This is my first serious attempt to write out my testimony. I’m not entirely happy with it. I wanted to add more, but it was getting long (over 2K words). I think I was still working stuff out. If you are someone who regularly does things like this, I’d like feedback. I really wanted it to focus more on the things I did, but I think my natural man was averse. Or maybe I’m supposed to write a book..preferably 50K words so I can win Nano. 😉
My testimony is not a pretty one. And that’s even without the stuff others did. When people ask me how I can still believe after everything I can look to one important act as the reason. The day I was saved.
I grew up in the church, but under the abuse, God became this evil thing that only wanted to hurt me and cause me as much pain and suffering as He could to what end I’m not sure. I was told in one denomination He did it to bring Himself glory. Yeah, that was kinda twisted.
I didn’t hate God. I knew enough from the preaching to know that would get me a ticket straight to hell, and I’d had enough hell on earth, I didn’t want it for all eternity. But I didn’t truly love Him. I only feared Him. I feared Him in the way I feared my parents. Afraid to draw close because I was never sure if they would be angry and lash out at me.
I’ve been praying a lot as a result of some reading I’ve been doing, asking God to reveal strongholds I have allowed to control me. I wrote a few weeks ago about how God recently delivered me from bitterness, and I realized as I was praying yesterday that it was an easy one. I’m not, by nature, a bitter person. I’m one of those annoying pie-in-the-sky Pollyanna types. I always look for the good in the bad, always look for the rainbow to come out during the rain. Yeah, bitterness was an easy one to get rid of.
Fear, however…that’s a whole different story. A, well, terrifying one. I would say that fear is my base emotion. It seems in-congruent with being a positive person, but I don’t believe it is. I fear just about everything. And the abuse just intensified those fears to an irrational level at some times. Abusive people love people who fear, because the fearful person is easy to control.
One thing I’ve feared my whole life is that I’m not really saved. There were a lot of reasons for this. One was the mixed messages I got from church vs. home. At church I was told God loves me and forgives me when I ask forgiveness and that He is just like my parents. Yeah, well, you can see how that latter one really mixed me up.
Then there were all the other weird messages I got and the double-lives I saw lived, or worse, the apathetic lives I saw lived. I read in the Gospels and heard preached in church that we were supposed to share our faith we were supposed to fulfill the great commission, but I never really saw that. By the time I reached adulthood, I was a theological mess. I had cobbled together bits and pieces of weird things and called it Christianity.
The something unusual (for me) happened. I met people who actually practiced what they preached. It was odd, yet pleasant. As a result, I thought I was saved. I even had a nice little testimony worked out (not mentioning too much of the abuse, that might offend people especially since I attended the same church as the woman who was still abusing me).
Have you ever read the story of a guy named Simon?
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” ~~Acts 8:18-19
When I think about all those years after the moment I thought I was saved until the moment I actually was, it is Simon the Sorcerer who comes to mind. He didn’t get it. I didn’t get it either. That ended up leading me into great error that further wounded me, and my older son as well eventually. Because, after some time of being married to Zelena, I thought Evangelicalism had to be bunk because it wasn’t making any difference for him. He didn’t want to read the bible with me, he didn’t even seem to want me to read the bible. He was only concerned with the outward appearance. He was just like my parents.
So, still not understanding this was the individual’s problem, not necessarily the church (though there were issues in the church) I fell into a group of people who promoted that emotions were a detriment to faith, that they were the problem. It was easy to believe My emotions were killing me. I had cried myself to sleep on my wedding night. How emotional. Any time I had emotions, Zelena either chastized me or shunned me. So it made sense, in my mind that was still filled with my own personal version of a hateful God that emotions were the problem. The problem couldn’t be Zelena because, well, I just couldn’t face that with the knowledge that I couldn’t get out…because God would curse me. (Yes, as a matter of fact, that was a recurring theme in my life for 42 years, why do you ask? ;))
Thirteen more hellish years later and I was at the end of my rope. And each time I tried to get Zelena to do something to help us, he gave me that blank stare then turned and walked away. When we sought help once he was fine as long as it was all my fault. The second I pointed out that, yes, half of it was mine, but the other half was his, that was the last he wanted to hear of it.
It was in the midst of this that I sinned my greatest sin. Only it wasn’t against God, at least I see it that way now, it was against the church. The sin I committed was participating in an online women’s bible study. No man leading, shoot, there wasn’t even a man leading the entire organization, let alone the study. Not one person involved, to my knowledge, had a MDiv, and none, definitely, had gone to Wesmintser West. But I was desperate.
The study was on Acts. And, honestly, to use the old vernacular, that was all she wrote. In Acts I found what I’d been searching for, the thing I knew was missing from my own life…change. If I was truly saved, I’d have changed. I’d be conformed to Christ. I wouldn’t be perfect, but I’d be different. If Zelena was saved, it would be the same. He would desire to be in God’s word, desire to lead our kids to Christ.
It would still be another year before I was saved, but the door was open and I walked through it.
