHILD? Are you hidden IN CHRIST?

(As a sidenote, if you are not sure, I’d love to share with you what it means to be “in Christ.” If you are a believer but you don’t understand what it means to be in Christ, you might take time to read and study the book of Colossians. It’s a great place for understanding who we are in Christ, and how He makes us new.)

Part 2 soon.

Grace and Peace,

Jess.

On Keeping Keeping On

One thing that amazes me, the longer I live as a Christ-follower, is the unpredictable way of humans as they interact with Jesus. 

  • Some who appear to start out burning bright for Jesus– fall away and disassociate themselves from Him and His people.
  • Some who seem weak and needy persevere and the light of their light grows more brilliant and visible..
  • Some who seemed strong are humbled as they follow the Lord through deep suffering.
  • Some come out of nowhere and challenge me in the way they cling to Jesus as Savior
  • Some who seemed genuine or noteworthy are proven fraudulent.
  • Others, maligned or humiliated (by gossip, or by their own decisions), go on loving Jesus and His people, despite their apparent “ruining.”

And I’m not always able to tell who’s who– it’s caught me off guard along the way.

  • Sometimes the discipling woman who diligently studied the Scriptures walks away from her family.
  • Sometimes the gal with nose ring and tattoos is the most like Jesus.
  • Sometimes the gregarious man at church serving in visible ways is the least like Jesus.
  • Sometimes the 50-something woman you barely notice prays with fiery boldness.
  • Sometimes the platformed person whose life looks the most prettied-up and “follow-worthy” is actually joyless, shallow, and falling-apart.
  • Some who claim Christ are actually Pharisees.
  • Some who look like legalistic rule-followers are actually leaning solely on Grace.

What we see on the outside doesn’t tell what’s on the inside. 

Things aren’t always what they seem.

CONFIDENT IN THE LORD ALONE

Thus, the older I get, and the more I know what’s going on on the inside of me, and the more I see what comes out of others, the more I am certain that it is only the Lord who can keep me on the path.

A heap of knowledge, particular family lineage, “right”-sounding words, or seemingly-good decisions– none of these mean we are following Christ. Many who have the “right” outward appearance, or who gain acclaim and notice, don’t seem to be following Jesus at all.

My confidence is in the Lord alone— not myself and not other humans.

I am leaning in and betting my whole life on it.

He is strong enough.

He will keep me. 

BUT AT THE SAME TIME, OTHERS NEED ME, & I NEED OTHERS.

The more I see the great unreliability of every human, the more I desire to strengthen the Body of Christ around me. We are each so weak! We need the Word! We need the Body! We can not thrive in isolation or self-reliance.

Embers that pop away from the raging fire are soon cold.

We need to be strengthened by one another. 

Some ways I’m currently pursuing perseverance and confidence in God alone are by:

  • eschewing self-reliance
  • making myself small
  • acknowledging my own weakness, and seeking help where I need it
  • refusing to blindly “stan” for anyone else– because all humans are weak and needy
  • knitting myself to others who are truly following Jesus.

This modern age consistently counsels: we should “lean in” and dance to whatever drumbeats we hear in our own hearts. Others encourage us to find & speak “our own truth” (even though their own version of “truth” keeps changing). Despite abundant evidence of human weakness, they say: “you’re strong enough.”

I say that’s all hooey.

Life is long,
but also,
life is short.

I wanna keep on keeping on. I don’t want to sit in constant perplexity and anger at the actions of wicked people. I don’t wanna get pulled away from the trail of Jesus by distractions of pleasure, perfection, or pride.

The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until midday.

Proverbs 4:18

It’s important who we follow, and who we walk beside.

And the only hiker that doesn’t get lost on the trail of life is Jesus.

He’s is the only one worthy of an absolute “follow.”

The only way I’m gonna make it through this life (and, I’d submit, Christian: the only way you’re gonna make it through this life) is walking close to Jesus.

