The deepest wounds, when given the chance to heal, often provide the most profound growth. So it’s time I dive a bit into the part of my story I’m never too eager to share. It’s the part of the abuse that I’m learning happens far too often, but is talked about far too rarely. Spiritual abuse. Which I didn’t even know was a thing until years of counseling taught me the depth of the wounds spiritual abuse can cause. Since I’m known for never being silent, no matter how painful the topic… it’s time for me to unearth this and see how God can use it for His glory.
Do you know what it’s like to live with a man who used scripture after scripture to manipulate and control your every move? Genesis 2:24 was used continually when he manipulated me into moving out of my parents home prior to our wedding and then after our wedding while convincing me that it was inappropriate for a married woman to be close to her family. So I was forced to completely cut ties with my family for 2 years, because it was the “Biblical thing to do”.
I was told how many times a week I had to have sex with my husband, and if for any reason I didn’t live up to that standard I was told I was going against the Bible and wasn’t an adequate wife… and when he’d force me to have sex against my will, he’d tell me the Bible said I had to submit to him because he was my husband and would quote 1 Corinthians 7:3-4.
Want to know what happened if I disagreed with ANYTHING he said? He’d quote Proverbs 25:24 and tell me how he didn’t want to be anywhere near me, so he’d run off to the bar to get drunk. And then he’d come home, rape me, and quote scripture to justify it.
As he was pastoring churches across Indiana, I would watch him preach on the importance of tithing and the proceed to take the tithe money… deposit it directly into his personal account… and use it to for alcohol. But I wouldn’t dare say anything because then I was simply a quarrelsome wife.
What about waking up in the morning, getting out of bed and seeing a confrontation between him and another pastor on our front porch because my husband refused to submit to anyone. The confrontation nearly ended in a fist fight as I snuck out to go to work.
Do you know what it’s like to have to stand beside a man as he would get kicked out of 6 different churches across the state for his unwillingness to submit to proper leadership, and not be able to say a word because the repercussions of disagreement was simply more abuse? Do you know what it’s like to listen to your husband preach on the importance of loving your wife, and boast about your marriage to the entire congregation, but then to go home and get raped or hit for not being “loving enough” towards him in public? Do you know what it’s like to have to watch the destruction he would leave in his path, knowing the spiritual wreckage these people would face because of his abuse and manipulation of scriptures?
It didn’t end when he finally decided to leave the ministry entirely. It continued through church after church as we would visit, he would disagree with something the pastor would say or how he would say it and he would force us to leave in the middle of the sermon in the most disruptive way possible. I’ll never forget the day I cried, begged, and pleaded with him to stop going to church. Because I couldn’t take it anymore. So while the spiritual abuse continued within the four walls of our home, at least I didn’t have to see the wreckage it would cause those outside of our home. I knew I could take it, because I was used to the abuse… but I couldn’t stand to watch others have to take it anymore.
And then to go through a divorce with this man. And be told that I was damaged goods, that no Christian or Godly man would ever love me because I was divorced, that I was not good enough for him and that he was the best I’d ever have.
Do you know what it’s like to try to go to church after all of that? To take one step inside of a church and immediately have your PTSD triggered so badly you have to leave? To try over and over again to make it through an entire church service without experiencing severe panic attacks? To hear a sermon and not hear the eerie echo of his voice saying everything that was wrong about WHAT the pastor preached or HOW the pastor preached?
Do you know what it’s like to have to spend years overcoming your fear of church? To have never doubted that God is loving and sovereign and good… but to have to learn how to trust the church and the people in the church? To have seen the evil that can reside inside of church walls, not to mention the evil that can stand behind a pulpit.
Through this I learned to be desperately dependent on God, and to submit to the leadership in a church but not to hold them on a pedestal. I’ve learned that people are flawed, but God is not. People will disappoint you and let you down, but God will not. God is sovereign, and He is good. And on the day that I finally sat through an entire church service without having a flashback I realized the true mighty power of Christ. I saw that he can take the most desperate attempt of the enemy to ruin and destroy, and turn that around for His glory. Because He overcame the wounds I never thought would heal, and healed them far more beautifully than I could’ve ever imagined.