My teenage daughter went to a winter retreat a few weeks ago and this picture was taken from the church van by the youth pastor’s wife. The snow is pretty evident in the picture, but directly ahead down the road is a valley, but you cannot see the valley because the clouds are covering it. It is literally a hidden valley.
When I looked at the picture, it reminded me of spiritual abuse. I am on the road – the journey, blue skies are around me because I am out of the spiritually abusive environment, but if I look into that valley, I don’t know what lies ahead. The valley beneath the clouds represents perhaps a sense of unresolved confusion or acknowledged pain, or simply an overall lesser intense feeling of general “yuck.”
Today, I’m going to walk down that road and invite you to come along with me – to see what it’s like to process spiritual abuse as I uncovered even more abuse and how my brain sifted through the rubble these past couple of weeks.
I thought I was pretty much over the healing process when I started blogging. A couple of weeks ago, reading through the Sovereign Grace lawsuit , and in particular, Carla Coe’s story which I discussed here, I was stopped in my tracks thinking about another abuse I had put aside – the spanking of adult children.
It was and still is very disturbing. It’s interesting because early in the blog, in May of 2012, I even discussed the spanking of high school students, but it didn’t click with me as abuse. What resonated with me then was it was just another “weird creepy church practice.” The post was about the obsession on modesty and that I noticed so many of our young adults had left the faith, had acted out sexually, and were getting into trouble. Here is a brief quote regarding their loss of faith:
Was this caused by the rigid rules and legalism? Our adult kids are certainly not rotten. They only reacted to the very strict/legalistic teachings. Being caught in sexual sin, sitting through long meetings with the pastor, perhaps multiple meetings, getting spanked by parents (yes, high school students were spanked) and having more meetings with parents, and then hearing weeks-long series on Wednesday nights on the dangers of sexual immorality does not give one hope, but despair.
Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.
But when I read Carla Coe’s story in the lawsuit, it hit me hard as a rock. This was the environment in which our children were being raised. This was the environment in which parents were taught that we owned our children until they were married and out of the house – that the government’s laws on the age of adulthood really had no bearing when it came to godly parents raising our children – our first allegiance was to God and His Word, not the laws of the land. Besides, we were doing our rightful duty as parents by “lovingly disciplining” them.
Here’s part of an e-mail exchange I recently had with a former church member on this topic:
“. . . . . what it’s like to be in a cult where you are condemned for not spanking your older kids. Where it is “for all practical purposes” grilled into you to TAKE control, and MAKE them submit, regardless of age. Praise the Lord He cleared us from this cultist’s fog! “ (I’m just realizing now as I’m typing that his words go along with the picture!)
There is a bit of safety remaining high above the clouds, in the blue sky where everything is visible and exposed. Diving into the clouds of abuse brings up more pain, more opportunity to think, “how did I get here?” “why did I allow that to happen?” “is there more hidden that I have not discovered?” This is the hard work of spiritual abuse, but I think it is necessary or we will be destined to repeat the patterns. Because of those triggers, I knew I had to go back and dig deeper for my own personal healing (and sanity) Can you walk a bit further with me?
This blogger doesn’t have it all together. I am a work in progress. So, into the uncertain and unchartered clouds I dove, even years after the fact.
I know when we arrived at that church, if I would have been told that spanking of adult children was acceptable, I would have said, “I’m outta here – that’s crazy/abusive stuff.”
So . . . . . it led me to question . . . . . when did this subject get brought up during our two years there? It was definitely in the first year because Hannah left after the first year and she was spanked. When it was brought up, how did the shift happen in my mind – where initially I would have rejected it and labeled it as abuse, but later spanking teens/adult children was somehow considered acceptable, permissible, even more appropriate than not spanking adult children? ACK!!! Good grief, this is so hard to type. Do you see where I’m going with this? Because if I allowed it to happen, then that meant I deemed it was acceptable, right? What that meant was that I condoned ABUSE. I said it was acceptable, my actions (really non-actions – not stopping it) enabled ABUSE to occur in my home, on my adult child.
Thinking back, in my mind, I always hated it. But I think I justified the hate because I was physically abused my entire childhood. I squelched my normal emotional response because I didn’t trust it to be valid based on my frame of reference with my childhood abuse. Also, this seemed different. This spanking was not done in a rage or in anger. It was done with a purpose. When I was abused, it was about rage and anger, it was unpredictable, for no apparent reason.
So, I justified this “discipline” in my mind as “good” – after all, a pastor has our best interest in mind, right? He wouldn’t lead us astray. I needed someone to trust. So many of my father figures had abandoned or abused me, but this man was caring for our souls – he was caring for us as parents and for our children, right??? We were told it was love to discipline our children. That it was unloving or even hatred against God to NOT discipline them – essentially, we would be enemies of God for not doing the right thing by disciplining (abusing) them in love. And besides, everyone else was doing it.
Most of the people there I’m sure did not have the abusive background that I had, they were more emotionally stable and rational, and if they believed our pastor to be trustworthy and to show us the biblical way of parenting, and they followed through with his ways of doing things, then my negative emotions were really not valid and I shouldn’t trust them. I loved the people at church. They were good parents who loved their children. That was plain to see. They were kind and loving and I know they wouldn’t do anything to hurt their children. They became my barometer for me. If they were doing it and had no problems with it, then it must be the right way of doing things. Of course our church would have the best ways of parenting – we did everything better than other churches. That is how my mind worked. That is how I came to condone the ABUSE of my daughter.
After you’ve been beneath the clouds and sifted among the rubble for a while, the rubble becomes pretty clear. What I once called loving discipline, I am now calling out as ABUSE. We abused our children . . . . we abused our beautiful and precious children.