For further discussion, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any/all of these:

  • How are you personally abiding in Christ?
  • What are the most important decisions you’ve made in regard to growing in your faith?
  • The more you have seen the wickedness and weakness of others, how have you kept yourself from bitterness and hopelessness?

I Went on a Personal Retreat! Here’s What I Prioritized.

Recently I was able to get away for a glorious (and gloriously quiet!!) week alone.

[If you don’t know, I have 9 children, ages 19 down to 2 years old, and I’ve been a stay-home, homeschooling mom for the duration of those years.]

For most of my life, getting away like this has been an impossibility, or perhaps I didn’t care enough to figure out how to make it happen. But for the last two summers, I’ve felt a desperation– a need for quiet and time to sort out my soul.

SUMMER 2020

Last year was my first “go” at this. Over the 5 days I was away, I prioritized:

  • No internet
  • Fasting for several days
  • Reading books of the Bible aloud
  • Sleeping as much as I could
  • Getting out into nature (in the Texas hill country!)

That time was fruitful in many ways. It gave:

  • quiet days for reading and prayer
  • uninterrupted time to think my own thoughts
  • renewed zeal as I came home to my family afterward

 

THIS SUMMER’S UNEXPECTED LIFE-CHANGE

Earlier this summer, when our plans to buy a family business in Colorado vanished into thin air, we scrambled to come up with a short-term survival plan. Once we got some initial stakes in the ground, it wasn’t long before I told Doug– “I think I’m gonna need some time away alone with enough quiet to process and pray this through.”

When a friend offered her lakehouse, we knew the plan was taking shape!

 

FIGURING OUT THE CHALLENGES & GOALS

Before going on the retreat, I talked with Doug, and with my counselor, and considered these questions:

  • How can I use this time in a way I won’t regret?
  • What boundaries do I need to set in order to make sure my week doesn’t get wasted on other tasks/demands?
  • What treats/practical elements will make this feel special?
  • How can I guard against devices and screens and noise so I give myself the real QUIET I’m longing for?

So these are the things I prioritized, this year:

  • Sleep (early to bed, & waking up naturally each day)
  • Time in nature
  • Reading a book of meaty sermons about joy
  • Copying the book of Philippians
  • Steak!!! LOTS OF IT!
  • Fasting and praying for my son while he went through a critical point in boot camp
  • Listening to a podcast about family, trauma, childhood formation while I was driving (The Place We Find Ourselves <—- LISTEN!!– I recommend starting with episode 1 to work your way through in order. It’s excellent!)
  • Not rushing myself… just letting it be a slow, easy week, moment-by-moment
  • Working through a spiritual inventory to make sure I was examining my own heart/spiritual life
  • Coffee & ice cream

PRACTICAL DETAILS

As far as practical details, both years, I have had friends who have graciously shared their vacation homes with me (for free! Amazing!!).

But this year, if I hadn’t had this offer, I was leaning toward a Catholic retreat center where they have a private room, access to their extensive grounds, meals, and familiarity with guests on quiet/personal retreats.

Even though we were going to buy a business this summer, we don’t have heaps of money lying around waiting to be used for anything we desire. But this year in particular, choosing to prioritize time away, so I could process and heal from an unexpected zig in our zig-zaggy life, seemed to both of us like a good investment of our money and effort.

WHAT I’VE NOTICED/LEARNED ON THESE RETREATS

  • It’s WEIRD being alone, when you’re never alone.
  • It’s GOOD having quiet, when you almost never have it.
  • It’s DELIGHTFUL to sleep as much as you want, after 18+ years of not having that as an option.
  • Just taking care of ME takes a significant amount of time each day. Doing my own dishes, cleaning up my own pile of books, prepping my own dinner. I can forget this in the hustle of family life, but it’s worth noting– the daily things are a significant chunk of the day.
  • Taking purposeful care of my physical body makes a REAL difference in the way I feel and respond in life.
  • Setting aside time to examine my soul and see what I find there is valuable, worthy time.