A year later, I sat in a women’s, well, I hate to call it a bible study, but it was like a women’s lecture. And the woman who was speaking said that when we are truly in Christ, there is no more fear. And in one instant it was as if my eyes were open and that fear that had held me for my whole life was gone.
This wasn’t good for the denomination I was in at the time. They made regular practice of saying that our fear of not being saved is proof that we are saved. (See note about about how abusers like people who are afraid because they are easier to control, and draw the conclusion I’m making here.)
There was obviously more to it than that. I had started attending a Baptist church where the crazy pastor was telling people that God actually loved them and wasn’t happy they were suffering. Yes, there was suffering, but not for the reason I’d been lead to believe my whole life. Seriously, I thought the guy was nuts. But they had a full AWANA program in the church, and I was really banking on that to save my kids. They also had a biblical marriage sunday school class, which I was hoping would save my marriage.
After I was saved, my hope became greater. I noticed change in myself and I figured if I could change, shoot, anything was possible. I thought now Zelena and I could grow closer, because, you know, as each of the couple grows closer to God they grow closer to each other. I prayed, I worshiped, I was grateful, I loved God and I was learning to love my children.
In hindsight, I can see the change in Zelena. It was almost imperceptible, but he was actually getting worse. Oh, he continued to put on a good face at church and in front of others, but at home things were increasingly worse. Anytime I would try to bring up an issue we needed to work on, like they told us to do in the marriage class, he would get that blank look. As I became more concerned, he became more upset with me, accusing me of not caring about him and his needs, and telling me I couldn’t say anything because I wasn’t perfect either. It was like talking to a three-year-old, which is probably what he is emotionally.
Then, I got the brilliant (read: totally stupidest idea ever) that I could convince him how much he hurt me if I just showed him how angry I was about it. Yeah, that was exactly what he’d been hoping for. See, I was a screamer. I tried to control it, but before I was saved I’d been convinced (by a former abuser…go figure) that yelling at the kids was a viable alternative to spanking. Hey, I have never once suggested that I’m super intelligent. Unfortunately, as the years went by and I realized that Zelena was only interested in us when we did something that he approved of perfectly, I used that yelling to try to get the kids to conform to his idea of perfection so that then he’d like us. (BTW, this is a variant of the conservative Christian teaching that if the wife is just more submissive her husband will be what he’s supposed to be.)
After I was saved, that started to go away. I noticed I still struggled, but it was starting to be less and less each day. So, unfortunately, giving into this idea that if I yelled at him Zelena would finally get it, really was what he wanted.
Let me explain…
Once we come to Christ, our abuser can’t control us like he wants. And he can’t have what he ultimately wants which is the destruction of body and soul. So, he’ll take what he can get. (I use ‘he’ because that’s my most recent experience, you know I’m aware it could be either.) This makes him up his game. And I fell right into it. I do stupid things like that.
The reason I fell into it is the worst part for me. I fell into it because I was finally mad at God. All those years I didn’t understand Him, but I’d never been mad. I was angry with Him because He didn’t do what all the preachers and books were saying He would. If I prayed and submitted to my husband, my husband would turn around from his evil and love me and the kids. That never happened. What did happen was, two years ago this Novemember, God said He was finished with Zelena and told me to get out.
I was watching a video in the marriage class, alone, again. And the preacher was giving his closing statement. He said, “If you’ve done everything you can for your marriage…” And here I thought he was going to say, “Pray more,” and I really would have gone home and ended my life. I told God that, in fact. Said, “If this guy says “Pray more” I’m going to kill myself the second I get home.” But he didn’t say that. He said, essentially, shake the dirt off your sandals.
You’d think that would have made me happy. No. I was so mad at God. I wanted my marriage to work. I wanted to have a happy, intact family that loved God and served Him. I wanted what I saw everyone else have. I wanted what I’d wanted since before I was married. I wanted what Zelena stole from me. But God said He was finished with Zelena and I needed to get out.
I balked for over a year, obviously. But I think God did know it would take a bit. It had to get so bad that Zelena actually said he’d rather I kill myself than to leave him and make him look bad in public. Then I finally sought real help…but not at first. First I sent an email to a friend I thought would surely tell me I needed to stay, that I needed to get over myself and my needs and be a better wife. She would know all that, she’s a theologian for crying out loud. Instead she said to get out. I knew then that God was serious. But you know the rest of that story.
I think the most significant thing in my testimony is the effect abuse had in keeping me from faith. Abuse ties us to fear because the abuser needs us to be afraid to control us. When we come to Christ, well, perfect love casts out fear. A person under Christ cannot be controlled to the extent the abuser would like. They do things for God that the abuser would rather be done for him or her.
We talk a lot in the church about how to keep our young people in the church, in the faith. We don’t usually talk about how abuse in the church turns kids away. And we really never talk about how ignoring or encouraging the abuse does that. It’s a conversation that needs to be had, and it needs to be had from the pulpit. In the meantime, I hope other people will talk about it. I obviously will, but I’m just stupid enough to do so. 🙂