Monday, September 30, 2013

Process of Healing after Spiritual Abuse and the God Who Sees

As usual, I'm working on six blog posts at once, all on specific topics, and none of them are completed. These ideas about God's care for us as we recover from Spiritual Abuse came together rather quickly for me today today, however. So though many more posts on many more topics wait, I was excited to see this come together so well today. I hope that it is timely and helpful for someone today.

In Matthew 9:36, in the King James Version of the Bible, it says that Jesus looked out upon the multitudes, and He felt compassion for them. In describing how He felt, Matthew says that they were like sheep without a shepherd and were wearied by their situation, lacking the protection of a caretaker which sheep, in particular, happen to need very much.

But when he saw the multitudes,
he was moved with compassion on them,
because they fainted,
and were scattered abroad,
as sheep having no shepherd.

We don't tend to use the word “scattered” that much in our common English, save for when we talk about something that gets dispersed over a wide area. However, in that King James English, the word for “scattered” isn't used to describe dispersal but rather to explain how one can cast something down with carelessness and abandon. Today, this kind of scattered would be more appropriate to describe how one throws trash. Might we say that Jesus looked out at the people and saw precious, wonderful creatures in whom no one saw enough value to tend to their many needs? Here we see a deeper meaning of what it is to be a sheep with no shepherd. People are no longer people, but are objects of no value and are abandoned.

I also cannot help but think of the trauma that one often goes through after spiritual abuse. When you get away from your demanding religious group, you feel “scattered,” too. The work of healing from trauma is often called “integration,” because one has to take all aspects of their experience, make peace with it, and then “move through it.” You tend to feel alienated from the good aspects of your life and your self, just because the pain feels so huge. Some people get stuck in the anger phase of this grief and never emerge from it. They stay “dis-integrated” when they do. Those who heal manage to reclaim themselves and the many complex aspects of their lives and selves. The recollect themselves and reintegrate. They realize that though others may have abandoned them like trash, they recognize their inherent worth and reclaim who they are.

I happened across Matthew 14:14 (NIV) today, and I saw in it another part of this process.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd,
he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

I caught a glimpse of this process differently. Jesus arrives and comes to be where the people are. He comes to them, and there are many people. He then takes the time to really “see” them, for to have compassion for people, you must first stop to see them as people. When you look specifically at Jehovah Jireh, one of the names ascribed to names ascribed to God and how Jesus is revealed in the Old Testament, it literally translates as “Jehovah sees.” Christians are often taught that this is the Name of God that we see when God provides help for His people. Then, as the King James often talks about how Jesus was “moved with compassion,” He follows up with an action. He responds to what He sees by compassionately healing those precious people who are sick among them. It is a process of caring.
  1. He came to the people.
  2. Jehovah Sees” saw honored them by really considering their plight as he “saw” them.
  3. He identifies with their grief through compassion.
  4. He does something to help change their circumstances for the better.

Today, I also thought about what I told myself often when I began the hard work of healing from spiritual abuse. I would ask my husband about how I would move forward, because it didn't know how I would avoid the same pitfalls again. I was in so much pain, and I couldn't afford to walk into more pain through more mistakes. He would say, “Start from where you are.” And I didn't even really understand how to do that. I had to break it down into a more specific process, something that felt more like having compassion for myself in my “scattered” state. I came up with this process that one must do to move forward concerning anything.

  1. Understand where you are by really seeing and considering circumstances.
  2. Accept those circumstances as they are in reality, no matter how threatening or painful they seem.
  3. Show compassion to yourself, forgiving yourself by taking true stock of who you are as a person. This becomes an opportunity to grow through deficiency or to just mature more in one's own character.
  4. Rally your strength and your assets to move forward through positive and healthy action.
In a way, we have to extent do ourselves what we see Jesus doing in the gospels.

