10 Steps to Back Away from Religious Abuse

Religious abuse

Religious abuse exists in every type of faith. Oftentimes, it is not the religion itself that is the problem but the people within the practice. This is precisely why it is hard to get away.

Most likely it began with an attraction of sorts, a need being filled, companionship, and a sense of belonging. But those positive feelings were soon met with conflicting emotions of isolation, inadequacy, guilt, shame, and distrust. The confusion feels like physical abuse without the marks.

Others who have left the religion are shunned, disgraced, and humiliated. You want to pull away but are unsure of how. Try these steps.

  1. Learn the signs of religious abuse. Memorize and identify when they are being used against you. Saying in your head, “This is abusive behavior,” promotes awareness and empowerment.
  2. Get a new perspective by sidestepping religious rituals. This is not about abandoning your faith. Rather it is about viewing things from a different perspective. Are you condemned for stepping back? Or is there grace?
  3. Make a personal commitment not to engage or tolerate the belittlement of others who don’t believe as you. Instead show compassion. Not everyone has the same level of knowledge or understanding.
  4. Study your faith for yourself. Read and learn directly from the original writings instead of trusting individuals or institutions to interpret. Abusive behavior discourages such practices.
  5. Make friendships with people outside your faith. This reduces the dichotomous thinking (us versus them) and the isolation that often accompanies religious abuse.
  6. As you learn more about your faith, intentionally question one of the accepted extraneous rules. Learn all you can about it and stand your ground. Safe individuals will welcome the discussion; abusive individuals will not.
  7. Refuse to put on a false front. Be consistent and honest about who you are and what you are going through. “Faking it” cultivates fraud and deception.
  8. Don’t make quick commitments. “I need to pray/think/meditate about that,” are good phrases to use and practice. Abusive individuals try to force immediate decisions before you can evaluate.
  9. Find a friend who has gone through religious abuse or seek out a professional counselor. You can’t do this alone. You will need someone to remind you of past offenses and hold you accountable.
  10. As you step completely away from the religion, remember that it is not the faith that caused this but the people in the religion. Healthier versions of your faith do exist.

When you seek out a new religious organization, remember your experiences so you don’t fall into the same mistake as before. Your new level of knowledge from your studies will help you to better evaluate safe institutions. In the end, your faith will be stronger because of your perseverance.

 

There is hope for your exhaustion.  Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

Marriage Tip: Pray for Your Spouse Daily

During times of tragedy, it is easier to remember to pray for and be grateful for your spouse’s safety, job, health, relationships, and good will.  As tragedy has a unique way of highlighting not only the sufferings but also the blessings as there seems to be no shortage of extremes.  Yet it is much harder to be consistent with prayer for your spouse during the good times; after all, your spouse may not seem as much in need as others.  But these moments are precisely the times when prayer is most needed, when it is least expected because you never know when tragedy will strike.  Pray for wisdom in decision making, discernment in associations, solid friendships, strength to endure trials, patience in work, keen focus, and understanding heart.  Praying for your spouse is not about praying that your spouse agrees with you on a decision rather it is about praying for character traits and asking for protection realizing that in the end God is in control even during a tragedy.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

Waiting on God’s Timing

You have believed, you have prayed, you have gotten wise counsel, you have checked that your prayer is consistent with Scripture and you have peace about the final outcome, yet nothing is happening.  There are no small or large changes, everything seems to be still (almost to a stop) and then you wonder is this really the right thing?  Is this thing that you have been praying for really going to happen or is it just another prayer on the long list of prayers that did not get answered or worse got answered in a manner opposite from how you prayed.

So to distract yourself from the agonizing question, you become immersed in a project, in work, in church, or in a relationship.  While the distraction works for a while, the underlying question looms and pops up in weird places like while driving, taking a shower, or sleeping.  So you pray again but still no answer.  You remind yourself of all of the blessings God has given you and give thanks but still no answer.  You pray for others and take care of those He has entrusted into your care but still no answer.   You go to the altar and pour your heart out to God for an answer but still no answer.  You read Scripture and fast but still no answer.  So now what?

He leads you beside still waters.  Sometimes the reason for the wait to a prayer is because whatever is about to happen will require all of your strength, so by not having an answer right away, your strength is being stored up for whatever is to come.  A common mistake is thinking that having an answer right away reduces your stress, but what if it really will not, what if this time of stillness is really God’s way of preparing you for an even greater stress.  Psalms 23:2 says that He directs our paths to stillness; your objective is to recognize the stillness and be thankful for it instead of wishing it away.

Be still and know that He is God.  Psalms 46:10 is a good reminder of the importance of remaining still and recognizing that His is God and He will be honored everywhere.  During your period of stillness, spend time just worshiping His awesomeness, remember this maybe God’s way of restoring your strength.  But if you spend this time worrying instead of worshiping, your strength will not be as great and may in fact be lessened.  Trust that His timing is perfect and enjoy being still.

Be still and wait patiently for Him to act.  Have you ever prayed for patience?  Have you ever wanted to be a more patience person?  Well, patience comes with practice.  How many times have you wanted others to demonstrate patience with you or asked others to have patience?  Here is your big chance to model patience for those around you or more importantly to model patience for yourself.  If you are not willing to model patience, how can you ask others to do the same?  Be still and wait patiently Psalms 37:7 commands.