These personal retreats have begun to function like a restoration project of my soul.

Parts of me that were dried out and cracking, are replenished with sleep, good nutrients, and living water from the Word of God. Parts that were angry, broken, weary, and frightened get fully expressed, pondered, and counseled.

My soul gets enough breathing room to remember the big God who made sunsets, roadrunners, plateaus, lemons, and limestone cliffs.

And as I take in the beauty of life and the sweetness of time with God,  my soul grows more quiet and more willing and able to trust Him with the zags and zigs of life, whether or not I expect them.

WHY NOT JUST DO IT IN DAILY LIFE??!

I wish I could be like that beautiful old saint I remember homeschooling moms writing about: Susannah Wesley– with 17 children, I believe. She had so many that in order to talk to God, (as the story goes) she routinely threw her apron over her head so she could be alone with God in prayer.

But for some reason, my brain doesn’t work that way. I want to, and perhaps God will still work on me yet, and help me do it.

But for now, this annual ritual has been a beautiful addition to my life.

In the quiet,

ideas form, re-form, and reform me,

sentences bubble out of my mouth, and out of my pen, to my Maker,

problems that have troubled my soul suddenly make sense,

healing comes, in bits and in blusters,

tears and gratitude well up, separately and together.

and my heart gains perspective and settles into a quiet contentment.

 

If, after reading this, you have a desire to go on a personal retreat, and your life is at a place where you can make it happen, my encouragement is: GO FOR IT!

And please share any questions/insights you have in the comments below!

When Your Faith Is Shaken by Spiritual Abuse

When you experience pain inflicted upon you by those claiming the name of Christ, especially by those in leadership in a Christian community, ministry organization, or church, it can turn everything topsy-turvy.

What is true? What is right? Did that really happen? Am I losing my mind? Who can I trust? Can I ever trust anyone again?

  • Maybe you’ve experienced spiritual abuse at the hands of a pastor, elder, or group of leaders.
  • Perhaps you’ve encountered or been taken in by a narcissistic individual.
  • They may have withheld communion, attacked your faithful service, or jabbed you right in places where you already felt vulnerable.
  • Perhaps they lied, privately, or publicly, about you.
  • The people or systems you thought would protect you, left you with deep wounds. 

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

Isaiah 5:20

SOME LESSONS LEARNED

After a season of dealing with this in our own lives, here are some of the things I expressed as I worked through my feelings:

(regarding gaslighting behaviors) — I wish I had known about these behavior patterns earlier in my life. It would have saved a lot of heartache.

Understanding what is happening and that it has nothing to do with you is a game-changer in relationships with this sort of dynamic.

Two things I’ve learned through pain:

One: Avoid people who have a long history of once-close, now-divided, BROKEN relationships.

And Two: Be cautious of people who welcome you into their inner-circle when you barely know them.

Number one seems obvious, and yet within Christian circles, when someone has the position and appearance of godliness and respectability, it is easy to overlook and to make allowances for patterns that, in hindsight seem like obvious red flags.

Number two is a little less obvious, because it can just appear like a good Christian welcome. But there is a stark difference between a person or a group that is welcoming, versus one who immediately pulls you in to become one of their most intimate & trusted friends.

The best decision we ever made was the hardest decision we ever made. God guided us through it. Slander & loss of relationships followed. But freedom & peace has been ours ever since. And God provided WAY beyond what my 1/8 tsp of faith believed back then.

I praise Him.

When I say “freedom and peace has been ours,” I do not mean “happiness and ease.” It has been hard. Depression. Sorrow. Disbelief. Loss. Anger. Helping our kids through the same. Truly, I’m not fully the same person as before we did that hard thing.

BUT. THERE HAS BEEN SO MUCH GOOD. God has sent sunshine & spiritual growth & job opportunities & new friends & friendly encouragement from old friends along the way.