I also thought of what Judith Herman writes in Trauma and Recovery. She also breaks healing down into a process, too. This article gives an excellent synopsis in an overview of this aspect of the book (though please note that I am not familiar with any other resources on this website).
  1. When you recover from a trauma, the first stage in the process involves taking stock of what happened. Not specifically mentioned in this review, I love how Herman describes the role of a therapist or trusted friend who walks through the process with the wounded person: “as a witness and an ally.” Like Jesus who sees, we need someone to tell about what happened to us as we go back through it so that we can begin to make sense of the experience and then move on to find meaning in it.
  2. The second stage is one of grieving. I see this as that process of collecting all of those “scattered” pieces of the experience and of oneself to reintegrate them to find “wholeness.”
  3. The third stage involves reconnecting with people again.

I couldn't help but see the parallels in these processes, as so very similar to one another. The intimidation and grief involved in the hard work of recovery from spiritual abuse makes us more likely to feel like we are isolated and alienated from God. It only seems that way because the situation we find ourselves in and the wounds we bear run so deeply into the core of who we are. This is an illusion of sorts, or rather just the tunnel vision we tend to have when we feel consumed with the pain from very demanding wounds.

I do not believe that we are really alone. I believe that the God Who Sees is right with us, but to really grow, we have to make the hard decisions to keep moving forward to find our faith again. We need faith in something to be able to find enough optimism to move forward, through and out of our plight. Some people abandon God at this point because they do feel so alienated. They wonder why they were ever cast down like trash and scattered in the first place, for surely a loving God would have spared them from such a painful process. I can fully relate to why people would want to walk away from God because I understand too well how painful this process proves to be. I lived it. I went through all of these stages and faced all of these hard choices. I had to look into the dark places and into my own shortcomings to take stock of who I really was and of what kind of stuff I was made. A part of that process always continues for me, too.

I chose to put my faith in the God Who Sees. By faith, I believed in that Jesus who looked out on the throngs of people, realizing that they were people whom others had no regard. I believe that He had compassion for them in their suffering, feeling limited and lost and helpless. Looking back, the process of demonstrating that compassion for me and extending it to me through the hands and faces and words of others couldn't come fast enough for me. If I had been able to plan and order my recovery, I'd have made it much shorter, as it took time and energy to even find those hands, faces, and words through which God brought me comfort. I'd love to circumvent around the “working out of my salvation.” I wish that it weren't so much work. Philippians 2:12 from whence I draw this says that the process is one of “fear and trembling.” Spiritual abuse recovery is no different. I wanted to bypass the fear and the trembling part of the process as well. I wanted that easy yoke and that light burden. That part of the journey with the God Who Sees was the hard phase – and it was harder for me than any other process I'd endured before.

When the process seemed more painful than I could bear, I didn't always think about these Scriptures. I was glad that I had knowledge of them and had put my faith in them before. The process of healing became a proving ground for their veracity, though. For a long time in the midst of the grief or on the days when I couldn't find help or much cause for the hope of finding someone who understood what was happening to me, the concept of the God Who Sees seemed like empty hope. But something in me kept believing against the feelings. I remembered the words of II Chronicles 16:9, about how God's eyes roam over the earth, looking for someone to whom He can show Himself so as to demonstrate His power to them. I wanted to be one of those people. I decided who I wanted to be, and that was a big part of the process, too. There was just no way around that pain of the fear and trembling and the work involved in the process. Gain came by the pain of grieving and waiting and believing when I could find little that I could trust.

But it came. I was recollected and reintegrated, and those processes still continue.

If you find yourself in the middle of a particularly tough fear and trembling work day, you might do well to remember that healing is a process. The destination of wholeness may not be imminent for you, and it may require going on a journey that takes a lot longer than you'd like. Israel wandered around in the desert for 40 years before they received what was promised to them, and we're even reminded of the mistakes that they made. Consider that the pain of fear and trembling might not mean that God doesn't see you and that the length of the journey may be longer than you'd like. I believe that God sees us, and there's just no shortcuts around our humanity and the working out of it. That's part of taking stock of where you are and accepting it. Challenge the God Who Sees to meet you in the process, and watch for Him to show up to show Himself strong to you. Expect Him to be moved with compassion for you, and see what happens.