by Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts
The Lord is the strength of my life. Do you sense that your thoughts are becoming more positive as you focus on the truth of God’s love and presence in your life? (Brain change.)
When I had my first spiritually abusive experience, I remember being so positive. The pastor at my first abusive church was upset that I was stepping away from assisting with worship/music preparation for a few months. He knew there would be questions about why I was taking a break and he feared that without my help, the music would suffer and he and the associate pastor would not look as good. So, when he spoke against me to the elders, saying that my stepping out was a good thing because I was “difficult to work with” (which he clarified by saying that I purposely withheld song suggestions during meetings – huh?), I thought he was just upset and given a few days, it would all blow over.
After all, this was the pastor. He preached about unconditional love and grace.
What I didn’t realize was that once he turned on someone, his goal was their utter destruction. As time went on and he preached about me from the pulpit, spoke ill of me to anyone who would listen, and grossly exaggerated even the smallest movements that I made, I began to question God.
“God, if everything works together for good, why is this happening?”
“God, I am doing everything You ask, everything they ask, everything I can to rectify this situation, but it just keeps getting worse. Where are You?”
And I was convinced that if I just hung on long enough, gave God enough time, He would step in and fix it.
And then the day came when the elders told us that the pastor does God’s will perfectly. That what he had done to me over the eighteen months that we stayed was perfectly aligned with what God wanted because the pastor does God’s will perfectly. And my husband and I just couldn’t agree with that.
A man who lies is doing God’s will perfectly?
A man who is embittered does God’s will perfectly?
A man who seeks to kill and destroy the spirit of one under his authority does God’s will perfectly?
That’s when we knew that God wasn’t going to work this out. That “everything working together for good” meant that we had to shake the dust from our feet. Because God isn’t like that.
At our next church – the one we were tossed out of last December – when the abuse started, the senior pastor said to me, “We aren’t perfect, but we do church better than everyone else.” In other words, even though I had expressed a valid concern, they didn’t want to hear about it because they were the best there was around, so why worry about dealing with leadership who is deceptive, manipulative, and unconcerned with the people under his charge?
Over time, it became more and more apparent that those who gave the most money, had the right last name, held a position of status in their job or the community, etc., were considered more “spiritual” than others. Meaning that they were the ones who served on the committees, the board of elders and deacons, taught classes, were on the worship teams, etc.
And those who expressed concerns were eliminated.
And for years – more than a decade – I trusted that God would work everything together for good. I asked, “God, why is this taking so long?”
“God, where are You?”
And as the level of ostracism and persecution increased, my faith in God did not decrease, but my belief that God was going to work everything together for good because I loved Him gradually diminished. Until one day I realized that I believed that God had turned His back on me completely. He was working everything together for good – for the pastor, the leadership, and the church. But not for me.
I realized that every time I stepped into the church, I felt a darkness come over me. A black cloud lurked. And I was afraid. Afraid that I would again be told that I had done something so terrible that it was unspeakable. Afraid that I would say something wrong. Do something wrong. Be something wrong.
Still, I thought, if I just try hard enough, stick it out long enough, play nice enough, give enough money, be quiet enough, admit that I’m guilty enough, say I’m sorry enough times, some day, when I have suffered long enough, I thought God would change His mind and everything would get better and it would all be okay.
And even when things improved a bit, the dark cloud and the fear and the doubt lingered. And so I kept asking for help. For answers. And I kept asking, “God, when are You going to finish this work that You have started? I’m allowed to serve, but I still have fear and doubt. Where are You?”
And then I was tossed out of the church.
And I asked, “GOD! WHERE ARE YOU!” And, “GOD, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL THIS TIME?”
And God answered. “Lo, I am with you always.”
And I realized God was there all the time. But He wasn’t fixing it the way I wanted it to be fixed. He was fixing it the way I needed it to be fixed. He was showing me over and over and over again that I needed to get out of there. I couldn’t see Him or hear Him because I was so focused on getting the answer that I wanted. Of finding grace and reconciliation and restoration in the church. But God wanted me out of there. That was His “working everything together for good.”
If you have been asking, “God, where are You?” or “God, where were You?” and “Why aren’t You working this all together for good?” maybe you need to look at it from another perspective. Is there another way besides the way that you want that He is leading you? Is there another direction you need to go so that you are cooperating with Him in allowing Him to work it all together for good?
Think about it. And please feel free to share your thoughts here.
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