In the meantime, keep believing, keep praying, keep seeking counsel, and keep studying the Scripture and God’s peace will be with you even during periods of stillness.  Come to love the stillness instead of the hectic, the quiet instead of the noisy and the peace instead of fighting and you will be blessed.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

Out of Troubles Comes Wisdom in Trusting God

He was only eight days old when he stopped breathing.  All at the same time, it was the beginning of the day and yet it was the end of the day because in one moment, everything changed.  He received a clean bill of health during those eight days from three separate doctors yet I knew there was something wrong.  When he fell limp in my arms, his face had turned completely blue and all signs of life had vanished.  So many emotions converged all at once:  fear that he was dead, desperation that he and I needed help, scared that I had done something wrong, and relief in knowing that my instincts were in fact right.  My first response was to cry for help to which my husband immediately responded but weirdly enough all of the phones in our house were dead so he ran next door to get help.  In the meantime, while I stared at my breathless first-born child only three words came to mind, “God help me”.

In a split second I heard a voice that I can only explain as God’s in my head telling me exactly what to do.  I had never performed CPR nor seen it done nor knew there was a difference between adult CPR and infant CPR; yet I performed it perfectly with the help of God.  The voice was clear, firm, encouraging, and like a good teacher, guided me step by step gently warning me of dangers such as puncturing a lung or fracturing a rib, concepts that I had not even imagined possible.  By the time my husband returned with our neighbor after calling for an ambulance, the color on our son’s face returned and he was breathing again.  Two hospitals and a week later after a battery of tests, tubes, doctors, nurses, diagnosis, and advice, our son was released stronger than ever.

It was a miracle even by several doctor’s admission that he lived.  God had performed the miracle of giving us our son not just once but twice.  Out of that troubling moment, wisdom about God emerged.  Psalms 40:3 states, “He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.”  He is trustworthy, He is in charge of life and death, and He does answer prayers during the greatest need.  Admittedly there have been times in my life when I have wondered if God was listening but then the memory of our son emerges and I am reminded all over again that even if that was the only prayer God answered, it is enough.

Trusting in God is about remembering all of the times in the past that He did answer your prayers.  It is not about putting blind faith in someone who has not demonstrated a presence; rather it is about remembering your past, remembering the Scriptures, and remembering the stories of others who have experienced His faithfulness.  If God had wanted us to have blind faith, He would not have given us countless stories in the Bible of His faithfulness.  Those stories are testimonies of real people who experienced God’s amazing unfailing love in a time of great need.  Search your life for evidence of God’s faithfulness and write it down.  Then keep it in your heart and teach it to your children so they will be blessed as you have been blessed.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

Forgive, Forgive, and when you don’t know what else to do Forgive again

Asking For Forgiveness

Asking For Forgiveness (Photo credit: hang_in_there)

I would be out of a job if husbands forgave wives, wives forgave husbands, children forgave their parents, siblings forgave one another, friends forgave each other, workers forgave their bosses and nations forgave nations.  Imagine for a moment a child forgiving a parent who verbally belittled them instead of harboring that resentment well into adulthood and either repeating that pattern with their own children or worse internalizing the thoughtless comment.  Imagine a worker forgiving their boss for taking undeserved credit for a job well done instead of finding ways to even the score.  “Impossible” you say?

Signs of unforgiveness are everywhere in our culture.  Just turn on a talk show any day of the week and you will hear story after story of one person who believes they are justified in their anger.  And sadly, sometimes they are justified but there is a better way.  If we can identify the early warning signs of unforgiveness in our own lives and learn to forgive others before they ask or even if they never ask for forgiveness, then our own lives will be blessed.

Angry Outbursts.  Have you ever been around someone who just blew up over what seems like nothing and you are left wondering what just happened?  Their outburst may be a sign of unforgiveness in their own life; something you might have said or something you might have done may have triggered a memory completely unrelated to the event itself and their outburst has more to do with the past then the present.  But here’s the kicker…you need to forgive their outburst even if you don’t fully understand who, what, where, why, and how.  Otherwise, you are likely to fall into the next category.

Cold Shoulder.  Have you ever gotten the cold shoulder from a friend and you don’t know what is happening?  Or better yet, someone pretends not to know you when you know perfectly well that they do know you.  The cold shoulder routine may be another sign of unforgiveness in their life as they would rather stuff the issue than address it openly.  This is a favorite tactic of most married couples as one spouse ignores or minimizes communication with the other.  The one doing the ignoring is the one who is harboring unforgiveness.  But here’s the kicker…you need to forgive their cold shoulder routine even if you don’t fully understand who, what, where, why, and how.  Otherwise, you will be as guilty as them.

Gossip.  Have you ever been around someone who says they are just trying to inform or warn you of someone else?  Or perhaps, they are more spiritual in their tactic by saying they are just trying to find out how to specifically pray for someone else.  Any way you look at it, this is gossip and unforgiveness is at the root.  The person gossiping is actually distracting themselves and others away from their own issues in an attempt to look better.  This is the worst type of unforgiveness as it is internal, revealing they have not forgiven themselves for an offense.  So here’s the kicker…you need to forgive their gossip to show them that they are worthy of forgiveness and perhaps help them to learn how to forgive themselves.

As I am writing this article, my own lack of forgiveness for others becomes all too glaringly obvious.  The best way I know how to forgive is to pray and turn it over to God.  Sometimes I write it down and then destroy the paper as a demonstration of my forgiveness but mostly I just pray.  Having received forgiveness for my own faults as a believer in Jesus Christ, I welcome the opportunity to show forgiveness to others, even if they never ask.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.