I praise Him.

The stress of a global crisis (for me) is small potatoes compared to the life-altering stress of my husband being mistreated, used, and lied about. I am so thankful we took deliberate steps away from ungodliness and toward freedom, joy, and light.

(good ole Texas bluebonnets)

BIG IDEAS FROM OTHERS THAT HELPED ME PROCESS:

In the spiritually abusive organization, excessive charm becomes excessive condemnation the moment loyalty is betrayed. Any non-supporters are moved to crucibles of condemnation where the heat is turned up until their resistance is melted down and they either comply or leave.

~Wade Mullen

“Sorrow is feigned, confession is partial, forgiveness is exploited, restitution is an afterthought, and reconciliation is an illusion, as long as the truth remains hidden.”

~Wade Mullen

“When you have something to say, silence is a lie.”

~Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

“I was literally hit by a bus and suffered multiple serious, life-changing injuries. But the pain & trauma of that was nothing compared to what I have endured as a result of the trolling, lies, misrepresentations I have endured by [other Christians]…”

~Karen Swallow Prior

A culture that perpetuates abuse will question the motives of those who ask questions, make the discussion of problems the problem, condemn those who condemn, silence those who break silence, and descend upon those who dissent.

~Wade Mullen

Features of narcissistic leadership:

-needs to be at center
-impatience
-inconsistency
-entitlement
-punishes disloyalty
-certainty
-impulsivity
-praising and withdrawing
-bullying
-fauxnerability (false vulnerability)

[email protected]

Toxic leaders proactively wall themselves off from negative feedback. If uninvited concerns do get over the wall, they might claim they were blindsided and that people should be more assertive. They erect barriers to truth-telling and then blame others for not speaking truth.

~Wade Mullen
(These ideas are fire.)

“A major source of injustice and frustration in this world is that those who need to be held accountable for their wrongdoings & those who have the power to investigate & hold them accountable, are the same people.”

~Jacob Denhollander

A threatened intimidator will tarnish the credibility of those exposing his wrongs. He’s not so interested in controlling the behavior of the truth-teller as much as he is concerned about controlling public perception of the truth-teller. The public becomes his target.

~Wade Mullen

Some ideas that helped me heal, after ungodly treatment from those I’d previously trusted:

1- Mourning and lament are appropriate responses to grievous things.

When people you’ve thought were friends or godly leaders reveal themselves to be manipulative liars, it’s rotten. Slander is tragic– and SIN. There’s grief involved when you’ve been used.

So, grieve. Don’t lock it away.

I wish we still wore black while in mourning. How differently would we treat others if they wore their grief visibly?

~Tai French

Maybe friends who were once a regular part of your life don’t call or write you. Maybe they believe outright lies about you. Maybe they even participate in gossip about you.

Maybe you’re spiritually starved because of years of sitting under prosperity-teaching, or fact-based teaching without any heart, or heavy doses of law without any grace.

Maybe you were sexually abused.

Maybe spiritual leaders you once trusted poisoned your church experience.

Maybe you and your children have lost almost everything familiar and it feels like all hope is lost, and like nothing will ever feel normal again.

These are grievous things, and you don’t have to act like they’re not.

2- The people who stay are the ones who write the story.

“The killers are the ones who write the history; the victims are the ones who get written about.”

~one writer, about the JFK assassination

I’ve read about this happening many times with abused wives who, once they file for divorce, are lied about by their abusive husband and have to leave their former church, in shame. Amidst life-altering pain, they are abandoned by– and slander is believed by– those who ought to be loving and serving and coming alongside them like Christ.

We knew this before we walked away. No matter who you are, almost always, once you leave a situation, the people who stay are the ones who get to reframe what happened.

“There are times in our lives when abusers take hold of the pen of our story, and when that happens you fear turning another page because you don’t know what the next paragraph or the next chapter might hold. You’ve lost control of your own narrative and it is now in the hands of others.”

~Wade Mullen

It is common that in spiritual abuse situations, the people who did the harm are the ones who get to “tell” what happened. You can be sure that the story they tell, by design, will uphold their rightness and authority.

This means your story may be fully known in the eyes and ears of God alone.

3- Nevertheless, God sees.

THIS was the message that comforted the slave Hagar. And it was the message God gave to Moses to deliver to the Israelites in bondage:

God sees.

He sees what’s true. He saw every mistreatment. He heard the lies you were told. He hears the lies spoken about you. He hears when His hurting people cry out to Him. He hears your whispered, grief-stricken, half-thoughts– the groans of the soul that you can’t even fully formulate or bear to mumble.

And He delivers.

Deliverance doesn’t always look like we think it should. It didn’t for the Israelites. It didn’t for the Jews of Jesus’ day. But it comes. And in part, it comes when we realize that God sees what’s true.

For the hurting heart, the truth that God sees everything with full accuracy CAN bring comfort to us, even as we grieve grievous things.

4- Don’t just run away– learn what you can from it.

Do I learn through dark providences, or simply seem relieved when they are over?

-Sinclair Ferguson

When you’re being bullied, used, wrongly accused, or realize you’re in a cult, it’s natural to just want to get away.

But if you don’t deal with the things that happened, and try as best you can to observe where the missteps took place, and what you failed to see accurately that got you into that situation in the first place, you could potentially end up in Very-Similarly-Rotten-Situation, Part II.

So learn what you can.

For us, that meant: talking through the first times we saw “the man behind the curtain,” and why we dismissed what should have been plain to our eyes. It has meant owning up to naiveness, and which practices/decisions led to us failing to see what was (in hindsight) obviously happening.

It meant talking honestly about how our fears kept us there, and which personality traits we have that made us more willing to “roll with” or “let love cover” things that, in hindsight, were clearly wrong.

5- Trust that God WAS, indeed, “doing something.”

We don’t always get to know what God’s purposes ARE. But we always know that He HAS purpose in what He does.

The suffering that comes to us is not random. It is not just the flow of chance events that careen along without a plan. It is not crazy coincidence. It is not haphazard and undirected. It is easy for us to see suffering as blind chance, bad luck, or what others are doing to us.

~Tedd Tripp

This can take time. When you’ve been through mistreatment by those you once called “Brothers,” it takes a while to sort things through with discernment, forgiveness, and grace. But as you have opportunities to make decisions in your soul, lean in to a remembrance of and hope in God.

His purposes WERE good. They always are. We can trust them, even when they “hurt like billy-o.” (Eustace, via C.S. Lewis)

6- Accept that much in life is outside our “control.”

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

James 4:13-14

Some events, and some people may never make sense to you. But all of it is still overseen by a God who makes himself known and knowable.

7- It’s OK to start looking forward. Your life can be something new. And it can be GOOD.

It’s true– your life can’t be what it used to be. But it can be something new. And God’s leading you toward it, whatever “it” is, right now.

“Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting—and conflict.”

Proverbs 17:1

The Proverb is true. It may not FEEL true in the interim period, when you are grieving the loss of familiar things, and establishing a new normal. But it is true.

It is better to have less, with peace in your heart, than to reside in a place filled with churning and conflict.

Through all of life, and through all of our conflicts, we have the good Prince of Peace who will carry us, counsel us, and walk beside us.

MORE RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC:

13 Life-Preserving Ideas for Recovering From Spiritual Abuse

First:

  • If you are suffering under spiritual abuse,
  • or have recently left a spiritually abusive situation,

I want to encourage you– not minimize or question what you experienced.

For the purposes of this article, spiritual abuse is defined (by Got Questions) as:

To “abuse” is to use something or someone to bad effect or for a bad purpose, especially regularly or repeatedly. Spiritual abuse happens when a spiritual authority, such as a cult leader or abusive pastor, seeks to control individuals and ensure obedience.

…Spiritual abuse can occur when church or cult leaders misuse Scripture to bolster their own authority and keep their members under their thumb. For example, a spiritual authority may use Hebrews 13:17 (“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority”) to demand blind loyalty and unthinking obedience. …Our loyalty is due Christ, the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), not a particular organization, church, or leader.

Cults and abusive churches pre-emptively insulate members from any information critical of the group. Members are taught early on to be skeptical of any negative report about the group…

The more committed to the abusive church a person becomes, the more isolated he becomes from non-members, and the more he fears punishment if he tries to leave. Some people, after a lifetime of emotional investment in a religious group, simply do not know how they could survive if they left. They have no friends other than their fellow church members. They may have cut off contact with family members… Such is their fear of being ostracized that many stay put, keeping their misgivings to themselves.

…Peter warned us that “there will be false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1). As he described these false teachers, Peter points to their propensity to abuse their followers: “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories” (verse 3)…

pastor is to be a shepherd. Shepherds who abuse the flock can expect severe punishment when the Lord returns (Luke 12:46–48). With privilege comes responsibility, and those spiritual wolves who abuse their authority will have to answer to God for the harm they have done.

full article: https://www.gotquestions.org/spiritual-abuse.html

So that’s a good starting place to understand what spiritual abuse is.

To the Jesus-follower drowning inside of a church setting:

While I may reference my story, I offer each “Life-Preserving Thought” to buoy you with help and hope.

#1- WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IN FAITH.

Look for the road of faith. In our situation, my husband was convicted never to make a decision out of fear, worry, or stress. But the day that God opened his eyes to a path we could take in FAITH, we took our first step.

For us, faith sounded like:

  • God is able to fully provide GOOD for us, even away from this community we know.”
  • “We believe God can work His will in this place.”
  • “We can step away with our eyes fixed on God, rather than staying or going based on the wolves’ behavior.”
  • “Jesus Christ is building and purifying His church, all around the globe, so we can trust that HE will give us a church family wherever He leads us.”
  • God can provide not only all that we need, but also all that our children need, wherever we go.”

Choose to walk in faith, rather than living in fear of wicked people or wicked behaviors.

#2- WALKING AWAY BRINGS A HIGH INITIAL COST

This may not feel very “life preserving,” but I share it to help you keep walking, even when your path leads through great pain and loss. When you first walk away from an abusive wolf-“shepherd” and/or abusive church community, it risks nearly everything:

  • Loss of friends & community
  • Loss of the feeling of normal
  • Loss of your reputation
  • Loss of religious habits & traditions
  • Loss of relationships with some people you thought were godly
  • Loss of confidence in your own judgement
  • Loss of certainty/clarity about convictions and ideas that you learned about while under abuse
  • and possible even the loss of feeling like things are “OK” between you and the Lord

You may be tempted to:

  • fear that all is lost
  • believe that nothing will ever feel normal again
  • turn back toward the abusive person/situation

Looking at the momentary circumstances can feel debilitating. But knowing in advance that the costs will feel painfully high, especially in the beginning, can help you keep walking.

#3- READ & REMEMBER GOD’S DESCRIPTIONS OF SHEPHERDS & OF WOLVES

Read about what pastors & elders are supposed to be like:

  • 1 Timothy 3:1-7
  • Titus 1:5-9
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4

(I like this simple chart that combines the lists into one.)

full chart here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/what-are-the-requirements-to-be-an-elder/

And read about what wolves, and bad shepherds, are like:

  • Isaiah 56:10-11
  • Ezekiel 34:1-10 <— insightful as to how God views abusive shepherds
  • 2 Peter 2:1-3, 17-19
  • Jude 12-13

As you read God’s descriptions of which behaviors are shepherd-like, and which are wolfish, the Holy Spirit will give clarity. You will see God’s heart toward spiritual abuse. Abusive behavior is not according to His ways.

Starting to see that the person you once regarded as a shepherd is actually a wolf that attacks and scatters sheep is difficult awakening. It will alter how you understand everything you saw and experienced, while you were under that leadership.

Seeing that the wolfish/abusive behavior is unrepentant sin can help you keep walking — in faith– toward health and peace.

a sheep we saw on the Turkish countryside, walking toward the shepherd, in 2009

#4- DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP ABOUT FEELING SORROW, SADNESS, & GRIEF.

Mourning is a right and natural response to great loss. Though in some ways, going away from an abusive leader/group will feel like a wonderful rescue, in other ways it feels like you are in exile. You don’t have to beat yourself up about feeling sad about the ongoing, real losses you are experiencing.

Feel it. Process it. You don’t have to bury these things or ignore them.

It is not just OK– it is natural— to be sad about sad things, to feel angry about wrong things, and to grieve the loss of things and people you valued.

#5- IT WILL NOT ALWAYS HURT THIS BADLY.

One thing we learned is that while there is so much pain in the beginning, the joy of being rescued by God from the jaws of a wolf does, eventually, outshine much of the sorrow.

God will bring good.
God will heal.
God will transform your sorrows and show you how to use them to minister to others. (2 Corinthians 1:3-11)
God will bring light from what seems like cloudy darkness.

#6- WHILE YOU HEAL, FIND A FAITHFUL CHURCH WHERE YOU CAN CONSISTENTLY WORSHIP GOD IN RELATIVE ANONYMITY

As we healed, God gave us two wonderful churches where we were:
* fed with the Word of God each week
* able to worship and respond to God in honesty
* not immediately pressed into non-stop service

The first one was only for a few months, but in that place, God provided free counseling, while each week we were encouraged with the Gospel.

The second one is where we joined. These pastors loved and encouraged us, and allowed us to take time to heal without any pressure to jump in, teach, or take on roles of leadership or responsibility.

For me, it specifically looked like:

  • dragging myself out of bed to attend, even on days I didn’t feel like it
  • singing or listening to the sermon with tears streaming down my face
  • letting lyrics and teaching touch my heart and remind me of God’s goodness, even while I was in deep pain.
  • (I eventually made a video about this. CLICK HERE to watch.)

You don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t!) jump head first into a new congregation. But — in faith– regularly attend a church that faithfully teaches the Scripture and keep engaging honestly with the Lord– even if it initially brings tears or seems to inflame the pain.

#7- FIND WISE, SAFE, DISCREET PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THE SITUATION WITH WHOM YOU CAN FULLY SHARE

Accessing a biblical counselor, a godly friend who will tell you the truth, a discreet relative who is a good listener, or simply processing with a spouse or friend familiar with the circumstances– these are all possible ways to safely grow in understanding of what you’ve just walked through, and come out from.

Other people can provide you with a sense of what is healthy and normal. As you share, they can also reflect back to you the ungodliness and cruelty of what you’ve experienced. At this time when you are less apt to trust your own judgment, lean on the godly wisdom of others who can come alongside you and bolster you.

As you say what’s true about what you experienced, others will help you to call things by their right names.

The insights of others, alongside Scripture, can help you re-form your understanding of what is wicked, harmful, ungodly, and unhealthy, as well as what is actually good, and true, and beautiful, and worthy of praise.

#8- TAKE NOTE OF WHO STICKS BY YOU & RECEIVE THAT AS GOD’S MERCY.

While some of those who were part of your community may turn away, some may not.

{Note: There are some people who naturally “duck and cover” whenever conflict arises. These people may pull away, not because they seek to harm, but because they are seeking safety and peace. This is not who I mean.}

But if some reach out to you, show care for you, express concern, or in any way work to maintain an ongoing friendship with you, take note. Receive it as kindness from God that all is not lost.

#9- TAKE NOTE OF WHO ATTACKS YOU & GROW IN UNDERSTANDING & DISCERNMENT

As you walk away from an ungodly, unhealthy spiritual community, there may be some who attack, lie, gossip, condemn, accuse, and believe the worst.

When this happens, while it feels incredibly painful, you have been given an opportunity to:

  • rejoice, because you are blessed! Matthew 6 says, “blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you, falsely, on my account. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven!” In God’s “economy,” He lifts up the humbled, and He brings down the lofty. We can rejoice when we are treated poorly for following Him.
  • see in plain daylight. When everything is lurking in shadows, and the lights are off, it’s impossible to tell what’s what. But when daylight streams in through the windows, the forms of things become plain.
  • recognize wolves with greater discernment. In future flocks, as you live among the people of God, you will more quickly recognize the sound and posture and smell of wolves.
  • comfort others with the comfort that you have been given. As you walk this road of loss, God will give you great wisdom and comfort that, according to 2 Corinthians 1, He will use to help you encourage and comfort others through their own loss and abuse. In His wisdom, God gives His sheep similar experiences to one another, in order that we can help and serve and love one another and increasingly point one another toward Him.

While there is legitimate sorrow when others seek your harm, God can use these hurts to help us grow in understanding and discernment.

#10- GOD’S GRACE IS AVAILABLE TO YOU NO MATTER WHAT.

The God of the Bible is real, and His grace extends through all the earth:

“the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth to show himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to him.”

2 Chronicles 16:9

His grace and strength is not only available to you there, in that place where you’ve been mistreated. His grace will be there, wherever you go.

One threat we heard was, “you’ll never find a church community as good or special as this one.” It occurred to me, long after leaving, that that comment is not only a narcissistic statement, but it is also a God-less statement.

Don’t believe the lie that God’s grace was only available to you in THAT place. God’s grace is available to His children, no matter where we go in life. His mercies are new every morning. GREAT is His faithfulness. His mercies never come to an end.


#11- CLING TO GOD.

One temptation you may face is:

  • to be “done with all of that.”
  • to believe that stepping away from all church experiences will seal yourself off from the pain
  • to diminish the importance of God, His Word, His people, His ways.

You may question God’s goodness, whether or not He is real, whether or not you are even saved, whether or not there is even the possibility of a healthy church on earth.

You may question if any of the things you were taught there in that place are true at all.

Regardless of the questions that assault you from the outside or from the inside, just keep clinging to the Lord Jesus Himself.

When you’re out in the raging sea, it does no good to question if real, dry, sturdy, usable land exists. It does. Keep clinging to the Lord and as you look to Him and to His Word, He will reveal to you what is true. Cling to Jesus and don’t be afraid.

As He washes your boat up onto a new shore, He will teach you and keep you.

#12- INCREASINGLY, TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OF THE REARVIEW MIRROR.

It is normal that we look backwards, in order to learn. ESPECIALLY when you have been spiritually abused in ways like:

  • exploited/used for selfish gain,
  • treated as essential, and then discarded with contempt,
  • repeatedly lied to,
  • publicly lied about,
  • used as a pawn,
  • gossiped about…

it is only natural to look backwards and try to process what in the world happened!

In fact, that is the way of wisdom. To examine the process that got you HERE is part of the path of learning how to (Lord willing) avoid being exploited and abused like this ever again.

So, definitely: process in the ways that you need to. But over time, work to decrease the time and space that old place/abuser occupies in your mind and conversations.

#13- TRUST THAT GOD WILL USE IT ALL FOR GOOD

It can feel impossible– you’ve been through so much. It’s taken so much out of you, and perhaps cost you all that you had. I bet Joseph felt that way when he was in the pit. But God was advancing His bigger plans.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

Genesis 50:20

God brings beauty from ashes, and makes good from even great wickedness.

Keep walking, Child of God. You are beloved, and He is good. He’ll keep providing for you, and He’ll do it in ways you can’t even imagine.